I dislike seeing movie adaptations of books without reading the book first. As the Lord Of The Rings movies were being released, I re-read all the books and to this day I have yet to see a movie that does a better job of capturing the mental I had after reading the book.
This week Hollywood is releasing an adaptation of Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods”, which chronicles the authors experience hiking (870 miles out of 2100+) of the Appalachian Trail. In this case, I have more direct knowledge than I could gain from reading a book. Hiking the AT is more-or-less my hobby. I have 460 contiguous miles down (VA 42 to US 30 in PA), and plans to finish the last 160 miles of Virginia by next spring, I have at times been a member of the Appalachian Trail Conservencey (ATC) http://www.appalachiantrail.org/, and this summer I spent 4 nights out with a friend who just completed a through-hike https://www.facebook.com/Cliffordathike. So I read the book.
Let’s just say I was not impressed. There is a saying on the AT that goes “Hike your own hike”, which translates to (politely) “you do things your way, I’ll do things mine, and we’ll respect each other”. It is also intoned less politely when, for instance a “purist hiker” questions the legitimacy of a “Blue blazer” (a hiker who takes shortcuts) or a “Yellow Blazer” (a hiker who skips sections of the trail by car following the “yellow blaze” on the road). Bryson was both. He skipped the entire states of Maryland, New Jersy and New York from what I can tell and only did 11 miles out of 229 in PA. But even that I can respect. People hike for different reasons and, literally, choose their own paths.
What bothered me most about Bryson’s book (and we’ll see what Hollywood does with this) is his attitude towards people. He had very little good to say about anyone from the ATCs founders, to the park service, the Army Corps of Engineers, fellow hikers or people he met on the trail or in towns. And there is no other word but “bigotry” to describe his attitude towards southerners. He directly invokes Stereotypes from “Deliverance” when describing people in Georgia and his references to people of faith are derisive and dismissive. The AT and the encounters with nature it enables are, for many, a deeply spiritual experience. Hike your own hike, Bill.
I did learn a good bit of history from Bryson’s book, and facts about environmental issues (the tragedy of the loss of the American Chestnut, Elm, Hemlock and various fauna including various birds, the eastern mountain lion, etc) and I agreed with many of his observations on life (you can not spend much time on the trail without reflecting on, well, just about everything)
I’ll wrap up this much-larger-than-twitter-sized-post with two recommendations. One, if you want to read an AT Hiking book, consider Paul Stutzman’s Hiking Through http://paulstutzman.com/books/hiking-through/. It describes his journey (literal, figurative and spiritual) to deal with the grief of the loss of his wife and his deliberate attempts to share what he learns to for the benefit of other people suffering loss. It gives (based on my experience) a much more balanced view of hiking the trail than Bryson’s book. Two, check out what the ATC has to say about A Walk in The Woods https://www.appalachiantrail.org/a-walk-in-the-woods. They worked with the producers of the movie from start to finish. If the result is more people enjoying the splendor of God’s creation and a few less people littering the trail with their beer cans, cigarettes and discarded gear, it will be a net win.