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The Appalachian Trail crosses 14 states, six national parks and eight national forests. (Marc Muench / Corbis)

Tales From the Appalachian Trail

The stories of ten hikers who have traveled the 2,000-mile-path through the eastern United States tell the history of the trail

smithsonian.com

When travel writer Bill Bryson moved to Hanover, New Hampshire, in 1995, after living in Britain for 20 years, he experienced culture shock. Happening upon a nearby trailhead to the Appalachian Trail one day, he got the idea to hike it and reacquaint himself with America. After telling his family, friends and publisher (he would later write A Walk in the Woods, a New York Times bestseller recounting his trip) about his plan, he got a call from Stephen Katz, a childhood friend from Iowa, who wanted to join him. An overweight, Little-Debbie-loving guy, Katz was an unlikely hiker, but Bryson agreed to his coming along. After all, his company, as well as that of the characters they would meet along the way, provided fodder for Bryson’s signature humor. The two set out on March 9, 1996, traveling south to north. But by Gatlinburg, Tennessee, they came to terms with the fact that they were never going to walk the entire way to Maine. They revised their plan and decided that they would walk the Appalachian Trail, just not all of it (joining the nearly 90 percent of thru hikers who never make it). They’d hike sections in between stints at home, nights in motels or occasional pit stops. In the end, Bryson trekked 870 miles, or 39.5 percent of the A.T. He regrets never making it to Mount Katahdin or looking real danger in the eye. But he gained an admiration for those who have, a respect for the beauty of the wilderness and a good deal of patience, strength and perspective.

Editor's Note: This article erroneously placed Mt. Monadnock in the White Mountains. It is not a part of any mountain range, according to the New Hampshire State Park Service. The article has been modified to fix the error.

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