I recently read Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods (1998) and Kyle Rohrig’s Lost on the Appalachian Trail (2015).  Both are autobiographical accounts of hiking the 2200 mile trail.  Bryson is a professional author who makes his attempt in his late forties, accompanied by his college friend Stephen Katz.  Rohrig is a much more fit and younger man, a personal trainer in his twenties.  Rohrig travels with his dog, Katana.

Bryson’s book was made into a 2015 movie starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte.

AT in Harriman State Park, NY

Although they literally cover the same ground, the books are surprisingly different.  Bryson talks about the history of the trail, the people who have hiked it, towns along the way.  His account is well-researched and entertaining, with less emphasis on his particular hiking experience and more general information.  Where the book becomes personal, it’s mostly in dialog with others.  Two highlights are his friend Katz preparing for the hike, and the encounters with annoying fellow hiker Mary Ellen (played in the movie by Kirsten Schaal).

Rohrig’s book is hands-on.  It’s full of rain, rattlesnakes, insects, injuries, bodily functions, mud, being always hungry.  The reader really feels what it’s like to do this hike, and most of us will come away saying “um yeah, I don’t think so.”  Despite showing that months of continuous hiking is a gritty ordeal, the book is mostly upbeat.  He makes a lot of friends along the way, and has numerous encounters with generous strangers.  It’s an inspirational book about achievement and what is really important.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we have day-hiked about 10% of the AT, including all of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.  Bryson barely mentions these familiar areas, so in this respect I found Rohrig’s book to have a more personal connection.  His travels through our familiar spots brought a bit of nostalgia, made even better because we only hiked on days with promising weather forecasts.

I enjoyed both books, and reading both of them didn’t feel redundant. “Lost on the AT” would be the better preparation if you think you want to actually take on the trail.

Insert hiker here.