The Night of the Bear, and Other Strange Encounters, Read by Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson, frequent author and occasional backpacker, entertained an intimate gathering of several hundred this evening in Frederick, MD.  He held a book reading and book signing event.  I arrived 45 minutes early because I knew there might be a crowd.  Forty-five minutes early was not early enough.  When I arrived, the line of those waiting to enter the venue went down the block, around a corner, and into a nearby parking garage.

Image by Jeff Edwards

Image by Jeff Edwards

Bryson read from four of his books, including A Walk in the Woods.  He noted that he hadn’t read from A Walk in the Woods for a long time, but had to this evening because Frederick is so close to the Appalachian Trail (AT).

Bryson chose to read the passage about his and Katz’s first encounter with Mary Ellen in the southern mountains.  I must have read this account a dozen times, but thoroughly enjoyed his reading tonight.  Bryson seemed to genuinely enjoy the audience’s laughter.  Can you imagine how many times he has read that passage and heard an audience laugh since the book was published in 1998?

Bryson did not hike the AT in Maryland, where Frederick is located.  He spent some time in nearby Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.  He also hiked sections of the AT in Pennsylvania.  He advised tonight’s audience that they should skip the trail in Pennsylvania.

If you have read the book, what passage would you have asked Bill Bryson to read?  Flinging necessary supplies in Georgia? The middle-of-the-night discussion of defending themselves against bears with the only weapon they packed -- toenail clippers? The suspense of hiking in dangerous weather in the White Mountains?

Bill Bryson will remain in Frederick and be speaking tomorrow at 11 a.m.

Read "A Sketch & A Prayer" to Plan or Remember Your Appalachian Trail Hike (Book Review)

Few books spark backpacking memories as much as A Sketch & A Prayer: A Visual Journey of the Appalachian Trail – The Southern Mountains.  This book is a personal travel journal of the author’s section hike of the AT during July and August in 2014.  Mike “Sketch” Wurman has returned from the backcountry to tell us about the adventure.

The author lets you know that this is going to be a personal account when his first sentence shares one of his weaknesses.  The introduction is critical to understanding what triggered this backpacker’s first trip since his time in the Boy Scouts

The book’s content is organized by day.  Each day provides a description of the trail, a few illustrations, and the author’s memory of the day’s hike.  Photos are available for many of the days. On Day 1, the author starts at the southern terminus of the trail, the AT approach to Springer Mountain in Georgia.  After many ascents and descents, the book ends in Damascus, Virginia.

The author may have intended to publish a book of illustrations, but his trail descriptions are just as compelling.  A Sketch & A Prayer should be of interest to those new to backpacking, to those who have thought about backpacking the AT, and to those who have traveled this trail.

For those new to backpacking, the author describes how to plan and execute a multi-week backpacking trip.  This book reveals the good and the bad.  The author describes the joy of a zero day and the misery of walking in the rain day-after-day.  This book can help the new backpacker plan for the next backpacking trip.

Books, documentaries, and movies describe the AT as the grand-daddy of long-distance hiking trails.  Many have imagined what it might be like to walk this trail.  The author tells and shows what it’s like to walk this trail through the southern mountains.  A reader will learn about the terrain, the wildlife, and the now famous trail culture.  For those readers with some backpacking experience, the book’s Tips & Tricks reveal insights into traveling this particular trail.

AT thru-hikers and section hikers will enjoy the book for the memories triggered by the text and illustrations.  Quick… what do you think of when you see a drawing of a tin can suspended from a wooden rafter?  Do you think about the night when the shelter mice attacked?  Would a drawing of clean laundry hanging from a line stretched between two trees remind you about your trip’s laundry days?  The diagrams of this book will incite many trail memories for those who have hiked this trail.

This book is offered through and

The author’s 2nd book is in the works and the material for a 3rd book has been collected.  Be sure to check A Sketch & A Prayer's website for news about subsequent books.