Watch Bill Bryson’s Funny Bear Story to Calm Your Fears

Near the end of Bill Bryson’s speech in Frederick, MD the other evening, he took questions from the audience.  He answered questions about all of his books, but this article addresses the comments regarding his book, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail.

Bryson answered a question about his and Katz’s inability to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail (AT).  He commented that he really admires thru-hikers.  He remarked that thru-hiking is tough, tougher than most can accomplish.  One only has to look at the number of thru-hiking attempts vs. completions to gain an appreciation for the difficulty of accomplishing a thru-hike.  Bryson said he was really bothered by their not walking the whole trail.  He didn’t spend many words on it in the book, but Bryson said he was bothered by it for a few months.

Of course, thru-hiking isn’t the only way to travel the Appalachian Trail.  One remark triggered an eruption of applause from the audience.  Bryson commented that he believes section hiking the trail “seems the most reasonable.”  After the applause finally quieted, he added, “for me at least.”  It is hard to describe, and difficult to test, but there seemed to be a message in the extended applause.  It seemed as if the audience appreciated a person of authority giving them permission to enjoy the AT without committing to a 6-month thru-hike.  Finally, it was ok to walk less than 2000 miles.

Bryson added that the Appalachian Trail must be celebrated, whether by traveling nearly 2200 miles or strolling 2 miles.

Any reader who has begun to read A Walk in the Woods will tell you that Bryson was concerned about bear attacks.  The author spent much time and quite a few pages describing the dangers of bears and other creatures along the AT.  The book’s cover photo reveals Bryson’s main concern for wildlife.

After his book was published, some readers provided guidance on bear encounters in the wild.  One letter included a story about grizzly bears out west.  Bryson said he shares this story with all audiences.  You’ll find the bear story at 25:57 in the video clip below.

What has kept you from completing a long hike? 

What is your greatest fear in the backcountry and why?

Learn What Bill Bryson Really Thinks of the Movie, A Walk in the Woods

Bill Bryson knows a lot about writing books, a bit less about producing movies.  Last night he commented on the movie adaptation of his best-selling book, A Walk in the Woods, during a book reading event in Frederick, MD.

In answering a question about the movie, Bill Bryson was quick to point out two things – 1) he “liked the movie very much,” and 2) he had nothing to do with it.

Bryson sold the movie rights of his book to Robert Redford.  The world waited for the movie as the idea sat for years.  In 2014, Robert Redford began filming the movie.  Bryson indicated he had little to do with the movie production after he sold the rights.  He made it clear that he trusted Robert Redford.

Bryson first saw the movie at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015.  He sat between Robert Redford and his wife (i.e., Mrs. Bryson). He reports that he and his wife were looking forward to seeing the movie, and hoped that they would be accurately portrayed. 

Bill Bryson told last night’s audience that it took a while to get used to Robert Redford answering for him on screen.  Bryson seemed very pleased with the choice of Robert Redford to play him in the movie.

Bryson shared that the only uncomfortable time during the movie screening was when his character (Robert Redford) and an innkeeper (Mary Steenburgen) began to flirt.  The Brysons were afraid the flirting might lead to something less innocent.  The movie quickly moved on without either character engaging further.  Bill Bryson leaned over to his wife during the Sundance screening and said, “That didn’t happen!” He has told his audiences since the movie’s release, “That didn’t happen!”  He told last night’s audience in Frederick, “That didn’t happen!”

If not Redford and Nick Nolte playing Bryson and Katz in the movie, who?  I would have liked to have seen Jack Black attempt to play a Katz.  Who would you have casted for Bryson and Katz?

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.

Considering a Long Hike? Watch a Typical Day for a Thru-hiker (video)

Many of us have asked, could I be a thru-hiker?  Could I hike most days, all day long, from spring to fall?  Would I have the physical endurance to climb endless mountains? Would I have the mental toughness to go on even when my heart tells me to stop?

The only true way to answer these questions is to attempt a thru-hike. 

Planning an epic hike begins with the collection of trail information.  There is plenty of advice out there.  Joe Brewer, a triple crown hiker, provides some insight into what a typical day of thru-hiking looks like.

Joe Brewer completed his hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2012, the Pacific Crest Trail in 2014, and the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) in 2015.  His video below shows his final full day on the CDT.  We can see the typical beginning of a thru-hiker’s day, the difficulty of finding some sections of the trail, a windy lunchbreak, the big sky of the afternoon’s hike, and dinner at the end of the day.

Follow me from dusk to dawn and experience a full day of hiking on the CDT! Subscribe and follow me on social media for more updates like this. Or, support me on Patreon and get access to even more content! Website: Patreon: Facebook: Twitter: Instagram:

All long distance trails are different. A hike changes each day.  Yet, many of the day’s activities remain the same.  A hiker must eat, filter water, take breaks, and set up camp.

If you enjoyed watching Joe’s video, you’ll find more videos on the Joe Brewer Youtube channel.  Joe’s blog, Backcountry Banter, provides more information and insights about backpacking long distance trails.

What online resources have you found to be useful when planning your long distance hike?

How Would we Detect the Wild Effect?

There are many ways that we might be able to detect the Wild Effect.  One way would be to see if the number of inquiries about a trail increases after the release of a story. We could measure web traffic about a trail before and after the release of a story.  Let's simplify the literature search.  Can we see the Wild Effect in the number of thru-hikers who complete a trail?

Image by Cindy Edwards

Image by Cindy Edwards

Unfortunately, that’s about all we can say about our investigation.  We cannot comment on the number of thru-hikers who read the book or saw the movie, and were inspired to hit the trail.  That information is simply not available.  Some, perhaps most, thru-hikers take trails on for other reasons.  We really cannot connect the number of thru-hikers to their motivations.

The information about numbers of thru-hikers tends to range from the implicit to the explicit.  That is, some sources make high-level statements, without providing much support.  Other sources declare specific numbers of thru-hikers.

The Wild Effect and Bryson Bump are phenomena listed on several outdoor-related blogs.  Many of these sources imply that the books and movies will cause or have caused an increase in hiking on these long distance trails.  The blogs list little support for such hypotheses or conclusions.  A reader almost feels that the authors want these increases to happen.

Outside magazine published Wild’ Movie Boosts Number of PCT Hikers on January 20, 2015.  In this article, the editors state a) the number of thru-hiker permits was up 300%, and b) the number of hikers was 30% higher. A reader could reconcile these two numbers.  Perhaps 3 times the number of hikers registered, but only 30% more showed up.  In a related article, Behind the Scenes of 'Wild', the author notes that the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is estimating a hiker increase of 30%. 

The PCTA reports on anecdotal observations.  The PCTA reports that there seems to be more hikers on the trail after Cheryl Strayed’s book was published, and again when the movie was released.  Also, there seem to be more people on the trail for day hikes or weekend backpacking trips.  It makes sense that an inspiring story in a movie or book could move people to tackle long distance trails.

In the next blogpost, we’ll look at the numbers of thru-hikers readily available and see if we can see the Wild Effect or the Bryson Bump.

How Would the Wild Effect be Defined?

Do best-selling books and successful movies inspire people to action?  How about when the stage is backpacking?

Image by Jeff Edwards

Image by Jeff Edwards

The Wild Effect is the phenomenon that the movie Wild would increase the number of hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in years following the release of the film.  It is the belief that the story of Wild would inspire others to hike the PCT.  The Bryson Bump is a similar idea for the Appalachian Trail (AT).  Bill Bryson wrote A Walk in the Woods in 1998.  This generated interest in the Appalachian Trail should have translated into a greater number of visitors to the AT.  The Way, a film about walking the 500-mile Camino de Santiago trail in Spain, was produced in 2010.  Did wild, the walk, and the way inspire people to visit these trails?  Can we see it in the numbers available?

This is more than just a curiosity.  The Appalachian Trail Conservancy considered how to protect the AT after the movie, A Walk in the Woods, was shown in theaters in 2015.  The conversancy’s solution was to devise a mechanism for AT thru-hikers to register and communicate their hiking plans.  No hiker would be turned away, but it would give the conservancy an idea as to where the hikers would be when.  A hiker could see the plans of others and make adjustments if, say, a high number of registered thru-hikers were planning to start in the 2nd week of March.

Perhaps some of Trailiac’s readers have been inspired by these books or movies.  My first backpacking trip along the AT was during 1999, one year after Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods came out.  I hadn’t read the book, but I traveled with one who had.  The book inspired a friend, a western backpacker, to give the AT a try.

What inspired you to try backpacking?  A book or movie? A friend?

Trailiac describes the PCT and the AT.  Trailiac will describe the Camino de Santiago in the future.