Hiking Around Midstate PA: A community blog

Explore hiking trails, environmental issues, recreational funding challenges and trail maintenance in Central Pennsylvania with Jim Foster.

Though Not For A.T. Purists, "A Walk In The Woods" Is A Fun Movie

Written by Jim Foster, Community blogger | Sep 4, 2015 1:13 PM

When Bill Bryson's bestselling book "A Walk In The Woods" came out in 1998, a number of so-called "Appalachian Trail Purists" didn't like it.  I'm hearing the same thing about the movie, just released by producer and star Robert Redford.  As an A.T. thru-hiker and maintainer, I guess I might qualify as an A.T. purist.  But, I found the movie, like the book, to be an enjoyable story about two old friends who reconnect on a barely planned A.T. hike.

Redford, as Bill Bryson, is a family man, successful author and aging baby boomer longing for one last challenge before he is too old.  Nick Nolte is Stephen Katz, Bryson's friend from 40 years ago who invites himself to come along.  Katz has led a dissolute and hedonistic life and suffers from ailments ranging from seizures to diabetes to a bad knee.  Together they set off from north Georgia on a 2,000 mile quest to Katahdin.

AWITW poster.jpg

To be fair, the purists have a lot of fodder to chew on.  Our heroes have hiking poles strapped to their packs which they never use, in contrast to the hikers around them.  Their packs look substantial, but these oldsters fling them around like they are filled with helium rather than clothing, water and food.  The movie has the geography of the A.T. all fouled up.  They start at the southern terminus in Georgia, but the famous plaque there doesn't appear until about midway.  McAfee Knob, the famous rock outcropping near Roanoke, VA, appears after the Smokies and Shenandoah, rather than before.  It is backpacking 101 to either hang your food in a tree or put it in a bear canister.  When bears come into camp, they munch on the vittles Bryson and Katz left lying around.

But, I think these nits all miss the point.  This is an engaging buddy movie starring two old pros who alternately get on each others' nerves and reminisce about the good old days.  It is not a documentary about how to thru-hike the A.T.  But, who would watch that, other than some of us purists?  This movie does show the A.T. in a very positive light.  There is even a scene of folks maintaining the trail, which did my heart good. 

Amidst the F-bombs and other swearing, there are some positive life lessons in this movie.  Katz reflects on his life long battle with alcohol.  He keeps a small bottle with him to remind himself that the temptation to relapse is always there.  Bryson is tempted to have a fling with an apparently willing hostel owner, but in the end remembers the love of his life waiting back home in New Hampshire.  This is not a movie for children, though.  It is rated "R", due to quite a bit of cursing and some implied sexual activity.

So, go see "A Walk In The Woods".  You'll see some of the most breathtaking scenery on the eastern seaboard.  Maybe, like me, you'll identify with two old farts who are tired of friends and family telling them to take the safer course and not challenge themselves.  It may even inspire you to follow the 2,190 mile string of white blazes from Georgia to Maine.  If you do, start out a little better prepared than Bryson and Katz.

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