A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson recounts the author's journeys along various sections of the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail, usually in companionship with his friend Stephen Katz. The mood that Bryson invokes in his description of the woodlands they traverse is a mix of respectful awe and humor. While extolling the loveliness of the mountains, hills, forests, streams, and wildlife that he encounters, Bryson at the same time tells one anecdote after another about his and his companion's bumbling attempts to surmount the difficulties of the trail.
Shortly after moving to a new location in New England, Bryson happens upon a path in the woods that he is astonished to discover is a tiny artery on the vast Appalachian Trail. As he conducts preliminary research, the idea seizes him to hike the trail from its southern extremity to its northern conclusion. Since he doesn't want to do it alone, he enlists the companionship of a friend he hasn't seen in years. However, when Katz gets off the plane, Bryson realizes that his overweight friend—"Orson Wells on a bad day," as he calls him—is even more unfit for the hike than Bryson himself.
Nevertheless, the two hikers commence their journey near Springer Mountain in Georgia with staggeringly heavy packs. Early descriptions of the stunningly beautiful landscapes are mixed with the difficulties they encounter and their inadequacies to meet these challenges. The loveliness of the hills and forests are not enough motivation to sustain their strength, so Bryson and Katz start discarding food and equipment in efforts to lighten their loads. Eventually Bryson realizes that his original goal to hike the entire trail is too ambitious, and he settles for traveling by car and hiking disparate patches until he reaches the end.
At times, Bryson's descriptions of his misadventures are not only humorous but hilarious. His presentation of his inability to become a rough and tough woodsman serves to place into sharper relief the brilliance and beauty of the awesome woods through which he passes.