Stories from the Trail Summer Movie Shakedown: A Walk In The Woods

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson is the book and/or movie that introduced so many of us to the Appalachian Trail, and it seems almost silly for us to have taken this long to shake it down. Come hang with the gang as we spill this thing onto the floor, pick through the parts, and argue over what’s too heavy and what’s too light.

Your hosts this week, Fozzie, Reptar, Voldemort, and I, rewatched this “beloved classic” film recently and on purpose so that it would be fresh in our minds while we compared notes on our experiences. We did our best to approach it with fresh eyes and ears, to really look deeply and with balance at the many reasons why A Walk in The Woods is simultaneously loved and reviled by so many. We hope you enjoy.

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Stories From the Trail brings fans of The Trek many hours of ad-free hiking news and edutainment thanks to patrons within the hiking community. Meanwhile, listeners who support the show have already heard the next FOUR episodes while you and I sit here like a couple of actors from the ’80s who still haven’t been cast in a hiking movie yet.

Bonus: Becky’s Thought-Provoking Questions about A Walk In The Woods

Near the end of this episode you may have heard me mention that we didn’t have time to get to a whole bunch of questions sent in by one of our most enthusiastic listeners (and fans of the movie!). If you’re like Becky and want to think a bit more about what we saw, consider the following. And if you’re really brave, email the show and we’ll read your comments on the air. Thanks!

Good morning!

Use what you want. You won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t use any. Some of these things have maybe been addressed to death. Some of them expand on quotes from the movie.
“Hiking is not walking.”  A simple question is what’s the difference? Is it hiking only when you have a stick or a backpack?
“You are not doing this alone.”  Did anyone’s significant other lay down any ground rules before agreeing a long-distance hike was a good idea? What adjustments did you have to make because of loved ones’ issues?
“You ARE too old.”  How much does health/age play into a thru-hike? Did you all have physicals before leaving home?
“Can you tell if people are going to make it all the way to Maine when you drop them off?”  As you met others on the trail could you tell, as hikers yourselves, who would not make it?
“You never know what lies ahead.”  What thing made this true for each of you?
“Can’t be uphill all the way to Maine!”  Is the AT uphill mostly? Or any of the other long-distance trails?
Mary Ellen criticized their tents and the other guy asked about Bryson’s pack.  What would you say is the most talked about piece of gear among hikers?
I can read our local newspaper in five minutes and be satisfied. But when I was at PV’s for so long I found myself buying papers because I missed them.  When you got to town what did you “have” to have as far as reading material? Maybe nothing.
Did you ever strike out to walk for something in town like Bryson tried to walk to KMart and found it impossible? Maybe forgetting you weren’t on the trail?
Who do you identify with from the movie?  Bryson? Katz? Mary Ellen? The two young helpful guys? The annoying nerd in the bunkhouse?
Katz had his whiskey bottle, Bryson had his walking stick, Lemmy had his memory sticks.  What do you feel you “have” to carry on hikes?

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Comments 5

  • Pony : Jun 21st

    P.S. Beulah really does sound like Miss Janet. Very weird. Didn’t notice that the first time I watched.

  • Pony : Jun 21st

    Evidently my use of Backpacker Radio-style profanity in my first comment prevented it from being posted. OK, then.

    “A Walk in the Woods” is a pretty funny, very informative book by writer, not hiker, Bill Bryson. The movie of the same name is execrable in countless ways.

    Hikers who hash on Bryson can be fairly tiresome; I think they don’t understand who he is or what he was trying to do with the book. That said, Bryson really oversteps when he writes in his concluding paragraph, “We didn’t walk all 2,200 miles, it’s true, but here’s the thing: we tried. So Katz was right after all, and I don’t care what anybody says. We hiked the Appalachian Trail.”

    Actually, you hiked (allegedly) about 40% of the Appalachian Trail, which is a different thing. By Bryson’s standard, if I go to Everest base camp, then climb up to Camp Two, turn around, and go home, I’ve “climbed” Everest. No.

    Re Katz: Bryson himself reported, in his book “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid” (in which Katz makes an appearance), that Katz was “mostly fiction” in AWITW. He also gave interviews years ago (which I read, though I can’t seem to find them now) in which he himself described Katz as “a composite” of people he knew. In recent years, his friend Matt Angerer of Des Moines, Iowa, has been identified as “Stephen Katz,” but Angerer himself disputed much of his characterization. I suspect Angerer hiked some part of the AT with Bryson, who then spiced him up (i.e. fictionalized or composit-ized) for the book.

    The movie is just listless, implausible and dull. Redford, who can be a great actor, is wooden and seemingly bored. Nolte is insanely over the top and appears to be on the verge of a fatal aneurism at virtually any moment. Grizzlies? Dumb choice. Fixating on the Beulah business? Pure (dumb) Hollywood. Their packs appear to be filled with popcorn. And many of the outdoor scenes weren’t even filmed on the AT … why? And given that Bryson and “Katz” were in their mid-40s when they hiked, why in the world did Redford cast himself at age 77 or 78, and Nolte at age 73 or 74?

    I expected to enjoy the movie if for no other reason than seeing iconic scenes of the AT on film. I got a couple of those, but that’s about it. I’m stunned, based on the conversation, that Reptar gave it a 7 and Voldemort a 5! I’d give it a 3, tops.

  • Tracy Freeman : Jun 22nd

    Thanks for making this downloadable. I had to pause right as you attempted to introduce Voldemort. I was already hooked.
    I read the book.. never saw the movie. Not entirely sure I ever want to. Looking forward to listening to the rest of the “shake down”. Happy hiking ya’ll.

  • John Young : Jun 23rd

    Didn’t study the movie frame by frame, but I believe neither Redford nor Nolte used the hiking poles they carried.

  • john : Oct 19th

    Indeed awesome movie. Thanks for providing <3 Will try to watch it again on


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