This week sees the home release of 'A Walk in the Woods', based on the bestselling book by Bill Bryson.
Robert Redford stars as the author, who sets out to walk the length of the Appalachian Trail, accompanied by a companion (Nick Nolte). The film is the story of their experiences, the people they meet, the moments of reflection they share along the way...
Bill Bryson has made this kind of memoir, adventure into the unknown balanced by reflection and gentle humour, his own, ever since he had a bestseller with his second book, 'The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America'.
To celebrate this latest release, we consider some of the life lessons Bill Bryson has taught us along the way...
1. You’re never too old for an adventure
2,180miles. It’s a long way to drive – never mind walk. But in his book A Walk in the Woods we see Bryson deciding in his mid-40s (in the film he’s in his 60s) to set out to hike the Appalachian Trail, one of the longest footpaths in the USA. He’s confronted with naysayers – among them his friends and family – but is determined to give it his best shot. He may not make it through all of the 14-states that it passes, but he gives it his all – battling bears, encountering annoying hikers and dealing with snow in spring on the way – inspiring us all to find our own adventure.
2. Love can be found in the most unusual places
Psychiatric hospitals are not the most conventional locations for love to flourish, but it was in one of these since-defunct institutions that the young America Bryson arrived in 1973 and subsequently met the love of his life. He was a backpacker looking for work following a boozy tour around Europe and was given the position as porter. He soon met a woman called Cynthia (a nurse, not a patient – he is always quick to clarify) and fell in love with her and Britain too. Now over four decades, four children and nine grandchildren later, Bryson is proof that true love can happen where we least expect it.
3. We’re very lucky to be alive
Science – in particular the inner workings of the universe, evolution, atoms, geology and biology – can be a thoroughly complex to understand. That’s why we all breathed a sigh of relief (and let out a good few laughs) when reading Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything in which he succinctly explains all this in layman’s terms with a hearty helping of humour. Even if we don’t quite understand everything at the end, as he eloquently states: “If this book has a lesson, it is that we are awfully lucky to be here – and by ‘we’ I mean every living thing.”
4. It’s always worth re-connecting with old friends
No matter how close we think we are, we inevitably end up losing touch with some of our closest friends at some time in our lives, and it can take many years for our paths to cross again. Take Bryson and his friend Katz – they travelled around Europe together in their youth, only to fall out and not see each other for years. But when they did reunite to hike the Appalachian Trail in A Walk in the Woods they not only shared memories and stories of their adventures, but also realised that the value of true friendship is being able to talk again, no matter how many years have passed.
5. Foreign travel is simply wonderful
“I can’t think of anything that incites childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything.” So says Bryson in his travel book 'Neither Here Nor There' as he embarks on a journey around Europe. Rather than get stressed at not understanding the different languages, being able to read menus and know what he’s ordering or even knowing the local culture and customs, he embraces the chance to simply guess at all the above – encouraging us all to delight in the unknown that travel can bring.
6. But… you don’t have to go far to have an adventure
It’s easy to get complacent about your home country. To relegate all that’s on your own doorstep as ‘boring’ or ‘dull’. But if anyone’s an advocate for exploring in your own backyard it’s Bryson. From rediscovering his birth country in The Lost Continent to travelling the shores of his new home, Britain, in Notes from a Small Island, he demonstrates that with the right mindset, everywhere – no matter how familiar – offers unexpected charms, colourful characters and beautiful landscapes that we might have previously overlooked.
7. A short walk can literally solve everything
Problems come in all shapes and sizes. From annoying people, to money woes, constant emails, looming deadlines and social media unfollows. But the important thing to remember is that the solution to clearing your head can be as simple as a stroll. As Bryson says of walking in his most recent book The Road to Little Dribbling “All the cares of life… suddenly seem far away and harmless, and the world becomes tranquil and welcoming and good.” If life gets too much do like Bryson and take a hike…
'A Walk in the Woods' is now available on DVD.