A Walk in the Woods

by

Bill Bryson

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A Walk in the Woods Characters

Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson is the memoir’s author, narrator, and central character. At the start of the story, Bryson has just returned to the United States after living abroad in Europe for years. He decides to hike… read analysis of Bill Bryson

Stephen Katz

Stephen Katz is an old friend whom Bryson hasn’t seen for years. He lives a lonely life as a recovering alcoholic in Des Moines, Iowa. When Bryson solicits a companion for his hiking trip, Katz… read analysis of Stephen Katz

Mary Ellen

Mary Ellen is an annoying hiker from Florida who tags along with Bryson and Katz for a few days in the first week of their hike. She exaggerates her hiking skills, talks constantly about useless… read analysis of Mary Ellen

Lollie Winans

A murderer kills camper Lollie Winans and her friend Julianne William in a glade on the Appalachian Trail about a month after Bryson and Katz pass through the same spot. Her murder reveals that although… read analysis of Lollie Winans

Julianne William

A murderer kills camper Julianne William and her friend Lollie Winans in a glade on the Appalachian Trail about a month after Bryson and Katz pass through the same spot. Her murder reveals that although… read analysis of Julianne William
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Chicken John

Chicken John is a famous hiker whom Bryson bumps into while hiking the Appalachian Trail just north of Pennsylvania. It’s taken Chicken John several months to hike about halfway through the trail because he keeps… read analysis of Chicken John

Wes Wisson

Wes Wisson is a taxi driver who routinely drops people off at the base of Summit Mountain as they prepare to hike the Adirondack Trail northward to Maine. On occasion, he also picks people up… read analysis of Wes Wisson

Benton MacKaye

Benton MacKaye designed the Adirondack Trail in the 1920s, conceiving it as a place for city workers to reconnect with nature. He planned to build villages along the route that thrived on pastoral activities. Interestingly… read analysis of Benton MacKaye

Alexei Pitka

Alexei Pitka is a famous bear-hunter who shot down a grizzly bear. When he approached the bear, it was still alive and it grabbed Pitka’s head between its jaws. Astoundingly, Pitka survived. The anecdote… read analysis of Alexei Pitka

Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau was a 19th-century philosopher who romanticized the virtues of walking in nature—though in reality, he rarely ventured too far from his hometown of Concord, Massachusetts. Despite the values he extolled, Thoreau found… read analysis of Henry David Thoreau
Minor Characters
Bryson’s wife
Bryson’s wife features at the beginning and end of the story. She’s skeptical about Bryson’s plan to hike the Appalachian Trail. She’s even more doubtful of Bryson’s motivation to hike the trail with Stephen Katz, whom she remembers as somebody Bryson was always annoyed by.
Justin
Justin is a man who runs the Walasi-Yi Inn along with his wife, Peggy. The inn is the first building that hikers trekking north will come across along the Adirondack Trail. It’s located about a week’s hike from the starting point at Mount Summit in Georgia.
Peggy
Peggy is Justin’s wife and co-owner of the Walasi-Yi Inn. She often encourages disheartened hikers to keep going as they pass through.
Connolly
Bryson and Katz meet fellow hiker Connolly partway through their trip. They hike together through Shenandoah National Park.
Laurie Potteiger
Laurie Potteiger works at the Appalachian Trail Conference. Bryson has a brief chat with her when he visits Harper’s Ferry, and they discuss the risks of hiking on the trail.
Dave Mengle
Dave Mengle is an avid hiker who sells Bryson hiking gear when he’s preparing for his trip. He’s deeply knowledgeable and passionate about the distinctions between different kinds of equipment.
Keith Shaw
Keith Shaw owns an inn in Monson, Maine. Bryson and Katz spend the night there before they tackle the dreaded Hundred Mile Wilderness.
Darren
Darren is a man who’s driving along the highway with his fiancé Donna. Although he’s driving erratically in his drunken state, Bryson and Katz gratefully accept a ride to the nearest town during their hike.
Donna
Donna offers Bryson and Katz a ride when they decide to hitchhike to the nearest town partway through their trip. She’s clearly drunk, as is her fiancé Darren, but Bryson and Katz accept the ride anyway.
Beulah
Beulah is a heavy-set woman whom Katz meets at a laundromat. He attempts to go on a date with her, not knowing she’s married.
Beulah’s husband
Beulah’s husband chases Katz out of town when he realizes that Katz attempted to flirt with his wife.
Buddy and Jensine Crossman
Buddy and Jensine run a filthy, dilapidated campground where Bryson and Katz hide out in a blizzard.
Bob
Bob is an annoying camper who bothers Bryson with details about his camping gear until Katz (in a rare moment of Bryson’s appreciation) shuts him up.
Stephen Herrero
Stephen Herrero is the author of Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance. Bryson reads the book as he’s preparing for his hiking trip. Instead of reassuring Bryson, the book triggers a deep-seated fear of bears that haunts Bryson for the majority of his trip.
David Anderson
David Anderson is a 12-year-old boy who gets eaten by bears during a camping trip on the Appalachian Trail. Stephen Herrero recounts the story of David Anderson in his book, Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance. David’s fate fills Bryson with dread as he anticipates his upcoming hike.
Myron Avery
Myron Avery was tasked with beginning construction on the Adirondack Trail in 1930. He gave up after five years following arguments with Benton MacKaye and growing skepticism about MacKaye’s vision.
Rayette
Rayette is a heavy-set waitress whom Katz flirts with on the morning that Bryson and Katz begin hiking the trail.
Henry C. Bagley
Henry C. Bagley was a 19th-century railroad man who decimated the woods in Georgia for timber to fuel his railroad in 1890. Bryson discusses Bagley to expose how much deforestation has taken place since the formation of the United States.
James Dickie
James Dickie is the author of Deliverance, a novel about four men on a canoeing trip who are terrorized by inbred woodsmen in northern Georgia. Bryson recalls the book when he arrives at a motel in the same area.
Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton is a famous singer who grew up in the Great Smoky Mountains.
Earl V. Shaffer
Earl V. Shaffer was the first person to hike the whole Appalachian Trail. He completed it in 1948 over 123 days, even though most people at the time thought such a feat was impossible.
Stuart Udall
Stuart Udall was the U.S. secretary of the interior from 1955­–1961. In 1968 he passed the Trails System Act, turning the Appalachian Trail into a national park and thereby protecting it from encroaching industry.
Leonard Ward
Leonard Ward hiked the whole Appalachian Trail in 60 days in the 1980s, setting the record for the fastest hike.
David Horton
David Horton beat Ward’s record for hiking the whole Appalachian Trail in 1991 by running instead of walking, even though he cried most of the way.
Bill Irwin
Bill Irwin, a blind man, hiked the whole Appalachian Trail with the help of his seeing-eye dog. Famously, he didn’t enjoy hiking at all but felt compelled to complete the journey.
Asher Brown Duran
Asher Brown Duran painted Kindred Spirits in 1849. The painting depicts two men looking off into a majestic wilderness. Bryson imagines that’s what he might have seen if he hiked the trail before industrialization, even though he knows the artist likely embellished his depiction of nature.
John Bartram
John Bartram was an 18th-century American botanist who sent cuttings of plants to London. He discovered over 200 new species.
William Bartram
William Bartram was John Bartram’s son. Like his father, William was an avid botanist around the time of the Revolutionary War.
Thomas Nuttall
Thomas Nuttall was a traveler from Liverpool who discovered many new plant species after exploring the American wilderness in the 1800s. He donated all of his cuttings and wrote a seminal encyclopedia of botany.
Stonewall Jackson
Stonewall Jackson was a Confederate general in the American Civil War. Bryson thinks about Stonewall Jackson while visiting Harper’s Ferry, where Jackson spent time camping on the Appalachian Trail during the war.
Rebecca Wight
A disturbed man shoots Rebecca Wight and her partner, Claudia Brenner, while they’re having sex near the Appalachian Trail. Wight was killed, while Brenner survived. Bryson briefly recounts their story when thinking about the dangers of the trail.
Claudia Brenner
A disturbed man shoots Claudia Brenner and her partner, Rebecca Wight, while they’re having sex near the Appalachian Trail. Wight was killed, while Brenner survived. Bryson briefly recounts their story when thinking about the dangers of the trail.
Colonel Edwin Drake
Col. Edwin Drake discovered the first oil gusher in Pennsylvania in the 1800s, thereby kickstarting the industry of oil mining in the area. Bryson discusses Drake when lamenting the negative impact of mining on Pennsylvania’s natural landscape.
James Tefil
James Tefil is a geologist who studies erosion.
George Innes
George Innes was an artist who painted the Delaware Water Gap in the 1800s, before the area was industrialized.
Gwen Schultz
Gwen Schultz is a scientist who studies ice ages.
Herman Melville
Herman Melville wrote the novel Moby Dick from a study facing Mount Greylock, which is part of the Appalachian Trail in Massachusetts.
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne was a writer who set some of his stories at Mount Greylock, which is part of the Appalachian Trail in Massachusetts.
Edith Wharton
Edith Wharton was a writer who set some of her stories at Mount Greylock, which is part of the Appalachian Trail in Massachusetts.
Alden Partridge
Alden Partridge was a hiker who coined the term “physical education” in the 1700s. He was known for hiking 100 miles in just a few days.
David Quammen
David Quammen wrote the book Natural Acts, documenting all the ways people can die from hypothermia.
Richard Salinas
Richard Salinas was a hiker who died from hypothermia after wandering off a well-defined trail in search of a shortcut. His story reminds the reader that human ineptitude and bad decisions are often the reasons why people die in the woods.
Bill Abdu
Bill Abdu is a friend who joins Bryson to hike through New Hampshire, where Bryon gets hypothermia.
Derek Tinkham
Derek Tinkham and Jeremy Haas attempted to hike Mount Washington when the weather was -32°F. Tinkham survived, but Haas froze to death.
Jeremy Haas
Derek Tinkham and Jeremy Haas attempted to hike Mount Washington when the weather was -32°F. Tinkham survived, but Haas froze to death.
Grandma Gatewood
Grandma Gatewood was a hiker who, like Chicken John, was famous for getting perpetually lost on the Appalachian Trail.
Jim and Heath
A father and son hiking duo with whom Bryson and Katz weather an intense storm.