"A Walk in the Woods" by Bill Bryson, Chapters 1–3

With his characteristic wit, Bill Bryson recounts his five-month hike along the Appalachian Trail.

Here are links to our lists for the book: Chapters 1–3, Chapters 4–7, Chapters 8–12, Chapters 13–16, Chapters 17–21

Here is a link to our lists for A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson.
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definitions & notes only words
  1. comely
    very pleasing to the eye
    Running more than 2,100 miles along America’s eastern seaboard, through the serene and beckoning Appalachian Mountains, the AT is the granddaddy of long hikes. From Georgia to Maine, it wanders across fourteen states, through plump, comely hills whose very names—Blue Ridge, Smokies, Cumberlands, Green Mountains, White Mountains—seem an invitation to amble.
  2. amble
    walk leisurely
    From Georgia to Maine, it wanders across fourteen states, through plump, comely hills whose very names—Blue Ridge, Smokies, Cumberlands, Green Mountains, White Mountains—seem an invitation to amble.
  3. meander
    move or cause to move in a sinuous or circular course
    And here it was, quite unexpectedly, meandering in a dangerously beguiling fashion through the pleasant New England community in which I had just settled.
  4. beguiling
    highly attractive and able to arouse hope or desire
    And here it was, quite unexpectedly, meandering in a dangerously beguiling fashion through the pleasant New England community in which I had just settled.
  5. rationalization
    the process of making something consistent with reason
    I formed a number of rationalizations. It would get me fit after years of waddlesome sloth. It would be an interesting and reflective way to reacquaint myself with the scale and beauty of my native land after nearly twenty years of living abroad.
  6. guileless
    innocent and free of deceit
    Nearly everyone I talked to had some gruesome story involving a guileless acquaintance who had gone off hiking the trail with high hopes and new boots and come stumbling back two days later with a bobcat attached to his head or dripping blood from an armless sleeve and whispering in a hoarse voice, “Bear!” before sinking into a troubled unconsciousness.
  7. hapless
    unfortunate and deserving pity
    The woods were full of peril—rattlesnakes and water moccasins and nests of copperheads...sumac, poison oak, and poison salamanders; even a scattering of moose lethally deranged by a parasitic worm that burrows a nest in their brains and befuddles them into chasing hapless hikers through remote, sunny meadows and into glacial lakes.
  8. precipice
    a very steep cliff
    I heard four separate stories (always related with a chuckle) of campers and bears sharing tents for a few confused and lively moments; stories of people abruptly vaporized...of tents crushed beneath falling trees, or eased off precipices on ballbearings of beaded rain and sent paragliding on to distant valley floors, or swept away by the watery wall of a flash flood...
  9. malady
    impairment of normal physiological function
    If undetected, it can lie dormant in the human body for years before erupting in a positive fiesta of maladies. This is a disease for the person who wants to experience it all.
  10. extremity
    an external body part that projects from the body
    The symptoms include, but are not limited to, headaches, fatigue, fever, chills, shortness of breath, dizziness, shooting pains in the extremities, cardiac irregularities, facial paralysis, muscle spasms, severe mental impairment, loss of control of body functions, and—hardly surprising, really—chronic depression.
  11. convivial
    occupied with or fond of the pleasures of good company
    It may seem obvious, but it came as a small shock to me to realize that this wasn’t going to be even remotely like an amble through the English Cotswolds or Lake District, where you head off for the day with a haversack containing a packed lunch and a hiking map and at day’s end retire from the hills to a convivial inn for a hot bath, a hearty meal, and a soft bed.
  12. deferential
    showing courteous regard for people's feelings
    A kindly and deferential sort of fellow, Mengle could talk for perhaps four days solid, with interest, about any aspect of hiking equipment.
  13. abrasion
    erosion by friction
    He would say things to me like: “Now this has a 70-denier high-density abrasion-resistant fly with a ripstop weave. On the other hand, and I’ll be frank with you here”—and he would lean to me and reduce his voice to a low, candid tone, as if disclosing that it had once been arrested in a public toilet with a sailor—“the seams are lap felled rather than bias taped and the vestibule is a little cramped.”
  14. fastidious
    giving careful attention to detail
    It seemed to me a trifle overfastidious to choose one sleeping bag over another because it weighed three ounces less, but as equipment piled up around us I began to appreciate how ounces accumulate into pounds.
  15. blithely
    in a joyous, carefree, or unconcerned manner
    No more now would I blithely say, “Better give me half a dozen of those, Dave. Oh, and I’ll take eight of these—what the heck, make it a dozen. You only live once, eh?”
  16. pallor
    unnatural lack of color in the skin
    It was really quite snug and, once you got used to the smell, which I naively presumed would dissipate with time, and the fact that the fabric gave everything inside a sickly greenish pallor, like the glow off a radar screen, it was not so bad.
  17. shamble
    walk by dragging one's feet
    Then silence, a very long silence, and—wait, shhhhh...yes!—the unutterable relief of realizing that the bear has withdrawn to the other side of the camp or shambled back into the woods.
  18. foray
    a sudden short attack
    So imagine then what it must have been like for poor little David Anderson, aged twelve, when at 3:30 A.M., on the third foray, his tent was abruptly rent with a swipe of claw and the bear, driven to distraction by the rich, unfixable, everywhere aroma of hamburger, bit hard into a flinching limb and dragged him shouting and flailing through the camp and into the woods.
  19. accoutrement
    accessory or supplementary item of equipment or clothing
    In the few moments it took the boy’s fellow campers to unzip themselves from their accoutrements—and imagine, if you will, trying to swim out of suddenly voluminous sleeping bags, take up flashlights and makeshift cudgels, undo tent zips with helplessly fumbling fingers, and give chase—in those few moments, poor little David Anderson was dead.
  20. retiring
    reluctant to draw attention to yourself
    Of the two species, black bears are generally smaller (though this is a decidedly relative condition; a male black bear can still weigh up to 650 pounds) and unquestionably more retiring.
  21. salient
    conspicuous, prominent, or important
    All bears are agile, cunning, and immensely strong, and they are always hungry. If they want to kill you and eat you, they can, and pretty much whenever they want. That doesn’t happen often, but—and here is the absolutely salient point—once would be enough.
  22. rectitude
    righteousness as a consequence of being honorable and honest
    For the past three years he had devoted himself to rectitude and—I instantly saw now as he stooped out the door of the plane—growing a stomach.
  23. arresting
    commanding attention
    Katz was arrestingly larger than when I had last seen him.
  24. milieu
    the environmental condition
    I knew nothing about cooking, but Katz had been looking after himself for years and had a repertoire of dishes (principally involving peanut butter, tuna, and brown sugar stirred together in a pot) that he thought would transfer nicely to a camping milieu...
  25. intersperse
    place between or among
    We heard nothing more from him throughout the evening, but about midnight, as we lay in bed, noises began to float to us through the walls—clompings and mutterings, sounds like furniture being dragged across the floor, and brief enraged outbursts, interspersed with long periods of silence.
  26. disconsolate
    sad beyond comforting; incapable of being soothed
    “Oh, great,” Katz said and gave a ruptured, disconsolate sigh.
  27. venerable
    profoundly honored
    At the time of MacKaye’s proposal there were already several hiking clubs in the eastern United States—the Green Mountain Club, the Dartmouth Outing Club, the venerable Appalachian Mountain Club, among others—and these mostly patrician organizations owned and maintained hundreds of miles of mountain and woodland trails, mainly in New England.
  28. patrician
    characteristic of the nobility or aristocracy
    At the time of MacKaye’s proposal there were already several hiking clubs in the eastern United States—the Green Mountain Club, the Dartmouth Outing Club, the venerable Appalachian Mountain Club, among others—and these mostly patrician organizations owned and maintained hundreds of miles of mountain and woodland trails, mainly in New England.
  29. epigram
    a witty saying
    He had no patience with MacKaye and his “quasi-mystical epigrams,” and the two never got along.
  30. acrimonious
    marked by strong resentment or cynicism
    In 1935, they had an acrimonious falling-out over the development of the trail through Shenandoah National Park (Avery was willing to accommodate the building of a scenic highway through the mountains; MacKaye thought it a betrayal of founding principles) and they never spoke again.
  31. cajole
    influence or urge by gentle urging, caressing, or flattering
    He mapped it out, bullied and cajoled clubs into producing volunteer crews, and personally superintended the construction of hundreds of miles of path.
  32. chalet
    an alpine house or cottage with a steeply sloping roof
    The work camps and chalets, the schools and study centers, were never built.
  33. aerie
    any habitation at a high altitude
    Amicalola Falls Lodge was an aerie high on a mountainside, reached up a long, winding road through the woods.
  34. foreboding
    a feeling of evil to come
    I was ready to hike. I had waited months for this day, after all, even if it had been mostly with foreboding.
  35. laudable
    worthy of high praise
    I found Katz in the dining room and he was looking laudably perky, too.
  36. coquettish
    like a flirtatious woman
    This was because he had made a friend—a waitress named Rayette, who was attending to his dining requirements in a distinctly coquettish way.
  37. aplomb
    great coolness and composure under strain
    I hoisted my pack and took a backward stagger under the weight (it would be days before I could do this with anything approaching aplomb), jerked tight the belt, and trudged off.
  38. portentous
    of momentous or ominous significance
    I stepped portentously on to the path, a fragment of the original Appalachian Trail from the days when it passed here en route from Mount Oglethorpe to Springer.
  39. gnarled
    old and twisted and covered in lines
    When, after ages and ages, you finally reach the telltale world of truly high ground, where the chilled air smells of pine sap and the vegetation is gnarled and tough and wind bent, and push through to the mountain’s open pinnacle, you are, alas, past caring.
  40. petulant
    easily irritated or annoyed
    “I don’t know how to put up my tent,” Katz said in a petulant tone.
  41. flummox
    be a mystery or bewildering to
    I stood for a minute, speechless and flummoxed, too tired to be indignant.
  42. indignant
    angered at something unjust or wrong
    I stood for a minute, speechless and flummoxed, too tired to be indignant.
  43. concession
    the act of yielding
    “Oh, I ate that at Amicalola,” he said, as if it had been weeks ago, then added in a tone of sudden magnanimous concession, “Hey, I’m happy with a cup of coffee and a couple of Little Debbies.”
  44. equanimity
    steadiness of mind under stress
    This really was grave—a serious challenge, apart from anything else, to his promised equanimity.
  45. austere
    severely simple
    It was startlingly austere—some dried noodles, one bag of rice, raisins, coffee, salt, a good supply of candy bars, and toilet paper.

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