I’ve never really understood how the phrase “take a hike” is supposed to be an insult, even when it’s delivered rather crossly. Would you rather be in the office or “take a hike”? Drive the kids to swim practice before school or “take a hike”? Be stuck in the “ten items or less” aisle behind someone with a full trolley or “take a hike”? Well, I know which one I’d rather do: (clue: it involves taking a hike).
And it seems it’s the same answer for everyone’s favourite travel writer, Bill Bryson, whose classic 90s wanderlust tome A Walk in the Woods is a now major movie release starring Robert Redford, Emma Thompson and Nick Nolte. It's certain to inspire you to take your old boots down from the attic and dust off your backpack. The film is based on an amble along America’s best-known hiking route, the Appalachian Trail, which, assuming you’re doing it south to north, starts northwest of Atlanta, in the State of Georgia and finishes some 2,170 miles later in Maine. En route you’ll pass through North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire.
Well, you would if you were having a post midlife crisis but let’s face it, no one really has time to do the whole thing (although around 12,000 people or so are said to have walked the whole lot since its inception in 1937). Unless you’re the star of a country and western song, that is ie your woman gone done left you, and driven over your heart in her pick up truck, run off with your dawg etc.
But a bit-size chunk of the Trail makes a great holiday, a way of seeing a different, very rural slice of America, away from the hustle and bustle of the big cities. Grand American Adventures can package something up for you, either camping or staying under cover depending on your budget and your comfort levels.
For example a ten-day camping adventure in Maine lets you have a taste of the tail–end of the trail (and trying saying that after ten pints in a Boston bar). If you go at the end of September or start of October the “Fall foliage” colours on the trees are unbelievably gorgeous and you’ll get the chance to walk through both the Green Mountains and White Mountains National Forests, as well as Baxter State Park up near the border with Quebec.
Or go hut-to-hut hiking on a backcountry hiking trip staying in simple refuges along the way, which at least means you don’t have to lug a tent with you, and you’ll be in the company of two guides, one of whom leads their group a bit faster than the other, if you’d rather saunter at the back now and again.
My own “Appalachian” moments have been in Tennessee and Virginia, although I’ve always rather wanted to visit Ashville, North Carolina, close by, which I’ve been told is an oasis of 'hippydom’ in an otherwise fairly illiberal state. And something I learned quickly in those southern parts is that it’s pronounced “Apple-atch-an” rather than “Apple-ay-chun” as it is further north.
But my own Appalachian walk took place in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, east of Knoxville, a few years ago, where, on an early summer morning, the mist clung to the rolling hills, so giving the area its name.
We saw bears playing, and then stopped later in the middle of forests to fish from gently babbling rivers and just dabble our toes in cool streams.
It was a quick taste of what’s on offer before we drove onwards to southern Virginia to listen to blue grass music, but it was a reminder that these “off the beaten path” states offer a fantastic location for a holiday to the USA.
So next time someone tells you to “go take a hike”, smile sweetly and then before you doff your cap and bid them good day, tell them that that’s exactly what you plan on doing. So there.