Of all the compelling characters in American literature, perhaps Melville's Captain Ahab is the most vivid. By turns, one truly suffers and exults with him.
Now I won't go so far as to say that Bryson's Katz belongs in such annals, but he is worth dwelling on for a second. The interesting thing about Katz is the strong reaction he provokes from various quarters. In stark terms, many of the top echelon of AT hikers just flat out can't stand to hear about him. They go so far as to even question his existence and claim that Bryson created him to dramatize the book. Well, there is no doubt that Katz dramatized the book, alright; but, I think these people are badly errant in their analyses.
Katz, in some basic ways, is highly representative of the AT. Fat, out-of-shape, struggling, bitterly complaining, he quits well before reaching his goal. Nonetheless, he finally earns a measure of gratitude for this great national institution, the Appalachian Trail.
Remember, 80% of the people who set off each year to thru-hike fall short of their goal. Something like 25% never make it out of Georgia. So, in some basic ways Katz is highly representative of the AT population. And, better yet, despite his often miserable experiences on the trail, I would be willing to bet that in retrospect that it was one of the more enriching experiences of his life. That brings up an important point. Future Katz's should be encouraged, not discouraged, to hoist a backpack. The more people that hike on the AT, the better off we will be as a country and society, because of the great civilizing effect we are all aware the AT magically embodies.
Author of Skywalker--Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail