Grandma Gatewood's Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail
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Emma Gatewood told her family she was going on a walk and left her small Ohio hometown with a change of clothes and less than two hundred dollars. The next anybody heard from her, this genteel, farm-reared, sixty-seven-year-old great-grandmother had walked 800 miles along the 2,050-mile Appalachian Trail. By September 1955 she stood atop Maine’s Mount Katahdin, sang “America, the Beautiful,” and proclaimed, “I said I’ll do it, and I’ve done it.”
Driven by a painful marriage, Grandma Gatewood not only hiked the trail alone, she was the first person—man or woman—to walk it twice and three times. At age seventy-one, she hiked the 2,000-mile Oregon Trail. Gatewood became a hiking celebrity, and appeared on TV with Groucho Marx and Art Linkletter. The public attention she brought to the trail was unprecedented. Her vocal criticism of the lousy, difficult stretches led to bolstered maintenance, and very likely saved the trail from extinction.
Author Ben Montgomery interviewed surviving family members and hikers Gatewood met along the trail, unearthed historic newspaper and magazine articles, and was given full access to Gatewood’s own diaries, trail journals, and correspondence. Grandma Gatewood’s Walk shines a fresh light on one of America’s most celebrated hikers.
politician was the most controversial figure in Washington and a new word had made its debut: McCarthyism. To some he was a fearless patriot, to others a dangerous charlatan. To all observers, he was on the edge of astonishing political power—until he was censured by the US Senate. With the country buzzing about Communism, the Supreme Court had set the course for another period of disruption and civil unrest when, in May 1954, it ruled that “Separate education facilities are inherently unequal,”
pounds in the three months she’d been walking. “Even the beginning of the hike was done on a spur of the moment basis. Mrs. Gatewood just started out equipped with a canteen, a 25-pound pack and some ‘spending money,’” the article read. “Mrs. Gatewood has had no special training as a hiker, except for the good hard life of raising her 11 children on a farm in Ohio.” The article spoke of her determination, and how she had established a pace of about seventeen miles per day, “rain or shine.” The
ascent is much the same today as it was in 1955, but more than half of the trail in Maine had been relocated. In 1968, after the passage of the National Trails System Act, the Maine Appalachian Trail Club reviewed the entire trail in the state and began to move the A.T. to a route that was more rewarding for the hiker and could be better maintained. Major relocation projects ran from the mid-1970s to the late ’80s. To be certain our climb was historically accurate, my wife and I hired Paul
“Well, I like to walk …” “When you got to the other end, what happened? Did you turn around and walk back again?” “No. This year I walked up to the Centennial, up to Portland.” “From where?” “Independence, Missouri.” “Oh, my,” said a woman in the audience. A man whistled and another began to clap. A low chatter commenced and you could picture the audience turning to each other mid-gasp, awed by this woman who now had a small smile on her lips. Back home in Gallia County, Emma collected a
broke down, she cut the grass with a push mower. She quilted and braided rugs and wrote letters and spoke at school assemblies and washed the windows at the Methodist church. She captured in her diary the extraordinary minutiae of her twilight. May 19, 1967. I took a mattock and shovel and worked on the road around the court; dug a ditch to let the water out, and dug the high places into the holes. Lifted the grass around where the well was dug and wheeled five loads of dirt and filled in.