Emma Gatewood read about the Appalachian Trail in National Geographic Magazine”I thought it would be a nice lark,” she said.
In 1955 at the age of 67, she put on her Keds sneakers, put an army blanket, a raincoat, and a plastic shower curtain in a homemade bag slung it over her shoulder, and headed off to hike the trail.
She hiked it again in 1960 and then again at age 75 in 1963, making her the first person to hike the trail three times.
She first laid eyes on the trail in a doctor’s office back home, inside a discarded National Geographic from August 1949, and the nineteen-page spread with color photographs was a window to another place… “The Appalachian Trail, popularly the ‘A.T.,’ is a public pathway that rates as one of the seven wonders of the outdoorsman’s world,” the article gushed. “Over it you may ‘hay foot, straw foot’ from Mount Katahdin, with Canada on the horizon, to Mount Oglethorpe, which commands the distant lights of Atlanta.”
The old woman had been captivated. “Planned for the enjoyment of anyone in normal good health,” it read, “the A.T. doesn’t demand special skill or training to traverse.” By the time the article was published in 1949, just one man, a twenty-nine-year-old soldier named Earl V. Shaffer, had officially reported hiking the trail’s entire length in a single, continuous journey. In the seven years since Shaffer’s celebrated hike, only five others had achieved the same. All were men.
Emma intended to change that.
“I thought that although I was sixty-six,” she would write later in her diary, “I would try it.”
Grandma Gatewood’s Walk
Grandma Gatewood is one of those quiet folks who just go about their lives and end up being unlikely heroes. Her story surpasses her hiking record, as impressive as that record may be. Grandma Gatewood’s Walk by Ben Montgomery is based on Gatewood’s diaries, trail journals, correspondence, and interviews of surviving family members and those she met along her hike. It’s a tale of the full power of human spirit and determination, a story of triumph over pain, overcoming brutality, and enduring suffering.
Grandma Gatewood’s Walk at Amazon