Grandma Gatewood's Walk The Inspiring Story of the Woman

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Grandma Gatewood's Walk The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail A mile or so from my house is the Tuscobia a 70 mile recreational trail that cuts through the western half of Northern Wisconsin On its way it passes through a half dozen small towns none than a few hundred people in size as well as the Cheuamegon National Forest a massive swathe of land that has largely been left to the animals of which there are many There is nothing spectacular about the trail besides the occasional railroad spike sticking out of the ground no landmarks no great natural landscapes no fluctuations in terrain its flatness bespeaking its former use and yet a few years ago I began walking it At first I covered only a few miles making sure I turned back before it became too dark or before my domesticated knees threatened to give out As the summer progressed however the walks became longer until I was covering 15 to 20 miles in a given day all without water or food; my supplies consisted of a camera which would go virtually unused a baseball cap to block out the sun and a few dollars in case I needed to stop at one of the few gas stations along the way The entire experience stretched out over one long summer was nothing short of unpleasant and at the last five miles I gave up the horse flies were too vicious the distance from home too far To this day I have no desire to go back and hike that final portion The Tuscobia era of my life is thankfully closedAnd yet I persisted forcing myself to cover one section after the next for no reason other than to walk I knew there would be nothing to see no great scenes to photograph no milestones to reach but I kept on driving out further and further parking along narrow backroads and disappearing for hours at a time I never expected to walk the entire trail in one go for the simple reason that there were no lodgings along the way The trail used mainly for ATV riders in the summer and snowmobilers in the winter isn't designed for hikers and yet I found a strange comfort in those hours on the trail a trail on which I could vanish without ever having to worry about being lost In those long stretches of time away from people phones televisions traffic and other distractions other refuges I was able forced to not only push myself further but also think through my life as it was and could be After all when you're alone on a 70 mile trail that snakes its way through one of the least populated places in the country you have a lot of time to thinkThis paradox of disappearing to find oneself has made the simple act of walking a serious object of study and reflection advocated by men and women for centuries Henry David Thoreau wrote a heavily reprinted essay on the subject philosophizing that walking fulfills man's inner need to reconnect with and rejoin nature a need that modern society has done its best to suffocate away to excise and devalue Similarly the world's greatest thinkers Rousseau Nietzsche Kant Rimbaud all took to walking for their own individual purposes though each would remark on how beneficial the experience was not only to them personally but to mankind entirely Others have transformed walking into a symbolic experience an exercise in strength protest and reform Gandhi walked to the waters for euality just as civil rights activists walked to Montgomery for rights the third time joined by Martin Luther King himself and always under the threat of violence Men and women have walked across countries up the world's highest mountain across the planet's coldest and emptiest continent into the hearts of forgotten empires down caves that were refuges for our ancestors and even across the surface of the moon And with every walk marked into dirt and soil and dust by the feet and shoes of average people our world has become a better place knowledgeable aware connectedSometimes however a great walk occurs by accident simply because the path is somewhere to be when there's nowhere else to go In 1955 a grandmother from Ohio named Emma Gatewood made her way south to George where with few provisions and no guide she began to walk the Appalachian Trail a 2168 mile path that crossed through 14 states and had only ever been walked from start to finish uninterrupted in one season by a half dozen others before her at most and all of them men At age 67 she was an unlikely candidate for such an adventure; wearing only Keds on her feet and with scant supplies some raisins for food a blanket a raincoat an extra pair of glasses money and identification she was also impossibly optimistic about her chances At the time the Appalachian Trail was in sorry disrepair Virtually ignored by the federal government not to mention state agencies the trail was tended at intervals by local groups and volunteers all of whom worked without recognition or pay to preserve what they viewed as a national treasure Had it not been for their dedication hikers like Emma Gatewood could never have made the months long trek; and had it not been for hikers like Emma Gatewood and especially Emma Gatewood the trail itself may have faded into obscurity reclaimed by the very wilderness the path was created to embraceWhat makes the story of Emma Gatewood dubbed Grandma Gatewood by writers at the time so enthralling especially when written out by Ben Montgomery is that the accounts of her Appalachian walk are interspersed with stories of the world Emma Gatewood left behind if only temporarily She had been a dutiful wife and mother the kind of woman a turn of the century housewife who labored 20 hours a day making sure her children were fed her husband was taken care of the house was clean the pantry was well stocked and the farm ran smoothly while the men were out working the fields and tending to the cattle She could butcher and fry a hog single handedly wrote poetry never complained about the tribulations of farm life and kept connected to her family through detailed letters even when they spread across the country But her husband was abusive often beating her until she was no longer recognizable At times she would want to leave but her husband watched her obsessively and she didn't want to leave without the children whom he never struck but had no problems being violent in front of Plus this was an era when women were still expected to submit in certain parts of the country and where a beaten wife's story didn't matter when the husband was friends with the law It was a secret she carried with her even after they separated and she was given control over the farm and custody of the children an unheard of judgment for a woman in the early twentieth century Still decades later when the newspapers learned of her solitary walk and caught up with her to ask her uestions she was always available to journalists even though they slowed her down she would tell them she was a widow that her husband was dead and she'd say nothing She didn't like to talk about herself all that much brushing off their condescending surprise that she would embark on something so difficult and at her advanced age and she especially didn't want to tell them that her husband was still alive somewhere though she didn't particularly care whereAs Montgomery's book approaches its close the two halves of Gatewood's life her past her present all written in honest beautiful prose converge into the story of a woman who did something on her own even when all of the evidence and much of the popular opinion as unspoken as it may have been said she wouldn't or couldn't In fact she would return to the trail twice each time for no other reason than because it was there and because there was nothing stopping her not any Later she would walk the Oregon Trail a 2000 mile trek from Missouri to Portland though the treeless roadways meant the sun beat down on her for months merciless And yet she prevailed there too She would be given credit for pioneering the practice of ultra light hiking in which a hiker carries as little as possible though she did so out of expedience practicality and an overriding trust in her fellow people most of whom did all they could to help out this old soft spoken women on her journey They fed her gave her a place to sleep in one case she eschewed a bed for a chair on the family's front porch and returned her to the place where she'd been picked up guaranteeing that she did not miss a single step of the trail What these kind hearted samaritans didn't realize what they couldn't have realized at the time was that her mission transcended the mountainous path she would eventually conuer As is the case with most people Emma Gatewood was on two journeys one she walked publicly and one she walked privately on her own and for only herselfThis review was originally published at There Will Be Books Galore A gentle and nearly perfect tracing of steps of a determined woman who was among the first to simply walk the Appalachian Trail from one end to the other in the middle of the 20th century when she was 67 years old It's also a book about the emotional and physical journey that was her disastrously abusive married life and the solace she found in nature as an independent old lady There's a little something in here for everyone people who love nature and hiking epic or simple and people who love old ladies but also people who are interested in the way society changed As Grandma Gatewood was walking in 1955 America was building the interstate road system that would radically alter our ideas of mobility and distance There's just a little bit of that kind of historicalcultural context not too much and not too preachy Ben Montgomery disclosure he's a friend of mine found just the right tone here It's interesting to hold Grandma Gatewood's Walk in which the motivations of the central subject remain so stubbornly elusive what made Grandma Gatewood decide to do the trail? How did it make her feel? against a memoir like Cheryl Strayed's Wild in which the reader is never not aware of the autobiographical hiker and her emotional travails with each stepI was struck by two things that I wanted to know a little about What in Grandma Gatewood led her to assume that so many strangers would offer her food sleeping space etc when she knocked on their doors? If Americans forgot how to walk long distances it seems clearer to me that they also forgot how to open their doors and cupboards to strangers Also I'm curious about the rise of REI culture and the hippy hiker culture that now defines the world of the AT which made me also wonder about the present day culture of boutiue outdoorsmanship but my sense is that line of inuiry would probably get in the way of a book that turned out to be beautifully spare The book is just really terrific at blending biography and armchair travel two of my favorite genres At the end of it you'll wish you walked I walk a minimum of 28 miles a day to work and back usually so I didn't feel too inertFinally the thing that made me happiest about this book is that one of America's finest male feature writers took on a book project that was about a woman It's an incredibly rare thing most of the men I know who work at magazines and newspapers almost always I mean always write stories about men Winner of the 2014 National Outdoor Book Awards for HistoryBiography 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 67 year old great grandmother had walked 800 miles along the 2050 mile Appalachian Trail And in September 1955 having survived a rattlesnake strike two hurricanes and a run in with gangsters from Harlem she stood atop Maine’s Mount Katahdin There she sang the first verse of “America the Beautiful” and proclaimed “I said I’ll do it and I’ve done it”Grandma Gatewood as the reporters called her became the first woman to hike the entire Appalachian Trail alone as well as the first person—man or woman—to walk it twice and three times Gatewood became a hiking celebrity and appeared on TV and in the pages of Sports Illustrated The public attention she brought to the little known footpath was unprecedented Her vocal criticism of the lousy difficult stretches led to bolstered maintenance and very likely saved the trail from extinctionAuthor Ben Montgomery was given unprecedented access to Gatewood’s own diaries trail journals and correspondence and interviewed surviving family members and those she met along her hike all to answer the uestion so many asked Why did she do it The story of Grandma Gatewood will inspire readers of all ages by illustrating the full power of human spirit and determination Even those who know of Gatewood don’t know the full story—a story of triumph from pain rebellion from brutality hope from suffering A cool story told by a mediocre author I have no idea how this guy was a Pulitzer Prize finalist The writing is ok but the book jumps back and forth between Gatewood's past and her hike The jumps happen without warning and make little sense in terms of flow The bulk of the book is devoted to her first thru hike with the others mentioned only in passing I found the amount of detail and lack of balance a little oddOne chapter in the last third of the book consists of the author's account of retracing Grandma Gatewood's steps up the last portion of the trail in Maine Like many male authors Montgomery felt the need to unnecessarily insert himself into what is a woman's story Rather than using Gatewood's own descriptions of her experience he decided it was important to experience it himself since women's experiences aren't real unless men can have them too The angry feminist in me spent this chapter alternating between barfing and skimming while simultaneously dreading the rest of the bookIf this hadn't been written by a stereotypical dude author the star rating would be a lot higher But I couldn't get into it I don't give a shit about your pondering of what Grandma Gatewood would have thought about the way you hike Given that she seemed to give no fucks about other hikers when she was alive it follows that you're nothing special A huge debt of gratitude is wished to my GR friend Julie for recommending Grandma Gatewood's Walk The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail to me Though I have hid one part of my review as a spoiler my enthusiasm for this book may contain others It's a case of told rather than less but I'm certain you'll still find insights of your own to take away from this readIt was the spring of 1955 May to be exact when Emma Gatewood set out from her home in Galliapolis Ohio on a walk Not just any walk but one step in front of the other 5 million of these on the 2000 plus mile journey from Georgia to Maine to become the first recognized woman thru hiker on The Appalachian Trail Most people would ask why and many did as this mother of eleven and grandmother of twenty three hiked the trail She gave the usual answers including the simple Because I wanted to” As you read Emma’s story you many draw your own conclusions as to her motivation Mine are contained in this view spoilerEmma Gatewood married PC Gatewood on May 7 1907 Within three months the abuse began horrific abuse that lasted for thirty five years of marriage until February 6 1941 when a judge decreed the marriage over “PC was gone for good” and Emma was changing In her own words ”I am than glad to be free of it all” she wrote in her diary Have been happy every since” “The forest is a uiet place and nature is beautiful I don’t want to sit and rock I want to do something” She was going forward not looking back and often walked as a form of meditation before it was popular hide spoiler 5 Stars for Grandma Gatewood's Inspirational Story“MAY 2—9 1955” “She packed her things in late spring when her flowers were in full bloom and left Gallia County Ohio the only place she’d every really called home” ”She stood finally her canvas Keds tied tight on May 3 1955 atop the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail the longest continuous footpath in the world facing the peaks on the blue black horizon that stretched toward heaven and unfurled before her for days Facing a mean landscape of angry rivers and hateful rock she stood a woman mother of eleven and grandmother of twenty three She had not been able to get the trail out of her mind She had thought of it constantly back home in Ohio where she tended her small garden and looked after her grandchildren biding her time until she could get away “When she finally could it was 1955 and she was sixty seven years old” The only survival training she’d had came surviving her years of marriage to a violent and abusive man She’d been walking for years out in the country with no driver’s license for years just to get from place to place with walks in the woods with no real destination in mind She just enjoyed being outside surrounded by woods Nature As time went by she began to add each day until she gradually was up to ten miles a dayShe hadn’t wanted to tell anyone of her plans and over time she had saved a bit of money here and there out of her twenty five dollar a week paycheck until she ualified for the minimum in social security Then she trained some and prepared some things gathered some things for her walkSo when she stood before these mountains that comprised the Appalachian Trail from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine she was not only trying to fulfill a promise she’d silently made to herself she was doing so with a hand sewn backpack carrying some bouillon cubes Vienna Sausage raisins peanuts powered milk Band Aids bobby pins iodine Vicks one pair of slippers and one gingham dress – just in case she ever had to dress nice the keds she was wearing and the clothes on her back Only two people knew she was there the cab driver that dropped her off and her cousin She told her grown children she was “going for a walk” ”There were a million heavenly things to see and a million spectacular ways to die” Why? She would be asked that hundreds of times if not thousands of times She had a handful of answers “For a lark” was repeated often She was hooked from the time she read an August 1949 National Geographic magazine that she found containing nineteen pages devoted to the Appalachian Trail with color photographs It was a “window to another place” showing a bear cub teenage hikers in Vermont a lichen speckled boulder in Maine and They referred to it as “a soul cheering foot tempting trail” where food was easy to find with plenty of shelters and well spaced for a day’s walk one from another She read that only one man had officially walked the trail’s entire length in a single continuous journey Since then only five others had achieved the same and all were men ”Emma intended to change that” I have spent much of my life living near the Appalachian Trail and have spent lots of days walking it collectively I’d always lived with woods behind my house exploring trails was a big part of my childhood and when my oldest was young a part of our days I wanted to read this after reading my goodreads friend Melissa’s excellent heartfelt review There’s so much we put off or our family obligations or work obligations force us to put off such ideas as taking a walk on the Appalachian Trail and then one day it’s too late Health problems concerns prevent it or other things keep us from being able to commit to walking the entire AT or maybe even for very long Maybe this goes beyond a specific dream Grandma Gatewood’s story is so inspirational it will undoubtedly move you So find your dream and follow it ”I did it she said I said I’d do it and I’ve done it”Melissa’s review you MelissaMy eternal thanks to the Public Library for providing me yet again with a copy to read Grandma Emma Gstewood was an amazing woman who at the age of 67 and with no long distance hiking experience hiked the entire Appalachian Trail First woman to hike the AT alone she returned and hiked it several times That she did this without advance preparation without the essential gear and apparently without any fear is just amazing Of course she had the truly essential gear determination courage and good healthA moderately interesting book about a fascinating inspiring woman The writing was mostly just a recitation of facts as taken from Emma's diaries andor newspaper articles A five star lady portrayed in a 3 star book Although it seems wholly inadeuate the only word I can think of to describe this book and this woman is WOWAuthor Ben Montgomery tells the story of Emma Grandma Gatewood the first woman to ever through hike the 2050 Appalachian Trail in 1957 at the age of 67 She then became the first person male or female to hike the trail two and then three times She was first inspired to hike the trail while reading about it in an article in National Geographic magazine The article claimed that any person in reasonable health should be able to hike the trail and wouldn't need any special euipment This was in a time when even those who created the trail didn't imagine that anyone would hike it all the way through It was intended for day or weekend hikes Emma hiked it with a hand sewn back satchel which carried only the essentials omitting a tent and went through numerous pairs of flimsy shoes in her journey Using her journals newspaper articles letters and interviews with children and others who knew her as sources Montgomery gives us a picture of this extraordinary woman He not only brings readers along on Emma's journey but also tries to discover her motivation for making such a uestEmma spent her married life on a farm in southern Ohio which had much in common with Appalachian West Virginia than the rust belt cities of the northern part of the state Her married life was miserable Her husband was mercilessly abusive and the author implies that at least some of her 11 children were conceived via instances of marital rape In that era and in that place a husband's word was gospel and after one particularly bad fight although Emma was left with a bludgeoned face 4 broken teeth and broken ribs the local sheriff came and arrested her because her husband with hardly a scratch claimed Emma was being uncooperativeDecades after being in a horrible marriage Emma finally divorced her husband Once her children were finally grown she was ready to live life on her terms All she told her children was that she was going for a walk and that's all they heard from her until she had walked than 800 miles of the Appalachian TrailEmma had much to say about the lazy attitudes of people of her day Those who would rather jump in the car than walk a few blocks to run an errand and this was in the 50s and 60s God only knows what she'd have to say today She also had a deep reverence for the outdoors Although she's not a household name today she gained uite a bit a fame during her journey and as a result of her hike she brought much needed attention to the inadeuacies of the Appalachian Trail as it was in her day from poorly maintained trails to missing blazes to falling down shelters Even after her Appalachian Trail hikes Emma continued making long distances walks throughout the rest of her life including walking the 2000 mile Oregon trail among others If you're looking to be inspired or for a reminder that age is just a number look no further than this book5 enthusiastic stars Oops I did it againaka here's another tierlist video ranking all my January Books Now that you know where this one stands check out the video to see the restThe Written Review Her chest full of crisp air and inspiration her feet atop a forgettable mountain where the stars make you feel insignificant and important all at once Emma Gatewood is many things a wife a mother a grandmother and a world renowned walkerWhen she was sixty seven years old she told her family she would be going out for a walk packed a change of clothes two hundred dollars and set off to the Appalachian Trail The sum of the whole is this Walk and be happy; Walk and be healthy The Appalachian Trail clocks in at 2050 miles and is known for its treacherous terrain and dangerous animals But when Emma Gatewood puts her mind to something nothing can deter her And so she walked one foot in front of the other I did it I said I'd do it and I've done it This book was simply adorable This slice of life was really well done I loved being able to peek into grandma GatewoodI loved the tone of the author as he speaks of Gatewood and the snippets from her journal really enhanced the bookEven though this seems like a straightforward book we end up weaving back and forward in Emma's life from her simple childhood to her time married to an abusive man to her journey on the trailAll in all this is a fabulous slice of life book and I'm so happy to have read itA huge thank you to Angela's Booked who suggested this fabulous read She stood finally her canvas Keds tied tight on May 3 1955 atop the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail the longest continuous footpath in the world facing the peaks on the blue black horizon that stretched toward heaven and unfurled before her for days Facing a mean landscape of angry rivers and hateful rock she stood a woman mother of eleven and grandmother of twenty three She had not been able to get the trail out of her mindSo began Emma Gatewood’s remarkable 2050 mile journey through thirteen states stretching from Mount Oglethorpe in Georgia to Mount Katahdin Maine More affectionately known as Grandma Gatewood she would distinguish herself as being the first woman to ever hike the Appalachian Trail alone She would be celebrated further as being the first person male or female to complete the hike three times What an uplifting story I read this with my awesome Goodread’s friend Melissa and I’m so glad that we chose this book to share together Grandma Gatewood lived a hard life to say the least She toiled away on a farm for most of her life while caring for loads of children and a creep that wasn’t ashamed to abuse her whenever he felt the urge The family suffered from financial setbacks and hardships were a part of the daily routine After reading about the trail in a National Geographic magazine she received no formal training for a hike such as the one she decided to tackle Instead she relied on determination instinct and the skills she acuired after years of struggle and sweat Grandma didn’t pack up than she felt necessary for this five month trek I was shocked to hear that she didn’t even bring along what I would have considered totally essential – a sleeping bag and tent Instead she laid her weary body down wherever she could find sanctuary from the elements Sometimes she slept in shelters along the way; other times she rested right outside with only heated rocks and her own clothing for warmth On occasion she would knock on doors along the way and get a little added comfort for the night if the resident happened to feel hospitable Ironically it seemed the bigger the house the less likely she would be welcome Letters journal entries newspaper articles and interviews with family members and folks Grandma Gatewood met along the way were all pieced together by author Ben Montgomery to reproduce her incredible adventure I loved the many anecdotes of the people she came across on her hike Some made me laugh and others were endearing Eventually despite the fact she had not even told her children where she was headed on that day in May reporters caught wind of her astonishing voyage and tracked her down on the trail More often than not these newshounds were intent on uncovering Grandma’s motive for such an undertaking After several minutes of chatting the reporters often walked away as baffled as they had been before meeting her The book alternates between Emma Gatewood’s past and her hike providing the reader with an opportunity to not only learn about this woman but to also give us the chance to reach our own conclusion as to her motivation I learned uite a bit about the trail itself – the development its history other notable hikers as well as the pastime of walking in general The rise of the car in the 1950s was accompanied by the rise of television At the beginning of the decade only 9 percent of American households had a TV set More than half had one by 1954 and 86 percent would own one by the end of the decade Americans began to experience life not by the soles of their feet but by the seat of their pantsI highly recommend this book to anyone that enjoys inspirational non fiction or those that have an interest in learning about the Appalachian Trail It is well researched very readable and highly entertaining I do believe her journey was not just a physical one but one to heal the spirit as well So much was behind her So many memories and trials and miles