Grandma Gatewood's Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail

by Ben Montgomery

Hardcover, 2014

Status

Available

Publication

Chicago Review Press (2014), Edition: 1st, 288 pages

Description

Emma Gatewood was 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 and she did it all after the age of 65. This is the first and only biography of Grandma Gatewood, as the reporters called her, who became a hiking celebrity in the 1950s and 60s. She appeared on TV with Groucho Marx and Art Linkletter, and on 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 extinction. Author Ben Montgomery was given unprecedented access to Gatewood's own diaries, trail journals, and correspondence. He also unearthed historic newspaper and magazine articles and interviewed surviving family members and hikers Gatewood met along the trail. The inspiring story of Emma Gatewood illustrates the full power of human spirit and determination.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Othemts
In 1955, 67-year-old Emma Gatewood of Ohio set out to hike the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. Completing the hike, Grandma Gatewood became the first woman to through-hike the entire 2168-mile trail and became a pioneer for both elderly and ultralight hikers. With the hike as the centerpiece, Montgomery tells the life story of the proper and hardy farmer's wife, a life in which she endured severe domestic abuse. Grandma Gatewood's hike also captures a time when the Appalachian Trail was poorly maintained, little-used, and through-hikers were in the single-digits. Grandma Gatewood's celebrity would help bring attention to the AT. Highlights of the book include Emma Gatewood hiking through Hurricanes Connie and Diane, and sharing a cabin with a church group from Harlem which Gatewood never realized were actually members of rival street gangs. The 1955 is the focus of the biography, but Montgomery also writes about Gatewood's two later hikes on the AT, her cross-continental walk on the Oregon Trail, and her uneasy relationship with the attention she got for her walk.… (more)
LibraryThing member sandra.k.heinzman
What a good book! Emma Gatewood was quite a woman. She was the mother of 11 and a victim of horrible physical abuse by her husband, until she finally got the strength to leave him and her remaining children behind. When she decided to hike the trail, in 1955, she didn't tell anyone where she was going or for how long. Her family was used to her going for long walks and were not worried. She went with tennis shoes and a bag she made herself to carry her few items she carried. Unbelievable, after comparing with what hikers take today. Despite her age and bad feet and inappropriate footwear, she made the arduous trek from Georgia to Maine. When reporters discovered her and articles starting appearing nationally about her undertaking (the first woman to hike it the whole way through), is when her family found out where she was! At the end, I think she went through five pairs of shoes and met quite a few people (not other hikers) along the way. Grandma Gatewood ended up doing the entire trail a second time and then a third time, but in sections. Then she walked the Oregon Trail! It was nothing for her to walk 5-10 miles just to visit somene. She just loved to walk! She is truly an inspiration, not only for "senior citizens" but for everyone.

I read this book with the Women's Adventure Book Club on Facebook. I highly recommend this book!!
… (more)
LibraryThing member sandra.k.heinzman
What a good book! Emma Gatewood was quite a woman. She was the mother of 11 and a victim of horrible physical abuse by her husband, until she finally got the strength to leave him and her remaining children behind. When she decided to hike the trail, in 1955, she didn't tell anyone where she was going or for how long. Her family was used to her going for long walks and were not worried. She went with tennis shoes and a bag she made herself to carry her few items she carried. Unbelievable, after comparing with what hikers take today. Despite her age and bad feet and inappropriate footwear, she made the arduous trek from Georgia to Maine. When reporters discovered her and articles starting appearing nationally about her undertaking (the first woman to hike it the whole way through), is when her family found out where she was! At the end, I think she went through five pairs of shoes and met quite a few people (not other hikers) along the way. Grandma Gatewood ended up doing the entire trail a second time and then a third time, but in sections. Then she walked the Oregon Trail! It was nothing for her to walk 5-10 miles just to visit somene. She just loved to walk! She is truly an inspiration, not only for "senior citizens" but for everyone.

I read this book with the Women's Adventure Book Club on Facebook. I highly recommend this book!!
… (more)
LibraryThing member Stbalbach
Finally a biography of Grandma Gatewood. I've been crossing her path since the early 1990s, first in Ray Jardine's ultralight bible. Nearly every book about the Appalachian Trail has an obligatory reference to the 67 year old great-grandma who hiked the trail in 1955 making her the first woman to do so. Who was she, why did she do it? The story turns out to be pretty good. Given the difficulties of her early life, there are some parallels with the more recent book Wild. The trail provides freedom from an unhappy life, but also a clear direction and asks nothing in return but one step. Gatewood's story turns out to be more than just an old lady who did good, but she found redemption and happiness after years of abuse.… (more)
LibraryThing member eduscapes
An inspiring story of sixty-seven year old grandma and great grandmother Emma Gatewood who in the spring of 1955 set out with a home-sewn pack and a change of clothes and less than two hundred dollars. She traveled to Georgia and the base of Oglethorpe Mountain to begin an unprecedented journey. In September, she reached the summit of Mt. Katadin in Maine to become the first woman to hike the 2,050 mile Appalachian Trail alone. Her story encompasses the hardships of raising eleven children during the Great Depression and surviving the physical abuses of a brutal husband. (lj)… (more)
LibraryThing member dele2451
This great grandmother sure had true grit. I'm glad Montgomery saw fit to share her amazing story so she can keep inspiring future generations.
LibraryThing member memccauley6
Most people have no desire or intention to inspire others, they simply do what their conscience deems is correct for them. I suspect this was the case with Emma Gatewood, who became the first female "thru-hiker" of the Appalachian Trail in 1955, and then continued her lengthy hikes coast to coast until her death in the 1970s. Her treks inspired generations of hikers and the publicity she generated "saved" the Appalachian Trail.… (more)
LibraryThing member jbarr5
The Story of Grandma Gatewood
Was interested in reading this because it's about the Appalachian trail which I've been on a few feet of it in TN and MA.
At 67, in 1955 she left Ohio and took a bus to WV and onto Georgia where she started her trail hiking.
Love hearing of all the nature and can picture it all in my mind. Amazing that my family has relatives that live in the same town as where she was from.
Lots of history with politics and events that happened over the days: first major highways made...
I received this book from National Library Service for my BARD (Braille Audio Reading Device).
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LibraryThing member theeccentriclady
One of our book club ladies' son had just finished his through hike of the Appalachian Trail. We chose to read this account of Mrs. Gatewood's amazing story of her time on the Appalachian Trail before it became the popular things it is today. Our friend's son gave a presentation to us showing all the modern equipment and trail food people utilize today. It is a far cry from the simple almost unbelievable way Grandma Gatewood took to the trail so many years ago. Her story is inspiring and I think many young ladies should read this story so they can be inspired to be who they are and do what they dream.… (more)
LibraryThing member konastories
"Grandma Gatewood's Walk" by Ben Montgomery. Joy's review: Grandma Gatewood had 11 children, an abusive husband, wound up being the first woman to through hike the Appalachian trail. Oh, and she did it three times... a pretty amazing story. Montgomery does a good job of including just enough of Gatewood's voice and just enough context of the US at the time. Quite inspirational.… (more)
LibraryThing member Bookish59
A wonderful story of a simple, laid-back woman who took life in stride. Her confidence, energy, strong work ethic and optimism carried her through a VERY demanding life. She was happy with her fate but when dealt a very bad hand, she didn't complain but just made the best of it. Many, too many wives suffered as Emma did, and had much less resources than women have today to change their circumstances. But...shockingly this problem continues at dangerously epic levels today!

After children are grown and independent, Emma reads an article in National Geographic magazine which changes her life; allowing her to fortify her innate strengths and find fulfillment and peace within nature. She gets to meet lots of kind, curious people while helping the country recognize the importance of improving and maintaining our natural resources.

I enjoyed Montgomery describing Emma's adventures in the context of US history, how the car compelled the creation of highways, and how that changed daily life for millions of Americans in both positive and negative ways, and the ensuing push back to invest in America's stunning hiking trails, shelters and parks.

Grandma Gatewood is a national treasure. She remains level-headed and humble throughout her experiences.Her hard work as a daughter, wife, mother and hiker and activist are a celebration of life, and her legacy to us.

Well paced, a compellingly great read.
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LibraryThing member juniperSun
OK. Some repetition as Montgomery stretched his references to make a full length book. Took a meandering journey focused on Emma Gatewood's through hike of the Appalachian Trail, with side trips to her abusive marriage and hardscrabble life, and discussion of some of the events ocurring during the time of her hike. Although the title claims Emma "saved" the AT, there was little to back up the claim. Yes, she did get a lot of publicity, and she did tell reporters that the trail was in poor condition, but otherwise she was just doing what she wanted. It was a great feat, one more of us should attempt.
I had to keep reminding myself of the cultural norms in the 1950's-60's so I wouldn't get irritated at the 67 year old woman being considered too ancient to go for a hike, or that it was constantly questioned if her children knew where she was! She was a grown adult, why would she have to consult her grown children about doing what she wanted?
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LibraryThing member chrisblocker
It's difficult sometimes to separate the quality of a book from the subject of the story. Grandma Gatewood's Walk is a wonderful book, but largely because of the merits of its subject: Emma Gatewood, who, starting at the age of 67, hiked the entire length of the Appalachia Trail thrice, as well as the Oregon Trail. Gatewood, affectionately dubbed Grandma Gatewood, was such an inspiring individual, and her story is one that I doubt many born since the 1960s are familiar with.

Like many works of non-fiction, Grandma Gatewood's Walk suffers from repetition. There doesn't seem to have been enough worthwhile material to complete a full book-length work, so some of the story has been stretched to cover the holes. And while the writing is competent and clear, this is far from the most brilliant or enlightening book. But it all goes back to the subject of Emma Gatewood, and Ben Montgomery does a stand-up job presenting her as a very interesting and inspiring person. Montgomery makes this book all about her, and in that regard, he succeeds.
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LibraryThing member CherylGrimm
Emma Gatewood decides it’s time to start her bucket list and sets off to hike the Appalachian Trail. Mother of 11, grandmother to 23, and 67 years of age. Telling those left behind she was merely “going for a walk” she implements her years of farming, living off the multiple elements of the land, and basic survival skills, she packs a small sack and begins.

The year was 1955.

This was not your current AP of frequent shelters, food sources, or even fellow hikers. Days alone, sleeping in the wild, battling the elements and wildlife, she was a tenacious reckoning of savvy chutzpah. A small journal was mostly her only source of conversation, albeit one-sided.

Her amazing journey was inspirational in so many ways. A testament to female endurance, acceptance and overcoming pain, thrift and common sense. That she did all this with the bare minimals even further extols her superhuman traits.

The few people she conversed with on the trail, the sights, the perils, the wonder, kept briefly in her journal and shared in snippets in this book. Very much the minimalist, even her thoughts were only as needed.

Once she completes the first trek, the accolades pour in and her celebrity begins. On her second thru-hike, she is often recognized and given better hospitality and occasional “Trail magic” but she mostly shuns the hubris and goes about her way.

Add in the Oregon Trail and a 3rd A.T. hike( albeit sectional, this go) not to mention trails she instrumentally creates in Hocking Hills, Ohio (of which I hope to enjoy soon) and we have one awesome woman who sets the marker for just about anyone.

Backstory of her abuse at the hands of her then husband gives an inkling to where her perseverance originated. A loving, teaching mother, her children also grew up with her knowledge of nature and love if the outdoors.

As much a historical take of the time, creation of the Trail, and anthropological look at the denizens along the way, it’s a fascinating read in just so many ways. The first of so much we take for granted daily: paved roads, TV’s, cell phones, indoor facilities, not that long in our norm. It makes us aware of how pantywaisted we are today.

I hope they make a movie about her soon. If Bill Bryson has one for 1/3, she sure need one for 3 times.
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Language

Original language

English

Original publication date

2014

Physical description

288 p.; 6 inches

ISBN

1613747187 / 9781613747186

Local notes

travel
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