GRANDMA GATEWOOD’S WALK
In 1955, Emma Gatewood hiked the 2,050-mile Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in 146 days.
She simply told her family in southern Ohio that she was going for a walk and disappeared.
The 67-year-old mother of 11 and grandmother of 23 became the first woman to hike the entire trail and the first person ever to hike it two times, then three times. She also did other long-distance hikes.
She was dubbed Grandma Gatewood (1887-1973) and became a national celebrity.
Now journalist Ben Montgomery is telling her story in a new biographical book, Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail (Chicago Review Press, $26.95).
Montgomery’s mother, Donna Burrus, was Gatewood’s great-niece, so he had access to Gatewood’s diaries, trail journals and correspondence. He incorporates family interviews, visits with hikers Gatewood met on the trail and newspaper and magazine accounts.
Montgomery, a Tampa Bay Times reporter, also visited some of the same spots she did along the now-famous trail.
The result is very readable and interesting 278-page book that looks at the determined Gatewood on the Appalachian Trail and at her troubled and abusive marriage that helped propel her onto the trails as a means of escape and freedom.
Getting an answer as to why Gatewood, from southern Ohio’s Gallia County, became a long-distance walker is not easy. She frequently dodged the question and partially answered it when asked by reporters over the years.
Gatewood’s real-life story was more interesting than the trail lore that has grown up around her, says the 36-year-old Montgomery.
Gatewood traveled with little food, little equipment and little money. She wore Keds tennis shoes.
Her success brought more attention to hiking and to the then-neglected trail. It got more care and maintenance after her hikes.
Montgomery, in a telephone interview, said he is proud to bring a little more attention to his distant relative Gatewood. “She’s an American heroine, someone who should be remembered,” he says.
Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.