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

Overview

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 2,050-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 ...

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

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Overview

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 2,050-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 extinction.

Author 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 question 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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"The whole saga of Grandma Gatewood, from her years in an abusive marriage to her triumph as a hiking superstar, is a great story, beautifully told." —Tampa Bay Times

“With rich reporting and often poetic prose, Ben Montgomery takes readers on an intimate, backwoods adventure with a resolute old lady. Along the way, he explores the history of hikers and highways, the solace of nature and solitude—and the urge to escape.” —Lane DeGregory, journalist, winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing
"Grandma Gatewood's Walk is a brilliant look at an America–both good and bad–that has slipped away seen through the eyes and feet of one of America's most unlikely heroines. Gatewood's story suggests anything possible; no matter your age, gender, or quality of your walking shoes." —Stephen Rodrick, author of The Magical Stranger

Grandma Gatewood’s Walk is sure to fuel not only the dreams of would-be hikers, but debates on the limits of endurance, the power of determination, and the nature of myth.” —Earl Swift, author of The Big Roads

"Ben Montgomery adds his name to those famous Americans—from Henry David Thoreau to Rosa Parks to Fats Domino to Forrest Gump—who have celebrated the revolutionary power of walking." —Roy Peter Clark, author of The Glamour of Grammar:  A Guide to the Mystery and Magic of Practical English

“Go, Granny, Go! . . . This astonishing tale will send you looking for your hiking boots. A wonderful story, wonderfully told.” — Charles McNair, Books editor for Paste Magazine and author of Pickett’s Charge

“In a perfect world, Grandma Gatewood’s Walk will hit the shelves with high praise and great acclaim. Readers deserve to have gems like this presented with fanfare.” —Paste Magazine

“Details on Emma's hike, health, and reflections on the times make this book a compelling, fast read.” —National Parks Traveler

“Before Cheryl Strayed, there was Grandma Gatewood. Ben Montgomery lets us walk with her—tattered sneakers, swollen ankles, and not an ounce of self-pity—and with each step experience our conflicted relationship with nature, the meanness and generosity of humanity, and the imperative to keep moving. This book makes me long for my backpacking days, and grateful for writers who keep history and spirit alive.” —Jacqui Banaszynski, Knight Chair in Editing, Missouri School of Journalism

"A quiet delight of a book." —Kirkus Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
2014-01-16
A journalist's biography of the unassuming but gutsy 67-year-old Ohio grandmother who became the first person to walk all 2,050 miles of the Appalachian Trail three times. When Emma Gatewood (1887–1983) first decided she would hike the A.T., she told no one what she planned to do—not even her 11 children or 23 grandchildren. Instead, she quietly slipped away from her home in May 1955 and began her walk at the southern terminus of the trail in Georgia. Accomplishing this feat—which she often described as "a good lark"—was enough for her. Tampa Bay Times staff writer Montgomery tells the story of Gatewood's first hike and those that followed, interweaving the story with the heartbreaking details of her earlier life. He suggests that this woman, who eventually came to be known as "Queen of the Forest," was far from the eccentric others claimed she was. Instead, Montgomery posits that this celebrated hiker used long-distance walking to help her come to terms with a dark secret. At 18, Gatewood married a man she later discovered had a violent temper and an insatiable sexual appetite. Despite repeated beatings over 30 years, she remained with him until he nearly killed her. Afterward, she lived happily with her children for almost 20 years. Montgomery suggests that an article in National Geographic may have been what first inspired Gatewood to hike the trail. However, as her remarkable trek demonstrated, while the A.T. was as beautiful as the magazine claimed, it was also in sore need of maintenance. Gatewood's exploits, which would later include walking the Oregon Trail, not only brought national attention to the state of hikers' trails across a nation obsessed with cars and newly crisscrossed with highways; it also made Americans more aware of the joys of walking and of nature itself. A quiet delight of a book.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781613747186
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 4/1/2014
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 30,406
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author


Ben Montgomery is a staff writer at the Tampa Bay Times and cofounder of the Auburn Chautauqua, a Southern writers’ collective. He was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2010 and has won many other national writing awards.
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