Grandma Gatewood Day

Note: I promised you some more photos from the grounds of Adena Mansion and Gardens today. I lied. Here’s a story that I want to share instead. We’ll go back to Adena tomorrow.

One of my personal heroes is a woman who died before I was even born. She was known simply as Grandma Gatewood and this is Grandma Gatewood Day in Ohio.

Emma “Grandma” Gatewood was a legendary hiker and the first woman to thru hike the Appalachian Trail. The 2,168 mile trail runs from Mount Oglethorpe in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. She did it solo and in one season.

That was in 1955 when she was 67 years old.

Read that again.

She was 67 years old and had never done anything like it. In fact, she reared 11 children in rural Gallia County, Ohio and was a domestic violence survivor before she ever even heard of the Appalachian Trail.

Grandma Gatewood went on to be the first person to hike the Appalachian Trail three times and she hiked 2,000 miles of the Oregon Trail. She inspired the creation of the Buckeye Trail here in Ohio.

Let me tell you something, friends. Grandma Gatewood was tough as nails and she was smart. While she only completed the eighth grade, she was an avid learner and a poet. She knew how to live off the land and knew which wild plants could be used for food or medicine. She survived an abuser.

When she hiked the Appalachian Trail, Grandma Gatewood wore Keds tennis shoes and carried only what she really required in a denim sack she sewed herself. She carried a shower curtain for protection rather than a tent. She had told her children that she was going for a walk but didn’t mention where to or how long it would take.

Let’s stop here for a second. Have you seen hikers today? They require all kinds of expensive gear, technology, clothes and boots but still struggle to make this strenuous journey. Heck, a lot of them carry all that crap for a short hike. Grandma Gatewood did over 2,000 miles with a handmade sack and some worn out tennis shoes. She did go through several pairs but still…..

Newspapers picked up her story as did Sports Illustrated. She was even a guest on the Today Show. Hers was a household name for a while in this country.

When I hike my local trails in the Hocking Hills, I frequent a trail that’s named in her honor. This hike is one that I always approach with reverence because I feel a connection with this amazing lady who proved that age, gender, education and social status are not limitations if you work hard and are determined enough.

Beginning in January 1967, Grandma Gatewood began leading a six mile winter hike in the Hocking Hills that continues as an annual tradition to this day. She died in 1973 at the age of 85 leaving behind dozens of descendants and a legacy for hikers of any age.

This is just a bird’s eye view of this incredible woman. If you are interested in knowing more, please pick up a copy of Ben Montgomery’s Grandma Gatewood’s Walk. It is widely available through major booksellers and is one of my favorite books of all time.

At the end of the Appalachian Trail in Maine, hikers sign a register to mark their accomplishment. She reportedly sang the first verse of “America the Beautiful” as she signed the book. Then she announced “I did it. I said I’d do it and I’ve done it.”

What a great end to an incredible journey.

14 thoughts on “Grandma Gatewood Day

      • And what a great and incredible STORY!!! In my opinion, one of your best. I admire YOUR discipline in walking and hiking, and the manner in which you share it (thus encouraging it) with others. If you remember, please remind me in a couple of months to share a decision I’ve made; By July 1st, I’ll be in a place I can proudly discuss it … or mumble incoherently as I look away. But Well Done! on this story!

      • I will mark my calendar and look forward to your big announcement or incoherent mumbling – whatever the case may be. Walking and hiking have been so good for my mental and physical health that I badly want others to know or can it can help them too!

      • I’ve got a bad left foot after a botched surgery several years ago. With a custom orthotic and the right shoes, or in Birkenstock sandals, I can walk mostly pain free, and could probably go 10 miles without significant irritation. But I don’t think there’s any way I could do that kind of hiking without having to be airlifted out after a few days, my foot in considerable pain. It’s a bummer because the idea is very attractive to me.

  1. Great story about an amazing woman!! I’ll have to read the book.

    Lest you think her kind is no more, I will share a couple stories. I met on the Colorado Trail with a young woman doing a through hike (400+miles) with a light day pack and wearing Chaco sandals. She did have some food drop offs along the way, but had just a light tarp for shelter (and we’re talking 14000 for peaks!)

    A local woman in Durango is a wild food specialist. She spends a week walking from Durango to Telluride every year to attend the mushroom festival. She hikes alone through the national forest with nothing but a bedroll and eats only what the forest offers (vegan).

    • These stories are incredible! I’m kind of soft so I cannot imagine enduring these difficult journeys with so few tools or comforts. I am glad that the spirit of women like Grandma Gatewood lives on.

      And yes. You must read the book. He has written other books you may find interesting but this is his best.

  2. Thank you for the introduction to Emma “Grandma” Gatewood. I plan on reading more about her. You might find Alice Gray “Diana of the Dunes” of interest if you’ve not heard of her. A turn of the 20th Century conservationist responsible for Indiana Dunes State Park. Another very interesting woman to be sure. …

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