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.

Clingman’s Dome

If you ever find yourself in the Great Smoky Mountains, be sure to stop by Clingman’s Dome. At an elevation of over 6,600 feet, it is the highest point in the national park and the highest point along the Appalachian Trail.

The observation tower was built in 1959 and resembles a concrete spaceship landed on top of a mountain. Odd as it seems, it provides a panoramic view of the area. On a clear day, you can see about a hundred miles.

So they say.

Sadly, I have been a few times but never had much of a view from the tower, thanks to air pollution. The highlight for me at this part of the park is the access to the Appalachian Trail.

It’s a nice section and the whole experience is a pleasant reminder that it’s better to get down on the trail where you’re close to nature than to stand on a man made pedestal of concrete and look at it.

Beautiful view, isn’t it?

If you go, there is ample parking and the trail to the observation tower is paved but it is rather steep. Consequently, it isn’t handicap accessible and if you have any kind of health or mobility problems, be sure to take it slow and rest if needed.

The road to this area of the park is scenic and offers some pull offs but it is closed during winter months.

Thinking about visiting the Great Smoky Mountains? It’s an interesting place as it offers plenty of room to get out and enjoy nature alone. There’s also a lot of trails and overlooks overpopulated with people and lots of tourist traps in the form of dinner theaters, shopping and museums.

Dolly Parton, the unofficial patron saint of Appalachia has her Dollywood in Pigeon Forge. Plus, Paula Deen, the patron saint of Butter has a nice restaurant there too. It has been a few years since my last trip down but I may trot out some of those stories if anyone is interested.

Shenandoah National Park

One goal of this road trip was to cruise along the famed Skyline Drive and take in the majesty of fall. Another was to hike in the Shenandoah National Park, stretching my legs along trails with beautiful vistas and access to old farms whose inhabitants have long abandoned them.

None of this went as planned.

I did drive much of Skyline Drive, the 105 mile byway that begins at Royal, Virginia and stretches the length of the park before ending at the famed Blue Ridge Parkway.

This twisty mountain road can be accessed by a few different entrances to the park. On Friday afternoon, I arrived at the Swift Run Gap entrance and waited in a short line to pay for my entry and begin exploring.

The sky was grey but not discouraging motorists from taking advantage of the many pull offs from which you have a view that seems to go on forever.

I arrived too late to feel good about hiking so I stuck to the drive, traveling about 80 miles of the 105 mile road.

Being a holiday weekend in fall, the visitors centers, roads, restrooms, trailheads and lodges were all quite busy.

The next day, I arrived early to beat the crowds and get in a hike but quickly abandoned my plans. I intended to hike a couple of different trails before rain moved in later that day but mountain weather can be unpredictable, a lesson hard learned on other occasions. With high winds that literally took the hat off my head and storm clouds forming in the distance, I abandoned my original plans in favor of some shorter hikes that kept me near the car.

The best of these was a section of the Appalachian trail that features large boulders, a host of trees and colors, and a mixture of living and dead ferns.

I never thought I would use the word magical to describe dead ferns but this forest floor of fading ferns was like something from a fairy tale.

I only hiked a couple of miles that day, a far cry from the plan but I have learned it best to exercise caution when storms threaten the mountains and that plans are made to be changed.

I enjoyed my beautiful hike and headed down the mountain. Turns out, a storm threatened off and on all day everywhere I went but I never saw actual rain until later that night. I don’t know what happened in the park but I was at peace with my decision to cut my losses and go find something else to do.

This is the day that I found the working gristmill and had time to tour a plantation. It’s also the day that I found a wonderful used bookstore and went back to the hotel for a delightful bubble bath.

Truth be told, that park feels like it’s designed for tourists who want to drive, look at stuff from the safety of their car and get pizza afterward. The trailheads lack adequate parking and one of the trails I wanted to do, a moderate two mile loop, had no parking at all. Each scenic overlook has mostly the same view as the last. I don’t mean to insult anyone’s favorite park because I had a fine time but don’t feel a draw to go back again soon.

If I had stayed at one of the park’s three lodges or had better hiking weather I may have a different assessment. All the same, there was a ton to do in the area and I don’t at all regret my decision to visit.

Gloomy Day Musings

blog.JPGIt has been gloomy here in southeastern Ohio for a few days now. The rain has settled in and, despite promises of pleasant weather this weekend, it’s starting to feel like the sun is on permanent leave.

This has caused me to reminisce about a vacation to the Great Smoky Mountains three years ago this week. We had lovely weather for most of the week but the day we visited Clingman’s Dome was gloomy.

Incidentally, the visit to Clingman’s Dome included a short hike on the Appalachian Trail which runs right through the Smokys. It was my first experience on the trail and a memorable one. It is a dream of mine to hike the AT. At my age and position in life, it would have to be in sections but I think it’s a worthwhile goal. That would be an incredible adventure!

But I digress.

We saw some amazing things on this trip but, for some reason, this image has stayed with me and has become iconic to that trip. It’s not the most beautiful picture I took that trip but it’s haunting and beautiful and I like it anyway.