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.

Walk and Be Happy

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“The sum of the whole is this: Walk and be happy. Walk and be healthy.”

Ben Montgomery
“Grandma Gatewood’s Walk”

Emma Gatewood was the first to walk the entire 2,050 mile Appalachian Trail solo. She was 67 at the time. She’s my hero so I’ll tell you more about her sometime.