GRANDMA GATEWOOD’S WALK

The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail

Ben Montgomery

2014 National Outdoor Book Award for History/Biography Winner

Emma Gatewood, the 67-year-old mother of 11 and grandmother of 23 from Gallipolis, Ohio, was the first woman to thru-hike the entire Appalachian Trail, and the first person ever to walk it two and then three times. Her initial 1955 journey—in Keds, and equipped with a change of clothes and less than $200—took 146 days and propelled Emma to national fame as “Grandma Gatewood.”

The first and only biography devoted to this literal trailblazer, Grandma Gatewood’s Walk is based on Montgomery’s interviews with surviving family members and hikers Gatewood met along the trail,

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2014 National Outdoor Book Award for History/Biography Winner

Emma Gatewood, the 67-year-old mother of 11 and grandmother of 23 from Gallipolis, Ohio, was the first woman to thru-hike the entire Appalachian Trail, and the first person ever to walk it two and then three times. Her initial 1955 journey—in Keds, and equipped with a change of clothes and less than $200—took 146 days and propelled Emma to national fame as “Grandma Gatewood.”

The first and only biography devoted to this literal trailblazer, Grandma Gatewood’s Walk is based on Montgomery’s interviews with surviving family members and hikers Gatewood met along the trail, historic newspaper and magazine articles and unprecedented access to Gatewood’s own diaries, trail journals and correspondence. Montgomery explores her childhood on a farm near the Ohio River, her abusive marriage to a man who nearly killed her and her survival against nature in the Appalachian wilderness. A pioneer of ultralight backpacking by necessity, Gatewood appeared with celebrities like Groucho Marx and Art Linkletter, bringing new attention to hiking—a growing pastime—and the neglected trail, likely saving it from extinction by bolstering upkeep of the rough stretches.

As hiking and connecting with nature continue to grow in popularity and are recommended as ways to improve mental health, Grandma Gatewood’s Walk shows how one determined woman served as an introduction to hiking for many, and also made the A.T. hike ultimately achievable. As Montgomery says, “It didn’t take fancy equipment, guidebooks, training, or youthfulness. It took putting one foot in front of the other—five million times.”

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  • Chicago Review Press
  • Paperback
  • April 2016
  • 288 Pages
  • 9781613734995

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$17.99

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About Ben Montgomery

Ben Montgomery is an enterprise reporter at the Tampa Bay Times, founder of the narrative journalism website gangrey.com 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. He has worked at newspapers in Arkansas, Texas, New York and Florida. Ben currently lives in Tampa, Florida.

Praise

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

“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 is 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

A quiet delight of a book.” —Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions

Why do you really think Emma Gatewood did all that walking?

How could she abandon her kids when she left for California?

Why do you think Emma Gatewood didn't want to tell anyone about her failed first attempt at a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail in 1954?

She told many newspaper reporters she was a widow when her husband was alive and well in Ohio. What social pressures were at play in 1955 that would cause a morally-centered teetotaler to repeat that lie in the press?

Why do you think Emma Gatewood took up long-distance walking late in life?

Are there social ills tied to our dependence on automobiles and our general lack of walking?

Emma Gatewood unknowingly pioneered the ultra-lite hiking movement, bringing along very little in the way of supplies for a 2,000-mile journey. If you had to pack for a long hike like that, what items could you not do without?

Do you think the preservation of the Appalachian Trail is important? Why?