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, sixty-seven-year-old great-grandmother had walked 800 miles along the 2,050-mile Appalachian Trail. By September 1955 she stood atop Maine’s Mount Katahdin, sang “America, the Beautiful,” and proclaimed, “I said I’ll do it, and I’ve done it.”
Driven by a painful marriage, Grandma Gatewood not only hiked the trail alone, she was the first person—man or woman—to walk it twice and three times. At age seventy-one, she hiked the 2,000-mile Oregon Trail. Gatewood became a hiking celebrity, and appeared on TV with Groucho Marx and Art Linkletter. The public attention she brought to the trail 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 interviewed surviving family members and hikers Gatewood met along the trail, unearthed historic newspaper and magazine articles, and was given full access to Gatewood’s own diaries, trail journals, and correspondence. Grandma Gatewood’s Walk shines a fresh light on one of America’s most celebrated hikers.