September 18, 2014

How an Unlikely Hero Saved the Appalachian Trail. ~ Brenna Fischer

Grandma Gatewood

  “I thought it would be a nice lark…it wasn’t.” ~ Emma Rowena Gatewood

Where do you see yourself at the age of 67, 70, 75?

On September 16th, 1955 roughly 60 years ago, Emma Rowena Gatewood, or as she is now known, Grandma Gatewood, became the first woman to hike all 2,168 miles of the Appalachian Trail (AT) alone. She did it at the age of 67 as the mother of 11 children and after having left her abusive husband.

Grandma Gatewood is celebrated for her bravery, determination and ingenuity in being the first woman hiker to complete the AT alone and to be the first person ever to hike it more than once (three times total). According to her though, After the hard life I’ve lived this trail isn’t so bad.”

The #whyistayed and #whyileft hashtags have been all over the Internet lately rallying a huge amount of support for those who are either in an abusive relationship or who have gotten out and are still rebuilding.

Unfortunately, domestic abuse is far from being a new subject.

In Gatewood’s day, domestic abuse was not talked about and there certainly wasn’t the kind of support available we have today. But, I think the #whyistayed movement would be proud to hear that in 1941 during a time when it was a socially unacceptable thing, Emma Gatewood had enough. She filed, and was granted, a divorce from her long-time abusive husband, making it the bravest thing she ever did—even compared to her bare-bones hiking methods.

According to the book, Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail by Ben Montgomery:

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, 67-year-old great-grandmother had walked 800 miles along the 2,050-mile Appalachian Trail. And in September 1955, having survived a rattlesnake strike, two hurricanes, and a run-in with gangsters from Harlem, she stood atop Maine’s Mount Katahdin. There she sang the first verse of “America, the Beautiful” and proclaimed, “I said I’ll do it, and I’ve done it.”

Her many hikes of the trail created a lot of attention for both the AT and her personal life. In fact, according to Ben Montgomery, “The public attention she brought to the little-known footpath was unprecedented. Her vocal criticism of the lousy, difficult stretches led to bolstered maintenance, and very likely saved the trail from extinction.”

Grandma Gatewood, unknowingly, did a great thing by hiking the Appalachian Trail all those years ago and I’d like to think the trail returned her favor.

“Hippocrates, the Greek physician, called walking “man’s best medicine.” Ben Montgomery

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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Youtube Grandma Gatewood “I am the Appalachian Trail”

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