We all need a person to admire, don’t we? Someone ordinary with an extraordinary story, someone to inspire us to jump out of bed in the morning, to be a better person, to stay motivated while we navigate the mountains of life…and in my case, guide book writing. So, seeing as it’s International Women’s Day, I thought it was the perfect time to talk about a tough, brave woman you might consider adding to your list of people to admire…
At the age of 67, Emma Rowena Gatewood told her adult children she was going out for a walk. Little did they know that her “walk” would make her the first woman to hike the 2,168-mile Appalachian Trail from Mount Oglethorpe in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine solo, and in one season. She was a farmer’s wife from Ohio, a mother to 11 children who gave her 24 grandchildren, and a survivor of domestic violence.
She became inspired to do the hike in 1950, after reading an article in the National Geographic which gave the impression of leisurely walks and clean cabins at the end of each stretch – information she later found out was exaggerated! No women, only five men had ever hiked it continuously.
In 1955, she set off on her impromptu stroll in her Keds tennis shoes with nothing more than a blanket, raincoat and a plastic shower curtain. Soon, people began spotting the 67-year-old grandmother on her trip and it wasn’t long before local newspapers picked up on the story and she was nicknamed “Grandma Gatewood”. By the time she reached Connecticut, Sports Illustrated had written about her and she became a celebrity before the hike was even over.
When she completed her 14-state 2,000-mile hike, Grandma Gatewood was invited on the Today show to speak about her experience. When asked for hiking tips, she said, “Make a rain cape, and an over the shoulder sling bag, and buy a sturdy pair of Keds tennis shoes. Stop at local groceries and pick up Vienna sausages… most everything else to eat you can find beside the trail”.
By the age of 75, she had hiked the Appalachian Trail three times, making her the first person to do so. She also walked the 2,000 mile Oregon Trail from Missouri to Oregon averaging 22 miles a day and traveled to every state in the country during her lifetime.