Since the New Year usually brings to all of us resolutions for new undertakings, particularly in the areas of exercise and fitness, I thought the story of Grandma Gatewood would help to inspire all of us and keep our resolve alive.
Grandma Gatewood survived domestic violence to walk the Appalachian Trail alone at 67
By Diana Reese January 5, 2015, Washington Post
Emma Rowena Caldwell was born in 1887 on an Ohio farm, one of 15 children, the daughter of a disabled Civil War veteran. She traded the hard life of the farm for marriage at age 19 to Percy Gatewood, but life didn’t get any easier.
For more than 30 years, “she put up with being married to a stubborn, ignorant, hard-fisted man who beat her over and over again,” Montgomery said.
Then one night he broke her teeth and cracked a rib, nearly killing her. A sheriff’s deputy arrived at the house, and arrested Emma, not Percy. She spent a night in jail until the mayor of the small West Virginia town where they lived intervened when he saw her blackened eyes and bloodied face.
She managed to get a divorce — unheard of in those days — and raised her last three children alone.
Sometime in the 1950s she saw a “National Geographic” magazine article about the Appalachian Trail. Her daughter, Lucy Gatewood Seeds, has said in interviews she believes the fact that no woman had yet hiked the trail presented a challenge to her mother. An obituary quoted daughter Rowena saying her mother stated, “If those men can do it, I can do it.”
Gatewood attempted the trail in 1954, starting in Maine, but broke her glasses and gave up, determined to try again. She did the following spring.
Grandma Gatewood, as she became known, was the first woman to hike the entire 2,050 miles of the Appalachian Trail by herself in 1955. She was 67 years old at the time, a mother of 11 and grandmother of 23.
Gatewood hiked the trail carrying a homemade knapsack and wearing ordinary sneakers — she wore out six pairs of them in 146 days from May to September. She brought a blanket and a plastic shower curtain to protect her from the elements, but she didn’t bother with a sleeping bag, a tent, a compass or even a map, instead relying on the hospitality of strangers along the way and her own independent resourcefulness. She’d sleep in a front porch swing, under a picnic table or on a bed of leaves when necessary, and she ate canned Vienna sausages, raisins and peanuts plus greens she found on the trail and meals offered by strangers.
“I would never have started this trip if I had known how tough it was, but I couldn’t and I wouldn’t quit,” Gatewood told a reporter from “Sports Illustrated” magazine. Media coverage of her hike led to repairs and restoration of the trail and may, indeed, have saved the trail from falling into ruin. It also inspired a new crop of hikers.
Her story doesn’t stop with that first hike. Gatewood returned to thru-hike (hiking straight through in less than 12 months) again in 1957, making her the first person, male or female, to successfully tackle the Appalachian Trail twice. Gatewood said the second time was so she could enjoy it. She completed the trail again in 1964, doing it in sections, becoming the first to hike it three times.
In 1959 she headed west, walking from Independence, Mo. to Portland, Ore. as part of the Oregon Centennial celebration. She left two weeks after a wagon train, but passed it in Idaho. The trip covered nearly 2,000 miles and took 95 days.
She was instrumental in establishing the Buckeye Trail in her home state of Ohio. It began with a 20-mile stretch in 1959 and has since grown to more than 1,444 miles; one section is named after her. She died in 1973 at the age of 85.
GRANDMA GATEWOOD YOU ROCK!
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