What could inspire a 67-year old woman to leave her family behind and solo hike the Appalachian Trail? The answer to this question has for long remained a mystery. In his book "Grandma Gatewood's Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail", author Ben Montgomery seeks to answer this question as he explores the life of the first woman to solo-thru-hike the entire Appalachian Trail. She carried no tent, sleeping bag, or map and didn't have the comforts of contemporary ultralight backpacks and sleeping pads and nevertheless she is etched into ultralight lore as one of the founders of the ultralight backpacking movement. She would go back to hike the trail for a total of three times becoming the first to do so and her efforts later inducted her into the Appalachian Trail Hall of Fame.
On the trail she averaged 22 miles per day beginning early each morning and hiking into the evenings often stopping to sleep in a locals barn or if she was lucky a bed. She had the true lightweight mindset often responding to gear questions about new ultralight gear by encouraging people to only bring necessities - which she often deemed only rain gear, a backpack, and a good pair of shoes. For food she loved to eat Vienna sausages, and said that "most everything else to eat you can find beside the trail." She hiked with a homemade bag, an army blanket, and rain poncho. She slept numerous nights in the damp cold but she was finally going for that walk she always wanted. For Grandma Gatewood, ultralight backpacking wasn't about the newest and greatest gear - it was about taking what she needed and enjoying the experience of being outdoors. Her mindset and passion for the outdoors continues to inspire hikers to this day.
While hiking she was interviewed by numerous publications including Sports Illustrated. In all she spent 146 days on the trail and her trip was punctuated by reaching the peak of Mt. Katahdin, one of the tallest points along the trail. Her story is one of triumph and tenacity and as Montgomery put it, "It didn't take fancy equipment, guidebooks, training, or youthfulness. It took putting one foot in front of the other-five million times."
The book is written after months of interviews and scouring Gatewood's personal diaries and trail journals. Her journey redefined perceived limits and continues to demonstrate that anyone is capable of accomplishing whatever their dreams as long as those goals are pursued with true diligence. Her determination to hike the whole trail shows us that we can always hiker farther and go lighter than what we previously thought. Her 2050-mile hike became a crusade calling attention to the deteriorating conditions of the Appalachian Trail encouraging is revival and saving arguably one of the most famous trails in the world from extinction.
- Interview with the Author
- What was the most memorable part of writing Grandma Gatewood's Walk?
- How has Grandma Gatewood's legacy defied typical hiking stereotypes?
- Why did Grandma Gatewood do it, why did she walk the whole Appalachian Trail?
- Chapter 1: Pick Up Your Feet
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