90 of 92 people found the following review helpful
Grandma Gatewood was a 67 year old woman, whose 11 children had grown up and left home when she decided that she was going to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail from Mt. Oglethorpe, Georgia to Mt. Katahdin, Maine. The key, however, is that she didn't tell a soul about her intended trip…she just took off. In addition to being the first female through hiker to complete the trail, she did it with a bare minimum of gear and equipment and she did it in the summer if 1955, when women just didn't do those things. She started in canvas top sneakers and ended up going through 7 pairs of shoes.
The book alternates between the story of Gatewood's life from the time she was married to an abusive husband until the time she started her "walk" with the story of her time on the trail. In addition, the author adds historical information, such as details about the damage done by Hurricanes Carol and Dianne.
Grandma Gatewood did more to "advertise" the Appalachian Trail than anyone before or since, and became famous for her walks in various places. She not only hiked the AT three times (twice as a through hiker and once in segments), but she also hiked the Oregon Trail and helped to create a trail system in her native Ohio. It's wouldn't be out of place to call her one of the most influential women of her time.
The book is a fascinating look at her abusive married life, as well as her interest in hiking. It is easy to read and provides a glimpse into life in the mid 1950's. I recommend this book highly to anyone as a great read.
58 of 58 people found the following review helpful
on April 3, 2014
What would you pack to walk 2050 miles? With all of the hiking equipment and instructions available today it would no doubt be contained in a 60lb backpack with propane, cooking equipment, tent, sleeping bag, water filters, fire starters, GPS, maps and cell phones.
Grandma Gatewood went out to "take a walk" dressed in dungarees and tennis shoes with a small drawstring sack containing a shower curtain, a warm coat, a pocket knife, a flashlight and a few snacks. Barely enough food to last three days. What she did have in abundance was resolve, courage and utter fearlessness.
Ben Montgomery, staff writer at the Tampa Bay Times, brings Grandma Gatewood to life in beautifully written and meticulous detail, not only following her perilous walk, but lush in description of the countryside around her, from amazing vistas on the tops of the many mountains she climbed, to the freezing cold, treacherous rock and storms that nearly took her life. The author also describes the history of each region she crosses and the many people she encounters, some good, some not so good, and some very unexpected.
I had never heard of this amazing woman, but she was quite famous for what she did. Walking, it seems is a dying art, except for the few. All of us, at an early age should have to take Grandma Gatewood's walk. It would forever change our outlook of the world and what we are missing on the other side of the window as we fly by in our plastic cars. I read this book in one sitting. If you think you are old, read Grandma Gatewood's Walk.....then start walking.
53 of 56 people found the following review helpful
on April 13, 2014
What is there about little old ladies that they seem to get typecast in our minds, and then when an author like Ben Montgomery tells her story we are gobsmacked by this woman, and her life.
We live in a time when the Appalachian Trial is a fixture of the nation, a trek attempted in whole or in part by hundreds of thousands. That wasn’t always the case. When this “Grandma” did her walk, (1955) there was only a vague notion of the Trail, so much so that it shifted around a bit before settling into the route that so many know well.
And it’s really to this Grandma that we owe the trail. Her walk made her famous, and by contact, it made the then almost-unknown trail famous.
When I first got the book, the cover photo really got me: there’s no air-brushing this level of “truthiness.” She wearing a skirt, for Chrissakes, and granny stockings that I haven’t seen in a long, long time, and tennis shoes. (TENNIS SHOES! Have you seen how we kit ourselves out these days for an hour-long walk in the woods??)
But her face is lifted towards the light, and the jaw, well, it seems quite a determined chin to me. And you think, “You GO, girl!”
For the trek, of course, she wore pants — dungarees — but still, those tennis shoes, and carried her supplies in a drawstring sack she made herself. And in that sack she stuffed:
"A tin of Band-Aids, a bottle of iodine, some bobby pins, and a jar of Vicks salve. She stuffed in a warm coat, a shower curtain to keep the rain off, some drinking water, a Swiss Army knife, a flashlight, candy mints and her pen and a little Royal Vernon Line memo book that she had bought for twenty-five cents at Murphy’s back home."
The wonder of her doughty fool-hardiness is only matched by the story-teller’s brilliant use of concrete details to bring her to life.
This is how the book is written, with the drive of narrative: Old woman versus “a million spectacular ways to die” captured with a million details that help us see her, and her journey.
Montgomery seems to walk with her, and to carry us effortlesslyalong, step by impossible step. In her journey we get to know her and her life. We travel back into the past, both hers, and the Appalachians she walks through.
Emma Gatewood — for that is her name — never quite answered the question of why she tackled so incredible a journey, but culling from her writings and those that wrote about her, Montgomery finds more than enough reasons to get started on a very long walk, and more than enough determination to complete the journey.
47 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on March 17, 2014
I'm so pleased that someone finally saw fit to write about this amazing woman. The bonus is that it is well researched, well written, informative and contains lots of contemporaneous historical information that anchors it in time. The author is insightful and sensitive and clearly took his mission to heart. It's been a long time since I've read a book that I found this compelling..didn't want to finish but couldn't stop reading. I've been a big fan of this barely acknowledged woman for a long time and I'm glad that she has finally been done justice. Inspirational! Highly recommend!
31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on May 21, 2014
This book started out so great. In fact, I loved it all the way until Grandma Gatewood got to Maine. The author wrote in such a way that he skipped back and forth between the hike, and Emma's earlier life as a wife and mother. This method of storytelling worked great for this book since there is so much to say about Emma's earlier life. Packing the entire back story into the beginning of the book before she sets off for the hike just would not have worked. Throughout the entire book I felt as if I was right there with Emma walking the trail with her. But then, just as the Appalachian Trail thru hike is about to come to an end, after reading pages and pages of great detail about her experiences on the trail, the author switched gears. And what a terrible and selfish switch it was.
You see, just as Ms. Gatewood gets to the bottom of her final mountain... just miles from the trail's terminus, the author stops telling Grandma's story and tells of HIS OWN hike up to the top of Mt Katahdin and how tough it was for him and his wife! He goes into a chapter about hiking to the top to get a feel for what Grandma Gatewood saw. Then, after numerous pages talking about his own climb to the top of Mt Katahdin, he devotes just a few sentences about Grandma Gatewood's final climb. I have never read a story with such a good buildup, only be disappointed by a selfish, anti-climactic "commercial" in the middle of what could have been a good ending to the story of her Appalachian Trail thru-hike. If the author just switched it around and finished the story of Emma's hike I would have enjoyed this book so much more. That's why he did the research and climbed the Mountain right, to tell Emma's story accurately? Why not just go from Emma's notes and embellish with what he saw on his hike as if Emma had seen it that way? Then if he had to tell us about his wife hurting her ankle on their climb, he could have done so in a distinct chapter.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on July 18, 2014
It is a wonderful tale of a Grandma who just set out on her own. I found the writing a bit stilted, more journalistic than anything, but I did finish the book, as I'm fascinated with thru-hiking and the incredible gumption it requires. She is an icon of the AT, though I see her rarely mentioned in more contemporary accounts. A woman alone with a satchel and shower curtain. Oh my!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 1, 2014
Grandma Gatewood was an inspiring example of how it's never too late to fulfill your dreams. The story, the descriptions, the going back and forth between her previous life and her adventure were wonderful.
However, i give this four stars because I don't understand why the author had to go into such excruciating detail about how the US highway system developed and all the technicalities of hurricanes. I felt, frankly, that the technical tone of these parts was not appropriate and was boring - It seemed as if these parts were pure fillers.
Without any reservation, I recommend this book - but skip or skim through those parts unless you have a special interest in them.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on March 11, 2014
This is an awesome read. I couldn't put it down. I was captured by the ongoing walk both of the hike of the AT by Emma Gatewood, but also the walk through her tumultuous life. Through her hardships, she persevered and triumphed, and in the end, impacted a nation. Thanks for telling us this story!
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on June 11, 2014
this tough as nails woman did something remarkable with lots of help from quite a few people along the way. She rejected the idea of limits set by others and set her sites on doing something wholly for herself.
I was disappointed that, in the end, after all she accomplished, she was not willing to forgive the one who harmed her most.
The author portrayed a strong determined but flawed woman. She is Willing to rise to anger and even violence occasionally. These flaws are what made me trust that the authors portrait is honest.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 18, 2014
What would you think of a 60-something grandma who survived a life of spousal abuse and raising 11 children in poverty conditions only to leave her hardships behind to go on a "lark"...a walk, if you will, the entire length of the AT in 1955? I'd say she is a woman of grit and character.
Her life is artfully "recorded" in poetic prose by Ben Montgomery, using her personal diaries as well as accounts from her family member. Emma Gatewood loved the woods. She found solitude, peace, and a sense of wonder. Her painful life is part of the story as she walks the trail, the author flashing back to those scenes that are difficult to imagine and harder to escape. But escape is what Emma does and this becomes not only her salvation but results in a renewed interest in the Appalachian Trail, to repair and preserve this great American heritage, the longest footpath of its time.
You will enjoy this book whether or not you are a hiker. Grandma's story is filled with snapshots of our history woven in the progression of her journey that will awaken many to the legacy of a woman who would go on to fame in a most unusual way.