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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.
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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.
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on May 20, 2015
I've been reading a few books lately about hiking - the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. It's been very interesting. This particular book is definitely the most inspiring of all. I totally loved it and have been recommending it to all my friends. What an amazing woman Emma Gatewood was. We are all "soft" today compared to her. Lol. It's hard to even imagine doing what she did at her age. What really surprised me the most was learning that this 2,050 mile trip on the AT at age 67 was just the beginning! She hiked it two more times after that and then when she was well into her 70s she hiked the entire Oregon trail too from its beginning point in Missouri. Amazing! Then, after that, she was instrumental in getting a trail blazed through Ohio and actually blazed 6 miles of it all by herself clearing the way to make a trail. She never quit hiking and working all the way up to the day she died at age 84 I believe it was. I was so inspired by her. She was an incredible woman & inspired so many people after her hike on the AT. This was back in 1955 when she did that with no modern hiking supplies at all. She walked in Keds sneakers. No tent. No cook stove. No water purifier. No sleeping bag. No backpack. Not much food or water. Barely any money. $30 a month Social Security check. Before seeing this book on Amazon I had never even heard of her. I'm so glad I read this. I'm not even a hiker myself either. An armchair wanna be hiker I guess you could say at age 68. That's why I wanted to read this so much. It was like if she could do it maybe there's hope for me too. Haha. I'm lucky to get through my 2 mile morning walk. Can you even imagine covering 20 - 30 miles a day? Phew!
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on August 24, 2016
Her endurance and strong survival skills stemmed from growing up in a very rural setting followed by a marriage to an extremely abusive spouse.
The story switched (predictably) between her hikes and historical events occurring in those times which did become a little tedious at times but provided glimpses of those times. All in all, was a good story of an amazingly physically and emotionally strong woman at all levels.
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on January 12, 2017
This book may deserve 5 stars but I took one away because I didn't like the jump back and forth from her progress on the trail to area history and geology . The sudden transition to flashbacks of her earlier life upset the feeling of continuity too . The writer's style is too wordy and larded with adjectives, although that is a minor complaint .
The book is well-edited, well-researched and proofread . Everything appears to be factual and not even sugar-coated .
The story reminded me of the PBS series, " Horatio's Drive ", by Ken Burns and of the stories of Cannonball Baker's record-setting motorcycle and car trips .
As explained in this book, Bill Bryson did Grandma Gatewood an injustice in the way he depicted her in his hilarious book, " A Walk In The Woods " . Ben Montgomery is 100 percent faithful to the truth , something I suspect Bryson isn't .

Other accounts give a misleading picture of the incredible thru-hike . I have read that Gatewood knocked on people's doors once in awhile when she got lonely . Actually, she was a depression-era woman who never turned away a stranger who showed up at her door looking for food or lodging . She apparently expected the same hospitality from others and pretty much bummed her way from Georgia to Maine . That explains her ability to travel so light . People who wish to follow in her many footsteps deserve to know the truth , so they can plan properly .
YMMV : If you are an avid AT hiker, if you are a feminist obsessed by the problem of domestic violence, if you love people or enjoy adventure stories a lot, this book may get 5 stars from you .
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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.
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on May 7, 2017
This is one more proof that anybody can do even the impossible with a little determination, faith and courage. I loved the fact that Grandma Gatewood did not let the horrible circumstances of her married life interfere with her present and future, but set out to accomplish an extraordinary journey that gave her peace in her heart and mind. And I gave her lots of credit for having the guts to get out of such an abusive situation and do something profitable for her life. Kudos to her and to all those who are being abused and decide that that is not the life they signed for and then they do something about it. I am one of them and now I am a hike leader for a Seniors' Group.
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on November 21, 2015
This book is a grand description of Grandma Gatgewood's efforts to walk the Appalachian Trail, much of which is compiled from her own journals and other first-person accounts. It also includes interwoven historical description of the trail and a some of the hiking efforts of others. It's a really wonderful book, and I preferred it to Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods which contains too much environmental proselytizing for my taste. This book has wonderful reverence for nature, as well as great respect for the elements of weather and climbing environments. Bryson's book contains more humor in the first part of his book.
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on May 3, 2015
For whatever reason (possibly my status and a West Coast kid born and raised) I'd never heard of Grandma Gatewood and her incredible feat of being the first woman to hike the entire length of Appalachian trail in the mid 1950s. Like, Gatewood at the time of her first trek on the AT, I am 67. Unlike her, I consider anything over 10 miles daunting, so the idea that she hiked over 2000 miles in a single "walk" astounds me. Most of the book is the story of her first complete hike of the trail - and is based on her journals and the recollections of others she met along the way. This is a fairly detailed account of her experience from the time she leaves her adult children a note saying only that she is going for a walk, until she finishes. The book does not end there, however. Gatewood achieves recognition as she walks and becomes an advocate for fitness and maintaining the Appalachian Trail and others as well. She hikes the trail additional times, though these walks are not related in as much detail as the first. That's OK. At times the specifics of the original hike seem to be more information than needed, though they do give the reader a real sense of this unusually strong willed and plucky woman. Throughout the book there is the shadow of the abuse that Gatewood endured during her long marriage, a marriage that gave her eleven children - a marriage that she finally found the strength to leave years before she decided to hike the trail. There is also the question of why she decided to undertake such a huge task, and why she did it without telling her children where she was going. The author offers hints, but it's really up to the reader to get to know Granny Gatewood well enough to decide what set her on the path she took. If you like hiking stories or stories of personal grit and triumphs. this might be a book you'd enjoy.
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on May 16, 2015
Very well-written and well-edited. This is as much a biography of Grandma Gatewood as it is an accounting of her hiking. In addition, the author has wrapped in some history of the times in order to give the reader some great perspective -- and some anecdotal information, as well. All-in-all, it's a fascinating read. I reluctantly read the last page, sorry to let go of Grandma Gatewood, and wishing I had known her personally. She was an amazing and unique individual who suffered some difficult times in her earlier life. She knew nature, and was totally comfortable in nature -- that's for sure.
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