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Winner of theNational Outdoor Book Awards for HistoryBiography Emma Gatewood told her family she was going on a walk and left her small Ohio hometown with a change of clothes and less than two hundred dollars The next anybody heard from her, this genteel, farmreared, yearold greatgrandmother had walkedmiles along the ,mile Appalachian Trail And in September , having survived a rattlesnake strike, two hurricanes, and a runin with gangsters from Harlem, she stood atop Maine’s Mount Katahdin There she sang the first verse of “America, the Beautiful” and proclaimed, “I said I’ll do it, and I’ve done it”Grandma Gatewood, as the reporters called her, became the first woman to hike the entire Appalachian Trail alone, as well as the first person—man or woman—to walk it twice and three times Gatewood became a hiking celebrity and appeared on TV and in the pages of Sports Illustrated The public attention she brought to the littleknown footpath was unprecedented Her vocal criticism of the lousy, difficult stretches led to bolstered maintenance, and very likely saved the trail from extinctionAuthor Ben Montgomery was given unprecedented access to Gatewood’s own diaries, trail journals, and correspondence, and interviewed surviving family members and those she met along her hike, all to answer the question so many asked: Why did she do it? The story of Grandma Gatewood will inspire readers of all ages by illustrating the full power of human spirit and determination Even those who know of Gatewood don’t know the full story—a story of triumph from pain, rebellion from brutality, hope from suffering

10 thoughts on “Grandma Gatewood's Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail

  1. Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin says:

    Buddy read with my wonderful friend, Candi ❤️

    This book was a great inspiration!


    For those of you that actually read my reviews =) there will be some spoilers on down the line because I just have to talk about Emma's horrific husband for a minute.

    Anyway, at one time me, my dog, my dad, my ex-boyfriend and dog were going to hike a portion of the trail and I wanted to spend one night and hike back. But, we never did and then I became home bound so that's never going to happen. We used to pass this sign showing the trail when we were going to one of our places down the road.

    There were so many references in the book to some of my old stomping grounds, Fort Oglethorpe, Gatlinburg and others.

    I CAN'T believe this woman set out at 67 years old and did a thru-walk all by herself for 2,050 miles on the AT. She just had some tennis shoes, a sack and a walking stick. Dude, she was hardcore! She was a pioneer woman that was brought up with hard work all of her life so this was nothing.


    Here are some of her things at the AT museum.


    She pulled from the box a drawstring sack she'd made back home from a yard of denim, her wrinkled fingers doing the stitching, and opened it wide. She filled the sack with other items from the box: Vienna Sausage, raisins, peanuts, bouillon cubes, powered milk. She tucked inside a tin of Band-Aids, a bottle of iodine, some bobby pins, and a jar of Vicks salve. She packed the slippers and a gingham dress that she could shake out if she ever needed to look nice. She stuffed in a warm coat, a Swiss Army knife, a flashlight, candy mints, and her pen and a little Royal Vernon Line memo book that she bought for twenty-five cents at Murphy's back home.

    Emma didn't tell her children where she was going. They never worried about her because she was a tough woman. She was a pioneer woman. She was raised on a farm where she worked hard.

    She got married to a jerk of a man who beat her all of the time and at times she was unrecognizable. He needed a bullet to the head in my opinion. She finally divorced him years later. She had 11 kids and tons of grandkids and great-grandkids.

    She was the first woman to do a thru-hike of the trail. And she walked it again. She also did it a third time in sections. She also walked the 2,000 mile Oregon Trail. She was 77 years old and still hiking. God, I miss hiking and I would have loved to have met this woman. She was born Oct. 25, 1887 and died June 4, 1973. I was only a year old.

    She has different monuments about her. I'm sure glad for that because she is a warrior/trouper/inspiration for women.

    After the hard life I have lived, she said, this trail isn't so bad.

    This woman had all of these children by an abusive man, she worked their farm and took care of the kids and everything else that had to be done.

    I loved that her kids were started out working at a young age. I think all kids should have to do this and maybe the world would be a bit better. I soooooooooooo wish my parents would have done that with me. We had a house and they could have figured something out but when we traveled to my grandmother's farm we could have worked hard in their acres of gardens. But none of us kids were made to do that.

    The children all worked hard, too. By two years old, they were sweeping floors and gathering eggs. By three they were collecting kindling for the potbellied stove. By four they were washing and drying dishes. By five they knew how to wash their own clothes.

    And that's not all, they worked on the farm with their mom too. Dad worked sometimes. He did some teaching jobs too. Weird that.

    The story tells about Emma's time on the trails, things she ran into, people, the weather, etc. But the book also tells the story of her home life and other little tidbits.



    This woman was amaze balls and she's an inspiration to me. I hope she's an inspiration to many more. Well, she was as she got many woman, kids and even some men to hiking more. I just love her. She's going in my book of people I look up to.

    Mel ♥

    MY BLOG: Melissa Martin's Reading List

  2. Miranda Reads Miranda Reads says:


    Oops, I did it again...aka here's another tierlist video ranking all my January Books. Now that you know where this one stands, check out the video to see the rest!

    The Written Review:

    Her chest full of crisp air and inspiration, her feet atop a forgettable mountain where the stars make you feel insignificant and important all at once.
    Emma Gatewood is many things - a wife, a mother, a grandmother and a world-renowned walker.

    When she was sixty-seven years old, she told her family she would be going out for a walk, packed a change of clothes, two hundred dollars and set off to the Appalachian Trail.
    The sum of the whole is this: Walk and be happy; Walk and be healthy.
    The Appalachian Trail clocks in at 2,050 miles and is known for its treacherous terrain and dangerous animals.

    But when Emma Gatewood puts her mind to something, nothing can deter her.

    And so she walked - one foot in front of the other.
    I did it. I said I'd do it and I've done it.
    This book was simply adorable. This slice of life was really well done - I loved being able to peek into grandma Gatewood

    I loved the tone of the author as he speaks of Gatewood and the snippets from her journal really enhanced the book.

    Even though this seems like a straightforward book, we end up weaving back and forward in Emma's life - from her simple childhood to her time married to an abusive man to her journey on the trail.

    All in all, this is a fabulous slice-of-life book and I'm so happy to have read it!

    A huge thank you to Angela's Booked who suggested this fabulous read.

  3. Candi Candi says:

    She stood, finally, her canvas Keds tied tight, on May 3, 1955, atop the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, the longest continuous footpath in the world, facing the peaks on the blue-black horizon that stretched toward heaven and unfurled before her for days. Facing a mean landscape of angry rivers and hateful rock she stood, a woman, mother of eleven and grandmother of twenty-three. She had not been able to get the trail out of her mind.

    So began Emma Gatewood’s remarkable 2,050 mile journey through thirteen states stretching from Mount Oglethorpe in Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine. More affectionately known as Grandma Gatewood, she would distinguish herself as being the first woman to ever hike the Appalachian Trail alone. She would be celebrated further as being the first person, male or female, to complete the hike three times.

    What an uplifting story! I read this with my awesome Goodread’s friend, Melissa, and I’m so glad that we chose this book to share together. Grandma Gatewood lived a hard life to say the least. She toiled away on a farm for most of her life, while caring for loads of children and a creep that wasn’t ashamed to abuse her whenever he felt the urge. The family suffered from financial setbacks, and hardships were a part of the daily routine. After reading about the trail in a National Geographic magazine, she received no formal training for a hike such as the one she decided to tackle. Instead, she relied on determination, instinct, and the skills she acquired after years of struggle and sweat. Grandma didn’t pack up more than she felt necessary for this five month trek. I was shocked to hear that she didn’t even bring along what I would have considered totally essential – a sleeping bag and tent. Instead, she laid her weary body down wherever she could find sanctuary from the elements. Sometimes she slept in shelters along the way; other times she rested right outside with only heated rocks and her own clothing for warmth. On occasion, she would knock on doors along the way and get a little added comfort for the night if the resident happened to feel hospitable. Ironically, it seemed the bigger the house, the less likely she would be welcome.

    Letters, journal entries, newspaper articles, and interviews with family members and folks Grandma Gatewood met along the way were all pieced together by author Ben Montgomery to reproduce her incredible adventure. I loved the many anecdotes of the people she came across on her hike. Some made me laugh and others were endearing. Eventually, despite the fact she had not even told her children where she was headed on that day in May, reporters caught wind of her astonishing voyage and tracked her down on the trail. More often than not, these newshounds were intent on uncovering Grandma’s motive for such an undertaking. After several minutes of chatting, the reporters often walked away as baffled as they had been before meeting her. The book alternates between Emma Gatewood’s past and her hike, providing the reader with an opportunity to not only learn about this woman, but to also give us the chance to reach our own conclusion as to her motivation. I learned quite a bit about the trail itself – the development, its history, other notable hikers, as well as the pastime of walking in general. The rise of the car in the 1950s was accompanied by the rise of television. At the beginning of the decade, only 9 percent of American households had a TV set. More than half had one by 1954, and 86 percent would own one by the end of the decade. Americans began to experience life not by the soles of their feet, but by the seat of their pants.

    I highly recommend this book to anyone that enjoys inspirational non-fiction or those that have an interest in learning more about the Appalachian Trail. It is well-researched, very readable, and highly entertaining. I do believe her journey was not just a physical one, but one to heal the spirit as well.

    So much was behind her. So many memories and trials and miles.

  4. Kay Kay says:

    A cool story told by a mediocre author. I have no idea how this guy was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. The writing is ok but the book jumps back and forth between Gatewood's past and her hike. The jumps happen without warning and make little sense in terms of flow. The bulk of the book is devoted to her first thru-hike with the others mentioned only in passing. I found the amount of detail and lack of balance a little odd.

    One chapter in the last third of the book consists of the author's account of retracing Grandma Gatewood's steps up the last portion of the trail in Maine. Like many male authors, Montgomery felt the need to unnecessarily insert himself into what is a woman's story. Rather than using Gatewood's own descriptions of her experience, he decided it was more important to experience it himself (since women's experiences aren't real unless men can have them too). The angry feminist in me spent this chapter alternating between barfing and skimming (while simultaneously dreading the rest of the book).

    If this hadn't been written by a stereotypical dude author, the star rating would be a lot higher. But I couldn't get into it. I don't give a shit about your pondering of what Grandma Gatewood would have thought about the way you hike. Given that she seemed to give no fucks about other hikers when she was alive, it follows that you're nothing special.

  5. Hank Stuever Hank Stuever says:

    A gentle and nearly perfect tracing of steps of a determined woman who was among the first to simply walk the Appalachian Trail from one end to the other, in the middle of the 20th century, when she was 67 years old. It's also a book about the emotional and physical journey that was her disastrously abusive married life and the solace she found in nature as an independent old lady. There's a little something in here for everyone -- people who love nature and hiking (epic or simple) and people who love old ladies, but also people who are interested in the way society changed. As Grandma Gatewood was walking in 1955, America was building the interstate road system that would radically alter our ideas of mobility and distance. There's just a little bit of that kind of historical/cultural context -- not too much and not too preachy. Ben Montgomery (disclosure: he's a friend of mine) found just the right tone here. It's interesting to hold Grandma Gatewood's Walk, in which the motivations of the central subject remain so stubbornly elusive (what made Grandma Gatewood decide to do the trail? How did it make her feel?) against a memoir like Cheryl Strayed's Wild, in which the reader is never _not_ aware of the autobiographical hiker and her emotional travails with each step.

    I was struck by two things that I wanted to know a little more about: What in Grandma Gatewood led her to assume that so many strangers would offer her food, sleeping space, etc. when she knocked on their doors? If Americans forgot how to walk long distances, it seems clearer to me that they also forgot how to open their doors and cupboards to strangers. Also, I'm curious about the rise of REI culture and the hippy hiker culture that now defines the world of the AT, which made me also wonder about the present-day culture of boutique outdoorsmanship, but my sense is that line of inquiry would probably get in the way of a book that turned out to be beautifully spare. The book is just really terrific at blending biography and armchair-travel -- two of my favorite genres. At the end of it, you'll wish you walked more. I walk a minimum of 2.8 miles a day (to work and back), usually more, so I didn't feel too inert.

    Finally, the thing that made me happiest about this book is that one of America's finest male feature writers took on a book project that was about a woman. It's an incredibly rare thing -- most of the men I know who work at magazines and newspapers almost always (I mean always) write stories about men.

  6. Cheri Cheri says:

    5 Stars for Grandma Gatewood's Inspirational Story

    “MAY 2—9, 1955”

    “She packed her things in late spring, when her flowers were in full bloom, and left Gallia County, Ohio, the only place she’d every really called home.”

    ”She stood, finally, her canvas Keds tied tight, on May 3, 1955, atop the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, the longest continuous footpath in the world, facing the peaks on the blue-black horizon that stretched toward heaven and unfurled before her for days. Facing a mean landscape of angry rivers and hateful rock she stood, a woman, mother of eleven and grandmother of twenty-three. She had not been able to get the trail out of her mind. She had thought of it constantly back home in Ohio, where she tended her small garden and looked after her grandchildren, biding her time until she could get away.

    “When she finally could it was 1955, and she was sixty-seven years old.”

    The only survival training she’d had came surviving her years of marriage to a violent and abusive man. She’d been walking for years, out in the country with no driver’s license, for years, just to get from place to place, with walks in the woods with no real destination in mind. She just enjoyed being outside, surrounded by woods. Nature. As time went by, she began to add more each day until she gradually was up to ten miles a day.

    She hadn’t wanted to tell anyone of her plans, and over time, she had saved a bit of money here and there out of her twenty-five dollar a week paycheck until she qualified for the minimum in social security. Then she trained some more, and prepared some things, gathered some things for her walk.

    So when she stood before these mountains that comprised the Appalachian Trail, from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine, she was not only trying to fulfill a promise she’d silently made to herself, she was doing so with a hand-sewn backpack carrying some bouillon cubes, Vienna Sausage, raisins, peanuts, powered milk, Band-Aids, bobby pins, iodine, Vicks, one pair of slippers, and one gingham dress – just in case she ever had to dress nice, the keds she was wearing and the clothes on her back. Only two people knew she was there, the cab driver that dropped her off and her cousin. She told her grown children she was “going for a walk.”

    ”There were a million heavenly things to see and a million spectacular ways to die.”

    Why? She would be asked that hundreds of times, if not thousands of times. She had a handful of answers: “For a lark” was repeated often.

    She was hooked from the time she read an August, 1949 National Geographic magazine that she found containing nineteen pages devoted to the Appalachian Trail with color photographs. It was a “window to another place,” showing a bear cub, teenage hikers in Vermont, a lichen-speckled boulder in Maine, and more. They referred to it as “a soul-cheering, foot-tempting trail,” where food was easy to find, with plenty of shelters and well-spaced for a day’s walk, one from another.

    She read that only one man had officially walked the trail’s entire length in a single, continuous journey. Since then, only five others had achieved the same, and all were men.

    ”Emma intended to change that.”

    I have spent much of my life living near the Appalachian Trail, and have spent lots of days walking it, collectively. I’d always lived with woods behind my house, exploring trails was a big part of my childhood, and when my oldest was young, a part of our days.

    I wanted to read this after reading my goodreads friend Melissa’s excellent, heartfelt review. There’s so much we put off, or our family obligations or work obligations force us to put off such ideas as taking a walk on the Appalachian Trail, and then one day it’s too late. Health problems, concerns prevent it, or other things keep us from being able to commit to walking the entire A.T., or maybe even for very long. Maybe this goes beyond a specific dream Grandma Gatewood’s story is so inspirational it will undoubtedly move you. So find your dream, and follow it.

    ”I did it, she said.I said I’d do it and I’ve done it.”

    Melissa’s review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
    Thank you, Melissa!

    My eternal thanks to the Public Library for providing me, yet again, with a copy to read.

  7. Carol Carol says:

    A huge debt of gratitude is wished to my GR friend Julie for recommending Grandma Gatewood's Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail to me.

    Though I have hid one part of my review as a spoiler, my enthusiasm for this book may contain others. It's a case of told more rather than less but I'm certain you'll still find insights of your own to take away from this read.

    It was the spring of 1955, May to be exact when Emma Gatewood set out from her home in Galliapolis, Ohio on a walk. Not just any walk, but one-step in front of the other, 5 million of these on the 2,000 plus mile journey from Georgia to Maine, to become the first recognized woman thru-hiker on The Appalachian Trail.

    Most people would ask why and many did as this mother of eleven, and grandmother of twenty-three hiked the trail. She gave the usual answers, including the simple Because, I wanted to.” As you read Emma’s story you many draw your own conclusions as to her motivation. Mine are contained in this (view spoiler)[Emma Gatewood married P.C. Gatewood on May 7, 1907. Within three months the abuse began, horrific abuse that lasted for thirty-five years of marriage until February 6, 1941 when a judge decreed the marriage over.
    “P.C. was gone for good”, and Emma was changing. In her own words

    ”I am more than glad to be free of it all,” she wrote in her diary. Have been happy every since.” “The forest is a quiet place and nature is beautiful. I don’t want to sit and rock. I want to do something.” She was going forward, not looking back and often walked as a form of meditation before it was popular. (hide spoiler)]

  8. Mom Mom says:

    Grandma Emma Gstewood was an amazing woman who, at the age of 67 and with no long distance hiking experience, hiked the entire Appalachian Trail. First woman to hike the AT alone, she returned and hiked it several more times. That she did this without advance preparation, without the essential gear, and apparently without any fear is just amazing. Of course, she had the truly essential gear -- determination, courage, and good health.

    A moderately interesting book about a fascinating inspiring woman. The writing was mostly just a recitation of facts as taken from Emma's diaries and/or newspaper articles. A five star lady portrayed in a 3 star book.

  9. Jennifer Jennifer says:

    Although it seems wholly inadequate, the only word I can think of to describe this book -- and this woman -- is WOW!

    Author Ben Montgomery tells the story of Emma Grandma Gatewood, the first woman to ever through hike the 2,050 Appalachian Trail in 1957 at the age of 67. She then became the first person -- male or female -- to hike the trail two, and then three times. She was first inspired to hike the trail while reading about it in an article in National Geographic magazine. The article claimed that any person in reasonable health should be able to hike the trail and wouldn't need any special equipment. (This was in a time when even those who created the trail didn't imagine that anyone would hike it all the way through. It was intended for day or weekend hikes). Emma hiked it with a hand-sewn back satchel which carried only the essentials (omitting a tent) and went through numerous pairs of flimsy shoes in her journey.

    Using her journals, newspaper articles, letters, and interviews with children and others who knew her as sources, Montgomery gives us a picture of this extraordinary woman. He not only brings readers along on Emma's journey, but also tries to discover her motivation for making such a quest.

    Emma spent her married life on a farm in southern Ohio, which had much more in common with Appalachian West Virginia than the rust belt cities of the northern part of the state. Her married life was miserable. Her husband was mercilessly abusive, and the author implies that at least some of her 11 children were conceived via instances of marital rape. In that era and in that place, a husband's word was gospel, and after one particularly bad fight although Emma was left with a bludgeoned face, 4 broken teeth, and broken ribs, the local sheriff came and arrested *her* because her husband, with hardly a scratch, claimed Emma was being uncooperative.

    Decades after being in a horrible marriage Emma finally divorced her husband. Once her children were finally grown she was ready to live life on her terms. All she told her children was that she was going for a walk, and that's all they heard from her until she had walked more than 800 miles of the Appalachian Trail.

    Emma had much to say about the lazy attitudes of people of her day. Those who would rather jump in the car than walk a few blocks to run an errand (and this was in the 50s and 60s -- God only knows what she'd have to say today!) She also had a deep reverence for the outdoors . Although she's not a household name today, she gained quite a bit a fame during her journey, and as a result of her hike she brought much-needed attention to the inadequacies of the Appalachian Trail as it was in her day -- from poorly maintained trails, to missing blazes, to falling-down shelters.

    Even after her Appalachian Trail hikes, Emma continued making long-distances walks throughout the rest of her life, including walking the 2,000+ mile Oregon trail among others.

    If you're looking to be inspired, or for a reminder that age is just a number, look no further than this book.

    5 enthusiastic stars.

  10. Adam Adam says:

    A mile or so from my house is the Tuscobia, a 70-mile recreational trail that cuts through the western half of Northern Wisconsin. On its way, it passes through a half-dozen small towns, none more than a few hundred people in size, as well as the Chequamegon National Forest, a massive swathe of land that has largely been left to the animals, of which there are many. There is nothing spectacular about the trail besides the occasional railroad spike sticking out of the ground--no landmarks, no great natural landscapes, no fluctuations in terrain, its flatness bespeaking its former use--and yet, a few years ago, I began walking it. At first I covered only a few miles, making sure I turned back before it became too dark, or before my domesticated knees threatened to give out. As the summer progressed, however, the walks became longer, until I was covering 15 to 20 miles in a given day, all without water or food; my supplies consisted of a camera, which would go virtually unused, a baseball cap to block out the sun, and a few dollars in case I needed to stop at one of the few gas stations along the way. The entire experience, stretched out over one long summer, was nothing short of unpleasant, and at the last five miles I gave up: the horse-flies were too vicious, the distance from home too far. To this day, I have no desire to go back and hike that final portion. The Tuscobia era of my life is, thankfully, closed.

    And yet I persisted, forcing myself to cover one section after the next, for no reason other than to walk. I knew there would be nothing to see, no great scenes to photograph, no milestones to reach, but I kept on, driving out further and further, parking along narrow backroads and disappearing for hours at a time. (I never expected to walk the entire trail in one go, for the simple reason that there were no lodgings along the way.) The trail, used mainly for ATV riders in the summer and snowmobilers in the winter, isn't designed for hikers, and yet I found a strange comfort in those hours on the trail--a trail on which I could vanish without ever having to worry about being lost. In those long stretches of time away from people, phones, televisions, traffic, and other distractions, other refuges, I was able--forced--to not only push myself further but also think through my life as it was and could be. After all, when you're alone on a 70-mile trail that snakes its way through one of the least populated places in the country, you have a lot of time to think.

    This paradox--of disappearing to find oneself--has made the simple act of walking a serious object of study and reflection, advocated by men and women for centuries. Henry David Thoreau wrote a heavily reprinted essay on the subject, philosophizing that walking fulfills man's inner need to reconnect with and rejoin nature--a need that modern society has done its best to suffocate away, to excise and devalue. Similarly, the world's greatest thinkers--Rousseau, Nietzsche, Kant, Rimbaud--all took to walking for their own individual purposes, though each would remark on how beneficial the experience was, not only to them personally but to mankind entirely. Others have transformed walking into a symbolic experience--an exercise in strength, protest, and reform. Gandhi walked to the waters for equality, just as civil rights activists walked to Montgomery for rights, the third time joined by Martin Luther King himself, and always under the threat of violence. Men and women have walked across countries, up the world's highest mountain, across the planet's coldest and emptiest continent, into the hearts of forgotten empires, down caves that were refuges for our ancestors, and even across the surface of the moon. And with every walk, marked into dirt and soil and dust by the feet and shoes of average people, our world has become a better place--more knowledgeable, more aware, more connected.

    Sometimes, however, a great walk occurs by accident, simply because the path is somewhere to be when there's nowhere else to go. In 1955, a grandmother from Ohio named Emma Gatewood made her way south to George where, with few provisions and no guide, she began to walk the Appalachian Trail, a 2,168-mile path that crossed through 14 states and had only ever been walked from start to finish--uninterrupted, in one season--by a half-dozen others before her, at most, and all of them men. At age 67, she was an unlikely candidate for such an adventure; wearing only Keds on her feet and with scant supplies--some raisins for food, a blanket, a raincoat, an extra pair of glasses, money and identification--she was also impossibly optimistic about her chances. At the time, the Appalachian Trail was in sorry disrepair. Virtually ignored by the federal government, not to mention state agencies, the trail was tended at intervals by local groups and volunteers, all of whom worked without recognition or pay to preserve what they viewed as a national treasure. Had it not been for their dedication, hikers like Emma Gatewood could never have made the months-long trek; and had it not been for hikers like Emma Gatewood--and especially Emma Gatewood--the trail itself may have faded into obscurity, reclaimed by the very wilderness the path was created to embrace.

    What makes the story of Emma Gatewood--dubbed Grandma Gatewood by writers at the time--so enthralling, especially when written out by Ben Montgomery, is that the accounts of her Appalachian walk are interspersed with stories of the world Emma Gatewood left behind, if only temporarily. She had been a dutiful wife and mother, the kind of woman--a turn-of-the-century housewife--who labored 20 hours a day making sure her children were fed, her husband was taken care of, the house was clean, the pantry was well-stocked, and the farm ran smoothly while the men were out working the fields and tending to the cattle. She could butcher and fry a hog single-handedly, wrote poetry, never complained about the tribulations of farm life, and kept connected to her family through detailed letters, even when they spread across the country. But her husband was abusive, often beating her until she was no longer recognizable. At times she would want to leave, but her husband watched her obsessively, and she didn't want to leave without the children, whom he never struck but had no problems being violent in front of. Plus, this was an era when women were still expected to submit in certain parts of the country, and where a beaten wife's story didn't matter when the husband was friends with the law. It was a secret she carried with her, even after they separated and she was given control over the farm and custody of the children--an unheard-of judgment for a woman in the early twentieth century. Still, decades later, when the newspapers learned of her solitary walk and caught up with her to ask her questions--she was always available to journalists, even though they slowed her down--she would tell them she was a widow, that her husband was dead, and she'd say nothing more. She didn't like to talk about herself all that much, brushing off their condescending surprise that she would embark on something so difficult and at her advanced age, and she especially didn't want to tell them that her husband was still alive somewhere, though she didn't particularly care where.

    As Montgomery's book approaches its close, the two halves of Gatewood's life--her past, her present, all written in honest, beautiful prose--converge into the story of a woman who did something on her own, even when all of the evidence and much of the popular opinion, as unspoken as it may have been, said she wouldn't or couldn't. In fact, she would return to the trail twice more, each time for no other reason than because it was there and because there was nothing stopping her, not anymore. Later, she would walk the Oregon Trail, a 2,000-mile trek from Missouri to Portland, though the treeless roadways meant the sun beat down on her for months, merciless. And yet she prevailed there, too. She would be given credit for pioneering the practice of ultra-light hiking, in which a hiker carries as little as possible--though she did so out of expedience, practicality, and an overriding trust in her fellow people, most of whom did all they could to help out this old, soft-spoken women on her journey. They fed her, gave her a place to sleep--in one case, she eschewed a bed for a chair on the family's front porch--and returned her to the place where she'd been picked up, guaranteeing that she did not miss a single step of the trail. What these kind-hearted samaritans didn't realize--what they couldn't have realized at the time--was that her mission transcended the mountainous path she would eventually conquer. As is the case with most people, Emma Gatewood was on two journeys: one she walked publicly, and one she walked privately, on her own and for only herself.

    This review was originally published at There Will Be Books Galore.