Book Review – Grandma Gatewood’s Walk

“In the seven years since Shaffer’s celebrated hike, only five others had achieved the same. All were men. Emma intended to change that.” Feet hit the trail in Grandma Gatewood’s Walk, a biography by Ben Montgomery.

The Appalachian Trail is a continuous hiking trail that extends from Georgia to Maine, following the Appalachian mountains that lie parallel to the Atlantic coast. In 1955, only a few people had hiked the entire trail alone. Inspired by an article in National Geographic, Emma Gatewood, then 67 years old, decided to tackle the challenge and be the first woman to complete a solo trek. Along the way, she was noticed by the press, stole the hearts of the public, and finished the trail as a legend.

This was my first biography, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The story is written as a narrative, which I’m assuming was created from journals kept during the walk, or interviews afterwards. Montgomery follows Emma’s trip all the way up the trail, describing the places and people she encountered as she traversed a good portion of North America. Between chapters of the hike, we get flashbacks to Emma’s past and the experiences in her life that made her so tough and motivated. There are occasional short excerpts of newspaper articles and quotes from people who followed her trek.

The story is surprisingly entertaining! I was wondering how it was possible to get a whole book out of a hike, but there’s lots of detail about the different experiences Emma had on the way. We hear about her encounters with wild animals, worn out gear, dangerous weather, suspicious backwoods residents, reporters and photographers, and even a night spent in a cabin with a group of teenage gang members! The book kept my interest all the way through.

As someone who loves to hike, I gotta say that Grandma Gatewood is a hardcore badass. I won’t touch a trail without proper boots, a comfortable backpack, and an array of food and snacks. Emma did it in Converse with a denim bag slung over her shoulder, sleeping wherever she could find a dry spot by the trail, while she was sixty seven years old! My feet hurt just thinking about it, lol.

The story is definitely inspiring, but personally I doubt I will ever attempt to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. I would die of loneliness trying to do it alone, and even with a partner or group I’d be sick of walking after about a week. But thousands of other people have been motivated to finish the trail because of Grandma Gatewood’s story. She’s a unique and interesting legend!

Overall, I enjoyed this book. I’d love to see Emma’s story made into a movie.