By Audrey Andrews | July 22nd, 2020
Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail by Ben Montgomery is an uplifting and inspiring read. I first encountered the book on the Alpine Trails Book Club book list. It looks like Grandma Gatewood’s Walk was the second book selected for the club, and I can see why.
I was hesitant to pick up Grandma Gatewood’s Walk. The title and cover suggest Emma Gatewood would be stereotyped as a sweet elderly lady, cornered into a one-dimensional view of her life and lacking in character development. Further, it is authored by a man. But, the book continued to pop up, and I figured it was worth a read.
Montgomery does Gatewood justice. He does not pin her into the world of “Grandma,” but explores her past traumas, losses, victories and fun. Gatewood was the victim of horrible domestic violence and worked incredibly hard to raise eleven children. Her love of walking and the outdoors she shared with many and at 67 years of age, finally relieved of her motherly duties, she set out to hike the Appalachian Trail. Gatewood had tried once before but failed. This time, she would summit Mount Katahdin.
Montgomery does a respectable job of transitioning between Gatewood’s trek and earlier life. It does become a bit awkward when he inserts himself at the end of the story, but he incorporates Gatewood’s surviving children into the narrative well. I wish a bit more of the sexism she encountered on the trail was brought to light, but from what I read I doubt Gatewood would have wanted that.
Throughout Grandma Gatewood’s Walk, Montgomery returns to one question: why? As Gatewood traveled north in 1955, she became inundated with reporters asking why she wanted to walk so far. Plenty of people with no intention of selling newspapers asked as well. Gatewood always gave a generic answer and never revealed her true quest; perhaps she did not have one.
Gatewood was the first woman to complete the Appalachian Trail and inspired hikers and walkers throughout the United States. Her accomplishments did not end after one thru-hike, but I won’t spoil the story.