Grandmother of the Appalachian Trail, USA: the birth of hiking

Granny Gatewood is the most famous hiker in the U.S. (8 photos)

Emma Gatewood, better known in the United States as “Grandma Gatewood” (Grandma Gatewood) is a courageous American woman who managed to become the first woman to hike the famous Appalachian Trail alone, becoming a national hero in the process. And, no less surprisingly, she recovered from the hardest hiking route of 3,489 km, lying through 14 states and impregnable mountain ranges, at the age of 67. It took Grandma Gatewood 142 days to cover the thorny route from Mount Oglethorpe, Georgia, to Mount Katahdin, Maine. The American woman did not stop there, repeating the feat twice more as hiking became an integral part of her life.

Emma Gatewood was born in Gallia County, Ohio, where she married a farmer. But, unfortunately, this marriage was extremely unhappy – from the first days of life together her husband beat her, often inflicting quite serious injuries, almost incompatible with life. Emma repeatedly had a broken jaw, ribs and broken teeth, which caused her terrible pain. When the abuse was too much to bear, she would flee to the woods, where she would spend some time alone and find some much-needed peace. Of course, the woman dreamed of divorcing her husband, but he regularly threatened her with psychiatric care. Eventually, Emma overcame her fear-she managed to get a divorce, though in those days it was an incredibly complicated procedure. During her lifetime, Grandma Gatewood became a mother to 11 children, a grandmother to 24 grandchildren and a great-grandmother to 30 great-grandchildren.

In 1950, Emma began her fascination with National Geographic magazine, where she was particularly inspired by stories about solitary, hiking trips. That’s where she read an article about the great Appalachian Trail that said only five people could hike it in one season and that a woman would probably never be able to do it. Gatewood was determined to conquer the rugged route at all costs. Five years later, wearing her favorite shoes, Keds tennis shoes, a raincoat, a first-aid kit, an army blanket, plastic shower curtains, a change of clothes and some provisions, 67-year-old Granny Gatewood told her loved ones she was going for a walk. Thus began the great journey of the great man.

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The novice traveler went on the road without a map, compass, sleeping bag, tent and other necessities for such a difficult hike, but that didn’t stop her from walking about 35 miles each day and visiting 14 states as a result. Her diet consisted of nuts, cheese, and beef jerky, but she often found food in the woods – berries, sorrel, and mint always saved Emma from starvation. In addition, locals along the Appalachian Trail often helped hikers – so sometimes the woman was provided with hot food and shelter. On a few occasions Grandma Gatewood slept in inns while waiting for supplies or a new pair of sneakers to arrive, but she usually slept outdoors – on picnic tables, in barns, abandoned buildings, or right on the ground, covered with leaves and moss. On cold days she made a fire and slept on still warm rocks afterward.

Soon after the journey began, the press learned of the courageous hiker, dubbing her “Grandma Gatewood. The entire country followed Emma’s adventures throughout her “walk,” and by the end of her hike, the hiker had become a national celebrity. She lost 15 pounds, wore seven pairs of shoes, and overcame difficult challenges, but she didn’t stop there and hiked the Appalachian Trail again five years later. And even the second hike didn’t satisfy the woman’s love of hiking – in 1963 Grandma Gatewood repeated her record again. Grandma later became the only person in the world to hike the Appalachian Trail three times. In 1970, when Emma was 82 years old, she was invited to appear on the Today Show, where she was asked what advice she could give to hikers for a more comfortable trip. The woman replied – “Take a raincoat, a backpack, a sturdy pair of Keds and Vienna sausages. You’ll find everything else on the way.”

The famous hiker died in 1973 at the age of 85, leaving behind a story of a person with an unwavering willpower and spirit that guided her throughout her life.

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