Perry and Emma Gatewood’s oldest daughter Helen was already 20 years old in 1928, and the other children weren’t far behind. So Emma Gatewood became “Grandma Gatewood” to her immediate family long before the rest of the world knew her by that title.
Throughout the 30s, 40s and 50s she continued raising her 11 children and four of her grandchildren at the family farm in Gallia County, Ohio. With no means of transportation, Grandma Gatewood would simply walk two, three, four or five miles for her visits.
Then in 1955 at the age of 67, Grandma Gatewood made a journey that gained nationwide attention. Seeing a “National Geographic” article about the Appalachian Trail, and discovering that no woman had ever hiked its entire length, Grandma Gatewood decided to set out on an adventure. Amazingly, she made her arrangements and started in Maine on the hike without as much as a word to her family about her plans.
Unfortunately this first try ended abruptly when her glasses were accidentally broken, forcing her to return home. “I thought it would be a nice lark,” she said, adding “It wasn’t.”
But finally, in 1957, she successfully hiked the trail all the way from Maine to Georgia, and if that wasn’t enough she hiked it again in 1960, and then again at age 75 in 1963, making her the first person to hike the trail three times (though her final hike was completed in sections).
Gatewood never carried more than 20 lbs of gear and food during her hikes. She simply did not believe in expensive state of the art paraphernalia. “Most people today are pantywaist,” she observed. Grandma G. traveled light, toting simply a blanket, plastic sheet, cup, first aid kit, raincoat, and one change of clothes. Her footgear was also plain, just an old pair of tennis shoes: “Head is more important than heel.” And there were no freeze dried hiker meals for her. Her hiking diet consisted mainly of dried beef, cheese and nuts, supplemented by wild food she would find along the way.
On the design of the Appalachian Trail: “For some fool reason, they always lead you right up over the biggest rock to the top of the biggest mountain they can find.”