Grandma Gatewood's Walk
by Ben Montgomery

Chicago Review Press, 2014. ISBN 978-1-613-74718-6.
Reviewed by Jude Whelley
Posted on 07/10/2014

Nonfiction: Biography; Nonfiction: Nature/Place/Environment; Nonfiction: Elders

At some point in their lives, most people dream of tackling a difficult physical feat. Some plan and train for years before attempting it; some only dream but never try. For many folks, that difficult feat is hiking the 2,160-mile Appalachian Trail.

In 1955, a 67-year-old great-grandmother, Emma Rowena Gatewood, became the first woman to hike the Appalachian Trail alone. And then she did it two more times, and then hiked the Oregon Trail. She continued to hike until she was 84. She hiked in sneakers and carried her few supplies in a sack she made herself. All of this is quite remarkable and inspiring.

Ben Montgomery takes us on the trail with her. He had access to her travel journals and interviewed people who had contact with her during her hikes, as well as her family members. He masterfully weaves in information from her life before she began to hike and gives us a deeper understanding of her as a woman, wife, mother, and seeker.

This book is a delight. If you are a fan of place, you'll enjoy the descriptions of the trail. If you like a strong character, Grandma Gatewood is perfect. If you like a well-told story, it is here. The maps and photographs provide the exact right amount of visuals.

Grandma Gatewood had a dream. She did some planning and then made it happen. Her persistence and determination are awe-inspiring. When you read the book, and you should, and learn of the obstacles she surmounted in her life off the trail, her accomplishments are even more incredible.

Ben Montgomery is a staff writer at the Tampa Bay Times and cofounder of the Auburn Chautauqua, a Southern writers' collective. He was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2010 and has won many other national writing awards. He lives in Florida. Visit his website.

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