My Book Review- Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail

Grandma Gatewood's Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian TrailGrandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail by Ben Montgomery
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Grandma Gatewood broke the mold. The first woman to solo thru-hike the AT in 1957, she went on to walk the AT two more times, the last at 75 years old. She was also the first person to thru hike the AT three times. This was all accomplished with no money to speak off. The $57 a month she was receiving from Social Security at that time was all she would need.
Spoiler: stop right here if you don’t want me telling you details that I learned from this book, a 2014 release. Hell, it’s a book review. I am going to write what I want. Your choice.
This story is not about backpacking, because Grandma Gatewood never wore one. She probably couldn’t afford to buy one if she did. Even so, she might have declined to use a 1957 model, as it would have been too heavy for her to want to carry. The word iconoclast fits her to a “t”. Instead, she carried her spartan kit in a homemade bag slung over one shoulder. No boots, tent, sleeping bag or pad, stove for her, just Keds sneakers and carrying an army blanket to wrap up in, a plastic shower curtain for shelter, a cup, first aid kit, raincoat, and one change of clothes. That’s it ! Her food was no-cook high calorie stuff- dried beef, cheese, and nuts, supplemented by any wild food she was able to forage.
The AT is known for hardships: humidity, steep climbs, rattlesnakes down south, and periods of relentless rain. While the typical AT thru-hiker reports are all about the hike and how tough it is. For Gatewood, a thru-hike of the AT would have been a respite from the brutal life she led for her first 67 years. She married young to a bastard of an individual, who sexually and physically abused her on what appears to have been a daily basis, resulting in 11 children, 23 grandchildren, and a work day on the farm that would have crippled lesser folks.
Gatewood’s chance read of an old National Geographic article planted a seed in her heart that would not make growth until her last child was independent. When that happened, she just walked out of the house, without telling a soul where she was going.
She had to learn new skills, and really fast.
You may cry when you read this book, it is so well written and genuine.
While reading present articles about Gatewood, I learned that there is a movie about her that is currently in production ( http://grandmagatewood.wordpress.com/… ). This is one story that needs to be heard, a genuine American epic of a life saved and even graced by the open trail.

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Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail | Longreads

I am still benefitting from my most enjoyable, 5 day walk on the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.  The cool temps, abundant wildflowers, word-class terrain, challenging climbs, fragrant forests,  plentiful water sources, and the top-notch Kincora hostel all contributed to an experience that continues to enrich me, as I reminisce daily about that ancient path and the effect it had in uplifting my spirits.

In 1955, a most amazing story began to unfold, when a tiny, aged woman laced up her Keds and started walking from Mt. Oglethorpe, Georgia.  Grandma Gatewood’s story needs to be heard today, when the complexity of one’s life begs for simplification.

This week’s Longreads Member’s Pick is the the opening chapter of Grandma Gatewood’s Walk, the new book by Ben Montgomery about Emma Gatewood, the first woman to hike the entire Appalachian Trail alone—and who did so at the age of 67.  I  opened the following link and ordered the book after reading the introductory chapter.  It is so well written.  Check it out:—>>Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail | Longreads.

Riding Mountain Bikes on Mt. Rogers, VA

Last weekend I was down in the southern Appalachians.  The first 5 days, I was there, I walked 90 miles of the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.  It was glorious.  The wildflowers were in abundance,  and were prolific . There were times when I was backpacking, sometimes over 5,000 feet in elevation, while at the same time inhaling the intoxicating fragrance of woodland plants and trees. It was a healing experience.

Flame Azalea

Flame Azalea

Rhododendron in full bloom

Rhododendron in full bloom

After my backpacking segment, I stayed at my friend Mike’s mountainside cabin that I reported on in my previous post about my week down south.

 

One of the activities that Mike and I shared was a 14 mile mountain bike ride from the cabin through the Mt. Rogers Wilderness, where we pushed our bikes uphill toward the Grayson Highlands.  Our ride then followed an abandoned railroad grade to the top of our ride, where we intersected the Appalachian Trail at a corral known as the Scales.

The Scales

The Scales

The other geographical feature of this area are the Balds,  which are large mountaintops that are devoid of trees.  here’s a panorama of a bald that I visited.

Bald near Mt. Rogers

Bald near Mt. Rogers

Riding bikes here was a unique experience.  My friend Mike owns two Diamondback bikes.  He rode a later model with a front suspension fork, and I chose a 1986 vintage Diamondback Apex for the day.  I have an 1985 Apex at home, that I have converted to a road bike.  On this ride, I was forced to remember why modern bikes often sport front AND rear suspensions. The ride up was not so bad, because it was a steady climb of 1600′.  The ride down was a real suffer fest, due to the constant pounding of the front end on the numerous rocks and ruts that littered the trail.  My forearm and wrists were toast.

The next day Mike, his wife Susan and I went uphill again, walking a new route.  The real treat of the walk was encountering two black bears.  Mike’s Blue Heeler Jackson had run ahead of us and treed them.  The dog came right back to us when Mike called it, when we were able to watch this giant fat black bear drop like a stone down a tall tree with it’s little cub doing likewise on an adjacent tree.

 

 

Day 6 Hiking the AT in TENN/VA

Guthook roused me with a “Morning, Uncle Tom”, on his way from the Abington Gap lean-to to retrieve his food bag, hanging from a nearby tree. I snapped open my eyes in the hopes that the deluge of rain that came in the night had stopped. It hadn’t.
My tent leaked in the thunderstorm last night. One thing that I hadn’t completed before this hike was resealing the seams on my Tarptent. There’s a lot of wear on gear that takes place on a five month thru-hike, and one piece of gear that suffers from neglect is a tent. The months-long packing and pulling on the tent seams wears off the coating over time, thus a leaky tent.

So Guthook and I shouldered our packs, and hiked 10 miles in three hours straight to hit Damascus. It was raining off and on the whole way, but warm enough that you could hike in shorts and a shirt and it was enough.

The laundromat in Damascus was closed. The closest one was in Abington, 18 miles away. Guthook, EZ Hiker and I ate ate breakfast at the Tastee Freeze and then headed up to Tent City outside of the downtown area where we scored a free shower and a fresh washing/drying of our clothes all courtesy of the Trail Days Ministry. I was pumped to run into Crazy Horse, my benefactor from 2007.

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At the Appalachian Trail Conservancy booth, I saw that Guthook’s AT App was now being promoted by the ATC.

Guthook was in the market for a super light sleeping quilt and four one that weighed about a pound. Here he is “field testing” it.

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How about some dehydrated beer?

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The rain came down even harder, and we huddled up with some other hikers under a tarp. So we got showers and clean clothes and the rain started to come down again. Our plan was to hitch 22 miles out of town to a cabin over by Mt. Rogers that my friend Mike had opened up for us.

When the rain abated a bit, the three of us started walking towards the center of town when an SUV pulled up and the driver welcomed our sorry wet selves into the dry interior of his vehicle.

The rest of the story is lifted from EZ Hikes’s blog.

20140518-175547.jpg He’s hiking with Guthook:

“We all climbed in and started introductions. The driver said ‘My name is Longhaul. I hiked in 2005′. I looked him and said ‘I hiked with a Longhaul in 2010.’ He replied ‘I hiked in 2010 and I remember you, EZ Hiker. So were do you guys need to go?’
I explained to him we were trying to get to a cabin near Troutdale.
He said, ‘I have a bunk room at my farm house. Come stay we me tonight and I’ll take you back to Trail Days in the morning’. “

Things worked out, again. We ate a huge amount of home made chili. Longhaul whipped up fresh omlets and bacon in the morning.

Day 4 Hiking the AT in Tennessee

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What a crazy last half hour. I struggled into the Vanderventer shelter just before a huge thunderstorm hit that went through a hail phase.
This is a tiny cinder block shelter, and right now there are 20 grimy young hikers stuffed in, with more coming every 10 minutes. The shelter holds 6.
I planned to stay here tonight, but the situation is deteriorating by the minute. The young Gandalf, seated next to me, just drenched his leg and the floor all around me with boiling water from his pocket-rocket-fired liter of water. I was pissed. The minute he perched the stove on the edge of the shelter floor and then simultaneously started rolling himself a cigarette I felt there was going to be trouble. Luckily, I started pitching my gear to the dry floor at the rear of the shelter just before the amoeba of boiling water reached my stuff.
I really enjoyed this morning’s hike. I took the river route and viewed Laurel Falls.

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The new cool thing this year for both guys and gals appears to be roll your own smokes. The rest of the guys fired up their roll-your-owns and proceeded to fill the shelter with tobacco smoke. Great.
Who should roll in the lean-to viewfinder this afternoon but my hiking friend Guthook! He is on a self-imposed assignment to thru-hike all of Virginia in just three weeks, putting him on a 25 mile a day pace. He’s got a sidekick named EZ hiking with him. We hung out a bit behind the shelter and caught up on plans.
Eventually the horde of grimy testosterone picked itself up and shuffled north around 5:30 PM, when a more friendly and other-oriented assemblage of hikers took their place.
My buddies Ken, Squirrel and White Rabbit are right beside me. By the time the darkness came, there were 10 more tents and 1 hammock surrounding the shelter.

Day 3 Hiking the AT in Tennessee

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Profile from Huthook’s AT Hiker Guide, for iPhone (and Android), on the APP store.

The thermometer hit 87 degrees today. All the climbs, jumping off ledges, stepping up and over downed trees, black fly devils, andy sweat -drenched shirt were intensified by the heat of the sun.
In the forest, the deciduous trees up over 3,500 feet still have little damp, light green leaves, which do nothing to create shade below. The only respite from the brutal heat were the frequent groves of rhododendron, with their long, thick , dark green leaves. The ground below them was damp, too, further lowering the temps.
I had a bad night of sleep. My upper spine was aching all night long. I forgot to pack ibuprofen.
I left the Mountaineer shelter at 6:20 this morning. Ken, the richly tattooed hiker, was out first at 6. I passed 16 hikers and was passed by two today.
At the end of the day, at the Dennis Cove parking lot, I ran into Hippie Kippy, a fellow thru-hiker and friend that I met a few times while hiking around New England in 2011. Kippy asked me to bring Bob Peoples a big tray of trail magic enchiladas.

20140513-192607.jpg It was just a .3 mile hike up Dennis Cove Road to Bob’s place. The frozen casserole felt great pressed against my chest.
I completed the 16 miles by 2 PM, and arrived at Kincora Hostel in time to snag a spot in the upstairs bunkhouse. A number of the other folks that I’ve been staying the night with came by later. Squirrel, a petite young lady organized a group supper, and I volunteered to organize a breakfast for the eight of us. Bob drove us to Hampton for resupply for the next 50 mile segment to Damascus. I bought three and a half days worth of food.
I hung out with Bear and his wife, Honey, a couple from Andover, Maine, who have run the Bear’s Den Hostel there for the past 20 years. They were staying with Bob in their pickup/ camper combo. They are vacationing before the hiking season starts in Maine. They had been out to the PCT Kickoff in California and were winding their way back to Maine.
I’m thinking of hiking the 50 mile Maine section from Gorham, NH to The Height of Land just south of Rangely. Bear told me he is able to slack hikers through that whole section. He said he would give me a great time stay at the Bear’s Den.
Great communal feed of spaghetti, salad, watermelon, and ice cream tonight. I very much appreciated the hikers including me in their group, and plan to repay them tomorrow morning when it will be my turn to cook.
The hiking was difficult and relentlessly hilly for most of the day , but the hot shower and warm welcome at Kincora made all the hard-earned sweat go right down the drain with a pile of my fretting and cares.

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ALMOST HIKING

Sometimes traveling is a bitch. Like right now. I staggered into what I thought was Tricities airport in Tennessee at midnight last night after two flight delays of 5 hours total and a reroute. I called the motel shuttle and was looking forward to complete collapse when I learned that I was at the wrong airport- Knoxville, TN. There are no direct flights from here up to Tricities. Being fried, I had no clue how to deal with anything.
I was one lonely ranger after 14 hours of riding, sitting, but mostly waiting. I spotted the glow of a Hilton sign in walkable distance and scored a room for 6 hours of rumpling the duvet that cost me $130.
The next morning I walked back to the United counter only to learn that a flight up the Tricities would cost me 9 more hours of waiting and another $730. Nope.
Enter Bob Peoples, from Kincora hostel. He called me back after I cancelled the shuttle I was to take from Tricities over to Carver’s Gap, where I had hoped to walk north on the Appalachain Trail for some 100 miles this week.
“I’ll come and get you, be right there, hold tight, ” he said. The man is an angel.
It’s a shaky start that may still see more changes in plans, with 70% chance of thunderstorms today. I was to start walking between 4,000 and 5,000 feet in elevation- a poor situation to deal with up there, with exposure, wind, rain, and lightening strikes adding to the zings I’m dancing around right now.
But the faintest glimmer in my heart rests on an image of Mr. Calm and Capable, heading my way right now.

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Triple Crown, elevation gain, and Maine

I’m stoked at receiving this bandanna! 

Yogi's Triple Crown bandanna

Yogi’s Triple Crown bandanna


At first I thought it was a misprint- 1,000,000 feet of  elevation gain?  That’s only 189.4 miles of uphills.  I thought it was more!

I’ve been thinking about walking on the Applalchian Trail  again this season, soon.  For readers who poo-poo the difficulty of hiking the AT, here’s a mess of facts from Whiteblaze.  The AT is tough.  There are 286.6 miles of AT in Maine, with an average of 242 feet per mile of gain and loss.  The article from Whiteblaze hot-linked above blew my mind.  The author took all the USGS 7.5 minute topographic maps for the entire trail and actually counted the contour lines the trail crosses, going both up and down.  New Hampshire is the hilliest, followed by Georgia, which might surprise some. 

While Maine’s state average is not #1, one must consider that doing the AT in Maine  is not a uniform task. The Northbound gain is 59,000 feet.   The 151 mile eastern most portion of the state is more moderate ( 5,200 average for that first four sections) , while the 50 mile portion from the New Hampshire state line to Rangley is a brutal 18,800 feet, and is the toughest part of the whole Trail.  

Order a set of Yogi’s for the Triple Crowner in your life!

From:  Triple Crown Bandana: Set of 3 – Red, White, and Blue — Yogi’s Books.

Carey Kish: It’s time to step up to the 1,000-mile challenge | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

As part of a regimen for the 1,000-mile goal, include hiking time in Acadia National Park. With views like this, you’ll be invigorated in both body and mind. Carey Kish Photo

As part of a regimen for the 1,000-mile goal, include hiking time in Acadia National Park. With views like this, you’ll be invigorated in both body and mind.
Carey Kish Photo

Carey Kish’s idea is superb. I like the idea of setting a long term goal that requires bit of a stretch. Totally in the right direction, which is getting outside. It’s also Maine-based.

Hey, Carey, I’m on this bus! Maybe we can hike together sometime in this 2014 campaign. I vowed to stay close to home this year, and your plan is making me look forward to the next few months.
I’d like a third hike of the Hundred. Carey’s thru-hike of Baxter state park inspired me to do the same this coming August. And yes to Grafton Loop. Definitely will do a thru hike of the George’s Highland Path and all of Camden Hills State Park

Readers click here—>>Carey Kish: It’s time to step up to the 1,000-mile challenge | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram.

After the trail: The return of the existential despair

Occasionally I repost material written by others that I feel a connection with. Carrot Quinn has given us one of the best post-thru hike accounts of how it feels to stop walking after exercising 12 hours a day, for day after day, and months at a time.

photo by Carrot Quinn

photo by Carrot Quinn

It’s a bit long, but has good photos and deserves to be listened to.–> After the trail: The return of the existential despair.

I experienced some of this post hike depression in 2007 after I completed the AT. I was better after the 2010 PCT hike, and am almost back on track after completing the CDT this past September. I do have a great place to live, and a family and friends that love me.

It still feels feels selfish when I whine after being on “vacation” for 5-6 months a year, but thru hiking was definitely not a vacation. My MeGaTex buddies and I used to joke about how nice it would be to just be able to “camp” and walk a bit each day, but we were generally asleep after boiling up a pot of food, and staring at the campfire until the tiredness took us away into the darkness.