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.

 

 

The Walking Man

Who is the walking man?

It’s me, it’s you, it’s everyone, as it has been for millions of years. But we don’t do much anymore, unless you live in a city, where parking spaces are sold to the highest bidder. People who live in rural areas walk the least, because we have to drive so far to get milk, drinks, or even a cup of coffee. I can walk a few miles to a rural convenience store from where I live in coastal Maine, but have to ford a couple of streams, and walk through a tangle of under and overgrowth on an abandoned town road to get there. If I want to head back home, there’s 400 vertical feet of ascending to do so. 99% of the time, I crank up a vehicle to get there.

But, you can’t deny the effectiveness of “the walk” to keep one’s weight down, prevent our range of motion from deteriorating, and from triggering our bodies into a mode that can ward off or even reverse prediabetic biomarkers, improve heart function, and reduce the negative effects of bad cholesterol and subsequent heart disease.

Here’s a story of a regular guy who turned things around by just walking—>>  The Walking Man ( from NYTimes)

It’s so much easier and safer to walk here now that the winter’s ice is gone. Maybe this story will inspire you, too.

Sky Blue Trail/ Camden Hills State Park

Sky Blue Trail/ Camden Hills State Park

 

Day 5 Moose River Winter Walk

Map of the area.

Map of the area.

Finishing any multiple day walk ramps my excitement up a notch.  On last days, I have always acted like a horse getting closer to the barn, often speeding up and taking on longer mileage days as the idea of coming home catches fire inside of me.  I like being in the outdoors, and this trip has only confirmed my desire to get back somewhere in Maine for another longer winter walk in 2015.
Several things stand out about these past few days:
First, we had no set itinerary to stick to- something that is difficult for me.  I’m goal oriented, however a fresh goal is embracing improvisation. If you want to explore how improvisation can improve your outlook on the inevitable changes in life- here it is-Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up by Patricia Ryan Madson.  Thanks to Brad Purdy for bringing me this information!
There was serious democracy in action out here. By the third day, no one had to talk about what to do – cutting firewood, splitting it, fetching water, cooking, washing up.  It just got done.  Fine men around me, all. The best example of this was our “rest day”  where each person was free to walk all day on a day hike, or to lay around inside the sleeping bags and read and sleep.
I learned that cold hands are inevitable when it gets below zero and there is close handwork to do, like packing toboggans, and cinching ropes.
Despite being one of the top snowmobiling capitals of Maine, Jackman is still far away from civilization.  We were surprised to see just a half dozen sleds on the Pond.  Consider midweek vacations if you want to avoid crowds.
 Old stuff works.  Old snowshoes, traditional cotton tents, mukluks, axes, saws.

Just yesterday I read a interesting story that came to me from my stove/fire guru and proprietor of Four Dog Stove,  Don Kivelus.  Fresh from Minnesota Public Radio, it’s about one man’s shift from cold to warm winter camping–>click on the hotlink below for a superb article about another guy doing just what we what we did.

Why would you camp in the winter?”

Here’s one reason why ( from the MPR article)!

photo by Chris Gibbs/For MPR News

photo by Chris Gibbs/For MPR News

Day 3 Moose River Walk

Day 3 Moose River Walk
Early morning rising is easy when the lights are out at 7 PM.     Hard to believe but it was even colder last night.

Sunrise over the freeze

Sunrise over the freeze

Pat was up first – his coffee Jones propelling him to head down to the open lead and fetch water, and then kindle the wood stove and start the coffee percolating.
By 8:30 AM, the bacon was ready, and the rime frost that lined the acreage of the 9 x 12 Egyptian cotton tent had already thawed, so the thin fabric was dry again.  The double whammy of bacon and coffee fragrances makes the heart want to reach out again and embrace the frozen world around us.
Who knows what adventures the day may bring?   There are no set plans.  We have a big pile of firewood that we worked up yesterday so I might just hang out and stoke the fire and eat, read, and write. Or I could head back to Attean Pond and explore along the shore, or pack a track partway back to the car in order to make our exit easier.  Or we could move back up river over the superhighway that we laid down yesterday and set up there.

In the end, I spent a few hours stoking the stove while finishing up Journal of A Trapper: A Hunter’s Rambles Among the Wild Regions of the Rocky Mountains, 1834-1843.

Diary of a Trapper

Diary of a Trapper

If you feel like it is a big deal to be out and live in the cold for a few days, read this.  Nine years of wandering around the Yellowstone region trapping beavers, eating basically nothing but meat, and befriending or, if that fails, getting Indian arrows stuck into you.  Unbelievable.  I was reading from this book and came up with a passage that had Osborne eating pemmican.  IMG_2574  I had some  with me made by my friend Craig and we snacked on that .

Pat and Matt went back up the river for a six mile walk.  Bad Influence and I walked across the frozen river to a small bog where we sawed down three dead, standing spruce, delimbed them with the axe, and then hauled them back to our firewood processing yard.

Bad Influence sawing our fuel

Bad Influence sawing our fuel

We worked quickly with two saws and then I split up the larger pieces while BI stacked them inside and more outside the tent.

We then did some architectural renovations to the heating system, adding extra crib work under the stove, shoveled more chunks of ice and snow into the pit that had melted under the stove, and secured some of the two foot sections of 4″ stove pipe that had come loose during the day’s wind and stove’s settling into the pit.

Pat was on for supper tonight, which we put off as long as possible yet commenced at 4:40 PM. Carr’s Crackers with cheddar cheese and pepper salami made up the appetizer, with chili and cornbread, and home made chocolate cookies for dessert.

The cold doesn’t seem so formidable to me tonight.  I must be getting used to it.

PCT Hiker Survey: Meaningless Numbers From Meaningful People

I’m reblogging a “report” of what appears to have taken considerable time and has good data. I was surprised that the completion numbers were this low, and like the concept of the composite “typical hiker”.  This is interesting for any long distance hiker.

PCT Hiker Survey: Meaningless Numbers From Meaningful People | Halfway Anywhere.

Uncle Tom / Portland Press Herald

One should expect a lot of challenges over the course of a six-month backpacking journey, yes. But on the 3,200-mile long Continental Divide Trail, challenge takes on a whole new meaning.

Just ask Tom Jamrog of Lincolnville, who recently completed this epic five-month hike from Mexico to Canada through four states along the sinuous spine of the Rocky Mountains. With the AT and the PCT already under his hip belt, Jamrog has now joined a rather elite group of hikers who have achieved this Triple Crown feat.

Jamrog atop 14,440' Mt. Elbert, CO

Jamrog atop 14,440′ Mt. Elbert, CO

Kish’s complete article here –> Continental-sized challenges on the Continental Divide Trail | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram.

Know Pain, Know Gain… If You Are Walking For Health.

via Why a Brisk Walk Is Better – NYTimes.com.

photo from NY Times

photo from NY Times

Gretchen Reynolds’  Well New York Times blog entry from Dec. 4, 2013 is  mindblowing-

It suggests that those of us that regularly walk or backpack should consider moving a bit quicker, but only if you are interested in living longer !

The design of the research study ( initiated in 1998 ), recruited 7,374 male and 31,607 female walkers, who represented almost every speed of fitness walker, from sluggish to swift. Those findings were published online this month in PLoS One.

The research design even corrected for total energy expended, where the slowest walkers were required to walk longer distances, in order to adjust up to an equivalent energy output with the speediest walkers.

Dr. Paul T. Williams, from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, cross-referenced his data against records that confirmed which of the almost 39,000 walkers had died in the decade or so since they had joined the survey.  The 2,000 deaths over-represented the slowest walkers, even if they met or exceeded the standard exercise guidelines and expended as much energy per day as someone walking briskly for 30 minutes.
“This effect was most pronounced among the slowest of the slow walkers, whose pace was 24 minutes per mile or higher. They were 44 percent more likely to have died than walkers who moved faster, even if they met the exercise guidelines.”
The article correctly  notes one huge confounding variable, “The slowest walkers may have harbored underlying health conditions that predisposed them to both a tentative walking pace and early death. But that possibility underscores a subtle takeaway of the new study, Dr. Williams said. “ Measuring your walking speed, he pointed out, could provide a barometer of your health status.”

Not to panic.
Ms. Raynolds leaves us with hope,

”The most encouraging news embedded in the new study is that longevity rises with small improvements in pace. The walkers in Category 3, for instance, moved at a speed only a minute or so faster per mile than some of those in the slowest group, but they enjoyed a significant reduction in their risk of dying prematurely.”

Wow!