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Emma Rowena Gatewood, known as Grandma Gatewood, (October 25, 1887–June 4, 1973), was an extreme hiker and ultra-light hiking pioneer who was the first woman to hike the 2,168-mile (3,489 km) Appalachian Trail from Mount Oglethorpe in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine solo, and in one season.
She was the first woman to hike the entire Appalachian Trail by herself in one season. She was 67 years old, a mother of 11, a grandmother and even a great-grandmother when she accomplished the feat in 1955. And she personified the concept of low-tech, ultralight hiking, spurning a tent and sleeping bag, carrying only a small sack and relying on her trusty Keds.
But what the public did not know was equally remarkable. Grandma Gatewood, as she was called, had survived 30 years of severe beatings and sexual abuse by her husband. She often escaped from him by running into the woods, and she came to view the wilderness as protective and restorative.
During her trek on the Appalachian Trail, word of her passage spread from town to town along the 2,050-mile route, from Georgia to Maine. Sightings of her were like catnip to local newspaper reporters, who took to the trail to interview her as she passed through.
One newspaper account found its way to her hometown in Ohio, which is how her children — by then grown and out on their own — learned where she had gone when she said she was going for a walk.
In 1959, Gatewood went on to conquer the 2,000 miles of the Oregon Trail, trekking alone from Independence, Mo., to Portland. By this time, some newspapers called her “America’s most celebrated pedestrian.”