This is Emma Gatewood, the first known woman to hike the 2,168 mile (3,489 km) Appalachian Trail solo in just one season. She did it in 1955 at the age of 67, wearing only Keds shoes and carrying an army blanket, a raincoat and a plastic shower curtain. She was also a mother of 11, a grandmother and a great-grandmother.
In the early 1950s, while reading a discarded copy of the August 1949 edition of National Geographic magazine, Gatewood found an article about the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) The description and photographs captivated her and made it sound like something she could do. All that was needed was “normal good health” and “no special skill or training.” She set out in July 1954 at the age of 66 to hike south from Mount Katahdin in Maine. After a few days, she got lost, broke her glasses, and ran out of food. The rangers who found her convinced her to return home, but she decided not to tell anyone about her failure.
The following year, at the age of 67, Gatewood told her grown children that she was going for a walk. They did not ask where or for how long, as they knew she was resilient and would take care of herself. This time, she started earlier in the year and walked north from Mount Oglethorpe in Georgia beginning on May 3, 1955, and ending 146 days later on September 25 at Mount Katahdin. At the top of Baxter Peak, she signed the register, sang the first verse of the song “America the Beautiful” and spoke out loud, “I did it. I said I’d do it and I’ve done it.”
When asked about advice on hiking the Appalachian Trail, she said:
“Make a rain cape, and an over the shoulder sling bag, and buy a sturdy pair of Keds tennis shoes. Stop at local groceries and pick up Vienna sausages… most everything else to eat you can find beside the trail… and by the way those wild onions are not called ‘Ramps’… they are ‘Rampions’ … a ramp is an inclined plane.”
Grandma Gatewood went on to hike the trail a second time in 1960 and a third time in 1963 at age 75. She became the first person to hike the trail more than once.