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People You Meet Along the Trail

I enjoy talking to hikers along the trail. Most hikers whether day, section, or thru-hikers want to get to the end of the hiking day without delay. I, on the other hand, like to stop and talk to other hikers along the trail. I also like to take side trails to waterfalls, old cemeteries, overlooks, copper mines, or caves. I know that I may not take that hike again in my lifetime so I want to enjoy it when I can.


I grew up on a fifteen acre farm in Northern Virginia. That does not sound like much outdoor space to explore, but it was located in the middle of a two hundred acre farm. So essentially I had a two hundred and fifteen acre outdoor play area. I always carried a small Army pack with lunch and a 410/22 shot gun. I never killed many wild animals because I considered all of them my friends.

I joined the Boy Scouts when I was ten years old, and their camping trips gave me more opportunities to explore.

It was 1955 and as a requirements for the hiking merit badge I had to complete a fifty mile hike within seven days. Four of us decided to hike the Appalachian Trail from Front Royal to Swift Run Gap, a little over fifty miles. All of my hiking gear I carried consisted of gear that had been carried by Army men in WWII. My total weight was around sixty pounds.


We hiked about ten miles before we stopped at an Adirondack shelter for the night. The shelter was a three-sided building with a roof. There was enough space for six hikers to sleep on three double decker bunk beds. The bunk beds had metal spring mats to sleep on. We all settled down for the night.

As we were settling down an older women came into the shelter to sleep. She looked like somebody's grandmother who had wandered lost into the woods. She gathered us around the campfire and told us her story.

She told us her name was Grandma Emma Rowena Gatewood. She had fifteen children, and that her husband, whom she divorced in 1940 had made her burn tobacco fields, build fences and mix concrete to care for their children. The children had to sleep four to a bed in an Ohio log cabin. When her husband was drunk he beat her, and after the children grew up she moved out.

She was on her first thru-hike of the entire 2,160 mile Appalachian Trail. She did not carry a tent or a sleeping bag. She curled up to sleep on the bare metal springs with a shower curtain blanket and used her nap sack for a pillow. Grandma let it be known that she carried a thirty-eight caliber hand gun, just for emergencies. She was the first women to complete the entire Appalachian Trail at the age of sixty-two. It eventually took her 146 days and five million steps to complete the trail. She wore out seven pairs of Keds tennis shoes and hiked an average of fourteen miles a day with her twelve pound pack.

Grandma loved Vienna Sausages and chewed on wild onions. She stopped at many scheduled houses along the trail for home cooked meals. She completed the entire trail in 1955 at age 67 and again in 1960 and did a section hike in 1963. She was 86 years old when she died.

She impressed us because she never complained and she walked faster than any of us. She may have finished her hike before we finished our fifty miles.

Words of wisdom

Life is short Death is sure Seen the curse ​ Christ is the cure


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