Five Million Steps

In 1955, 67-year old Emma Gatewood set off to complete the five million steps that make up the Appalachian Trail.


| February 2014



Appalachian Trail Head

It only takes five million steps to get through the unknown obstacles and awe-inspiring beauty of Appalachia. At sixty-seven, Emma Gatewood inspired generations of future hikers to take the same plunge.

Photo by Fotolia/Nataliya Hora

Grandma Gatewood’s Walk (Chicago Review Press, 2014), by Ben Montgomery, is the inspiring story of hiking legend Emma Gatewood’s solitary, five million step journey on the Appalachian Trail. In 1955, at the age of sixty-seven, Gatewood traipsed off into Appalachia with little more than her secrets. The following excerpt from Chapter 1 gives a glimpse into Gatewood’s journals, along with a sparse history of Appalachia and the Appalachian Trail.

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At the Trail Head

She packed her things in late spring, when her flowers were in full bloom, and left Gallia County, Ohio, the only place she’d ever really called home.

She caught a ride to Charleston, West Virginia, then boarded a bus to the airport, then a plane to Atlanta, then a bus from there to a little picture-postcard spot called Jasper, Georgia, “the First Mountain Town.” Now here she was in Dixieland, five hundred miles from her Ohio home, listening to the rattle and ping in the back of a taxicab, finally making her ascent up Mount Oglethorpe, her ears popping, the cabbie grumbling about how he wasn’t going to make a penny driving her all this way. She sat quiet, still, watching through the window as miles of Georgia blurred past.

They hit a steep incline, a narrow gravel road, and made it within a quarter mile of the top of the mountain before the driver killed the engine.

She collected her supplies and handed him five dollars, then one extra for his trouble. That cheered him up. And then he was gone, taillights and dust, and Emma Gatewood stood alone, an old woman on a mountain.