A pioneer hiker, Emma Gatewood, was the first woman to walk the Appalachian Trail solo in one season. At the age of 67, after raising 11 children, Gatewood started hiking, inspired by an article in National Geographic, and set her mind to tackle the 2,168-mile trail. She completed the hike three times, the last at age 75, making her the first person to do so. She also walked 2,000 miles of the Oregon Trail, averaging 22 miles a day. In total she walked alone through 14 states.
The impetus behind her marathon hikes is rooted in her experience as a survivor of domestic violence. The last straw was an incident when her husband Percy beat her so badly he broke her teeth, jaw and cracked her ribs, nearly killing her. A sheriff’s deputy arrived at the house, and arrested Emma, not Percy. She spent a night in jail until the mayor of the small West Virginia town where they lived intervened when he saw her blackened eyes and bloodied face. He granted Emma a divorce — unheard of in those days — and she raised her last three children alone.
Her youngest daughter Lucy who witnessed the brutal violence showed her mom the National Geographic article and urged her mom to set out on an adventure. Hiking for Emma, was an act of self-care, healing, resistance, independence and a way to regain her inner and outer strength and find her way back to herself. When asked why she hiked, she said simply “Because I wanted to.”