Emma Gatewood told her family she was going on a walk and left her small Ohio hometown with a change of clothes and less than two hundred dollars. The next anybody heard from her, this genteel, farm-reared, sixty-seven-year-old great-grandmother had walked 800 miles along the 2,050-mile Appalachian Trail. By September 1955 she stood atop Maineâ€™s Mount Katahdin, sang â€œAmerica, the Beautiful,â€ and proclaimed, â€œI said Iâ€™ll do it, and Iâ€™ve done it.â€
The public attention she brought to the trail was unprecedented. Her vocal criticism of the lousy, difficult stretches led to bolstered maintenance, and very likely saved the trail from extinction.