Today's thru-hikers, more often than not, equip themselves with technical backpacks, along with light-weight tents, sleeping bags and stoves. But one of the first A.T. thru-hikers didn't have any of that equipment. She just started walking with a knapsack, a blanket and a shower curtain.
Emma Rowena Gatewood, known as "Grandma Gatewood," was an American ultra-light hiking pioneer. After a difficult life as a farm wife, mother of eleven children, and victim of domestic violence, she became famous as the first solo female thru-hiker of the 2,168-mile Appalachian Trail in 1955 at the age of 67. The media coverage surrounding her feat was credited for generating interest in maintaining the A.T. and in hiking generally.
To quote a Washington Post article: "Gatewood hiked the trail carrying a homemade knapsack and wearing ordinary sneakers—she wore out six pairs of them in 146 days from May to September. She brought a blanket and a plastic shower curtain to protect her from the elements, but she didn’t bother with a sleeping bag, a tent, a compass or even a map, instead relying on the hospitality of strangers along the way and her own independent resourcefulness. She’d sleep in a front porch swing, under a picnic table or on a bed of leaves when necessary, and she ate canned Vienna sausages, raisins and peanuts plus greens she found on the trail and meals offered by strangers."
Actress Anne Van Curen will be joining us at the festival to bring Emma Gatewood to life in a performance for all ages. Van Curen transforms into "Grandma" Gatewood to describe what it was like to be the first woman to solo hike the Appalachian Trail in 1955. The dramatization is based on the book Grandma Gatewood's Walk, written based on accounts of Gatewood's surviving family members, newspaper magazine articles and her own diaries and trail journals.
We are so lucky to have three great hikers/speakers joining us at the festival. I just wrote about one of them, Jeff Ryan, but had to add this post after discovering his Voices of the Wilderness series.
Jeff's recent piece on Ernest Oberhotlzer was both fascinating and heartwarming. I love the theme of the piece: "The path we’re meant to take may be different than we’d imagined." That was certainly true of Oberhotlzer who thought he would be remembered for the tale of his extraordinary 1912 canoe trip. Instead, Oberhotlzer's legacy is one of conservation—of keeping the land he loved in a natural state for future adventurers to discover for themselves.
Jeff has posted a whole series of these tales—articles and video documentaries— about people who spent their lives advocating for the wild places we all enjoy. Voices of the Wilderness is produced through the support of the National Conservation Training Center, home of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and many of the archival materials shown in the series.
Some hiking stories are about speed. (Like A.T. record holder Karl Meltzer's 45-day, 22-hour sprint from Georgia to Maine.)
Jeff Ryan's hiking story isn't one of these. Jeff took his time to get to know every inch of the Appalachian Trail from 1985 to 2013, when he and a friend section-hiked all 2,100 miles of the Trail. Jeff documented their decades-long adventure in his first book, Appalachian Odyssey: A 28-Year Hike on America's Trail. Including 75 color photos, the book is part memoir, part natural history and lore, and part practical advice. (See highlights from this journey here.)
Jeff will join us at the festival on Saturday, September 11th, to talk about his own "Appalachian Odyssey" and the stories he gathered along the way. Some of those tales are collected in his other books, including Blazing Ahead: Benton MacKaye, Myron Avery and the Rivalry that Built the Appalachian Trail (2017) and Hermit: The Mysterious Life of Jim Whyte (2019). Jeff's books will be available for sale and signing.
On Sunday, September 12th, join Jeff for "Beyond Ramen," a talk and demonstration on trail cooking. He says he'll offer "some quick tips for making your backcountry menu more exciting and nutritious than, say, eating ramen or instant stuffing mix again and again."
What kind of music can you expect at our A.T. fest? Expect some hand-clapping, foot-stomping Americana tunes!
The Americana Music Association defines the genre as: "Contemporary music that incorporates elements of various, mostly acoustic American music styles—including country, roots rock, folk, gospel and bluegrass—resulting in a distinctive roots-oriented sound that lives in a world apart from the pure forms of the genres upon which it may draw."
Here's who's serving up "distinctive roots-oriented" sounds at the festival:
The Short Hill Mountain Boys. This five-piece Appalachian string band creates their own blend of bluegrass, old-time, cajun, classic country, and folk with tight harmonic vocals, fiddling and guitar picking.
Fiddlin' Dave and Morgan. The duo have been blending the sounds of the fiddle and octave-mandolin for almost 30 years, touring China, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and the Baltics as they play and sing their unique mixture of originals, old-time fiddle tunes and world music.
Justin Trawick & the Common Good. Performing their own twist on Americana in the DC area and along the East Coast since 2006, the band's music is an upbeat, foot-tapping experience with sounds that range from bluegrass to acoustic hip hop.
Author/speaker/hiker extraordinaire Cindy Ross will join us at the 2021 Round Hill Appalachian Trail Festival. On Saturday, Ross will talk about "Life-long Learning on the Trail," sharing her experiences hiking, cycling and paddling long-distance trails over the past four decades. On Sunday, she will lead a workshop, "Bringing Back the Experience," where participants can join her for "a little journal writing, photography and sketching in the field."
First published in 1982, Cindy Ross’s A Woman’s Journey recounts her A.T. trek in words and 125 illustrations, and it's been inspiring hikers for forty years. Since penning that first book, Cindy Ross has gone on to write about her journeys on the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail (with children!) and other wild spots around the world. Hiking, cycling, riding and paddling have brought Ross to Asia, Africa, South America, Europe and all across North America.
Ross's seventh book, The World Is Our Classroom: How One Family Used Nature and Travel to Shape an Extraordinary Education, came out in 2018. She released two more books in 2021: The Log Cabin Years—One Couple Builds a Home from Scratch and Creates a Life and Walking Towards Peace: Veterans Healing on America’s Trails. The latter tells the stories of 25 veterans who hike both long and short distance to heal from their war wounds, as well Ross's stories based on work with her nonprofit, River House PA—Helping Veterans in Nature. Ross will be available both days to sign books at our festival.
Besides her books, Ross has written over 500 magazine articles for national publications including Outside, Backpacker, Paddler, Gray’s Sporting Journal, Outdoor Life, Canoe & Kayak, Adventure Cyclist, Sailing, Wooden Boat, Scouting and Native Peoples. Her travel stories have appeared in newspapers including The LA Times, The San Francisco Examiner, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, The Toronto Star, The Christian Science Monitor, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Chicago Tribune and The Baltimore Sun.
Round Hill AT: Join us in bringing together local friends and family to get outside. Let’s discover our amazing backyards — from national treasures like the Appalachian Trail to new local and regional parks.