In the past couple of years, hiker and author Cheryl Strayed has caused a surge in the popularity of women backpackers after the publication of her book, "Wild," and the release of the movie based on it, about taking to the 1,100-mile Pacific Crest Trail on a solo trip to recover from a hard run through life that included drug abuse, divorce and her mother's death.
An even more incredible tale of taking to a long-distance trail to wash away the troubles in the real world was birthed in the hills of nearby Southern Ohio.
At age 67, Gallia County, Ohio, native, the late Emma "Grandma" Gatewood, who had overcome decades of spousal abuse, and who was the mother of 11 children and 23 grandchildren, read about the Appalachian Trail in National Geographic.
She was so moved by the beauty of the new trail that Gatewood laced up her Keds sneakers, grabbed a small backpack and become the first woman to thru-hike the now famous 2,050-mile trail in 1955.
The inspirational story of Gatewood will be shared at 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27, in the Grayson Room of the lodge at Carter Caves State Resort Park, as Winter Adventure Weekend presents a special free screening of the film "Trail Magic: The Grandma Gatewood Story."
After the film, Peter Huston, the director of "Trail Magic," will do a Q&A session with the audience.
Huston, who lives in Put In Bay, Ohio, said he is excited to be able to share "Trail Magic," which has been inspiring women and men alike to go and hit the trail like Gatewood.
"I really have had this great opportunity to connect with people who love hiking first and then love the Appalachian Trail," said Huston, who has been giving presentations off and on since the summer of 2015 on "Trail Magic."
"One of the things which is kind of important is that when you think about Baby Boomers, she had a really big impact being out there and going hiking. People were saying, 'Well if a grandma could do it, I can do it.' And so in the late 1960s and early 1970s when you had the hiking boom that hit, in some ways, she was instrumental in making some of that really come to fruition."
Huston, who grew up in Plain City, Ohio, outside of Columbus, said that as a filmmaker who was an lifelong hiker he fell in love with the story when he found out about it.
Huston, an Eagle Scout who completed the mountain-trek called Philmont at the Boy Scout Ranch in New Mexico, was living in Vermont, near The Long Trail, and jumping over to do some Appalachian Trail section hikes when he first found out about the jaw-dropping Grandma Gatewood story.
"When I was living in Vermont a little bit of the story leaked in there, but I wasn't fully aware of it until a friend of mine called me up and said, Hey would you be into doing a film about her?' and that was about eight years ago," Huston said. "I looked it up and I was like, wow, this is amazing. A 67-year-old woman in 1955 solo hiking the AT. It is kind of mind-blowing because when I talk to audiences these days I say you know 67 in 1955 was a lot older than it would be today."
Huston said the film points out some of Gatewood's life skills that made her trail ready.
"She lived in an era when a lot of people walked, and she had walked all the time for most of her life so she thought it was nothing to walk five or 10 miles every day," Huston said. "She had physical stamina and she also was a homeopath and really understood how to take good care of herself and to eat off the trail and take care of any ailments that might come up. So she was uniquely qualified on all the levels that you need to be to do the hike. You add on to that the pretty troubling marriage ... and the years of abuse, and suddenly the picture becomes clear. A lot of people go out on the AT for a chance to think through their lives, and in a lot of ways that was probably the case for Emma. For her to be in nature was a way for her to move on from that."
For even seasoned backpackers, Huston said the Gatewood story is full of intrigue as she was not only a pioneer in backpacking the AT but also in ultralight packing.
"She wore high Keds or Converse, and I talk about the fact that she was the grandma of the ultralight movement, really," Huston said. "She went out there with this pack that she made to go over her shoulder, and her pack was always about 20 pounds. She carried one of those silver space blankets, and some proteins, nuts or Vienna sausages, but would also forage for food as she knew what mushrooms and green plants she could eat off the trail. Because of the era too, she had no qualms about knocking on people's doors. In that post-Depression era, people did that all of the time."
Huston said he hopes to inspire those who come out to Winter Adventure Weekend with this story from our own backyard since she grew up along the Ohio River.
"I hope that it continues to connect with women who want to hike because when you look at the Appalachian Trail it is still eight out of every 10 people are men," Huston said. "So the more women that get to hear this story the more hopeful I am that they will be interested in hiking and in long-distance backpacking."
If you go
WHAT: A screening of "Trail Magic: The Grandma Gatewood Story," an award-winning documentary film about Gallia County, Ohio, native, Emma "Grandma" Gatewood, who in 1955 age 67, become the first woman to thru-hike the 2,050-mile Appalachian Trail in 1955. A three-time thru hiker, Gatewood would chalk up more than 10,000 hiking miles.
WHERE: The Grayson Room of the lodge at Carter Caves State Resort Park, 344 Caveland Drive, in Olive, Hill, Kentucky.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27.
WHAT ELSE: The presentation is part of the eighth annual Winter Adventure Weekend set for Thursday through Sunday, Jan. 26-29. WAW features a buffet of about 185 different trips in the outdoors.
OTHER INDOOR PROGRAMS: Other evening programs and entertainment include a presentation on Superior Hiking Trail in Minnesota along with a live snake program Thursday night. On Saturday night, there will be a silent and live auction by the Friends of Carter Caves, a squeezebox competition and Kentucky's own Heath & Molly will perform.
HOW MUCH: For the weekend, the nonrefundable fee for adults (age 18 and older) is $40, teenagers (age 13-17) is $30, and the nonrefundable fee for children ages 6-12 is $20. Some of the trips have additional fees. (All participants must be
at least 6 years old. Some trips have additional age requirements.)
HOW TO REGISTER: The list of the trips, along with registration information and other details for the 2017 event are available at www.winteradventureweekend.com.. For more information, call the park at 800-325-0059.