Don’t Be a Pantywaist


I woke up really emotional this morning. Perhaps I’ve been affected by spending several days in the woods. Maybe it’s the coffee I drank yesterday. Or it could be the releasing of all the stress of the last few weeks and finally relaxing my guard. It doesn’t really matter. All I know is that I cried at least three times today.

A tear rolled down my cheek when I read a New York Times article about the drastic declines in the shorebird populations. I am gripped in grief over the ongoing loss of our wild animal species. I had to pull myself together and stop crying after Ashok had an altercation with a very old dog at the kennel. It destroys me she can’t get along with other dogs, especially when they are so old. And I cried as the author of Grandma Gatewood’s biography recalled her heart for walking and her spirit of persistence until the ripe old age of 86.


I am in the land of Grandma Emma Gatewood, the first female thru-hiker on the Appalachian Trail. In fact, today is Grandma Gatewood Day, and this book signing by author Ben Montgomery was held today as a celebration. The event began with a showing of the documentary Trail Magic which details the 67-year-old woman’s hike of the 2200-mile Appalachian Trail. Her hike was in 1955. Yes, she was 67, and she wore tennis shoes and carried a canvas sack. She had no tent and stuffed leaves in her sack so she could sleep on top of it at night. In a word, she was a trooper.

Grandma divorced a man who beat her for over 30 years although she told people she was widowed. I won’t tell you her whole story, but I find it interesting that after divorcing a man who beat her and raising 11 kids, she decided one day to go for a walk – a very long walk. That’s what she told her kids. I am going for a walk. She was gone for many months when she decided to send them postcards to inform them of her trek because reporters had gotten wind of it. She didn’t want them to read it in the paper.

What made her want to walk? And what made her want to keep walking? After her first trip, she hiked the trail again two years later at age 69. And then she hiked it a third time doing section hikes even later. Oh yeah, and in between all of that, she also hiked the 2000-mile Oregon Trail. What makes someone who stayed for 30 years of intolerable abuse finally walk away? Then the walking became the obsession.

Author Ben Montgomery and Me!

I’m not sure what touched me so much about her story. It could have been that I’m just raw right now. But I related to her desire to leave it all behind her. I know the freedom and the grief of extricating yourself from an abusive relationship. It is both insanely difficult and wildly freeing. I felt so happy that she found a way to step into her power and make a name for herself during a time it was considered selfish. I doubt she had a plan to be famous, but she ended up on the cover of the 1-year-old Sports Illustrated magazine. She wanted to walk and walk and walk.

One of my favorite feisty Gatewood lines was uttered when asked why she did it. “Most people are pantywaists,” she said. “Exercise is good for you.” Maybe we just need to decide what we are going to do and do it. We get all caught up in what we are supposed to do or in waiting for the perfect time. She taught me today that there is still time left. There is no time like the present, and there are no rules. Life is short. And, above all, just keep walking.

What would you do if you weren’t a pantywaist? Why don’t you just start walking and see what happens?

6 Comments on “Don’t Be a Pantywaist

  1. I’m so glad you found Emma’s story so moving. Her spirit was definitely unquenchable and she walked into her destiny with her head held high throughout her life. Telling her story in TRAIL MAGIC was an inspiring experience for all of us who participated in the project. Thank you for sharing her story.

    I have shared your story on our facebook page:

  2. Your avatar at the top of your post is adorable! Thank you for recommending the Grandma Gatewood book. It’s just the right thing for me to read now. I always cry after a goal is reached or the “study” is over. For me, it is some form of release.

  3. Pingback: Grandma Gatewood - Behind Every Day

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