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When Grandma Gatewood Took a Hike – Book Review

Emma (Grandma) Gatewood was not the first woman to thru-hike the A. grandmagatewood9780821422359-coverT. but she was the first woman to do it by herself. She is now a legend, though Appalachian Trail hikers knew about her for decades.

What made Gatewood an influential figure is that she did it first when she was 67 years old in 1955. Less than two years later, she did it again.

So for all the folks who say that they are too old, envision a woman with no hiking experience, little money for good equipment and most important, no A. T. community. She had to figure out the logistics all by herself. Look up the listings of 2000-milers on the Appalachian Trail Conservancy website for the 1950s. It’s fascinating.

She was also the first thru-hiker to attract a great deal of national publicity. She inspired the next generation of A.T. hikers, including me. Gatewood didn’t come from the high peaks of Colorado or New Hampshire. Instead, she was from a farm close to Hocking Hills State Park in Southeast Ohio.

Now comes a sweet children’s book, When Grandma Gatewood Took a Hike, by Michelle Houts and illustrated by Erica Magnus, published by Ohio University Press. The book is aimed at the four to eight year old market.

Hocking Hills State Park
Hocking Hills State Park

I loved the writing. Yes, it’s simple as a child’s book should be but it doesn’t mince words. Gatewood had difficulties. She dealt with black flies. She got lost and what is the most fearful to me, she broke her glasses. Her first attempt was a failure but she persevered – the most important part of hiking any long-distance trail.

The pictures also didn’t pretty up Gatewood. She was a farm woman in her sixties and the drawings show her as dumpy with gray hair. Yeah! That didn’t stop her from hiking and enjoying the fame she gathered on her walks.

I really appreciated the straight, plain typography. There’s no need for cutesy lettering in a children’s book. I’m glad that the publisher decided on a legible, conventional font.

For some reason, the book is much cheaper on the publisher’s website than on the large online retailer. Get a copy or three for the children (boy or girl) on your list. Enjoy!

NC Waterfalls – Book Review

North Carolina Waterfalls
North Carolina Waterfalls

There are birders, peak baggers and there are waterfallers – people who collect waterfalls. Carolina Mountain Club has a waterfall challenge, the WC100.

But a hundred waterfalls barely scratches the surface.

In the third edition of North Carolina Waterfalls, photographer Kevin Adams describes 1,000 waterfalls in the state. Adams is a nature photographer who exhibits, sells his photographs, and holds photo workshops.

He is considered the waterfall expert in North Carolina.

What makes his waterfall books exceptional is Adams’ attention to details. For each waterfall, he cites the accessibility (trail, bushwhack or even driving, I guess), elevation, landowner (park, forest, or private), hike distance and difficulty, and more facts.

Hanging Rock State Park
Hanging Rock State Park

But my favorite is the beauty rating. Of course it’s his book and his ratings.

So I looked at Window Falls, a beautiful  waterfall in Hanging Rock State Park in the Piedmont on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

Adams gives Window Falls a Beauty Rating of 4. I’m surprised that the waterfall is even here. It’s probably the last waterfall on the MST, going east.

Triple Falls
Triple Falls

Then I looked at the waterfalls in Dupont State Recreational Forest, in Transylvania County, the Land of Waterfalls. His highest rating for the waterfalls in the forest is Triple Falls, Beauty Rating – 9.

So I reread his criteria.

These are subjective beauty ratings (1 to 10), independent of where they’re located. So waterfalls in the Western North Carolina mountains are bound to get higher ratings than those in less mountainous regions. But like I said, the ratings are his. I’m sure that he’s always asked what his favorite waterfall is, like I’m asked what my favorite national park unit is. As if you could have one favorite with a thousand waterfalls.

Adams was out to document every single waterfall that he could in the whole state. So he lists waterfalls on private land. He also has “secret falls” even on public land. That’s a different approach from my outdoor writings. In all my writing, I make sure that readers can do everything I write about – given enough time and energy, of course.

Waterfall safety

Adams says correctly, that “waterfalls don’t reach out and grab people and fling them over the top.” People get too careless, climb up when they should stay below, and sometimes slip and fall. As I write this, the headlines in the Asheville Citizen-Times reads:
                     Woman falls 160 feet at Rainbow, dies.
The victim was on top of the waterfall, a waterfall that ironically is rated a 10.

Kevin Adams
Kevin Adams

Here are the details:
Published by John F. Blair Publishers
ISBN: 978-0-89587-653-9
Paperback, $29.95

8” x 10”, 560 pages, 310 color photos

PS Kevin Adams will be the featured speaker at the Carolina Mountain Club annual dinner on November 5. I can’t wait to meet him.

Join CMC and save the date.

How to Talk About Places You’ve Never Been – Book Review

bayard9781620401378How to Talk About Places You’ve Never Been: On the Importance of Armchair Travel by Pierre Bayard

When I first read the title, I thought that it was a humor book. But it isn’t. Bayard’s book praises writers and “adventurers” who’ve not been to the places they talk about.

He claims that the role of fiction in the travelogue discourages people from traveling. They learn what they wanted to know about a place. Why put out the effort? Really?

How far did Marco Polo get? Maybe no further than Venice, according to Bayard. And how about Margaret Mead? She did go to Samoa and wrote Coming of Age in Samoa, which made her world famous. But according to Bayard, she didn’t stay with the local population for long. Therefore she came up with conclusions that Samoan teenagers were much freer with sex than their American counterparts. This was refuted in the 1980s.

Bayard spends too much time with Jayson Blair, the NY Times journalist who faked his stories. He was caught, shamed and fired but Bayard seems to redeem him. Same with Rosie Ruiz, the woman who took the NYC subway during the New York City marathon. If you read the chapter on Ruiz’ ruse in a certain way, you can say that Bayard understands and even condones her behavior.

Rev War Patriot at the Battle of Kings Mountain
Rev War Patriot at the Battle of Kings Mountain

The main reason I read the book cover to cover is that Bayard seems to explain and even praise the exact opposite of what I do. I won’t write about some place I haven’t been to.

Even if I get most of my information from the web and think I understand it, I need to go there. He talks about the spirit of the place.

What you can see when you travel may be “disconnected fragments of reality” or “common places devoid of interest”, he says. But I disagree. Common places are interesting, if you spend time in them. I’ve been to many, many national park service battlefields, by now. And they’re all different and interesting.

You got to get out more, Prof. Bayard. I’ll save armchair travel for when I’m really old.