She set out without telling anyone where she was going.  Her eleven grown children were used to her disappearing, and they scarcely ever worried about her.  She was a tough woman who had suffered much in her 67 years—she was the hardworking wife of a farmer who had physically abused her for their entire marriage.  She’d proven she could take care of herself.

On May 2, 1955, Grandma Gatewood set out from Oglethorpe, GA to become the first solo female to hike 2,160 miles of the Appalachian Trail.  She carried a lightweight handmade drawstring bag with a few provisions and wore canvas sneakers on her feet.  She brought no map and no plan except to put one foot in front of the other.

A Treacherous Journey

On September 5, near the end of her journey with almost 2000 miles behind her, she traversed some of the most difficult terrain she had encountered thus far.  She had one good lens in her glasses after she accidentally stepped on them, and she limped from a knee injury after a fall. The climb before her was treacherous, the kind of treacherous that was a matter of life or death with just one small misstep.  The weather had also become cold and miserable with fat, icy rain drops pelting her skin.  Her canvas sneakers, which she has replaced multiple times before, were worn through so that water gushed through the holes and soaked her socks.  She was half-blind, limping, wearing worn out shoes, and the path was slick and dangerous.

She left the trail to find a town in which to buy shoes, but instead, she encountered a man mowing the grass.  He explained there were no towns for miles but offered for his wife to meet her at the next trail intersection with a new pair of shoes.  Later that afternoon, she met his wife and when she tried on those new shoes, they were too small.

The woman invited her to stay the night and the next day, after giving her shoes that fit, her daughter and a friend joined Grandma Gatewood on the next 10- mile stretch of the trail.  For most of the journey, she hiked solo, but for parts of it, this tough woman needed other hikers to encourage and provide for her and to pull her to safety at critical moments.  Strangers gave her warm houses, warm meals, and warm beds. She enjoyed their company, and it lifted her spirits.

Grandma Gatewood’s story is a picture of life in a hostile world where everything seems set against us finishing the race, but the companionship of others spurs us on.  Did the treacherous climb or the miserable weather change?  Did she get new glasses so she could see clearly?  Did her knee miraculously heal?  No, none of these circumstances changed.  Rather, she was given a new pair of shoes and companionship.  The shoes would eventually wear out again, but the impact of their companionship would last a lifetime.

Companions in the Journey

As Christians, we are given the immense privilege of walking through life with other believers and the impact we make in each other’s lives is eternal.  But too often, we walk solo because we can be too busy to see the needs around us and too prideful to ask for help.

Like Grandma Gatewood, we need companions who walk ahead of us so they can warn us of the upcoming dangerous terrain to give us wise counsel about how to avoid serious injury.

“But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13).

We also need companions who will help us fight raging rivers when we’re too exhausted to do it on our own.

“With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:4-5).

We need others who will feed us and give us a safe place to stay when we are mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically spent.

“Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Rom. 12:13).

And we need to be that companion to others.  Who can you invite to walk with you?  Who needs a “new pair of shoes”, a warm meal, or a shelter of safety?  Who needs to hear about the treacherous places God has safely brought you through?  Who needs to be warned about the dangers ahead that you fell into?  Who can help you fight against the cultural flood that seeks to drown you in sin?  Who needs to hear that though the walk is hard and dangerous at times, it is worth it?  Because this is the best part:  Christ has secured our way on this path, so we need not fear losing our way.  He will bring us safely home.

“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thess. 5:23-24).

We were not made to walk alone, so invite someone to walk alongside you today.

You can read more of Grandma Gatewood’s story in Grandma Gatewood’s Walk by Ben Montgomery.  Better yet, read it with a friend!

Photo by Brayden Winemiller on Unsplash

Laura Davis

Laura Davis has a BA in Information and Computer Science from Covenant College and a MS in Computer Information Systems from Boston University.  For the last 20+ years, she has owned a web development company, but is excited to start a MAM in Educational Ministries at Covenant Seminary in 2024.  She serves as the Women’s Education Coordinator at Hixson Presbyterian Church in the Chattanooga area and loves to encourage women to study God’s Word with their head and hearts.  Her husband is an Assistant Pastor and a Chaplain in the Air National Guard.  They have two children and a labradoodle.