Nothing helps me feel more centered than a good, long walk, whether in the woods or just up and down the streets of my neighborhood. In this, I join a large sisterhood. Throughout human history, women have found peace, fulfillment and health through the act of taking a walk.
A few years ago, readers were mesmerized by Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of her solo hike along the Pacific Coast Trail, a journey in which she sought healing from grief and addiction after losing her mother, her marriage and almost her very sense of self. As much an account of her spiritual journey as it is a story of hiking, “Wild” speaks to the healing powers of nature and of movement.
Before Cheryl Strayed, there was Emma “Grandma” Gatewood, strong enough to leave her abusive husband and find happiness at last by walking in the wilderness. “Grandma Gatewood’s Walk” by Ben Montgomery tells the story of the woman who in 1955, at age 67, became the first woman to thru-hike the entire Appalachian Trail. She became one of the most influential advocates for hiking and trail improvement in the U.S. Maybe once you’ve raised 11 children, nothing seems daunting.
Another woman who took off walking in the 1950s called herself Peace Pilgrim, having given up her original name and most of her material possessions. She set out in 1953 to traverse the United States on foot, carrying a message of peace to all she met. She stopped counting the number of miles she walked after reaching 25,000, but her journey would last until her death in 1981. Much of it is discussed in “Peace Pilgrim, Her Life and Work in Her Own Words.”
Following some of her own excursions in the mountains of Scotland, Kerri Andrews did a deep dive into the subject of women who wrote about their walking experiences. Her book, “Wanderers, a History of Women Walking” is, in her words, “…about ten women who, over the past three hundred years have found walking essential to their sense of themselves, as people and as writers.” I saw some familiar names on the list — Anais Nin, Virginia Woolf — and also some that were new to me, such as Dorothy Wordsworth, who was as accomplished as her brother William.
To read more about women who walk, see our catalog list.