In Her Own Words: If Being the Fastest Hiker Was Never the Ultimate Goal Then What Truly Motivated World-Record-Shattering Jennifer Pharr Davis?
Self-determination and a passion for long distance hiking were the driving forces behind the incredible adventure undertaken by Asheville resident Jennifer Pharr Davis. In 2011 she blazed through the Appalachian Trail becoming the fastest person to ever complete the 2,180 miles stretching across 14 states.
|Photo by Maureen Robinson|With help from her husband Brew Davis, she completed the trail in an astonishing 46 days, 11 hours and 20 minutes, breaking the previous record set by Andrew Thomas by one day, two hours and 11 minutes. The feat garnered the attention of National Geographic who nominated her for Adventurer of the Year; a big honor that took her by surprise. We interviewed Jennifer to get her insight into what inspired her to take on such a lofty goal.
Q: You hiked the A.T. seven times faster than the average person. What motivated you to do such an amazing feat?
A: It was my third time to cover the entire distance of the Appalachian Trail, so I wanted to do it a little differently. The first time I hiked the path it took nearly 5 months to complete the 2,180 mile journey. The second time I was newly married and I liked to hike quickly, so my husband supported me along the journey and we set the women's record on the trail. After that trip I knew that I had the ability to set the overall record. I didn't want to look back and have regrets or wonder what if, so we decided to try for the overall record this past summer. It was amazing and it was a very unique and special way to experience the trail. But my ultimate goal is not to set records it is to have a life long relationship with long-distance trails. It is never about how far or how fast you hike, but simply what you take from the experience.
Q: What would you say was the most challenging part of the hike? Was it weather? Fatigue? Terrain? Something else completely?
|Photo by Melissa Dobbins|
A: The A.T. is a very difficult trail! (Regardless of how quickly you hike it.) The terrain was challenging and the weather was challenging, but you have to expect that. I think the most difficult part of trail records is maintaining your mental focus despite how you feel physically, it is a constant battle of you body yelling, "Stop, stop, stop!" and your mind saying, "We can do this." I dealt with horrible shin-splints, stomach sickness, nausea, and overwhelming fatigue, yet I believed I could work through those obstacles if I stayed positive and just thought about taking one step at a time.
Q: What was the most challenging part for your husband Brew?
A: Brew will tell you that he doesn't miss much from this past summer. He felt a lot of pressure the entire time. Most people don't realize how these attempts are really a team effort and the support crew is 50 % of the equation. Brew had the right ability, knowledge and temperament to do a terrific job, but it was still very hard for him. He kept thinking that if at any point, he missed a road or messed up then it would ruin my chance at the record. He is definitely glad that we were able to attempt the overall record, but I'm not sure that I could talk him into it again.
|Photo by Christoffer Sjostrom|
Q: Knowing what you do now, what would you (and Brew) do differently if you had to do it over again?
A: We would have structured our support crew (the extra helpers) a little differently, and I wouldn't have tried for such high miles in Maine and New Hampshire, but overall, I think we planned and executed very well. Part of going after a trail record is realizing that you are not in control. the ability to adapt and remain flexible is very important.
Q: Describe the moment you learned you were nominated for the National Geographic Adventurer of the Year. What was going through your head?
A: "Are you sure you want me?" Ha ha. I was honored to be nominated, and I was excited about the positive attention that it will bring to hiking, women in the outdoors and the Appalachian Trail. Looking at the other adventures they all survived a lot more danger than I did. I like to think that adventure doesn't have to be reckless. The key is exploration, and Brew and I were certainly exploring what was possible for humans on the Appalachian Trail. I think the fact that we believed that a hiker and a woman could hold the record when it had always been held by men and mostly by trail runners, will continue to impact other adventures and adventurers.
Q: What's next for you? Any other record-breaking attempts?
A: Life is pretty normal for us most of the time. Brew is a teacher in Asheville and I started my own hiking company, Blue Ridge Hiking Co, that I run out of our house. We try to get out on the trail as much as possible during the year, and next summer Brew will choose our hiking adventure. Fair is fair, right?! (I think right now he is learning toward exploring some long distance trails in Europe and maybe even Iceland.)
Q: Your husband Brew has written the book, 46 Days, chronicling the trek. Where can people pick up a copy?
A: Well they just came out, so while I hope they will arrive on the shelves of most local book stores and outdoor stores very soon, I know that Diamond Brand put in an advanced order and has some in stock.
Q: Is there anything else you care to share?
A: I feel very fortunate to have grown up in Western North Carolina and reside in Asheville. People come to our mountains from all over the world to go hiking. We are very close to the Smokies, and we have the Appalachian Trail and Mountains to Sea Trail running through our back yard. We also back up to Pisgah National Forest - what a jewel! I hope that I can help other Asheville residents and visitors appreciate the amazing natural gifts that surround us, and learn to enjoy them – on their own terms.
We agree Jennifer and congratulations on your success!