Record-breaking hiker reflects on lessons learned on Appalachian Trail

By Katie Demeria

FRONT ROYAL — Hiker Jennifer Pharr Davis traveled the Appalachian Trail faster than any other hiker, male or female. And she said she never considers herself more beautiful than when she is out on the trail.

Pharr Davis spoke to a crowd of about 130 at the Samuels Public Library in Front Royal Sunday. She detailed her 2011 record-breaking hike, which she completed in 46 days, 11 hours, and 20 minutes, averaging 46.93 miles per day.

According to Kristen Noell, Adult Services Librarian, Pharr Davis brought out one of the biggest crowds she has seen at the library.

“Usually we get this many people when speakers come with live animals,” Noell said. “It does make sense, though, there’s a big hiking community around here, and she’s pretty much as close to a hiking celebrity you can get.”

When Pharr Davis revealed that her “trail name” is Odyssa, two in the crowd identified their trail names as “Skillet Mama” and “Deep Foot.”

“I feel guilty having this talk on the first beautiful Sunday we’ve had in a while, when I’m sure you all want to be out there hiking,” Pharr Davis said.

Pharr Davis was named National Geographic’s 2012 Adventurer of the Year and wrote three books about her experiences hiking.

She has traveled over 12,000 miles on six different continents.

“The Appalachian Trail means more to me than any other,” she said. “It’s the trail that changed my life.”

Pharr Davis, who is from North Carolina, has walked the 2,185 mile trail on three separate occasions, the first when she was 25 and had little hiking experience.

“It was either commendable or crazy,” she said. “But I think, many of us being hikers, regardless of your level of experience, we can all agree that every journey starts with a single step.

It took her five months to complete the trail, and she calls that time both the most difficult and the best of her life.

“The trail changed me,” she said. “I liked the woman I was at the end a whole lot more than the girl I was at the beginning.”

It was through this experience that Pharr Davis adopted the name Odyssa, a feminine version of Odysseus, the Greek hero of Homer’s “The Odyssey.”

After trying to return to a typical life and getting a job, Pharr Davis said she missed the trail.

“I missed being by myself,” she said. “The trail taught me that it’s okay to be by myself and just be myself.”

She said it also changed the way she looked at herself physically.

“I realized how beautiful I felt in the woods,” she said. “For five months, I didn’t have a mirror, and there were no billboards or commercials telling me how I should look.”

“I saw myself through my interactions with other hikers,” she continued. “I based my self-worth on the nice things I said and good things I did, and I liked what I saw.”

Though she got married and started a life as the owner of a hiking company, Pharr Davis said she never stopped missing the Appalachian Trail.

She set the record during her third time walking the entire trail. Though she fought through shin splints in both her legs, an illness and some horrendous weather, she was able to finish the hike in just over 46 days, 23 hours less than the previous record.

“I kept telling myself, one more step, one more mile,” Pharr Davis said.

Appalachian Trail records are not officially recognized by any trail organization, she said.

“But I didn’t need a trophy,” she continued. “The value was found in the lessons learned and the memories made.”

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com