Jennifer Pharr Davis is going the extra mile, with her new book on her record-setting endurance hike of the 15-state Appalachian Trail.
The 1990 1-A state tennis singles champ, also a Hendersonville High School basketball star, penned the 292-page book entitled Called Again: A Story of Love and Triumph. It will be officially released this Saturday, June 15.
“The story is really about relationships important to me on the trail, that allowed me to do something amazing,” “Jen” Pharr Davis told The Tribune. “These are stories on unselfishness, forgiveness and loyalty. It brings me joy to relay that story.”
For instance, she said, “in hiking 47 miles a day I was often hungry, cranky and unkind. My husband (Brew Davis) or others helping us looked past that. They continued to help me.”
Friends hiked with her at intervals, and “coaxed” her on. Some chats included sharing her Christian faith. They helped her complete her grueling 2,181-mile, month-and-half journey in 2011 despite humid 90-degree heat, painful shin splints and a queasy stomach for three days in late June.
“I was at a point I quit on the trail. I thought my body couldn’t keep going,” Pharr Davis told The Tribune. “My husband said I felt too bad to make a good decision then. He said, ‘you just can’t quit right now.’ He told me I needed to keep going 36 hours,” until she ate and took medicine to settle her stomach. She wrote in the book how he said, “‘You’ve given too much to the trail to quit now … You are too hungry, tired and sick to make a decision right now. And if you make the wrong decision, you could regret it for he rest of your life.’ That was it. Brew wouldn’t even let me see the inside of our car. I had to keep going.”
She did. She explained to The Tribune “it only took 12 more miles, in four hours, to start to feel better physically and to emotionally regain my resolve.”
Keys to such an endurance challenge are to “stay positive and do my best,” and realize “true potential,” she said. “My body and training determined how far we’d get each day.” Further, “fortitude, intelligence, and perseverance” outweighed fitness and strength.
Thus, Pharr Davis willed herself “one step at a time,” to reach mini-goals. She convinced herself “I can hike one more mile” — and did. The slender, long-legged six-footer adapted to heat and steady exertion, as she “stayed hydrated and regulated electrolytes” from energy drinks and hourly water sips. She walked in cooler early and late hours.
Altitudes varied. On her eighth day, she ascended 13,700 feet and went back down 5,700 feet. She spotted 36 bears — 14 in one day.
The new book follows her 2010 release Becoming Odyssa, her “coming of age” story on personal growth and triumph appealing to hikers and non-hikers. A basis was Brew’s blog, chronicling the first of her three AT hikes. Her code name was Odyssa, as in a continual odyssey. She majored in literature at Samford University, focusing on classics such as Homer’s “Odyssey” poem about a wandering war hero.
Pharr Davis quipped to The Tribune that a parallel between a distance hiker and author is “it’s long, arduous work with little financial reward. The adventure of writing the book outlasts the trail. The book journey never ends.” Her next step is to “give talks and promote the book,” first in New England this summer then here in the fall.
She earlier penned three guide books, such as on challenging five star-rated trails near Asheville and Charlotte.
The new book is Pharr Davis’ first since her record hike earned her distinction as a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year. Ten people worldwide got that award, for 2011. National Geographic hailed Pharr Davis for “reinventing distance hiking on the Appalachian Trail (AT).” The magazine honors innovators for “remarkable achievements in exploration, conservation and adventure sports.” She calls the award a “huge honor.” She was won Ultrarunning Magazine Female Performance of the Year in ’11.
Pharr Davis conquered the full Appalachian Trail (AT) from Maine to north Georgia including North Carolina’s 88 miles mostly by the Nantahala River. She speed-hiked and jogged for 46 consecutive days, 11 hours and 20 minutes. She beat the prior mark by a day. She averaged an amazing 47 miles per day — nearly four times the average hiker’s pace — and covered 60 miles in some spans.
Hers is a “through-hike” record which has support — namely from Brew Davis, a teacher who has summers off. They live in Asheville. He planned her logistics, and supplied snacks at crossroads. They prepared daily tactics, and kept cell phone contact where possible. She limited on-trail breaks to 10 minutes, and camped overnight on the Appalachian Trail to spare commuting time. She wore no backpack, rather a lighter waist pack with food and water. Hiking poles boosted balance and ease knee wear.
Pharr Davis was struck by lightning on her first AT hike, in 2005 when “everything went wrong,” she said. “I had my eyes freeze shut in a snowstorm.” She encountered a “suicide on the trail.” That first AT trek took nearly five months. She took less than half as long in 2008, with a 57-day AT hike-jog to set a women’s record. Then in ’11, she shaved 11 days off her time to complete the trail faster than anyone.
She also holds speed-hiking records on trails in Australia and Vermont. She has hiked over 11,000 miles on distance trails on six continents, and scaled Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa.
She grew up in a family of “outdoor enthusiasts,” with parents Barbara and Yorke Pharr and elder brothers James and Jones Pharr. She entered competitive running and distance hiking. She learned how long hikes spurred introspection and emotional healing.
Planning and hard work “pays off” on her treks, and as she runs Blue Ridge Hiking Co. which began in 2005. She customizes treks. She gives inspirational talks to hiking groups and others.
Check www.blueridgehikingco.com for more on Jennifer Pharr Davis, her business, Jen and Brew’s books and to order them (Called Again costs $24.95 plus $5.25 S&H).