If You Go
What: Appalachian Trail world record holder Jennifer Pharr Davis
When: Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Where: Neptune Mountaineering, 633 South Broadway, Boulder
In 2011, Jennifer Pharr Davis set the world record for the fastest thru-hike of the 2,181-mile Appalachian Trail, which she hiked in 46 days, 11 hours and 20 minutes. During a thru-hike, hikers stay on or very near the trail for the duration of the trip, only hiking off the trail to restock supplies and food.
In doing so, she became the first-ever female record holder for the trail. She was named a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year in 2012, and is a former Ironman triathlete and collegiate tennis player. Pharr Davis, who hiked the trail from north to south, hiked at a pace of 46 miles per day.
We caught Pharr Davis in Kansas, where she and her husband Brew and daughter Charley are on a journey to hike in all 50 states. She'll hike in Colorado next week, and will speak at Neptune Mountaineering on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
You first hiked the entire Appalachian Trail at age 21, and then you hiked it again in 2008, setting the women's world record, and most recently in 2011, when you set the overall world record. How were those hikes different from each other?
The hike I took when I was 21 probably changed me more than any other trek. It was my first long-distance hike. Being 21, I was very impressionable and I think the trail taught me a lot of lessons — as far as the allure of simplicity and silence and solitude and quality relationships — and really changed my priorities. As much as I changed, I also felt like the trail really had been such an amazing feature and there were still lessons to be learned so that's why I went back. I went back and back before I even thought about the record.
When did trying to set the new record first cross your mind?
My goal is to have a lifelong relationship with the trail and those major life changes off the trail that affect my own on-trail experience. When I got married, I didn't want to be away from my home or my husband as long. I've always had an interest in endurance sports and athletics. I felt like it'd be a really new and different way to experience the trail and to try and pass my limits in the form of a record. The time frame was a lot more family friendly (laughing).
Your husband Brew was your race support when you set the record. How did you two meet? How did you talk him into being your support?
He was friends with my older brother. Brew loves the outdoors and he likes to hike, but when we got married, he was like "I'm not sure that's really me (to hike the entire Appalachian Trail) so I want you to follow your heart and your dreams and I'll just help you and I can hike here and there." He came up with the idea of the supported hike because he didn't want to do the whole trail with me. That sounded great to me to have help along the way.
I've heard you like to call the record more of a "love story" because of Brew being your support. What makes you say that?
When I think about the record in the summer of 2011, I get a lot of recognition and the athletic accomplishment gets a lot of attention, but I know I would've quit without Brew. I tried to quit and he wouldn't let me. When I think about the story, it has as much or more to do with his selflessness and his support than my athleticism. There's other people who have the physical capabilities to set a trail record, but I think the support was really unique.
Also it was special because before this, the record had always been set by men. Not only was I a woman, but having my husband helping me along the way — he knew me really well and gender roles were really reversed in a way that is good for people to see. It's good for people to see husbands supporting their wives. I think there's a lot more to the story than athleticism.
How has hiking changed for you since you had your daughter, Charley, who was born almost a year ago?
It's been really sweet. One of the motivating factors behind the record was the knowledge that I wanted to be a mother. I knew that having a child would be very different and I would probably be going slow for a long time. I thought it was a great window, or a great season to just leave it all on the trail and go fast, go far. I knew for a long time it would be going slow and savoring every step. I still go outside as much as I did before, but it's very different. It's day hikes or single overnights. Now we're stopping to change diapers or nurse on the trail, so it's very different. Pretty soon she'll want to be toddling or walking down the trail or playing more outside her carrier.
What's next for you?
Brew and I would both like to section-hike the entire Appalachian Trail, in pieces, and there's a lot of other long-distance trails that eventually I'd like to hike. We did the Colorado Trail in 2009. I've also done the Pacific Crest Trail. I haven't done the entire Continental Divide Trail. That'd be nice to become a triple-crowner (someone who has thru-hiked the Appalchian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail). Something for the next 40 or 50 years. I feel like I have time.
I have a company called Blue Ridge Hiking Company, based in Asheville, N.C., and the purpose or the mission is to encourage people to get outdoors through writing, speaking and guiding. Brew just started working with me this summer, which has allowed us to do this national book tour. Our goal is to hike and speak in all 50 states. Colorado will be the 26th.
Contact Sarah Kuta at 303-473-1106 or firstname.lastname@example.org