MARQUETTE - Dirt. Odors. Scrapes. Insect bites. Bruises. What's not to love about hiking the Appalachian Trail?
For Jennifer Pharr Davis, 2012 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, putting up with those little inconveniences did not deter her from mastering one of America's best-known trails.
In fact, in 2011, Davis, with the help of her husband, Brew, and volunteers called the "Pit Crew," became the fastest person to hike the 2,185.3-mile trail, which runs from Maine to Georgia.
Jennifer Pharr Davis holds the record for hiking the Appalachian Trail the quickest: 46 days. The train runs from Maine to Georgia. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Pharr Davis)
This is the 31st day of Pharr Davis’ record-setting trek on the trail. In the background in the Virginia landscape. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Pharr Davis)
Note the word "person," not woman.
Davis, 31, of Asheville, North Carolina, spoke about her hiking experiences July 22 to outdoors enthusiasts at Down Wind Sports.
And she has a lot to talk about. Davis has hiked 12,000 miles of long-distance trail on six continents (all except Antarctica, of course), she said.
"The trail that means the most to me and the trail that's changed my life the most is the Appalachian Trail," said Davis, who's hiked the corridor three times.
Davis said she connects with hard work, nature and simplicity.
That certainly is possible on the Appalachian Trail.
"The cool thing about the Appalachian Trail is it was the first environment I've been a part of where the people who were the closest to me were extremely different from me, and that make life really fun and really interesting," Davis said.
Eventually, she established a women's record for hiking the trail, but also realized every record for the trail was held by a man.
"And I'm all about girl power," Davis said.
A small voice inside her also told her "might" have what it took to set the overall record.
"It did not go away," Davis said. "It got louder. It got stronger."
And as with many people who have lofty goals, there was the what-could-have-been factor had she not tried.
Davis set off from Maine to go for the record.
"The main reason we wanted to start up in New England was, the toughest two states on the trail are Maine and New Hampshire, and I wanted to get through that in the beginning when I had the longest daylight hours of the year," she said.
On day 5, though, she noticed a twinge between her knee and her ankle on her right leg. That twinge developed grew into a sharp, stabbing pain, which Davis said eventually showed up in her left leg as well.
Welcome to shin splints on the Appalachian Trail.
"Here's the thing," Davis said. "Going uphill is excruciating. Going downhill is unbearable."
Davis, fortunately, made it through to New Hampshire where she was welcomed with 24 hours of decent weather followed by 36 hours of a torrential downpour.
"But I kept telling myself, it's got to change," Davis said. "It can't stay like this forever."
But change it did - to a sleet storm.
So how did Davis make it through the less-than-ideal conditions?
"Singing out loud is a great, helpful tool in life," she stressed.
Hypothermia then set it, she said, which made her want to curl in a tight ball and just shiver.
After shivering, she consumed 3,000 calories.
"Food is wonderful medicine for hypothermia," she said.
The adrenaline rush she experienced from surviving adverse conditions urged her on. However, Vermont represented the worst day on the trail when Davis suffered from fatigue, illness and extreme bloating.
Although it might sound callous, her husband telling her to "suck it up" spurred her on, saying she felt too bad to make such a decision.
"She's amazing," Brew said after the Down Wind talk.
He's taking into consideration there aren't many females of her ilk.
"So, for people who love hiking and the outdoors, she's a standard bearer for women," Brew said.
Davis continued her quest, finally making it to the trail's southern terminus - an accomplishment she called an "amateur pursuit" based on the honor system.
Although didn't receive a "big cardboard check or free T-shirt" at the end, Davis was rewarded with seeing 36 black bears along the way and, of course, the sense of accomplishment.
"The value is always going to be found in the experience," she said.
For the 46 straight days of her record-setting trek, Davis averaged about 47 miles per day.
"The trail me realize I could do so much more than I thought was possible," she said.
To learn more about Davis, also an author of hiking books, visit blueridgehikingco.com.
Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.