What: Appalachian Trail record holder Jennifer Pharr Davis will speak about her record-setting hike as part of Ivy Tech Community College-Northeast's INSPIRE Academy, a program that presents events, exhibits and opportunities to enrich and inspire participants.
When and where:
• 2 p.m. Sunday at the Tom and Jane Dustin Nature Preserve, 1802 Chapman Road, Huntertown. An optional hike will follow. To reserve a seat, call the Acres Land Trust office at 637-2273.
•3-4:30 p.m. Monday at Ivy Tech's Coliseum campus auditorium, 3800 N. Anthony Blvd.
In 2011, Jennifer Pharr Davis did what many people said was impossible: She broke the overall speed record for hiking the 2,181-mile Appalachian Trail, completing it in 46 days, 11 hours and 20 minutes.
She had trimmed 26 hours off the previous record, and, as Frank Sinatra might have said, she did it her way.
For the past 20 years, the record has been set by elite runners — all male — who would run 30 to 50 miles a day in 11- to 13-hour periods, according to www.nationalgeographic.com.
Davis, nominated as a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year in '12, had a different strategy: go slower — walking not running — but putting in longer days, usually 15-17 hours.
“My goal ultimately was to do my best, but I believed if I was able to give 100 percent, my best would be good enough for the overall record,” she said.
Her strategy worked. She began in Maine on June 15, 2011, ending in Georgia on July 31.
Davis is here Sunday and Monday to share her experience in two events open to all. Ivy Tech Community College-Northeast is bringing her here as part of its INSPIRE Academy.
Davis' record-breaking hike was her third trek on the Appalachian Trail. She'd hiked it in 2005 and 2008. She has hiked more than 11,000 miles of long-distance trails on six continents.
Her 2011 trek did not start well.
“It was excruciating,” she said of the first two weeks, when her body was adapting to the trail and the challenge. “My daily mileage had to stay very, very high,” she said. “I had to average over 46 miles a day.”
She had started hiking in Maine and was soon in New Hampshire, the trail's toughest terrain. Walking on granite instead of dirt gave her painful shin splints. Then she got diarrhea.
Her husband, Brew Davis, providing support to her at points on the trail, gave her the encouragement she needed to keep going on a day when she thought she needed to quit.
“He basically told me, 'I don't think you really want to quit.' He was right. I owe him a great debt of gratitude,” she said.
She continued on. As is the case with the other Appalachian Trail record-holders, hikers or runners carry a day pack, but not food, tent, sleeping bag, etc. Support teams meet the hikers or runners at crossroads to give them food or supplies.
In Davis' case, she camped out 80 percent of the time, meeting Brew at night, only staying in motels every few days so she could shower. She only slept about six hours a night. Food breaks were usually 15-20 minutes. Bathroom breaks? “You step off into the woods,” she said.
Asked about the danger of a woman traveling alone on a lonely trail, Davis discounted the idea it was any more dangerous for her than it was for a man. “I feel very safe and comfortable and confident,” she said.
She saw 36 black bears on her 2011 hike. “None of them bothered me, and I didn't bother them,” she said.
Davis thought she would get lonely on the trail, but grew to love the silence and solitude. Asked what she thought about as she walked, she ticked off a stream-of-consciousness list: “my friends and family, the trail, where I'm headed, what I have to look forward to, bigger life issues. I pray and sing, and sometimes I don't think about anything.”
Few will ever match the number of miles Davis has logged, but she does have advice for those hiking.
“Start within your comfort level. Go with a friend or group. Set a mileage goal, then set other goals: go farther, or by yourself, or on a different or new trail.”
The only equipment you need is a comfortable pair of shoes, a jacket, snacks and water, she said.
The Davises are looking forward to a new adventure: Jennifer is pregnant, and their first child is due in November. She expects to “incorporate hiking into their new life as a family.”