Record-Setting Hiker Speaks at IMPACT

Jennifer Pharr Davis speaks about finding her voice and owning her truth.
Jennifer Pharr Davis has logged over 12,000 miles on six different continents, including thru-hikes of the Pacific Crest Trail, numerous trails abroad, and the Appalachian Trail three times. In 2011, Davis tested her physical limits by attempting to set the record for the fastest hike of the entire Appalachian trail. With the help of her husband, Brew, and a dedicated group of friends who provided supplies along the way, she set the fastest known time (male or female) on the Appalachian Trail by hiking 47 miles a day for 46 days straight. “I was consuming 6,000 calories a day and still losing weight,” Davis recalled.

Today during IMPACT, Davis shared her story of grit and determination and how she learned that hard work doesn’t always equal success. For her, the trail became her “higher level of education. I learned I had no control over my environment, but I could control my response to it,” she said. Davis called her fellow hikers “the best community” and a fond resource of vibrant exchanges of energy and wisdom, with all ages of hikers tackling the Appalachian Trail.

Following her successful record-breaking hike, Davis said people who spoke with her became focused solely on numbers. How far she walked, how fast, how many pairs of shoes she went through, how many bears she saw (36!), and more. "To me, the only other time in my life when people were so focused on numbers was in high school," she said. "What was my ACT score, my SAT score, my GPA?" While doing your best is always a good thing, "ultimately what matters are your relationships, your memories, and your community."

While hiking the AT, Davis said she came to the realization that, for the first time, she wasn’t expected to react, perform, or produce. And while she is a former college athlete, the physical toll the trail took on her was unique. “There was no shower at the end of the day, no hot meal waiting, and no fans to encourage you,” she said. Along the way, Davis found her voice and no longer hides her truth.

The founder and owner of North Carolina-based Blue Ridge Hiking Company, Davis’ ongoing mission is “to make the wilderness accessible and enjoyable through the written and spoken word, instruction, and guiding.” She is the author of several books, including two memoirs, Becoming Odyssa and Called Again, and has presented more than 500 talks to organizations around the world. “To me, hiking is the best, most affordable way to travel,” she said during her IMPACT talk.

Davis remained on campus to have lunch in the dining hall, so she could meet students and share more intimate conversations about her travels and experiences. Prior to her talk at GPS, she spoke at McCallie and hosted a hike on Stringer’s Ridge for faculty/staff and students.  

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