VALPARAISO | For Jennifer Pharr Davis, the Appalachian Trail is about love, personal growth and a connection with the wilderness.
Davis, who holds the record for fastest hike of the trail, shared the wisdom she gained on the trek with an audience Tuesday at the Valparaiso branch of the Porter County Public Library.
“The trail is never about the numbers,” she said. “The trail is always about the experience.”
Davis claimed the overall record in 2011 by finishing the 2,181-mile journey in 46 days, 11 hours and 20 minutes — an average of 46.9 miles per day.
The trip was far from easy, however, as she was hit with shinsplints, torrential rain and sleet, hypothermia and sickness. Reeling from these adversities, she was ready to quit, but her husband, Brew, talked her down.
“He looked at me and basically said, 'suck it up,'” she said.
Brew told her she felt too bad right then to make a good decision, and she should wait 36 hours before deciding.
The trek continued, and while it was never “fun,” it was ultimately rewarding.
“I woke up every morning with a sense of purpose and filled with joy,” Davis said.
On the trail, she gained insight into herself and others. She learned how to live in the present and be a good listener. For five months, she didn't look in a mirror, but saw her reflection through her interactions with other people.
“I was a different person than the girl who had started,” Davis said. “I valued simplicity. I could be content with just the items I carried in a pack on my back. I learned it was OK to be by myself and to be myself.”
Davis, of Asheville, N.C., has hiked more than 12,000 miles on long-distance trails on six continents and holds endurance records on three trails. She presented a slideshow of her journeys and the wildlife she's encountered.
Her time on the Appalachian Trail strengthened her love for her husband, whom she credits for her success.
“The record has a lot more to do with him than me,” she said.
Davis founded Blue Ridge Hiking Co., which helps make the trails in Western North Carolina accessible to novice hikers and experienced backpackers.
She is the author of three North Carolina guidebooks and two Appalachian Trail hiking memoirs, “Becoming Odyssa” and “Called Again.”