Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them, Shakespeare said.
For Ashevilles Jennifer Pharr Davis, it was all three.
With a name like Pharr, one might surmise this 29-year-old was born to go to great lengths, accomplishing her first completion of the challenging 2,180-mile Appalachian Trail at age 21.
But what Pharr Davis achieved during the next two rugged Georgia-to-Maine treks the latter setting a record for speed demanded more than fate could provide. It called for grit, determination, and a respect and love for the trail itself.
Speaking and promoting her books at Fleet Feet Carrboro last Friday evening, Davis spoke first of the travails of her first two completions of the AT and her 12,000 miles of additional hiking on six continents.
More than 100 people were present to hear from the adventurer, author, 2012 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year and owner of Ashevilles Blue Mountain Hiking Co.
She talked about her record-setting 2011 through-hike, distinguishing her as the fastest person ever to hike the AT, averaging 47 miles a day and completing the trail in 46 days, 11 hours, and 20 minutes.
Before I started hiking, my biggest fears were that Id be bored and lonely, she said. After I finished, the things I missed the most were the silence and the solitude.
The trail had changed me, and I liked the woman at the end of the trail a lot more.
Entertaining the crowd for more than an hour before signing copies of her books Becoming Odyssa and 46 Days, Pharr Davis was accompanied Friday by her husband Brew (who also constituted the support team for the record-setting trek) and their 2-month-old daughter Charlotte.Bolt from the Blue
During the course of her first journey from Spring Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine, Pharr Davis weathered eyes frozen shut during a snowstorm, endured the unwanted attentions of various male hikers, discovered a suicide victim on the trails, and got struck by lightning.
The 21-year old in me said, Hey, I got struck by lightning: cooool, she said.
Eventually, Pharr Davis came to accept even celebrate her own helplessness on the trail.
The only thing I had control over was my attitude, she said. I no longer tried to fight the trail, and I started to flow with it. I no longer saw obstacles; I saw opportunities.
Still, when Pharr Davis reached the northern trail terminus in Maines Baxter State Park, the thru-hiker initially declared herself finished with hiking.
I was more than ready to sit (at a job) for eight hours a day, she said. I moved to Virginia and got a great job, and I should have been happy
but all I could think about was the trail.
Soon thereafter, Pharr Davis found herself on other trails, including the Pacific Crest Trail, Vermonts Long Trail, Mount Kilimanjaro, and the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, all the while feeling called home to the Appalachian Trail. Pharr Davis answered that call with a second trip on the AT this time from north to south, setting the womens speed record for completion.Hare-raising
Pharr Davis began to examine the possibility of actually speed-hiking the AT rather than running it as most record-setters had done.
We took the tortoise (versus hare) approach to the trail, she said. We werent (running or) walking faster; we were walking longer each and every day. When youre a traditional through-hiker, youre taking breaks, going into towns, youre taking rides, youre re-supplying. Because my husband Brew was supplying me, I truly could stay on the trail.
Pharr Davis began hiking around 4:45 each morning and walked until after sunset, sleeping on the trail, often at road crossings where her husband could meet her and supply with more of the 6,000 daily calories needed to maintain energy.
After 16-to-17 hours on the trail, I couldnt care less about a bed. Id sleep just great on the ground, she said, laughing.Highs and lows
Four days into the hike, she suffered disabling shin splints and soon thereafter became ill. An iron will and a supportive husband urged her forward, however.
You have to be really stubborn; you have to be really flexible, she said. You have to be ready to adapt, and you have to be stubborn enough not to quit.
Reaching the North Carolina / Tennessee border, however, Pharr Davis found herself aglow in the reality that the goal was within reach.
I got (to the top of Clingmans Dome) right after dusk one night, she said. The lights were coming on in valley and you could still see the mountain ridges. Its the first time I thought we were really going to achieve the record.
Her daily pace never detracted from the experience.
It was a trail in motion, and it was very fluid and meditative, she said. There were places I wished I could have stopped and rested, but I knew this wasnt my last time on the (AT). I knew, Hey, Ill be back here.
Im going to see it again. What a body can do
Pharr Davis said her goal was never to set a record but to foster a lifetime relationship with the trail that had become her teacher, friend, muse and mentor.
Im at home in the woods, she said. I feel safer in the woods than I do inside my house or driving a car.
The trail rewarded simplicity with self-worth, Pharr Davis said.
Society told me that I needed lots of stuff, but the trail taught me to be content with the items I carried in a pack, she said, and on the trail, there werent billboards
telling me what I should look like; I didnt even have a mirror telling me what I did look like.
If I made someone smile, I felt beautiful. I also felt beautiful because of what my body could do. Hiking over 2,000 miles through 14 states was incredible, and that made me feel pretty.Down the path
Pharr Davis understands that her relationship with the Appalachian Trail and with hiking is destined to evolve.
In the future, I want to be an advocate for the trail, and one of the ways to do that is to travel around and tell my stories
and my business in Asheville Blue Ridge Hiking Company really focuses on women and beginners.
Many of those present for her talk on Friday found themselves inspired to hike.
She was talking about a 77-mile trail through North Carolina, and Id like to do that to backpack, to run, to camp, and to get up (the next day) and do it again, Rachel Bell Kelley said.
I hike, and Id heard of (Pharr Davis) before, Jackie Auzias de Turenne said. Im jealous though, because I dont have the luxury of putting together that stretch of time. Ive section-hiked about half of it though.
The biggest compliment I get from people whove read my books is, I went for a hike, Pharr Davis said. The lessons of the trail are universal, and I think its the best therapist there is. The more people I can get out there the better.
Pharr Davis has been facing new challenges as her life has moved forward.
I backpacked almost 600 miles with my husband this past summer during my second trimester of pregnancy, she said. Our baby girl, Charlotte, has been on day-hikes, and were looking to take her on her first overnight this spring.
Wherever her path takes her, however, one can presume that Pharr Davis wont venture far from her first true love: the Appalachian Trail.