Not many stories can measure up to the triumphant tale of Jennifer Pharr Davis’s overall record-holding 2,181 mile supported thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail. Davis’s second memoir “Called Again: A Story of Love and Triumph,” paints more than the account of a mere 46 days, 11 hours, and 20 minutes on menacing, rocky terrain. It depicts a story of inspirational persistence. Fueled by the doubt of naysayers, her passion for the sport and scenery, and over 6,000 calories a day, Davis attests to the enchanting thrills of trekking through the wilderness (even in the most ailing of situations). The magnetism Davis feels to the trail is a belief rooted in the realigning powers of completely immersing oneself into nature and embracing the view.
“When you are by yourself, you do things for yourself. You are not living to meet other people’s expectations. I think spending time by yourself is one of the best ways to learn who you really are.” – Jennifer Pharr Davis
Q: Of all the state/national parks you’ve traveled through, which are your favorites, and why do these stand out to you? What memories do they hold?
1. I love Grayson Highland State Park in Virginia. It offers great views, wild ponies, waterfalls, seasonal blueberries and much more. It is perhaps my favorite place along the Appalachian Trail.
2. Crater Lake National Park in Oregon is also high on the list. I didn’t know that water could be that color blue, and the trails around the rim are really breathtaking. Crater Lake was definitely one of the highlights when I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail.
3.Finally, White Sands National Monument in New Mexico remains memorable as well. I traveled through the park during the Christmas season, and I will never forget dozens of children sledding down those sand dunes as if they were at a winter ski resort.
Q: What are your hiking ‘must-haves’ that stand the test of hundreds and thousands of miles? Fuel/gear?
I think your shoes and your pack are two of your most important pieces of gear, because you feel those items ALL day. If your pack or shoes are uncomfortable, hiking can become pretty miserable, pretty quickly. I like to wear Zamberlan boots with FITS socks for footwear. My pack was custom made by Dan McHale from McHale Packs in Seattle. I also like to pack a really warm down sleeping bag, because I am a wimp in cold weather. When I was pregnant I also traded out my chemical water treatment for a Sawyer Squeeze filter. Now I am obsessed with Sawyer, and I can’t wait for their “mini” filter to come out next spring.
Q: What wisdom or advice can you share with newbie hikers who want to experience what the experience has to offer?
Start within your comfort zone. If you don’t want to go alone, then set out with a friend, pet, or protection. If you aren’t in great shape, don’t make your first outing a 10-mile ascent. If you enjoy the wilderness, you will want to go back to the wilderness. If you go back, your comfort zone will probably increase and you will be willing to try new and often more difficult hikes. I believe that when people experience and enjoy nature they are more likely to protect and preserve the wilderness.
Q: You refer to the “language of the trail” as one that is nonjudgmental and probes people to question, learn, and grow. Was this something you grew up learning? Or were the restorative qualities of nature revealed to you later in life?
Looking back I was pretty judgmental and naive before my first foray into the wilderness. The wilderness definitely helped to open up my mind and heart. I am still far from perfect, but every time that I go out into the wilderness, I feel like I come back more the person I want to be.
Q: What are your favorite scents, sights, and sounds while on the trail/outdoors?
I love to hear the animals. Usually I try to guess the animal based on it’s movement before I look to see if I am right. Bears and squirrels sound a lot alike! I also love sunshine, especially on a cold hike. Feeling warmth on your skin can be transformative on a cold day. As far as smell is concerned, it is hard to beat the Christmas scented fir and spruce forests.
Q: Can you explain the benefit of embracing solitude in nature to escape from the chaos of everyday life? Why is nature the best medicine?
When you are by yourself, you do things for yourself. You are not living to meet other people’s expectations. I think spending time by yourself is one of the best ways to learn who you really are.
Q: Hiking with your daughter since she was weeks old, what advice can you give to parents who want to do the same?
My daughter loves the outdoors. It is so cool to see her engage with nature. I would recommend finding a comfortable pack to carry the baby and make sure you have room for extra clothes, diapers, first aid and snacks.
Q: What are the best features of hiking alone, as well as along with company?
There are different benefits to be gleaned from the wilderness when hiking with a group. Communication, trust, and teamwork are all MUSTS when traveling together on the trail. Plus it is really nice to be able to share your best memories with other people. Most of my best friends are trail friends because we share intense bonding experiences in the woods and make really awesome memories along the way.
I believe that hiking by yourself is just as valuable as hiking in a group. It teaches you self-relience and resilience. I think hiking by yourself makes you more appreciative for the people in your life. Plus there is a state of peace and mediation that I have reached on solo journeys that I have not been able to achieve on group outings.
Q: Do you think that your hikes (especially the most taxing ones) drew motivation by giving yourself the trail name Odyssa? Would you recommend that others do the same to heighten the whole nature of the experience?
Trail Names are a fun tradition. Most people enjoy going by a nickname when they are on a long-distance trail. That said, I do think the trail name starts to represent the person who you are becoming on the trail. The challenge is to merge the trail identity with the person you are off the trail.
You can read more about Jennifer’s adventures on the Appalachian Trail in her new book ”Called Again: A Story of Love and Triumph.” You can purchase it at Jennifer’s website BlueRidgeHikingCo.com as well as her other books. Also be sure to check out the Facebook page for the book.
ParkVisitor will be giving away an advanced reading copy of Called Again, signed by Jennifer. Click here for details on how you can enter to win the copy.