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Jennifer Pharr Davis. You probably heard of this badass when she became the first woman to set the speed record for the Appalachian Trail back in 2011 and became Nat Geo Adventurer of the Year. Since then, you could say she’s stayed pretty busy; she’s written 5 books and founded the Blue Ridge Hiking Co. This Fall she’s been hiking the 1,275 mile Mountains-to-Sea Trail to raise awareness for and celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Oh, and she has her whole family in tow as well including: 5 yo Charlie, 1 yo Gus and her hubby, Brew. We sat down with JPD to get the scoop on her experience so far on the trail!
What inspired you to hit the Mountains-to-Sea Trail this Fall?
JPD: I’m born and raised in North Carolina, and really always wanted to do the MST. After I had kids, I thought it would be a while, but the conservation group that runs the trail got in contact with me ahead of their 40th anniversary and wanted a high profile hiker to do it. The Friends of the MST told me that they wanted to make it family-friendly and make it work for us. They gave me the boost we needed to do a 1200 mile adventure! In return, we’ve been busy with fundraisers and creating awareness for the MST.
Tell us about the highs and lows along the trail.
JPD: The high has been realizing I didn’t know North Carolina nearly as well as I thought. Different parts of the state and small towns along the way have been illuminated by work trips and speaking engagements. I’ll now know all of the places we resupplied and camped at – really experiencing the diversity of North Carolina’s landscape and people. Everyone has been so kind along the way especially during the road hiking sections. People are always stopping to ask if I need help or need a ride, or want water.
The low was definitely on night 2 of the trek when Brew got sick with a freak viral infection and had to go to the hospital in Cherokee. The aftermath left us appreciating each other, health and family much more.
You brought the family along with you this time around. Did that bring new perspective to your thru-hike?
JPD: It’s been WAY harder for sure with a family and more of a challenge because I can’t be fully focused on the trail (I’m always thinking of them!). It’s been cool to see the way they’ve changed and grown along the way. They usually join me to hike a couple miles each day, and Brew will go for a trail run. It’s illustrated there are many different approaches to hiking – you can go slow with kids, trail run or log a long day of hiking.
Do you have any tips for people out there thinking about completing any of our country’s iconic long trails?
JPD: You’re going to have to be stubborn and adaptable at the same time. We had planned this MST hike for a year, and then day 2 Brew got sick and we had to go back to the drawing board. Accept that you’re not in control, but still prepare and plan. Start new every single day. Roll with the unexpected.
Beer is crucial part of your hiking kit as seen in a recent Blue Ridge Outdoors piece. We’re with ya there. How did you decide on your favorite adult beverage for the summits?
JPD: Appalachian Mountain Brewery in Boone all the way! The have a huge variety, and are super outdoor friendly and community centric.
We know that you’re a TR1 Series (TR1 Trek specifically) fan. What components of the shoe make them a must-have on the trail for you?
JPD: Breathability! I’ve never had a shoe that’s as breathable as the TR1 Trek. In the beginning, we had lots of rain with the hurricanes coming through and my feet were soaked constantly, but as soon as the rain stopped – the shoes dried out. I’ve had no blisters and haven’t struggled with moisture at all. In addition, the TR1 Trek performed on both the road and trail. For such a lightweight shoe, they’ve held up really well…I’ve gotten 600+ miles out of them!