The distance stretched across the showroom of Appalachian Outdoors, wooden floors instead of the familiar dirt and rock beneath her feet. For the lissome explorer, it was a simple pacing to-and-fro, a far cry from the 13,000 miles she’d already logged across six continents.
As part of a Mid-Atlantic book tour, outdoor athlete Jennifer Pharr Davis stopped in Happy Valley Wednesday night, sharing stories from the trail and answering questions about hiking safely, even with children in tow. Like on the trail, the talk was a family affair.
“We have trail names,” Pharr Davis, 33, said while holding her 4-year-old daughter, Charley, or “Hold Me,” as she’s known on the trail. “My trail name is Odyssa… But I can’t think of a better way to spend the first two years of Charley’s life than on the trail. She loves rocks. She loves nature. I love experiencing the trail, and I’m very thankful she’s my hiking partner.”
Pharr Davis, the 2011 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, hiked the Appalachian Trail that year in 46 days, 11 hours and 20 minutes, a record for the fastest known time among men or women. It was her third time hiking the about 2,185-mile trail.
Wednesday’s talk was a shorter journey, about an hour of tips for enthusiasts and professionals alike. The small crowd listened as Pharr Davis covered precautions to take during a lightning storm, what to do in the case of rattlesnake bites and other hiking hacks. She was joined by Brew Davis, her husband, and her two children.
“One of the reasons I wanted to (break the record) was because I knew I wanted to be a mom, I knew I wanted to try to have a family,” she said, “and I knew my paces, my adventures, my hikes would not be my own for some time.
“So that made hiking with children a new adventure.”
While pregnant with Charley, Pharr Davis backpacked more than 500 miles, leading tours along the way. She didn’t keep track the second time around when she was pregnant with Gus, her now 6-month-old.
Assisted by her daughter during intervals of the talk, Pharr Davis said being a mom on the trail has helped her see the trail in another light. Charley, for instance, has been, like her parents, to all 50 states.
“In my mind, having kids has made me a better hiker,” Pharr Davis said.
Brew Davis read from the couple’s latest book, “Familes on Foot,” near the event’s conclusion.
“There’s like an inverse bell curve that when the kids are really young, you can go and have a decent hike,” he told the crowd. “Then as they get older they want to walk themselves and you don’t get as far, and then gradually as they get older, they can walk farther and you can return to normal.”
And though she’s been struck by lightning and encountered grizzly bears, Pharr Davis said the most common dangers are those found in your neighborhood. Unleashed dogs and pests such as ticks, she said, are more vexing, though she says she has a healthy respect for snakes and bears, too. Walking 13,000 miles in nature will do that.
But she tells those starting out not to be intimidated. A walk in the woods can be as meditative as a Robert Frost poem. Or for Pharr Davis, who studied classics in college, it can be more like an ode to her trail name, an odyssey worthy of a Greek tale.
“That’s one of the reasons why we love hiking, it doesn’t discriminate based on money or ability level,” she said. “It’s something that meets everyone at every phase of life.”