World-record hiker visits THS

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

Jennifer Pharr Davis, who recently set a world record for the fastest time hiking the Appalachian Trail, shared experiences from being struck by lighting to having her eye freeze shut during an Oct. 24 visit to Thompson High School.

Davis, who during the past summer set an overall world record when she hiked the 2,181-mile trail in 46 days, spoke to the THS seniors during a daylong tour of Shelby County.

After speaking at THS, Davis also spoke at Chelsea High School and Evangel Christian School before speaking at the Jefferson State University Shelby Campus in Hoover. Davis’ speaking engagements were sponsored by the Columbiana-based Shelby County Arts Council.

Though Davis called the record-setting hike “the hardest, most difficult 46 days” of her life, she said the experience was extremely rewarding.

“It was one of the best experiences of my life, and I never would have done it without setting goals when I was your age,” Davis said to the auditorium full of THS seniors. “I had to take everything one step at a time.”

The 2011 hike was the third time Davis had completed the entire length of the trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine.

Her first time hiking the trail came in 2005, shortly after she graduated from Samford University. Davis said she decided to attempt the feat after she found running “stuck with her” after she completed a half-marathon and a marathon in college.

“I decided at the end of college that one of the things I enjoyed most was pushing my endurance,” Davis said. “I had no backpacking experience, and I quickly realized that hiking 15 to 20 miles a day is not easy.”

During her first hike, Davis said she was struck by lightning while in a trail shelter during a thunderstorm, and said her eye “literally froze shut,” while on another part of the trail.

“After I got struck by lightning, I did an inventory. I wiggled my toes, I made sure all my fingers were still there and I took a deep breath,” Davis said. “I was 21 and I had just been struck by lighting, and I was still alive. I just kept hiking.”

After her first Appalachian Trail hike, Davis began hiking other trails before she decided to complete the Appalachian again. The second time around, Davis got help from her husband, who followed the trail route by car and supplied Davis on her journey.

“I finished that hike in 2008 within 10 days of the men’s record. But I knew I hadn’t given it 100 percent, and that drove me crazy,” Davis said.

Davis then set her sights on breaking the overall speed record for the trail, and took on the Appalachian a third time. When she reached the end of the hike, she had shattered the previous record by a full day.

“I would start hiking at 5 a.m., and I would go until 9, 10 or 11 at night. I averaged 47 miles a day,” she said. “When we did set the record, we surprised everyone.”