Imagine hearing your alarm go off at 4:45am, hastily dressing, grabbing a quick bite to eat and hitting the trail in the pre-dawn darkness. You hammer out five or six miles before the sun rises, going on to complete a total of 40-50 before calling it quits long after sundown. Now imagine doing that for 46 consecutive days. The thought is a little daunting, to say the least.
This is how Jennifer Pharr Davis chose to spend her summer. Up before dawn and covering more miles a day than most of us drive, pausing only for sleep (averaging a mere six hours a night) and to refuel her body. Her efforts paid off – today she became the fastest person ever – male or female – to hike the Appalachian Trail, covering the entire 2,181 miles in 46 days, 11 hours, and 20 minutes.
I was fortunate enough to get to tag along with Jen on Friday, two days before her historic finish. When her husband, Brew, sent word that they were in need of folks to help crew and to accompany her on her final days on the trail, I jumped at the chance. Never mind the fact that it had been a while since I had covered that many miles over mountainous terrain – I figured that after 6+ weeks on the trail, she’s be pretty tired and I’d have no problems keeping up. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I had loaded a pack full of snacks, maps, and even a camera – I knew we’d be traversing Wayah Bald and other scenic areas and was hoping for some photo ops. I needn’t have bothered – Jen’s hiking pace is such that there is no time for such frivolous activities. As it was, I struggled to keep up with her long legs as she strode up and down mountains, never seeming out of breath, even on the steepest ascents. I don’t know when I’ve seen a person so completely focused.
Her support crew was similarly single-minded. As we approached road crossings we were met by Brew, her father Yorke, and family friend/photographer Maureen aka “Big Mo”. The crew sprung into action, feeding Jen, refilling bottles, checking her feet and giving us the stats on the next leg of our journey. Between our rendezvous, they drove over 150 miles, found grocery stores and fast food joints to supplement the food supply, searched for lost cell phones, blogged about Jen’s progress and corresponded with espn.com.