When I phone 34-year-old speed-hiking guru Jennifer Pharr Davis, she is working on a book deadline two-years-in-the-making and has exactly four days to round out final edits. Meanwhile, she’s supposed to be prepping for her latest thru-hike—this time, it’s the Mountains to Sea Trail, a 1,175-mile route that begins at Clingmans Dome in the Smoky Mountains and terminates at Jockey’s Ridge State Park on the Outer Banks, and effectively bisects the state of North Carolina.
It’s midday and, from the sound of things, it’s lunchtime. There’s the clink of glass bottles, a closing refrigerator, plastic sliding across a countertop, cabinets opening and closing, plates clanking, and, yes, children crying.
Apologizing for the commotion and his two screaming kids, her husband Brew sighs: “It’s a busy time for us; to say things are hectic would be a ridiculous understatement.”
After six years, two babies, a knee surgery, and six months worth of rehabilitative therapy, this will be the first hike of more than 100 miles Jennifer has taken since her record-breaking thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2011. Slated to drive the MST route with kids in tow, Brew says he’s excited about hitting sections of the trail and checking out nearby breweries and sights, he’s stoked to be supporting his wife.
“Momma needs a hike,” Jennifer says with a laugh. “For me, the act of putting one foot in front of the other has changed my values, my outlook, and the very fiber of my being. It’s always been an affirming source of inspiration and transformation, and I’m presently long overdue.”
Along the way, Davis says she’ll be making edits on a book about endurance and hiking records that’s due out next spring, running a business from afar, and advocating for outdoor recreation, conservation and unity. Seeking to raise awareness and funds for the Mountains to Sea Trail, Brew will be coordinating events inviting hikers to join Jennifer on the trail, attend talks, and more. But just now, they’ve got a deadline and nearly 1,200 miles worth of packing to attend to.
Such is the life of a professional hiker. In the midst of one adventure, they’re persistently stepping into the next.
Part-Time Hobby to Full-Time Occupation
How do pro-hikers turn a beloved hobby into a full-time gig? While routes are about as varied as the trail is long, most agree it takes four things: Passion. Perseverance. Business sense. And hard work. However, unlike most traditional business endeavors, hikers tend to describe the road as a kind of happy accident that snow-balled.
“I started long-distance backpacking in 2002 when I thru-hiked the A.T. for the first time,” says pro-hiker Andrew Skurka. “I was in college at the time and an effort on that scale seemed like an experience that was worth having. While I loved the idea, I certainly wasn’t thinking this would become my occupation.”
And yet, since then, the 36-year-old has backpacked, skied and pack-rafted more than 33,000 miles—the equivalency of traveling 1.2 times around the equator—and has become one of the world’s quintessential outdoorsmen.