Adventurers of the Year 2012: Hiker Jennifer Pharr Davis
“Records are made to be broken,” says long-distance hiker Jennifer Pharr Davis. “It’s not the number. The method and the approach are what matters more at the end of the day.”
For the last 40 years, men have held the Appalachian Trail record. In the last 20, it’s been confined to an elite club of ultra runners who typically covered the requisite 30 to 50 miles per day in an 11- to 13-hour period. Conventional wisdom suggested that breaking the record would mean running faster with the same strategy. And a new record holder would most certainly be male.
Pharr Davis, 28, took the standard strategy and turned it upside down. Moving from north to south, she covered the trail’s 2,181 miles by hiking for 16 hours a day beginning at 4:45 in the morning and walking well into darkness. To stick to an average pace of 47 miles a day, she slept on the trail or at road crossings to eliminate needless commute times to and from the trail. Her husband, Brew Davis, served as the support crew.
Pharr Davis trained by hiking rather than running—and the novel approach worked. By the time she reached the trail’s southern terminus at Springer Mountain, Georgia, she had trimmed 26 hours off the previous record with a time of 46 days, 11 hours, and 20 minutes.
“Exploration can be twofold. It can be going to a new location or it can mean pushing through a physical boundary,” says Pharr Davis. “We were exploring what people thought was possible, for what was possible on the Appalachian Trail, and what was possible for a woman and a hiker.”
With all the hoopla surrounding the 100th anniversary of Hiram Bingham III’s rediscovery of Machu Picchu on July 24, 1911, there’s never been more interest in visiting the ruins that he dubbed the Lost City of the Incas. The best way to arrive, of course, is by hiking the Inca Trail. (A path, incidentally, that was another one of Bingham’s finds—he uncovered it while exploring the area around Machu Picchu in 1915.) But the days when an adventurous traveler could fly into Cusco on a Saturday and depart for the Inca Trail on Sunday have long since come and gone. Walking the Inca Trail requires equal parts dreaming and strategizing—not to mention a few trips to the gym. Here are a few tips on how to get the most out of your trek.
Big Bend is all about a sense of vastness: Hundred-mile views sweep across the hills, arroyos, and mesas of the Chihuahuan Desert with nary a sign of civilization. No place delivers a sense of the park’s enormity—and solitude—better than the high country of the Chisos Mountains. This three-day, two-night hike climbs into and traverses the south rim of the range, where you can stand in the shade of big maples, cypress, oaks, and ponderosa pines and view the austere beauty of the desert far below.
Insider Tip: Cache water in advance at Blue Creek Canyon so you only have to carry two days’ worth of liquid.