Appalachian Trail records

I recently finished my second book by Jennifer Pharr Davis, “Called Again,” which describes day-by-day her hike along the Appalachian Trail in 2011 during which she set the record for the fastest supported hike. She covered the 2,180-mile trail in 46 days and change. This wasn’t just the female record. This was the overall record. To accomplish this, she had to average nearly 50 miles a day. On her next-to-last day on the trail, she hiked sixty miles. Her record stood for four years until earlier this month when it was broken by an ultra-marathoner.

Pharr’s first book, “Becoming Odyssa,” describes her first hike of the trail back in 2005 as a 21-year-old fresh out of college. She did this hike alone, and I found this one even more fascinating than her record-setting hike. You see, her 46-day supported hike meant that she had help along the way (not to take away from the accomplishment). Her husband followed her by car along the entire journey, meeting her at various intervals with meals and carrying her gear. Therefore, she was able to hike carrying minimal weight. She was also joined by other family members, friends, and various trail enthusiasts to hike segments of the trail with her, carry some of her gear, set up her tent, bring food, etc.

An unsupported hike, which she accomplished in 2005, means you carry everything with you: tent, sleeping bag, extra clothes, food, and other necessities, and is obviously much more difficult than a supported hike. To me, it was much more fascinating to read about her unsupported hike because of its more primitive conditions.

The Appalachian Trail officials do not maintain individual trail records. It’s done via the honor system. Also, individuals attempting to break an existing record typically contact the current record-holder to let them know they are attempting to set a new record. It’s considered a courtesy.

Being a half-marathoner, I understand her motivation to an extent, although I’d never put a 13.1-mile run in the same category as a 2,180-mile hike. When someone first mentioned to me about running a half-marathon nearly three years ago, my response was something like, “That’s insane. I could never run a half-marathon.” Well, that was two half-marathons ago (three if you count the one I did in practice). So I can relate to the inner drive to accomplish something you thought you could never do and turning what you thought was impossible it into a reality.

My hiking experience is minimal, although I would like to try my hand at it, perhaps even one where you have to backpack and spend a few nights on the trail. One that appeals to me is the Cumberland Trail here in Tennessee. When completed, it will cover more than 300 miles from north to south. I have no plans to do anything like that yet. I’d have to start with day hikes and work my way up from there. Until then, I’ll stick to running on pavement.


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