A 25-year-old Hendersonville native who started hiking the Appalachian Trail June 20 in honor of three people killed last year while hiking public trails hoped to end her journey Sunday in record-setting fashion by completing the 2,174-mile trek in 59 days.
Mountain Xpress hasn’t confirmed her finish, but Jennifer Pharr Davis was on pace to arrive at Springer Mountain, Ga., this weekend. If so, she would have bested the current women’s record of 87 days held by a woman backpacking on the trail. Davis hikes with food and water but without a backpack, and depends on trail support from her husband and family members.
Davis set out not only to break a record, but to memorialize Meredith Emerson of Georgia and John and Irene Bryant of Henderson County. Emerson, 24, disappeared on a New Year’s Day hike in a state park in north Georgia. Her body was later found in the Dawson Forest Wildlife Management area in Cumming, Ga. The Bryants disappeared last October after going to hike the Pisgah National Forest. Irene Bryant’s body found near the couple’s car, and John Bryant’s body was located in Macon County. Police have arrested and charged Gary Michael Hilton, 61, with the murder of Emerson and have said he’s a suspect in the death of the Bryants.
Gary Eblen, community outreach director for Buncombe County-based outfitters Diamond Brand Outdoors, said in an interview Friday that he watched Davis grow up as a star athlete at Hendersonville High School, where she played tennis with his daughter. She thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail a couple of years ago and got hooked on long-distance hiking, according to Eblen. Diamond Brand is sponsoring Davis’ hike by providing footwear and other assorted gear.
“We wanted to be her primary sponsors because she’s a hometown girl and she and I have a connection that goes way back,” says Eblen, adding that Davis expected to finish her trip Sunday. “I think it’s great that part of the deal is getting the message out there to women to take back the woods, we have a right to be there.”
If Davis completed her mission this weekend, she will have covered an average of about 37 miles a day by running and walking, and burned more than 4,000 calories a day.
Eblen says he’s certain Davis will reach her goal. “She’s a great role model for young girls.”