Hiking the Appalachian Trail in record time, and with a purpose

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.”


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12 thoughts on “Hiking the Appalachian Trail in record time, and with a purpose

  1. zen

    Well, i’m all for memorializing the no longer living and doing something to improve awareness of an issue, but hiking the AT in record breaking time just seems silly. One summer i did most of VA, MD and PA of the trail and had to really work to keep up my speed. I guess to me the AT is about the journey of slowing down and appreciating what is there, learning from quiet and careful observation and the comraderie of the AT’s “community that moves.” I applaud her for her strength and commitment, but not so much for her hurried stride.

    To each their own, and more power to us.

  2. See Bee

    Jennifer Pharr Davis finished her supported SOBO thru-hike at 3:03pm yesterday (Sat. 8/16) to set a new women’s endurance record for the AT.

    Wow!!!! Way to go Jennifer!!!!

  3. travelah

    I agree with you on this. Even though I think her efforts are commendable I don’t think this should be viewed as a “record” unless all that matters is the time spent between Katahdin and Springer. Setting a record by spending every night in a comfortable bed with family doesn’t ring soundly as much of a record …. but as you stated, to each their own.

  4. See Bee

    Jen averaged 51.1 mpd her last four full days on the trail (Davenport Gap to Neels Gap)

  5. traildog

    There’s a saying among thru-hikers and section hikers, “Hike you own hike.” In other words, different strokes for different folks. From slackpacking to speedhiking, there’s a number of ways to get from point a to point b, southbouth or northbound. However, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy discourages the practice and does not recognize these attempts as an “official” record. Personally, I think we have enough competition in our daily lives so why bring it on to the trail?

    I commend Jennifer’s dedication, performance and her mission to memorialize Meredith Emerson and the Bryants, however the competitive feat lacks a little creativity and duplicates a relative routine accomplishment (over 9000 thru-hikers have completed the entire trail). The AT is a special footpath which reaches out well beyond the 14 states it traverses and regardless of how fast or slow the experience, it has a lasting impression. I’m immersed in both cultures (section hiker and trail runner). My take is to perform personal records and competitions at organized events and walk untethered on the trail.

  6. glenn adams: Wolfscratch

    An Amazing Olympic Feat that took place here in the US, and for the most part was invisible. I guess when you hike the ‘Apalacian Trail’ as fast as Jennifer Pharr, you are only a blurr…
    Jennifer Pharr, is dedicating this hike in Memory of Meredith Hope Emerson. It is amazing to me that Meredith, made such a huge impact on so many, …
    prairiechicken.blogspot.com/2008/06/nonprofit-established-in-remembrance-of.html – 67k – Cached – Similar pages

    Jennifer did it!


    Jennifer Pharr Davis finished her supported SOBO thru-hike at 3:03pm yesterday (Sat. 8/16) to set a new women’s endurance record for the AT.

    57 days 8 hours 38 minutes

    On Springer to celebrate with her was her husband (and tremendous support crew person) Brew, her Dad (who competently drove support the last 5 days while Brew returned to work), David Horton (former AT/LT record holder and current PCT record holder, myself (former AT/LT record holder), Brew’s mother and father, and Jen’s photographer friend.

    I feel privileged to have been a part of this Olympian-like accomplishment, especially the last four days when Jen’s dad, David and I worked so well together in support of Jen.

    Jen averaged 51.1 mpd her last four full days on the trail (Davenport Gap to Neels Gap). We met her eight times each of the last full two days and six times the last day into Springer. David was a great on-trail ‘extra’ motivator walking several sections of trail with Jen.

    It was very memorable and I am still amazed on how ‘easy’ both Jen and Brew made it look. She averaged approximately 37.8 mpd with no blisters and her only ‘injury’ was a swollen ankle for a few days in Maine early on.
    Warren Doyle
    30,000-miler (and counting)

    She can now, ‘Go Rest High’, on that Mountain!


  7. skippy

    did she really “[spend] every night in a comfortable bed with family”? i missed that part of the story.

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