Traveling the world to hike thousands of miles, setting world records and encountering life-changing events are just some of the experiences the Foxcroft School’s keynote speaker talked about last weekend.
Jennifer Pharr Davis, 34, addressed a group of 150 girls at the school Saturday in Middleburg, after being named the 2017-2018 Allison Harrison Goodyear Fellow. Davis is a record-breaking hiker, having trekked more than 13,000 miles on six continents and traversed the Appalachian Trail three times.
Her most recent hike on the trail between Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine even earned her the overall speed record, as she completed the 2,190-mile journey in 46 days. She is also National Geographic’s 2012 “Adventurer of the Year.”
Davis’ talk on Saturday came during the school’s first ever Wellness Weekend, which focused on activities and seminars that emphasized girls’ emotional and physical development. Wellness Program Director Meghen Tuttle said the program focuses heavily on internal and external struggle and teamwork, which she said Davis exemplifies.
“She has all of these cool experiences to come and tell,” she said. “These are all things we try to emphasize with the girls. She’s cool.”
In talking about her hiking experience, Davis brought everything back to a common reality by touching on the themes of perseverance, strategy, teamwork and self-worth.
“I never felt as beautiful as I did when I was hiking the trail,” she told the girls. “I realized that I was part of all that.”
Saylor Hart, a senior at Foxcroft, said Davis empowered her by talking about ignoring the external pressures in society to better focus on individual goals.
“I think that it’s really important to do kind of that self-searching and that inner soul searching rather than looking to please those around you,” she said. “I think that was my biggest takeaway.”
Tuttle said the school selected Davis as this year’s fellow and keynote speaker because she has a different kind of story to tell. Davis’ first hike on the Appalachian Trail came as a solo trip in 2005 at the age of 21. Starting her hike in Georgia as a novice with her brother’s old Boy Scout gear, her hike was anything but a typical backpacking trip.
“I wanted to have an adventure after graduating college and before starting my career,” Davis said. “It was super challenging.”
Along the way, Davis was struck by lightning, gained the unwanted company of a male hiker, had her eye frozen shut in a snowstorm, got 137 mosquito bites in one day and found herself as the first person to arrive on the scene of a suicide.
“I didn’t expect it to be so transformational,” she said. “It kind of became the foundation for what I’ve been doing ever since.”
What Davis has been doing since then is hiking all over the world. She has hiked the Camino de Santiago in Spain, the Cotahuasi Canyon alongside missionaries in Peru, multiple trails around Hong Kong and in mainland China, the 19,000-foot-tall Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa and the 600-mile Bibbulmun Track in Australia, which is modeled after the Appalachian Trail.
Even after all of her journeys abroad, Davis said her favorite trail to hike is still the Appalachian. In fact, hiking internationally has made her appreciate the trail more than ever, with all its biodiversity and friendly community of hikers.
“It’s just kind of the best of everything,” she said. “It’s my first love so it stays special.”
After hiking the trail for the first time 13 years ago, she decided to hike it again just 12 days after marrying her husband, Brew, in 2008. This time, she hiked the trail in 57 days. It was at that point that she thought about setting a record. Three years later, she did that. In 2011, Davis hiked the trail in 46 days, 11 hours and 20 minutes to set the overall speed record among men and women, hiking an average of 46 miles each day.
“I’m really, really glad I had that experience,” she said. “Every day I’m glad I did it.”
Now married with two young children, Davis’ plans to set records and go on long excursions have died down a bit. She is, however, planning to hike the 300-mile Pinhoti Trail in Alabama and Georgia this year.
Her newest book, “The Pursuit of Endurance,” is also set for release in April. Davis said the book includes stories from other successful hikers and how they have matured through their journeys, just as Davis has.