In 2011, Davis hiked the 3,500 km Appalachian Trail in 46 days, maintaining an average of 75 km per day. It was a record for both men and women. (Submitted)

‘I’d never even won a five km race’: Appalachian Trail record holder speaks in Revelstoke

Jennifer Davis was named National Geographic Adventurer of the year in 2011

Although Jennifer Davis hiked the Appalachian Trail three times she said it’s not the hardest thing she has done.

Hiking in Iceland while in the third trimester of pregnancy was harder. However, most people don’t ask about that.

“Maybe it’s because half the population cannot comprehend what that’s like.”

On July 20, Davis gave a presentation at the Revelstoke Library about her adventures. In total, she has covered over 20,000 km of trails on six continents.

In 2011, Davis hiked the 3,500 km Appalachian Trail in 46 days, maintaining an average of 75 km per day. It was a record for both men and women. The average hike time for the trail is six months.

Each year, roughly 4,000 people set off, hiking from Georgia to Maine. However, only 800 finish.

“You’d be surprised who makes it. It’s not always who you think,” said Davis.

Davis was introduced in 2005 to the Appalachian Trail when she was 21.

“There’s pressure when you finish school to have it all figured out.”

Davis stopped in Revelstoke with her kids and husband on a road trip from North Carolina. (Submitted)

Instead, Davis walked.

“The things I learned on the trail changed me in a way school never could.”

For example, she met a clingy fellow hiker. She tried to shake him, but nothing worked. She eventually sprinted behind a rhododendron bush with her belly in the dirt. Hoping he wouldn’t notice.

“That’s when I realized, I could not spend my life hiding.”

If she had mentioned she wanted to hike alone, Davis said, he would have left.

“It was a lesson on how to make boundaries.”

Davis also learned about beauty.

“I never saw my face. I saw it in the reflection of others. If I made them smile or laugh, it made me feel pretty.”

When not hiking, Davis could not stop thinking about the trail. So, she returned. In 2008, she got the speed record for women at 57 days, which was 10 days behind the men’s.

“I was disappointed,” Davis said.

Davis felt she had limited herself. She expected to be slower than men and therefore was.

“My body told me I could do better but my brain told me to stop.”

When Davis and her husband started thinking about having kids, Davis wanted to try for the speed record. One last time.

“With a kid, my body would no longer be my own.”

Hiking on Benton Mackaye Trail, an almost 500 km trail in the southeastern U.S. (Submitted)

This was for herself. Something to hold onto later in life.

By trying to get the speed record for both men and women, Davis would have to go faster than ultra-marathoners.

“I’d never even won a five-km race.”

In 2011, she set off for the third time. By day three, she had shin splints.

“Going up was excruciating. Down was unbearable.”

By the time she hit New Hampshire, she was hiking backwards. By Vermont, she fell ill. She was hiking less than two kilometres an hour.

Davis wanted to go home.

Yet, when the medicine kicked in, she had a revelation.

Davis said she was on the trail to find her record, not the trails. So, she pushed on.

“I’d wake up each day and ask: What is the best I can do?”

Once she let go of the record, she hiked faster and further.

“Man. I had no idea how oppressive it had been.”

Nevertheless, she still got the record and became National Geographic Adventurer of the Year.

Time spent on the trail forever changed Davis’ life. She said the mindset of endurance is incredibly helpful, especially as a mom.

“Some days my best doesn’t feel enough.”

Compared to other parents, she might not cook as much or write a clever note from the tooth fairy, like the mom down the street.

When she becomes demoralized, Davis thinks of her accomplishments and knows she can push on.

“Endurance is a human trait. We all deal with it every day.”


 

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Davis stopped in Revelstoke with her kids and husband on a road trip from North Carolina. (Submitted)

Hiking on Benton Mackaye Trail, an almost 500 km trail in the southeastern U.S. (Submitted)

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