Growing up in North Carolina for the first 21 years of her life, she was a high school and college athlete.
Up to that point, Jennifer Pharr Davis played sports such as basketball and tennis. She had run marathons, even completing an Ironman Florida (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, 26.2-mile run).
Almost anything . . . except hiking.
The now-professional hiker will tell her story in Aberdeen at 6 p.m. Tuesday in a free public event. It will be on the second level of the Northern State Student Center in Centennial rooms C and D.
Only an hour from where Pharr Davis grew up, she had never spent time on the 2,181-mile Appalachian Trail that goes through 14 states from Maine to Georgia. And she had spent three nights outdoors.
But at 21, Pharr Davis knew she wanted to have an adventure before entering the job market.
The Appalachian Trial — or the AT as she now calls her friend — sounded fun, challenging and full of the adventure she craved.
Five months later, she completed it. By herself. With the animals, her fears and an empowerment that seemed to grow with each step she took along the trail.
“Those first couple of nights, I was scared to death,” Pharr Davis said. “But the good part was that I had been hiking all day, and by the end of the day, I was so tired that I would only be scared for five minutes before falling asleep. It was the most physically challenging thing I had ever done. But it didn’t take long for me to get comfortable in the outdoors.”
She also did not know that it was a journey that would change her personal journey.
“I had 21 years of formal education. By the time I was done, I felt like I had learned more in the that five months than I had in the first 21 years of my life. It was the best thing I had ever done.
“It was humbling, empowering and uplifting. It redefined my ideas of self-sufficiency, self-worth and beauty. It was a game-changer for me, and it gave me so many life-changing tools.”
Pharr Davis left the trail to begin her career path, not realizing that she had just stepped off her real one.
“I had a great job,” she said. “I was working in a museum, which really fit because I was a history dork. I thought someday I would become an archaeologist because I loved being outside and playing in the dirt. But my heart was still on the trail, and it kept calling me back.”
So it went for her over the next few months and years. Work, save money, hike, work . . .
“Finally, I admitted I had a problem,” Pharr Davis laughed. “I was a hiker, not a worker.”
At 25, she started her own business, Blue Ridge Hiking Company. She soon would enter a second partnership when she married husband, Brew Davis in 2008. “Our main goal was and is to get people outdoors. We want them to know what we know, and to experience the beauty of the outdoors.”
The business now has many facets: Books she and her husband have written, motivational speaking engagements, guided hikes, workshops on hiking and how to get started.
They'll do anything to hit their target of getting people outdoors on their own terms.
In 2008, Pharr Davis was called back to the AT where she challenged herself to break the women’s record for the fastest completion of the trail. She did it in 57 days and 8 hours.