Becoming Odyssa by Jennifer Pharr Davis
Beaufort Books • $15.95 • ISBN 9780825305689
paperback published June 1, 2011
Here at BookPage I am the resident "crazy hiker" who's always talking about my most recent backpacking weekend or my next hiking adventure. Bits and pieces of the Appalachian Trail have been included in my adventures over the years, but I've never had the desire to tackle thru-hiking the entire 2,100+ miles. It just seems to be too daunting of an undertaking, especially at my age! (For you non-hikers out there, thru-hiking means walking the entire trail from start to finish as one hiking event. It takes most AT thru-hikers about 5 months to complete the trail. And, typically only about 25% of those who start actually make it to completion.)
Of course, my other favorite past time is reading, so a book about hiking the AT always catches my attention. Enter Becoming Odyssa by Jennifer Pharr Davis, a memoir about her adventure on the AT as a novice hiker right after college graduation.
I picked up an advance copy last fall and began reading earnestly. However, as I read the section about the Great Smoky Mountains, I became incredulous that she could hike those 72 arduous miles of the AT (many of which I am indeed familiar with) in such a short time. I must admit that I put the book aside and it quickly got buried in my "to be read" stack. Fast forward to about a month ago when I discovered that this same young woman was thru-hiking the trail for the third time in an attempt to break the men's speed hiking record (she established the women's speed record on her second AT hike in 2008). Now that got my attention, and I started following her husband's blog posts about her daily progress. I found myself thinking about her on the trail every day as I was sitting inside escaping the bitter summer heat. And, I'm thrilled to say that she DID IT this past Sunday—she hiked the entire 2,181 miles in just 46 days, 11 hours and 20 minutes, breaking the previous (men's!) record by 26 hours. She averaged hiking more than 47 miles every day for 46 days straight. Yep, that's right...
So, how did a young college graduate with little hiking experience, go from struggling to hike the AT for the first time in 2005 to becoming the record holder for speed hiking the trail in 2011? That's what I'm discovering as I'm reading—it's not so much a story of the trail as it is a story of self-discovery. It's an epic transformation that doesn't require being a hiker to appreciate! Here's an excerpt:
Having arrived at the mountain after the four hardest months of my life, I viewed my climb to the rocky apex as merely the means to an end—the end of physical hardship, the end of emotional distress, the end of unsavory encounters, and the end of spiritual unrest. I swore to myself that I would never come back to this mountain, and that I would never again entertain the idea of thru-hiking.
God must have been laughing down on me as I made those short-sighted vows, for what I didn't realize at that time was that my climb up Katahdin had not marked the end of a journey, but rather the beginning of a new life. I had no idea that the trials and tribulations I faced as a twenty-one-year-old woman hiking the Appalachian Trail would so deeply impact who I am, what I believe, and how I want to live. And I certainly would never have guessed that my epic misadventure on the AT would lead to an enduring love of long-distance hiking.
If you are interested in reading about Jennifer Pharr Davis' quest, read her blog.
My next hiking adventure begins in 16 days in Alaska! Where would you like to go on your next adventure? What book(s) will you be taking with you?