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Adventurers of the Year: Hiker Jennifer Pharr Davis

For seven years, National Geographic has combed the globe to find Adventurers of the Year, each selected for his or her extraordinary achievement in exploration, conservation, and adventure sports. This year, our Adventure editors, in partnership with Glenfiddich, selected men and women who are pioneering innovation in the world of adventure.

Here on Intelligent Travel we will be profiling the 2012 Adventurers of the Year. Check them out, then vote (through January 18) for your favorite to win the People’s Choice Award.

Meet Hiker Jennifer Pharr Davis

By Fitz Cahall

“Records are made to be broken,” says long-distance hiker Jennifer Pharr Davis. “It’s not the number. The method and the approach are what matters more at the end of the day.”

For the last 40 years, men have held the Appalachian Trail record. In the last 20, it’s been confined to an elite club of ultra runners who typically covered the requisite 30 to 50 miles per day in an 11- to 13-hour period. Conventional wisdom suggested that breaking the record would mean running faster with the same strategy. And a new record holder would most certainly be male.

Pharr Davis, 28, took the standard strategy and turned it upside down. Moving from north to south, she covered the trail’s 2,181 miles by hiking for 16 hours a day beginning at 4:45 in the morning and walking well into darkness. To stick to an average pace of 47 miles a day, she slept on the trail or at road crossings to eliminate needless commute times to and from the trail. Her husband, Brew Davis, served as the support crew.

Pharr Davis trained by hiking rather than running—and the novel approach worked. By the time she reached the trail’s southern terminus at Springer Mountain, Georgia, she had trimmed 26 hours off the previous record with a time of 46 days, 11 hours, and 20 minutes.

“Exploration can be twofold. It can be going to a new location or it can mean pushing through a physical boundary,” says Pharr Davis. “We were exploring what people thought was possible, for what was possible on the Appalachian Trail, and what was possible for a woman and a hiker.”

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