Of the open road

“You road I enter upon and look around! I believe you are not all that is here; I believe that much unseen is also here.”
–Walt Whitman, Song of an Open Road

A few weeks ago, I chanced upon a story about one Jennifer Pharr Davis of North Carolina, who hiked the entire Appalachian Trail in 46 days. She broke the previous record of 47 days. (If completing it in one season, most people allow between four and six months.) She, like the earlier record-holder, had support. Neither did it in the usual way: backpacking during the day and camping at night. In Davis’ case, her husband Brew met her several times daily with food and other provisions. At night they either camped or stayed in places in town.

Other friends and family came along for support as well.

An amazing feat. At her pace, she averaged more than 45 miles a day, much of it into the night and early-morning hours. The trail measures more than 2,100 miles, stretching from Georgia to Maine. (Davis walked it north to south.)

Other than a spirit of competition, what is it that makes someone not only consider such a trek, but what is in the person’s core that allows her to push through such challenge and pain?

It’s mostly mental, they say. You can have the best material goods at hand and still drop out. And in my mind, I think it’s more than that. The drive to complete such a daunting task has to come from deep within, from the places unseen that ol’ Walt wrote about.

Davis was familiar enough with the A.T., having hiked it twice, in 2005 and 2008. (Her book, “Becoming Odyssa,” details her first hike which was more traditional than this year’s supported hike. She was 21 then, and just fresh out of college.)

Either method, of six weeks or six months, takes perseverance. Yet to storm through it basically in six weeks’ time offers a lesson in uber-mettle, coming from a place In the deep.


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