I just finished reading my advance copy of Becoming Odyssa by Jennifer Pharr Davis. In case you didn’t catch it, I profiled Davis in South Carolina Woman a couple of years ago. It was shortly after I attended a class with her at Warren Doyle’s Appalachian Trail Institute in Banner Elk, NC. I’ll post the old profile on the blog along with the digital version of this article if you’d like to read it.
As a past graduate she wasn’t attending the class. She was there more as a celebrity guest. Imagine a room full of Appalachian Trail neophytes, none of whom had through-hiked the entire trail, listening to a trail superstar. She had already thru-hiked the trail once and then gone back to set the women’s speed record. She’s done even more impressive long-distance feats since then, including the 272-mile Long Trail in Vermont where she set another speed record; the 2650-mile Pacific Crest Trail, considered to be longer and tougher than the Appalachian Trail; and the 1000-kilometer Bibbulman Track in Australia. Oh, and yeah, she also runs 50 mile ultra marathons for fun.
In my own coaching business I constantly preach that people should pair their passions with their work. Why go to a job all day everyday that you hate and miss out on doing what you love? It’s not always easy, but it’s so worth it to wake up every day looking forward to life. Davis lives this philosophy. She talks about it in her book, having spent some time trapped inside a building behind a desk when she’d much rather be outside with a 40-pound pack on her back. Aside from spending as much time as much as possible outdoors she also started a company named Blue Ridge Hiking Company where she helps others achieve their dreams.
Her first book, Becoming Odyssa, gains its title from her trail name. As a classics major in college, she likened her journey on the trail to that of Odysseus and related many of the events on her first thru-hike to that nearly endless voyage.
A thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail is a big item on my bucket list, so I read every Appalachian Trail book I can get my hands on. As I said when I e-mailed Jennifer after reading this one, this is the best AT book I have ever read. Most of the AT books read like poorly written diaries where you never really get to know the hiker and feel the experiences through their eyes. This one is just the opposite. Jennifer is the kind of person that you can automatically connect with. Having met Jennifer only one time in person and talked to her many times by phone or e-mail, I already felt like I knew her. After reading this book, I feel as if I’ve known her as a great friend all my life. She just opens up so much of her feelings, emotions, and thoughts and reveals everything to the reader. I’m sure it took an incredible amount of courage to do that, but it’s that effort that makes the book resonate so well. While reading this book I had so many laugh out loud moments that my kids were constantly asking, “What’s she doing now?”
It doesn’t matter if you are male or female, skinny or fat, outdoorsman or couch potato, if you’ve ever thought about doing a long-distance hike, then read Davis’ book. I would rate this book as more essential to the mental preparation for a long-distance hike than anything else you could do. After you read her book, go check out the Appalachian Trail Institute and spend some time with Warren Doyle. Then and only then would you be a step closer to ready for the trail.