Called Again to the Appalachian Trail

Some of you will understand what I mean about being ‘called’ to the Appalachian Trail. Some of you won’t, but I hope you’ll sit with me for just a minute and let me explain.

June 1st was National Trails Day. It’s a holiday and a bit of an excuse to go hit the trails and encourage others to do the same. If you’re trail-addicted like me, you don’t need much of an excuse. It never hurts to have a good reason, though, when you’re inviting other people. For me, the draw is usually the AT. I don’t see her much, as I live too far away for frequent visits. I’ve never hiked her beautiful length the entire way. We’ve only spent time together here and there. But still I’m drawn back to her again and again.

One of my plans is to section hike the entire trail with my kids before they graduate high school. We homeschool, so that makes it a little bit easier, but it’s still a huge task. We started that task this past weekend by visiting Springer Mountain GA, the southern terminus of the trail. I thought it would be very symbolic to start the boys off at the beginning and also give them a small taste of what’s to come. The approach trail to Springer is also fairly short and not too strenuous. In fact, my 2yo Eleazar hiked the entire way.

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They all loved it and we’ll certainly be back again for the next section as the trail calls us back.

Another reason I thought fondly about the AT this time of year is because my friend Jennifer Pharr Davis’ latest book will hit the shelves in a couple of weeks. You may remember her from earlier articles or blogs and her first book Becoming Odyssa. Jennifer rates very high on my list of Top Ten Most Awesome People in the World. Her inaugural book was about her first thru hike of the AT. This next book Called Again chronicles her successful venture to break both the men’s and women’s speed record for an AT completion.

You might think a book of that nature is all about the speed or the hiking. It’s not. Both the speed and the hiking are secondary to the relationships. That’s what comes through for me in Jennifer’s writings. It’s her relationship with nature, with other hikers, and with her family and friends. I’ve only met her in person for a short time when I attended the Appalachian Trail Institute hosted by Dr. Warren Doyle. From that first glimpse of her, to her lecture, and then never seeing her again as she left early the next morning to put in a long section hike before heading home made such a distinct impression on me that I count myself tremendously lucky to have met her.

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I wouldn’t say that her first thru hike pushed relationships to the brink, although it did pose unique challenges to people who didn’t understand the trail. Called Again is a little different because the purpose and nature of this thru hike are vastly different. All the relationships involved including the one with her internal self are pushed to the breaking point. Because of this book I have a new appreciation for her, her husband Brew, and what it takes to break a record of this magnitude. I also met a side of Jennifer through this book that I didn’t know before. She can be pretty scary when she’s hyper-focused. I look on in awe but only from a safe distance while I read.

If you’re at all interested in the Appalachian Trail, outdoor journeys, or stories of perseverence, go straight to Amazon and order her book. It doesn’t come out for a little bit, so I have a plan for you. Go ahead and order her first book Becoming Odyssa and read it first. You’ll have it finished before Called Again hits your mailbox. You’ll gain a ton of insight into Jennifer’s motivations and calling by reading both.

And to answer the question of what you should do to celebrate reaching the summit of Springer Mountain…you should grab a seat and read Jennifer’s book.

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Book Review- Becoming Odyssa by Jennifer Pharr Davis

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.