By Annabelle Ady
FOR INLAND 360
An odyssey is a long, complicated journey, usually marked by many changes of fortune. It could be a quest for a goal or a spiritual or psychological journey.
Odysseus, the hero of Homer’s “Odyssey,” spends 20 years traveling home from the Trojan War. He has many adventures and learns about himself and the world. Much like Odysseus, Odyssa, a.k.a. Jennifer Pharr Davis, of Asheville, N.C., spends most of her time on long trails where she faces dangerous situations and overcomes challenges which “have been a valuable teacher,” according to her blog.
Davis, 36, is the author of five books and was named a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year in 2012. She has covered more than 14,000 miles of long distance trails on six continents. In 2011 she traversed the 2,185-mile Appalachian Trail in 46 days, 11 hours and 20 minutes, with an average of 47 miles per day, becoming the first woman to set this record.
Saturday she’ll stop in Lewiston for a walk and to talk about her latest book, “The Pursuit of Endurance: Mastering the Art of Resiliency.”
Before her visit Inland 360 asked her a few questions.
What drives you to hike long distances?
Jennifer: Well, I just love being outdoors, and there was a period of life where I was also really interested in testing my limits and pushing my endurance. I was able, when I was younger, to do some of the long trails. Then, when I had less time because of work and family, I tried for a couple of records on the trail, which were very challenging but took way shorter time. They were still just as equally rewarding, in a different way, for me.
Now I have young kids, so my hiking is very different. I’m usually out with my family, or I backpack two weeks a year alone. Mainly I just really love being outside and walking through the woods.
What made you want to challenge yourself?
Jennifer: I think it’s a pretty natural part of human existence to try to explore our capabilities and know what we are able to do. For me, personally, being able to challenge myself was a new way to experience the trails, and then it became pretty specific to me, as a female, to feel like I was an equal on the trail because my body was doing the same things the men were doing that were record holders. In the past there were mental gender barriers out there, and there was certainly a lot of popular thought that said women couldn’t compete for a trail record. So, I changed my thoughts, and I started to believe that I could.
What’s the most dangerous situation that you have encountered?
Jennifer: I have dealt with being high in the mountains and storms coming in quickly — definitely moments where adrenaline kicks in — but overall I don’t feel unsafe. There have been some storms and wild animals that have put me on my toes, but for the most part I feel very safe outdoors.
What’s your favorite trail?
Jennifer: My favorite trail is the Appalachian Trail. I’ve spent the most time on it. It’s changed my life the most, and it’s very biodiverse — lots of different plants, very forested and I love hiking through the forest.
How did you get the nickname Odyssa?
Jennifer: Well, it’s common when you hike long trails that you get a trail name, which is a nickname that you use while hiking. At first, when other hikers were trying to give me a trail name, because I was 6-feet-tall they all wanted to call me “Stretch” or “Amazon” or
“Sasquatch,” and I just didn’t want any of those names; they ripped open the old wounds of middle school. So I compared the trail to Homer’s “Odyssey” and someone said, ‘You should be Odysseus,’ which is the main character. I liked that, but I didn’t want to have a male trail name because I felt that there were a lot of guys out there already, so I chose Odyssa and that’s been my trail name ever since.
How do you plan your travels?
Jennifer: Oh, I don’t. My husband, he loves it. He loves planning these big road trips and book tours. He’s just this logistical wizard, and it makes it really nice because he puts it all together and I just show up and talk to groups.
IF YOU GO
WHO: Jennifer Pharr Davis.
WHEN: Saturday, July 27
4 p.m. Walk along the Lewiston Levee Parkway Trail with her husband Brew Davis.
5 p.m. Talk about her latest book followed by a Q&A.
6 p.m. Book signing.
WHERE: Lewiston City Library, second floor event space, 411 D St.
COST: Free. Books will be available for purchase from BookPeople of Moscow.