One of the most salient trends in the United States concerns the status of women in higher education. In the year 2010, just shy of 57% of university degrees were awarded to women. That is an incredible shift from 50 years ago, when less than 10% of college graduates were female. Sooner or later, this trend will be reflected at the very top echelons of major corporations and political offices.
America’s hiking trails are also seeing an inexorable shift in this direction. An estimated 30% of hikers on the famed Appalachian trail are now women. Thirty years ago, that number would have been less than 10%.
Consider the case of Jennifer Pharr Davis. Mrs. Davis is a 29 year-old resident of Asheville, N.C. She began hiking after college and has hiked over 9,000 miles on 6 continents. She holds the women’s record on the Appalachian Trail of 57 days. That means she average 38 miles per day. Compare that to myself. It took me 171 days to thru-hike the AT. And there is only one thing I am sure of if I ever tried to thru-hike it again. It would take me even longer than the 171 days it took me in 2005. It was one helluva’ struggle just to make it to northern Maine and beat winter.
Jennifer Davis is now planning in 2011 to break the MEN’s AT speed record of 47 days 13 hours, and 31 minutes. That means she is going to need to average 46 miles per day. My biggest day ever was 34 miles, including hiking into the night. Mrs. Davis, on the other hand, hiked 64 miles in one day on her 2008 record-breaking hike. She started at 3 in the morning, and didn’t finish until after dark.
Her 2011 record attempt will be supported by her mentor, Warren Doyle, who holds the AT record of 16 end-to-end hikes. Also supporting her will be former AT and PCT speed record holder David Horton. Needless to say, this one will be worth watching. She’s obviously a truly fabulous hiker, as well as athlete. As Warren Doyle says, “Breaking the record is just as remarkable and athletic of an achievement as getting a gold in the Olympics.”
But to do the entire AT in 47 days? I honestly think it’s a close call. It could depend on what kind of weather breaks she gets, and whether she can stay injury free. I’ll go ahead and set the odds. I’ll give her a 50-50 shot at pulling it off. I, for one, will be pulling for her.
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