Speaking for the Trees

01 Jun 2023

Next Steps for hiking legend Jennifer Pharr Davis


As North Carolina celebrates The Year of the Trail, famed hiker, author, and successful businesswoman Jennifer Pharr Davis shares how trail life shaped her view of herself and the world around her.  Although a native North Carolinian, Pharr Davis didn’t explore the vast outdoor recreational opportunities of this region until tackling her first thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) in 2005, a journey of discovery that she documented in her first book Becoming Odyssa:  Epic Adventures on the Appalachian Trail: “I used to think that people perceived me based on how I looked, but now that I don’t see my face, I feel like people perceive me by how I treat them—that is, by what I say to them and how well I listen. Now I feel beautiful when I make other people smile.”

Since her first A.T. thru-hike, Pharr Davis has clocked more than 14,000 miles on six continents, established a lucrative outdoor adventure company, launched a professional speaking business, and authored nine books.  Her dream was to “engage people with the outdoors,” and now her aspirations include exploring the “intersection of politics and conservation.” After 20 years of work and life experience, Pharr Davis looks forward to learning more about how to make large-scale change happen as she works toward earning a Master’s of Public Affairs from the University of California, Berkeley. Shifting into the world of policy and politics may appear to be drastic for someone who is at home in nature, but Pharr Davis acknowledges that hiking forced her to adapt, leading her to overcome the fear of the unknown, and to grow, learn, and give back to her environment. It is precisely the desire to grow that sparked her recent decision to sell her Asheville-based Blue Ridge Hiking Company, which she began over 15 years ago. “I knew I wouldn’t be personally growing if I stayed.”

Pharr Davis explains that she and her husband Brew Davis maintain an effective work-life balance by considering everything through the filter of one question: “Is this good for our family?” The couple strives to raise their two children, ten-year-old Charley and six-year-old Gus, with a sense of adventure that naturally lends itself to flexibility with transitions.  In 2013, the couple hiked with daughter Charley in all 50 states, and in 2017, Pharr Davis completed the Mountains-to-Sea Trail while nursing her newborn son.  For some, hiking while nursing an infant might sound unusual or perhaps even impossible, but in her second book, Called Again: A Story of Love and Triumph, Pharr Davis chronicles her 2011 record-breaking Appalachian Trail thru-hike in which she discovered how “impossible” is simply a matter of perspective: “Somewhere along the journey I learned that much of what I thought was impossible was simply very, very difficult.” The wit, wisdom, and grit she learned from traversing rocky pathways and coping with unpredictable natural elements carry her into this new adventure as she prepares for lessons from a different kind of “trail.”

The words “policy” and “politics” connote images of paperwork and dreadfully long timelines for change; however, a more optimistic view includes “possibilities.” This resonates with Pharr Davis’ motivation for pursuing a degree in public affairs. “I want to understand how to create change within a narrow set of expectations.”  For her, conservation includes protecting the land and the people who live on and around it.  In her more recent book, I Come from a Place, Pharr Davis illustrates that historically the Appalachian region is one of kinship where neighbors naturally rely on one another for survival: “The strong sense of self-reliance in these hills is rivaled only by a dependence and appreciation of one’s neighbors.  The people of Appalachia are proud, often too proud, and unable to ask for help.  But, because of that, generosity abounds.  This is a region where you don’t have to ask to receive.”

Within this context, Pharr Davis shares that she wants to “tell stories of strong women” who care for their neighbors, such as her own neighbor Lavonda who is “one of the toughest women I know.”  Our individual actions affect our communities and our society as a whole; therefore, we must ask ourselves, “What is best for our neighbor?”  This means moving from a place of individuality to one of collaboration, a place where more hope exists. “There is room enough in these hills for differing ideas and styles to be defined and combined.  This is a land of life and creation, a long ridge of possibilities.” (I Come from a Place).

Selling Blue Ridge Hiking Company frees up fifty percent of Pharr Davis’ work time, allowing her to “reclaim her voice” as a writer and advocate for change.  Over the years, she worked diligently to ensure that both of her businesses, Blue Ridge Hiking Company and JPD Trailblazer Speaking & Writing, promoted sustainability initiatives.  For example, in the past two years, her hiking company planted a tree for every person who booked a hike with them, and when she books a flight to give a talk, she offsets the carbon emissions by donating to clean energy nonprofits, as well as offering to speak for free at a school in the area.  Last summer, she and her family partnered with Sawyer Products, a Florida-based water filtration company, on an international service trip.  They traveled to remote villages in Fiji to ensure the proper use of home water filtration systems and to follow up on how the established systems were working. On an Instagram post during the trip, Pharr Davis commented on her concerns about traveling with young children while also including them in the service work, “I worried they might make everything harder, but they actually made it so much easier.  They connect with people immediately.”

Connections and community are at the heart of what Pharr Davis hopes to promote through her speaking, writing, and advocacy efforts.  Although businesses may fear losing profits if they establish environmentally friendly policies, Pharr Davis explains that she found as she focused on creating “healthy places” and enacting sustainability initiatives, her businesses' long-term profits improved.  Change doesn’t come without challenges, and this summer, she’ll trade the cool mountain air of Western North Carolina for the warm, dry breezes of California where she will sacrifice precious family time in the short term as she begins her studies at Berkeley.  Referencing the six-week separation from her loved ones, Pharr Davis noted that she discussed it with her children by sharing from one of their favorite children’s books, The Lorax by Dr. Seuss, wherein the Lorax states that someone has “to speak for the trees.”

In 2020 when the world was consumed by the chaos of the pandemic, Pharr Davis released Positive Forward Motion, a short film about the significance of connecting with nature. “Time and time again, I saw the trail give people what they needed. This is a form of beauty, and encouraging people to find beauty and make time for beauty in their lives is important.” Coming from a place of practical experience uniquely positions her to use her voice to make a positive difference and encourage others to encounter the transformative power and beauty of the environment.  Earning a Master’s degree in Public Affairs is the next step in her journey to speak from a place of knowledge and understanding as she champions “all living things.”

Prev Post Fostering a Sense of Community
Next Post Ambitious Artistry and Pristine Execution
Mountainworks Custom Homes