Let's assume you are a "normal" person. You get up around 6:30 or 7, grab a bowl of cereal and savor your favorite joe. Off to work you go. Or, perhaps you have errands to run, kids to cart, and groceries to fetch. Sometime mid-day, you grab something for lunch as the afternoon bids more activity. You might even get in a run. "Ah..." Now, doesn't that make you feel accomplished?
With dinner time approaching, preparations are made, food consumed and as the sun lowers into the horizon, you relax with an after-dinner coffee and some TV or light reading. Soon enough, you glance at the clock and realize that you need to do the going-to-bed dance: wash up, brush teeth and hair (if you have any), put on your jammies. . .all while making mental note about the coming day. In between the covers you slip, clean and content after all the busyness. zzz's come quickly.
Now, pretend you are Jennifer Pharr-Davis. At the young age of 26, you are already an accomplished and well-respected athlete, writer and speaker. You have hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), the Long Trail, the Appalachian Trail (AT)twice-setting the women's world speed record in the process-and many other long, multi-day, multi-week adventures. But now, you decide to go after the overall AT speed record (read that, the men's record). Two years in the planning, you build a clandestine plan, letting few in on the secret. You must cut at least nine days from your previous best. A bodacious goal, if nothing else. But now the time has come.
You stand atop Mt. Katahdin at the northern terminus of the AT. Southward you march, traversing the rocky, rugged peaks and deep valleys. You are on a mission. You have a purpose. Every thing has been planned out and you dare not waste a step or an ounce of energy. To complete your self-assigned task, you cannot falter even for a day or your dream may collapse. Hike. Hike. Hike. You must overcome excruciating pain and overwhelming obstacles. Your world suddenly becomes very small; your steps pre-determined and mind focused.
But what does that really mean? It means that while most "normal" people sip their steaming cup of coffee, you will have already been on the trail, in the dark, alone, for two hours. It means that by the time others arrive at work, you will already have many miles on your feet. Now hike to the next road crossing. Sit. Put your feet up. Eat. Drink. Review the upcoming section. Have your pack filled. Stand up. Start again.
By the time "normal" people eat lunch, you will still be hiking hard with another ten hours to go. But you dare not think in those terms. It must be section to section. Road crossing to road crossing. Ridge to valley and back to ridge. And when it gets tough, it's tree to tree, repeated countless times in a day; every day for 40-some days. There is no option to take a rain delay or a siesta in the shade. You must push on.
When supper rolls around, you revolt at the thought of more food. You have been eating and drinking all day. Having to consume 6000 calories is no fun. Chewing takes too much energy, everything tastes the same. But still, you force feed yourself because motion is impossible without fuel.
There is no evening news or TV for you. You have, as Robert Frost so eloquently stated, "miles to go before I sleep." Instead, as the sun dips below the farthest peak, you have more mountains to conquer. The woods become surreal, the last, lingering rays playing tricks on your eyes. Yet, you hold off pushing the on switch of your headlamp. The noises of the forest escalate. A deer snorts and runs off. You become in tuned with the birds as they sing their evening songs, the crickets as they chirp, the chipmunks and squirrels as they scamper, and yes, as the mama bear growls. The darkness envelopes; it embraces. You are alone in a vast and wooded space. Sometimes you take it all in. Sometimes you shut it out. You move relentlessly forward.
You know what has to be done. The mileage you must obtain does not jive with the convenient road crossings or comfy hotels. Rather, you count on your crew to gather tents, sleeping bags, food, water and clothes. At least you will have company for the night. You tackle a few more miles that will cap the day, many times in excess of fifty miles. In a carefully orchestrated process, you sponge off with baby wipes, the scent of those moist towelettes permanently recorded in your senses. You eat your reconstituted hiker meal-in-a-bag, brush your teeth and crawl into the tent set up for you. The alarm will allow for six hours of sleep. No more. No less. You drift off, glad the day is behind, trying not to think of the day ahead.
Though set, the alarm seldom sounds at 4:45 am. Your body clock knows when it's time. You start eating your processed breakfast, mend your feet and slide them into shoes still damp from sweat and the nighttime dew. Then you stand at 5:00 am and take yet another step that leads you closer to Springer Mountain, GA, the southern terminus. You are well ahead of record pace but know you cannot let down. You must persevere. You must know that your quest requires more inexplicably hard work. More perseverance. But more sweet, sweet satisfaction in continuing.
Your goal, however, is more than a record; a record that astounds the mind and seems unfathomable to mere mortals. The journey is about using God-given talent to bring glory to the Father, being a light in the darkness, an ambassador of all things wonderful and wild. It is your story to live; your story to tell. So you walk swiftly on. . .and on. . .and on. You are Jennifer Pharr-Davis. No one else could do this.
This story was inspired by hiking with, aiding, talking and laughing with Jennifer for the last 3.5 days. Jenn, you are an incredible woman who inspires and motivates simply by being. You are grounded in your faith and focused on leading a life pleasing to your God. You are mature beyond your years. I have come to love you and care for you deeply. Thank you for the privilege to serve you in this way.
You can follow Jenn's journey on http://draft.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=7411028237459709692#editor/target=post;postID=1108140863421385273 or find her on Facebook.