Taking the first step can be a matter of expectation, but when plans don’t go as expected, it’s good to have friends, especially when those steps involve hiking with kids.
Although 2012 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year Jennifer Pharr Davis broke the Appalachian Trail’s overall speed record in 2011, it was not enough to keep her from being nervous as she started her 2016 hike of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail with her family.
“There’s a lot that I’m scared of heading into this endeavor and that feels both awful and wonderful,” wrote Davis in her blog as she prepared to start her 1,175-mile journey across North Carolina. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to fail.”
Davis did not fail; however, there were moments when she was not sure they would make it as early as the second day.
It was at the Smokemont Campground in Cherokee that her husband Brew exhibited symptoms of a heart attack.
With a 4-year-old and a toddler on the trail and a following that extended beyond the state, Davis continued to be concerned after the diagnosis of pericarditis.
Although medically cleared, Davis was still concerned and the miles seemed longer; however, help was on hand.
“If we were on any other path, in any other state, I doubt we would have made it this far,” said Davis at the end of the second week.
“Immediately people stepped up and stepped in to help us on our journey. We had friends offer to shuttle me to the trailhead, family members took turns watching our kids, once or twice there was food delivered to the trail or to our doorstep.
“We are thankful for the medical care that Brew has received and the additional help that has been provided by friends and family,” said Davis.
As much as the support of the people along the trail, it was sharing special moments as a family that kept Davis enduring.
“Reasons like the view we shared as a family at Waterrock Knob, the footprints of a bear blazing the trail in Middle Prong Wilderness, and the IPA and sweet potato fries at Boojum Brewery in Waynesville,” she said.
It was also unparalleled personal moments that gave Davis strength.
“On day seven I hiked up to an isolated rock outcropping along the Balsam crest and watched the total eclipse. For a full minute the temperature plunged and the world went black before a flood of color and warmth returned. Sometimes it takes someone turning off the lights and flipping them back on for you to appreciate what is right in front of you.”
What was right in front of Davis for more than 1,000 miles was a trail that lead her through towns like Elkin, where the Davis family stayed with Cindy and Wayne Martin and Dave Petri in Mount Airy.
The Davis family met Petri through the Gathering of the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail last year when Petri’s company, Nester Hosiery’s Farm To Feet, helped sponsor the 40th anniversary gala.
The Gathering for 2018, and extensive activities throughout the town, will take place Friday through Sunday this year.
Yadkin Valley residents do not need to rely on the Gathering to experience the MST the way the Davis family did because the MST runs through downtown Elkin.
“Charley, Gus and I had a great meal in Elkin at Royall’s Soda Shoppe,” said Brew, “a world famous hot dog with fresh-squeezed orangeade.”
Brew and the children also liked the food in Mount Airy.
“Charley, Gus, and I spent some time on Main Street in Mount Airy. We had a pork chop sandwich at Snappy Lunch then got an apple crisp pie at Miss Angel’s Heavenly Pies,” said Brew. “We liked it so much we went back the next day to get a chocolate pie.”
It wasn’t only the food that the Davis family appreciated as they toured the area by way of the trail with Brew playing a set at the Sweet Potato Festival at the Rockford General Store in Rockford.
Davis was also thankful for the people she and her family met along the journey.
“I love sharing the trail with folks of all sorts,” said Davis, “but it is especially encouraging to put in 10.4 miles with [Todd Gothberg] who spends the miles affirming my capabilities, challenging my capacity, and reminding while personal success comes from finishing the trail, the greatest significance of any journey is the impact it has on those around you.”
The impact Davis and her family hope to have is awareness and preservation of the MST.
“This hike will only be successful if we are able to further the expansion and protection of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail for our state, our communities, and our children,” said Davis.
“The MST is here for anyone and everyone, especially for the folks who live and work in North Carolina. This is our state, our path. The path’s largest impact will be felt by individuals and families across the state who transform their bodies, think through their thoughts, and grapple honestly with their emotions on a section near their home. Regardless of whether you are walking across the state or hiking in your backyard, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail allows us to be who we are and discover who we can become.”
Davis will be one of several speakers during the gathering of the Friends of The Mountains-to-Sea Trail this weekend. For more information, go to mountainstoseatrail.org/gathering-of-friends/.
Beanie Taylor can be reached at 336-258-4058 or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TBeanieTaylor.