Jen on a picture-perfect mountain day

Since August 15, Jennifer Pharr Davis has been hiking the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in an effort to raise awareness — and money — for our statewide trail. On Thursday, September 20, you’ll have a chance to hear first-hand how her journey is going when she speaks in Winston-Salem at Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA). The event, sponsored by Great Outdoor Provision Co. and benefitting the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, is free, though a donation is requested. Learn more here.

As prelude to Thursday’s event, we tease you with 10 questions about her trek so far.

1. You’re known for speed hiking, but your photos along the MST so far have shown a cultivated eye for appreciating the little wonders along the way. Is it a challenge to balance these two sides

Records are about endurance not speed. The number of miles you hike in a given day doesn’t dictate what you notice or how much you enjoy the trail. I have hiked more than 14,000 miles of long trails. The majority of my walking would be considered a moderate jaunt, but I have have also logged more slow miles than most people. I am an amateur naturalist and forager, and try to soak up the beauty and details regardless of hiking cadence.

Did we mention Jen is hiking some with her family, including pre-1-year-old Gus and 4-year-old Charley?

2. What’s been the biggest reward of hiking with your kids?

Wearing them out! LOL. Seriously, there are so many rewards that come from hiking with children. Their curiosity is infectious. They appreciate things that seem common or average to adults. You can see their sense of pride and self worth increase when they accomplish something that was difficult for them. The fact that hiking is free, healthy, and available year-round makes it our go-to family activity.

3. What’s been the biggest challenge of hiking with your kids?

We have had some pretty challenging and, in retrospect, hilarious diaper changes on the trail. But I think the biggest challenge that comes with hiking as a family it is to let go of your expectations. When we hike with our kids we are focused on making it a positive experience for everyone involved. We let go of our mileage goal when we hike with our kids we are focused on making it a positive experience for everyone involved. That means being OK hiking slowly, turning around at any given point, and excepting that the M&Ms in your trail mix will go missing.

Jen says her thing isn’t speed, but rather endurance: hiking lots of miles doesn’t you can’t stop and appreciate the little things along the way.

4. What’s been your biggest surprise about the MST?

I thought that the mountains were going to be the prettiest section, but the Piedmont has been beautiful. I also don’t mind the road walks as much as I thought I might, but I’d still like to get the path on consistent dirt tread.

5. You took on this hike as a way to make more people aware of the MST. Is there one thing in particular you’d like people to know about the trail?

I want people to realize that trails benefit entire communities. They help the economy, they bring in tourism, they can lower obesity rates, help get people healthier, and preserve the natural beauty of the landscape. It’s really a win, win, win for all involved.

Taking a moment to appreciate the pools along Gragg Prong, in the Wilson Creek area.

6. What’s the most entertaining moment you’ve had on your journey thus far? (We’ll leave the interpretation of “entertaining” up to you.)

I got in an argument with a store clerk at Rex Triplet grocery along the MST. They let me leave my car there for two days while I hiked near Stone Mountain. I tried to leave them a little bit of money to thank them. And the woman at the cash register absolutely refused. She said, “If Rex heard I’d taken money from a hiker he’d skin me alive. We’re here to help the hikers.” I thought that was entertaining and endearing.

7. Do you have a favorite moment so far?

We had a rough start to the journey, but when I arrived at Waterrock Knob and saw my husband looking healthy, my son smiling, and my daughter wearing a princess dress with the stunning view at the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background. I remember thinking to myself, This hike may not be easy but it will be a beautiful, memorable adventure.

A brown bull in a Bluer ridge meadow

8. Is there a particular food or beverage you crave on the trail?

I’m actually eating really well. Earth Fare has donated a bunch of food to our hike across the state so I have lots of yummy trail snacks. But I am looking forward to decent East Carolina barbecue and seafood as we near the coast.

9. Have you been recognized on the trail by fellow hikers?

Ha! Sometimes. There’s a much higher likelihood that I will get recognized on trail then off trail. Most of the time what I hear is, “Hey, are you that hiker?” Semi-celebrity has not reached name recognition 🙂

10. Your last day in the mountains was September 12, coming down from the Blue Ridge Parkway to Stone Mountain State Park and the Piedmont beyond. How do you adjust your mindset leaving your home turf, the mountains, and entering the rolling Piedmont?

That actually was not my last day. The parkway and MST closed due to Irma. So I skipped ahead to Elkin did some miles and then came back to clean up that section. I did think I might be a little emotional coming down from the mountains. But so far this has been my favorite section of trail and the folks have been extremely friendly. In fact, as I voice dictate these answers on my cell phone along Highway 268 a gravel truck literally just pulled over to make sure I was OK. I have met so many wonderful people along this stretch and it has been awesome to see this part of the state.