After 12 months of traveling the country in a Prius and hiking in 44-states with our infant-turned-toddler, the Pharr Davis family took a 3-week reprieve to rest and recharge at our house in Asheville. The break, which seemed like an eternity in the beginning, was quickly filled with the magical and mundane side effects of domesticity: Unpacking, laundry, cleaning, yard work, doctor’s visits (that included vaccines for Charley and a wisdom tooth extraction for mom), family visits, snuggling our baby nephew and babysitting our vivacious niece, trying to catch up with friends and never seeming to have enough time for them - or with them- working in the office and guiding groups on the trail, more laundry, and finally repacking... which was harder than usual as I grappled with what to pack my sprouting 20-month old for three months and three seasons on the road.


After a rest that didn’t feel very restful, Brew and I spent our last night at home strolling through the streets of downtown Asheville, people watching and letting Charley marvel at the dancers who twirled glowing hula-hoops and the shirtless men who wore glitter bandanas on their heads while chanting at the Pritchard Park drum circle. Entertainment comes cheap in Asheville.


Nearing the end of our urban hike, Brew and I turned off Church Street and pointed the stroller towards our neighborhood. And there, amid the scents and sounds of downtown, we caught perhaps the most eccentric and exciting sight of all. We found trail friends. And not just any trail friends. We ran into Matt and Lily Kirk.


Both prolific hikers, Matt and Lily started dating while thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. In 2011, when Brew and I set the overall record, Matt and Lily assisted us in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Then two years later, Matt claimed the self-supported A.T. record for himself and surpassed a mark that had stood for 20 years.


Crossing paths withMatt and Lily under a supermoon in Asheville led to conversation, that conversation led to walking, and the walking led to a late-night local brew. So instead of cleaning the house and getting ready for our 5am departure, Brew and I stayed up late talking to Matt and Lily about trails, The Trail, and trail records.


It is a rare and fleeting thing to spend time with someone who has the depth of experience and passion for endurance records that Matt possesses. Brew and I travel the country telling our stories and trying our best to make the trail relatable to everyone, but when it comes to a record there are only a few people who can really grasp what the effort entails. It is a gift to spend time with someone who understands- really understands- such a precious and intense undertaking.


Sitting in our living room, we carried on in harmony about high mileage days and emotional valleys, mountain views and terrifying storms, trail magic and the magic of the trail. Then our quartet started chirping about current record attempts, endurance ideology, the ethics of fastest known times, and the minutia of trail miles that only REAL hiking geeks will debate.


It may surprise other folks to learn that in this infinitesimal, unwritten, and undefined world of trail records there are points that are still unclear even to record holders. There are concepts that Matt and I agree on 100% and sometimes our methodology and beliefs seem contrary. It is indisputable that trail records, their rules, their audience and undertakers are all still evolving. But I think the hope for trail records remains consistent.


Matt said, “Trail records can only go one of two ways. They can go in a positive direction or a negative direction.” (I won’t continue this quote because my sleep deprived, one-beer, brain would most likely slander or slaughter Matt’s words.) But he went on to eloquently express so many of the thoughts that have been jumbled up in my mind. And I want to try and put some of those sentiments into words.


  1. Humility – A trail record is not better than any other type of hiking. It is harder than most imaginable biped pursuits, but not better. The value of a hike cannot be quantified; it can only be exemplified through a positive life-change. The trail is there for everyone at every phase of life. A record is special but it should not take priority over other hikes, nor should it negatively impact other hikers. We all need to work together- not against one another- to protect, preserve and raise awareness of the trail.
  2. Respect – Any record attempt should exude respect. Respect for the path, the trail community, the environment, and the history and traditions of the trail. An A.T. record holder never stands alone. It is a group endeavor that starts with the innovation of Benton MaKaye, and is carried on the back of the industrious trail maintainers and volunteer organization established by Myron Avery. It is preserved by organizations like the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the National Park System. It is inspired by dreamers like Earl Shaffer, Grandma Gatewood, Bill Irwin and others who showed us that the impossible is sometimes just very difficult.
  3. Honor – Trail Records are an amateur pursuit. They represent the ideal that athletics does not have to be about fame and fortune, that the honor system is still more trustworthy than a GPS, and that there is something sacred and primitive that comes from moving gracefully and purposefully through the woods. The record will never need an official rulebook IF every contended toes the line and asks, “Am I honoring the trail? Am I honoring the people around me- and before me? And, am I being true to myself?”


I think most people probably assume that I don’t want anyone to break my record. That’s not true. I am very curious what the limits of human potential are on the Appalachian Trail. Records are made to be broken and I look forward to following these endeavors of endurance for a long, long time.


I want the same thing that Matt Kirk wants. I want the record to move in a positive direction. And anyone - no matter whether they are male or female, a runner or hiker – anyone, who toes the path with respect, humility, and honor will have my blessing at the beginning of the trail and will receive my congratulations at the end.