“In many ways, I have spent the past fifteen years trying to outgrow the naïve character that fills the pages of this book — you know, the one with her unfiltered judgments (and water), inexperienced skill set, and limited world view. But in a way, all the things I would want to change about myself in Becoming Odyssa are the same reasons why this book matters. I did change; I have changed. This book matters — it resonates with people — because it isn’t really about me. It’s about the transformative properties of spending time in nature.”
That’s how Jennifer Pharr Davis begins the 10th Anniversary Edition of Becoming Odyssa: Adventures on the Appalachian Trail — with a new chapter entitled “Gratitude,” reflecting on how far the author has come since thru-hiking the A.T. in ‘05, fresh out of college with next to no experience in the woods, let alone on a 2,000-mile footpath.
Pharr Davis has worn many hats since becoming “Odyssa” (her Trail name in ‘05). Or maybe more accurately, she’s worn many different pairs of walking shoes. She’s been an Appalachian Trail Conservancy board member and an ambassador for the American Hiking Society; she set the FKT (fastest known time) on the A.T. in 2011; she started a successful guiding service (Blue Ridge Hiking Company) in her native Western North Carolina, and had a role in this year’s IMAX film Into America’s Wild; but most importantly to her, she’s used her platform to encourage women not just on long distance trails but in the male-dominated outdoor industry as a whole. (If you want to hear her message in a 15-minute nutshell, check out the short film Positive Forward Motion on YouTube, which she released this spring.)
Whoever Jennifer Pharr Davis is — whatever shoes she’s wearing — can be traced back to that first A.T. thru-hike. The original paperback cover from 2010 had her holding a yellow mop stick, marching determinedly across Max Patch in North Carolina. For the 10th anniversary edition, that image has been replaced by Pharr Davis taking in a rose-colored sunset, standing next to a stylized, hand-drawn tree (complete with white blaze, of course), arms raised in… gratitude? awe? relief? Whatever the meaning of the pose, it’s clear this is a woman who is happy to be exactly where she is. And that holds true even today, in the midst of quarantining.
“It’s funny, I just wrote that new intro chapter a couple months before COVID hit,” says Pharr Davis. “It’s not like I would have changed what I wrote. I mean, I might have addressed our current situation. But the lessons I mentioned — the things we take away from the Trail — have only been reinforced by all this. The Trail’s always been a crucible for me and has taught me lessons I never would have learned otherwise. That’s why I love it so much — why the A.T. will always be my favorite Trail and why I have this intense desire to give back to it and to keep hiking it more and more.”
The new intro chapter concludes: “The gift of backpacking is much bigger than learning to navigate the outdoors; it is the realization that you can continue to walk freely when you return home. My journey doesn’t end with a recent college graduate reaching Katahdin, but it starts with a twenty-one-year-old setting out from Georgia. And for that, I will always be grateful.”
Becoming Odyssa is the story of a young woman finding herself. But Pharr Davis makes it clear that that journey is far from over. Her first thru-hike just helped her to begin a path she’s still on. And for that, we should all be grateful.