It’s not about records…even when you’re setting them!
My cousin Jenn Pharr is, to put it rather bluntly, a bad ass. A Division I tennis player in college, she has gone on to hike both the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails, both in quite impressive times. She also climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with my wife, Wende, and I back in 2006, and made it look quite easy to say the least.
Most recently, however, Jennifer embarked on a fast-paced journey along the Long Trail, a section of the Appalachian Trail running 272 miles from southern Vermont to its northern border with Canada. This has, of course, been done before, and it will of course be done again and again.
What is impressive at first, however, is that Jennifer – largely unsupported and hiking solo – made the 272 mile journey in 8 days, 13 hours, and 25 minutes. This potentially sets an all time unsupported speed record for the Long Trail, and is definitely the fastest time ever attained by a woman.
But, what if more impressive is not the speed of Jennifer’s hike, not the sprained ankles, swollen knees, bee stings and lightning storms she had to endure, but rather the perspective with which she completed the entire hike.
As is often the case with impressive accomplishments, sections of the web have been buzzing with chatter over Jennifer’s hike…many kudos have been thrown, and some criticisms and jabs as well. But, true to her spirit, Jennifer has taken it all in stride.
As she wrote so eloquently on the White Blaze forum:
It’s always nice to be the first or only person to have accomplished something, but as any endurance hiker knows, it’s not about the records. Being a "record holder" would never provide sufficient motivation to overcome sprained ankles, swollen knees, bee stings and electrical storms (all of which are very vivid memories of my Long Trail hike), instead the desire to overcome adversity, enjoy creation, and push mental, physical, and emotional boundaries was what personally made the endeavor rewarding.
She also chimed in on the Trail Forums, responding to both praise and criticism, again with grace and perspective:
I want to say that all encouragement and congratulations is warmly accepted and very appreciated. I also want to mention that all criticism is respected as well. But I do want to note that I did not set out to hike the long trail to come back as a "record" holder. Long Distance hiking is not associated or rewarded with public recognition and certainly not monetary gains. Instead, I hiked the Long Trail to test my physical, mental and emotional thresholds. In that I succeeded. I was thrilled with my time of less than 8 days, and I can say that, even beyond Division I college athletes, an ironman, and ultra-marathons, testing my endurance on the Long Trail pushed, strengthened me, and broke me in ways I had never experienced before. I will always share wonderful memories and a sense of accomplishment from this experience that is neither heightened by recognition nor discouraged by criticism. I don’t think I would ever go out on a long-distance trail to break someone else’s record, but I certainly love to set my own. Hope to see you guys out on the trail.
Well put, Jennifer.
Whether it be Everest, the Long Trail, or a walk around the block, we have choices: we can concern ourselves with records, with being the fastest, brightest, strongest, toughest, meanest, coolest one to do it.
Or, we can do it we can concern ourselves simply with breaking, as Jenn says, our own records, with finding our limits and pushing them, with reveling in the challenges inherent along the path.
Someone will always come along who is a bit faster, a bit stronger, or a bit tougher. Records will always be broken at some point. But, if we push ourselves in order to grow, to expand our horizons and overcome self-imposed hurdles…well, those personal records can never be beaten.
What is your Everest??
– Jake Norton is an Everest climber, guide, photographer, writer, and motivational speaker from Colorado.