Hikers’ cars hit by thieves: Trailhead safety becomes focus after recent “car clout” convictions

Three Tennessee residents are headed to prison for breaking into a slew of cars at trailheads in Haywood County during a several month period, hitting hiker’s vehicles in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Pisgah National Forest.

The three stole credit and debit cards, and ran up charges on them, while the unsuspecting victims were off happily hiking … often for several days at a time. Other personal items were stolen, too, including a man’s billfold and, most brazenly, a U.S. government credit card from a U.S. Forest Service employee’s vehicle.

Their arrests and subsequent prosecutions have put renewed focus on what you should do, and not do, when parking a vehicle before taking a hike or backpacking trip.

The main thing is to “use common sense,” said avid hiker Cory McCall of Outdoor 76, an outfitter store in Franklin. “These trails do cross roads, and you often leave your car in vulnerable places.”

McCall is currently helping an Appalachian Trail thru hiker try to decide on a safe spot to leave her vehicle in Macon County for an extended period of time. That might not be completely possible, but there are steps hikers such as that can take, according to forest experts.

And here’s what the victims of the relatively recent break-ins didn’t do: they failed to take valuables out of their vehicles.

That meant when the Tennessee trio — Billy Chad Reese, 39, his wife, Christy Leann Reese and Jessica Hope Daniels — systematically smashed the passenger-side windows of cars at trailheads, they were amply rewarded for their criminal intentions. Specifically, they hit trailheads at Big Creek in the Smokies and Max Patch and Harmon Den in the Pisgah National Forest.

They would hit as many as five cars at the trailhead at one time. They would then go back into Cocke County, Tenn. and promptly use the cards to buy everything from cigarettes to jewelry.

When it comes to protecting visitors to the national forest lands and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, law enforcement officers with both agencies are taking a hold-no-prisoners stance.

And that focus is paying off: In the Smokies alone, more than 100 people in the past decade have been prosecuted for car break-ins, dubbed “car clouts,” at trail heads.

“That makes a big dent,” said Clay Jordan, chief ranger for the Park.

Sure does: The Smokies used to average about 100 car clouts per year. That number dropped to 37 incidents in 2010 and 14 in 2011.

“We have a cadre of rangers and special agents who are very attuned to it,” Jordan said of Park personnel’s attention to trail heads and visitor safety.

That’s true, too, of workers on the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests. Stevin Wescott, who oversees public relations for the U.S. Forest Service in this area, said extensive efforts are oriented toward educating hikers. But, still, the fact remains that “it is pretty clear that theft is probably the most reported crime” in the national forests.

“We are always trying to encourage people to be safe,” Wescott said. “It’s very sad when (theft) happens. Our officers feel terrible for the people.”

Echoing McCall from Outdoor 76, Wescott said that visitors “should try to leave their valuables at home. If they must leave them in their car, tuck them out of site. Bring only the bare essentials.”

That advice holds true on the trail, too, the U.S. Forest ranger said. Tent break-ins also occur.

Smokies Chief Ranger Jordan said law enforcement is able to successfully prosecute most offenders. The crime, which is a felony offense prosecuted in the federal court system, carries a prison term. On average, those found guilty typically receive a six- to 12-month sentence plus three years probation, Jordan said.

The Tennessee man, Reese, pleaded guilty in August and was recently sentenced to serve more than 10 years in prison by a U.S. district judge and pay $23,000 in restitution. Reese received such a stiff sentence because of prior burglary convictions. When arrested, Reese was unlawfully in possession of a handgun. This meant he received an “enhanced” sentence under the federal Armed Career Criminal Act.

His female accomplices are scheduled Feb. 27 for sentencing.


Trailhead-safety tips

• Remove valuables from vehicles.

• If you must leave valuables in vehicles, hide them out of sight in the glove compartment or trunk.

• Scan the trailhead to make sure no one suspicious is hanging about. If they are, consider moving to another trailhead.

• Do not leave a hiking itinerary on your dash. Leave it with friends, family or at a ranger station.

• Don’t back your car into a parking spot. This provides thieves cover to break into the trunk.

Festivals celebrate onset of AT hiking season

Thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail — those hearty souls who attempt the entire 2,170-mile trek from Georgia to Maine from start to finish — will soon be arriving in droves in Western North Carolina.

To finish the trail before the New England winter sets in, hikers must set out on the trail in Gerogia in mid to late-March. That lands them here just about now, witnessed by the number of backpack-burdened hikers hitching rides into town to stock up on provisions. Of the hundreds who set out to thru-hike the trail, only 25 percent make it. Most drop out the first month.

This year, hikers will have a little extra encouragement in their early weeks with a line-up of festivals to look forward to if they keep on moving.


April Fool’s Trail Days in Franklin

Just one year ago this month, Franklin became an official Appalachian Trail Community, solidifying the relationship this Macon County town long has enjoyed with thru-hikers.

The Appalachian Trail passes 11 miles from Franklin at its closest point near Winding Stair Gap. A series of events are planned in Franklin: April Fool’s Trail (the third year this has been held) and the annual Hiker Bash.

Linda Schlott, executive director of the Franklin Main Street Program, said a survey of hikers conducted by the local hiking group, Nantahala Hiking Club, revealed each AT hiker who comes into Franklin spends an average of $150 each during the visit.

“I think the business owners see that the hikers don’t just come and restock and get back on the trail,” Schlott said, adding that Macon County has learned to view the presence of the famous hiking trail as an economic asset.

The exact number of hikers coming through hasn’t been pinpointed, she said, but it adds up to “a lot.”

Here’s the line-up in Franklin:

• The 7th Annual Hiker Bash will be held on both Friday and Saturday night, April 1 and 2, and will include food, music and entertainment at 6 p.m. each evening at the Sapphire Inn Motel on East Main Street. This is a venue for thru-hikers to share stories and meet former thru-hikers of the AT. 828.524.4431.

• Friday, April 1: Warren Doyle has hiked the Appalachian Trail more times than anyone else. Hear his story during a special presentation at Franklin Town Hall beginning at 7 p.m. The presentation runs from 90 to 120 minutes. Jennifer Pharr Davis will also be speaking.

• Saturday, April 2: More Warren Doyle’s “Stories from the Appalachian Trail.”

The program will last from 75 to 90 minutes.

• Saturday, April 2: Acclaimed bluegrass group Buncombe Turnpike will headline Trail Days entertainment. There will be two sets of music, at 11 a.m. and again at noon.

• Saturday, April 2: The Iotla Valley Elementary Chorus and the South Macon Elementary Chorus will perform a joint concert at the gazebo stage beginning at 1 p.m.

Under the direction of Michael Tyson, the students will perform a wide selection of songs, including songs about North Carolina and the region we live in.

• Macon County Public Library displays winning photographs from the second-annual “Walking with Spring” photography contest. Photos on display until April 8, and all photos are related to the Appalachian Trail.

• Wednesday, March 30: The Appalachian Trail Documentary: A Walk for Sunshine at 7 p.m. the Macon County library. 828.524.3600.

• Thursday, March 31: Join artist Michael M. Rogers for a program at the Macon County library at 7 p.m. as he takes you on virtual hikes in the surrounding mountains. Experience the beauty through nature photography and music. 828.524.3600.

• Thursday, March 31: “The Unsung Hero Hike,” leaving from the Bartram Trail intersection at N.C. 106 near Scaly Mountain, follow a guide from Outdoor 76 south into the Appalachian escarpment toward the Georgia border. Total hike about five miles, it is of moderate difficulty. 828.349.7676.


AT Founder’s Bridge Festival in Nantahala Gorge

Nantahala Outdoor Center has a long and rich association with AT hikers — the trail passes through the heart of NOC on a footbridge over the Nantahala River. To celebrate and deepen this connection, the outfitter will hold its first AT Founder’s Bridge Festival April 8-10.

Weekend day hikers, long distance warriors and outdoor enthusiasts alike are invited to share their passion with a like-minded trail community in honor of the trail that bisects NOC’s campus in the Nantahala Gorge. Trail-steeped speakers will share their knowledge, humor and experiences in hands-on workshops and presentations. Gear representatives will demo product, provide support, and sponsor lots of great product giveaways and door prizes.

• The women’s AT speed record holder Jennifer Pharr Davis will make a presentation and sign books on Friday, April 8.

• The weekend’s keynote speaker will be Andrew Skurka, renowned long-distance backpacker and ultrarunner. Skurka, recognized as “Adventurer of the Year” by National Geographic and “Person of the Year” by Backpacker, has thru-hiked the AT and many other long-distance routes. He will be leading two lightweight-backpacking skills clinics throughout the weekend, as well as giving a presentation Saturday evening on his recent Alaska-Yukon expedition (as featured in the March issue of National Geographic).

• Visit Gear Fair, packed with manufacturer’s reps touting the latest and greatest in backpacking gear.

• Join the Nantahala Hiking Club and Smoky Mountain Hiking Club for AT trail maintenance Saturday morning. Sign up in advance by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

• Purchase any pair of Patagonia footwear during the event at NOC’s Outfitter’s Store, and $10 will be donated to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

• Enjoy live music from Asheville’s homegrown bluegrass group, Stumpwater. With a mix of pure Carolina drive and strong four-part vocals, the band plays a repertoire rich in original material and favorite covers.

All activities take place on NOC’s Wesser campus, and are free of charge and open to the public. Go to “Events” at noc.com or call 828.488.7244.

Appalachian Trail guide debuts 33rd edition

The legendary Appalachian Trail grew by 1.9 miles in 2010.

Every December, the latest mileage and shelter information for the 11 official guides to the AT is updated from volunteers who are constantly improving the trail. Volunteer Daniel D. Chazin of Teaneck, N.J., pulls all the information together, a task he’s been performing since 1983.

This year, due to relocations  and re-measurements, increases were reported for: Massachusetts-Connecticut (0.2 mile), New York-New Jersey (0.9 mile), central Virginia (0.1 mile), and Tennessee-North Carolina (0.9 mile), while the southwest Virginia mileage was reduced by 0.1 mile.

The new official length of the AT is 2,181.0 miles.

“The Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s 2011 Data Book is an essential planning resource for any Appalachian Trail hiker; whether they are out for a day hike or hiking the entire length from Maine to Georgia,” said Brian B. King, publisher of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Each year, the $6.95 Appalachian Trail Data Book is a top-selling official guide to the longest continuously marked footpath in the world. It condenses into 96 pages the high points of the series of guidebooks and maps. Information is presented at a glance in the same geographic units as the guides, with elevations for major points. Shelters, campsites, water sources, road crossings, supply sources, off-trail lodging, eateries and post offices are all easy to identify in the Data Book.

For more information about the 33rd edition of the Appalachian Trail Data Book or to purchase a copy, visit www.atctrailstore.org or call 888.287.8673.

Franklin enjoys symbiotic relationship with AT hikers

For years, Appalachian Trail thru-hikers have been stopping in Franklin for supplies, rest, and Internet access, but last week the town solidified its place as a trail destination. Mayor Joe Collins signed a proclamation accepting the town’s designation as an Appalachian Trail Community at the invitation of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy at a celebration event in the town hall.

“It’s such a natural fit. We’ve always appreciated the hikers and hopefully this will allow us to broaden our relationship with them. Hikers are great people,” Collins said.

The Appalachian Trail passes 11 miles from Franklin at its closest point near Winding Stair Gap. Franklin’s position 100 miles from the trail’s southern starting point makes it a natural stop for hikers making the 2,170-mile trip from Georgia to Maine.

Appalachian Trail Conservancy Board Chairman Robert Almand described the magic feeling of discovering the AT as he welcomed Franklin into the greater community of the trail at the ceremony last week (April 23). Almand told the story of his first encounter with the trail in the ‘80s while picking up trash near Moody Gap on Earth Day.

“I noticed the AT ran through there, and I went down the trail a little ways to explore and kept seeing those white blazes,” Almand said. “I realized I could walk all the way to Maine if I kept going.”

The Appalachian Trail is one of America’s true pilgrimage routes, stretching nearly the length of the East Coast and attracting some 2,000 thru-hikers each year.

Franklin became the first location in the South to receive the ATC’s designation as an official trail community. The effort was driven by the Nantahala Hiking Club — whose volunteers maintain the 80 miles of the AT between Bly Gap and the Nantahala Outdoor Center — the Franklin Main Street program, and by local businessman Ronnie Haven.

The trail has been both a passion and a resource for Haven, who owns and operates a group of motels between Franklin and Georgia.

“At age 16, I thought I could walk to Maine and back before school started, but I didn’t make it but to Pearisburg, Virginia,” Haven said.

Haven was one of the first Franklin-based business people to embrace the trail hikers as customers. His hotels are known as a stopping point, and Franklin’s trail celebration “April Fools Trail Days” owes its genesis to the hiker bash Haven has hosted at the Sapphire Inn for the past six years.

Haven’s bash includes trail advice from legends, music, and demonstrations of mountain cultural activities, like five-string banjo picking and clogging. Haven said the new ATC designation would allow the town to take on the role as cultural ambassadors of the Western North Carolina high country.

“There’s people who come here from all over the world, and some of them never heard tell of some of the things like we do,” Haven said.

The Appalachian Trail Community designation is a new program designed to promote the economic benefits of the trail to nearby communities and to foster local stewardship of the trail. In order to qualify, communities must meet two of four requirements. Franklin met all four by creating a trail advisory committee, hosting an annual trail event, initiating an AT-focused education program through the school and library systems, and getting the county planning department to commit to consider the trail in its land use plans.

Nantahala Hiking Club President Bill Van Horn hailed the effort as confirmation of Franklin’s commitment to the AT motto “Join the Journey.”

“Today Franklin has truly joined the journey,” Van Horn said.

Van Horn spearheaded the trail advisory committee, which spent the past year meeting to plan local efforts around education and trail stewardship. Along the way, the committee conducted an informal survey of thru-hikers. The survey found that, on average, thru-hikers stay 1.4 nights in Franklin and spend $124 during their stay.

Both the town of Franklin and Macon County have shown strong support over the past year for becoming an official trail community, but it’s the Nantahala Hiking Club and its volunteers that have undertaken the hard work of maintaining the AT over the years.

Don O’Neil, the NHC trail manager, is one of the many volunteers who maintain the 47 miles of trail that run through Macon County. For O’Neill, who hiked the AT in sections between 1981 and 1991, the motivation to maintain the trail is a sign of gratitude for the experience it provided him.

“I’m just giving back what I got out of the trail,” he said.

As the newest Appalachian Trail Community, Franklin is doing the same.

Meet the thru-hikers

It’s a sure sign of spring for Southern Appalachian communities along the Appalachian Trail: hikers loaded down with backpacks hitchhiking to town and back to stock up on supplies, eat that hamburger they’ve been craving, and knock back a few cold beers before hitting the trail again.

They emerge slowly at first, one or two early birds trickling by, and then turn into a steady stream just about now, with dozens a day filtering along the trail on the pilgrimage to Maine.

Last week, The Smoky Mountain News caught up with three thru-hikers who had taken a break in Franklin to refuel and were heading back onto the AT at Winding Stair Gap.

Kate Imp (“Ringleader”), her brother Brandon Imp (“Monkey”), and their friend Emily Ginger (“Lightning”) have set aside their normal lives to walk from Georgia to Maine this year.

“You only have so many chances in life to have big experiences with the people closest to you,” Kate said. “The AT is something known for the community experience more than just the hike itself.”

The three-person team stopped in Franklin for two nights, staying at the Sapphire Inn and eating at Mi Casa and Cody’s Roadhouse before stocking up on fresh food supplies at Ingles. It’s that type of involvement with the town that the Appalachian Trail Community designation was created to encourage.

Kate Imp said knowing that Franklin was a hiker-friendly community made it easier to decide to stop there.

“You’re less on guard. With trail towns there’s the assumption that 99 percent of the people you meet are interested in helping you,” Imp said.

Roughly two weeks into the trail, Franklin is a crucial make-or-break point for thru-hiker hopefuls. They’ve come far enough to realize how tough the journey will be, but not far enough to have developed their “trail legs” or fall into the true rhythm of the trail. The town’s official trail designation recognizes the symbiotic nature of the trail and the town.

Franklin becomes an Appalachian Trail Community

The town of Franklin has been officially designated an Appalachian Trail Community. A new program of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy will highlight the value of towns along the trail.

Towns are more than waypoints along the trail for hikers to stock up on supplies. The trail can be a driver for sustainable economic development, while the towns serve as agents to help protect the trails complex of recreational, volunteer, educational and environmental resources.

To mark the designation, the Macon County Public Library is partnering with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to present a number of programs and events in the meeting room at the library.

• Monday, March 22, 7 p.m. — Appalachian Trail Conservancy Overview. Learn about the history of the Appalachian Trail and the role the Appalachian Trail Conservancy plays in protecting and maintaining it.

• Wednesday, March 24, 4:30 and 7 p.m. — Documentary: “America’s Wild Spaces – Appalachian Trail,” a National Geographic video highlighting the 2,175-mile Appalachian National Scenic Trail.

• Thursday, March 25, 7 p.m. — “Hiking 101.” Day hiking planning, equipment, and local hiking. Bill Van Horn from the Nantahala Hiking Club will present information on day hiking planning, equipment and local options for hiking.

AT license plates fund mini trail grants

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy will hand out mini-grants for projects in the region that benefit the long-distance hiking trail.

Grants can include trail work, conservation projects and trail promotion and education. Past projects have included:

• Efforts by the Nantahala Hiking Club to help the town of Franklin become an official “Trail Town.”

• Construction of a trail on the grounds of Cartoogechaye Elementary School in Franklin.

• Construction of a trail on the grounds of Summit Charter School in Cashiers.

• Trail maintenance and improvements to trail shelters.

• Bear cables at backcountry trail shelters.

• Controlling invasive, exotic plant species.

• Eforts to keep the bald on Roan Mountain from growing up, including a roving goat herd.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy will give out $25,000 in grants, not to exceed $5,000 per grant. The grants are funded through proceeds from the specialty AT license plates, which raised $116,000 last year for the AT Conservancy.

Applications are due by March 5. Go to www.appalachiantrail.org/ncgrant.

Tales from the trail

Jennifer Pharr Davis, the female record-holder for the fastest thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail, spoke to a large crowd in the auditorium of Southwestern Community College in Sylva last week, enrapturing students with tales of her trail exploits.

While Davis has hiked many of the world’s most glamorous trails, from the Inca Trail in Peru to Mount Kilimanjaro, the trail with the most stories is the one right here in the students’ backyard.

Davis’ record-setting hike in 2008 was actually her second trip along the trail. Her first was in 2005 upon graduating from college. She was a mere two weeks into the trail somewhere outside Franklin when she was struck by lightning, emerging shaken but uninjured. A week later, she was crossing one of the toughest, highest sections of the trail through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park when a blizzard struck.

“I had a couple Pop-Tarts and a little bit of peanut butter and that was it. I knew I had to make it out of the Smokies,” Davis said.

Her remaining trail miles through the park were mostly downhill, so she turned her boots into cross-country skis. Sleet was driving against one side of her face, like razor knocks in her skin. She lowered her head and closed one eye on the windward side.

“It was hard because the AT is marked with white blazes and everything that I saw was white.”

When she got into protection of the forest canopy, the eye she’d shut was frozen closed.

“The rain and snow had congealed in my eye, and I couldn’t open it,” Davis said.

The elements weren’t the only challenges Davis encountered during her 2005 expedition. The Appalachian Trail is not quite the respite from society most would assume.

“There are lots of people on the trail, lots of friendly people on the trail, lots of young males who are especially friendly on the trail,” Davis said.

Davis was usually able to shake unwanted hiking companions by virtue of her pace, except for one tag-along in the Virginia section.

“He walked anywhere he could near me for 10 days,” Davis said. Like any good Southerner, Davis deployed a litany of subtle hints, but they were lost on him.

“I would say things like ‘I really like being a solo hiker,’ and he would say ‘Yeah, me too,’” Davis said. “I didn’t know how to get rid of him. At one point I hid under a rhododendron bush hoping he wouldn’t see me.”

Davis finally had to put her good Southern manners aside and tell him bluntly. The skill of direct communication continued to serve Davis well on a trail that can sometimes be intimidating for young single women.

Davis had a troubling experience on the trail in New Jersey that brought her hike — and her life — into a new focus. She came upon a man who had committed suicide in the middle of the trail. She didn’t know the cause at the time, however, only that she had stumbled upon a dead man.

“I pulled out the cell phone my mother insisted I carry as fast as I could,” Davis said.

She called 911 as she ran down the trail away from the spot. The experience had her brooding for days, feeling alone and scared. Word traveled in the trail community of her disturbing encounter. Within a couple weeks, the mother of a fellow hiker called Davis and offered to put her up for a few days at their Connecticut home, allowing Davis to regroup mentally.

“That epitomizes the trail community,” Davis said. “Even when you go through tough things someone will come along to lift you up and care for you and love you and often times it is a complete stranger. The trail actually restored my faith in humanity.”

Davis has launched Asheville-based Blue Ridge Hiking Company, where she trains potential thru hikers for their 2,000-mile journey. She also conducts workshops, talks and programs for groups. She has a book due out in 2010.

The need for speed AT record-setter enjoys simplicity of fast, solo hiking

Jennifer Pharr Davis says she never set out be a speed hiker.

When she first hiked the entire Appalachian Trail in 2005 at the age of 21, she was mostly looking for an excuse not to get a job right after graduating from college.

But she soon found she had a natural proclivity for hiking fast.

“I have this inner thing where I just love going all day on the trail as hard as I can,” Davis said. “I just really, really like the hiking part.”

Some people write journals on the trail, others linger at trail shelters over a game of cards with fellow hikers. But for Davis, an Asheville resident, it was all about the hiking: the physical act of moving through the woods and covering ground.

Three years later and with several other long-distance trails under her belt, Davis returned to the AT to hike it once more, this time at a record-setting pace for women.

Davis, who lives in Asheville and was born and raised in Hendersonville, completed the 2,175-mile trail in 58 days — just five days behind the men’s record and 30 days faster than any other woman. Only five men have done the trail faster.

To make that kind of speed, Davis had help, of course. Her husband shuttled her gear between trailheads, meeting her each night at points where the trail intersected with roads with food, water and tent and clean clothes. Her devoted one-man support crew allowed Davis to drastically lighten her load compared to the average AT hiker. She carried a small daypack or some days just a hip pack packed with the barest essentials. She was also freed from housekeeping details like setting up and striking camp, restocking groceries or doing laundry.

“Trust me, I am paying him back, probably for the rest of my life,” Davis joked.

Plotting meet-up points often meant relying on backwoods forest service roads, which sometimes led to confusion. Occasionally, she would arrive at the designated spot only to find he wasn’t there. Perhaps she had arrived early, making better time than expected. Or maybe she arrived late, and her husband had gone ahead to the next meet-up point looking for her.

On one occasion, the road was washed out and Davis’ husband had to load gear into a pack and run in to find her. Another time, the road they pinpointed on a map didn’t actually exist.

Expecting these missed connections, both Davis and her husband carried surveyor’s tape and a Sharpie to leave messages.

The thought of her husband waiting at the trailhead, often playing the guitar while he waited for Davis to show up, was one of the strongest motivators pulling her along the trail each day. The two had been married just days before embarking on the trip.

“I was crazy in love with my husband. I wanted to get to him as quickly as possible,” Davis said.

Of course, Davis also looked forward to the food he had waiting. At Davis’ record-breaking pace, she burned 4,000 calories a day, which meant she had a lot of consuming to do.

“If you are eating that much every day it becomes a job,” she said. “Honestly, I got sick of chewing.”

Davis defends her fast hiking to critics who question how much communing with nature one can honestly do at that pace.

“People say you didn’t appreciate it, you didn’t stop to smell the roses, you didn’t see the same things that people see when they hike slowly,” Davis said. “That’s not true.”

Davis ran some, but mostly just walked fast. She averaged 3 miles an hour, still a brisk pace considering the terrain and the inevitable bathroom breaks.

But by striking out at dawn and hiking through dusk, and moving quietly without companions, she saw more wildlife on her speed hike than three years earlier when she hiked at a standard pace — including 30 bears, compared to none on her 2005 hike.

Her final days on the trail became a whirlwind, however. Her husband, Brew, is a middle school teacher in Asheville and had to return home for the start of the school year. So two veteran AT hikers pitched in as a support crew in the final days. One of the trail greats enlisted was David Horton, the men’s record holder on the AT who completed the journey in 52 days after four tries. The other was Warren Doyle, who has thru-hiked the AT 15 times, more than anyone else.

She covered 205 miles her last four days, largely due to a perhaps overly encouraging support crew.

“What I remember is getting to the meet-up point just to see them drive off and say see you at the next road,” Davis said. She got in the car after finishing the trail and promptly fell asleep.

Davis doesn’t discount the possibility of another record hike, perhaps even going after the men’s record. Once the AT is in your blood, it’s hard to shake, she said. Not that she didn’t try after her first hike back in 2005. When she’d reached the summit of Mount Katahdin, which marks the end of the Appalachian Trail in Maine, she vowed never to repeat it.

“I climbed up that mountain and said ‘This has been a good experience. I am glad I did it, but I am never going to do it again — not even an overnight.’ Maybe a day hike but that was it,” Davis said.

She got a job doing marketing and special events at the Ash Lawn-Highland museum home of James Monroe, the fifth president, in Charlottesville, Va. But she soon found the trail calling.

“I was missing the simplicity of it. I was missing having everything I needed just on my back. I missed the self-reliance, looking to myself and depending on myself to make it through every day,” Davis said.

Davis, who graduated from Samford University in Birmingha, Ala., and played college tennis, also realized how much multitasking was involved in normal life.

“On the trail all I had to do was hike. It was so simple and I missed it,” Davis said.

Over the next three years, she hiked Mount Kilimanjaro, the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail, the 600-mile Bibbulmun Track in Australia, the Inca Trail in Peru, and the 272-mile Long Trail in Vermont.

She worked in between trips but always with the next hike in mind.

“I just worked to hike and worked to hike,” Davis said. “Obviously by this point it was becoming an addiction.”

In search of hidden lookout towers

The line-up of hikes in the Lookout Tower Challenge spans Western North Carolina. Seven are located in the Nantahala National Forest, including Wayah Bald and Albert Mountain along the Appalachian Trail.

Five more towers can be found in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, including Shuckstack, overlooking Fontana Dam, and Clingmans Dome, atop the highest peak in the park. And the Blue Ridge Parkway provides access to several more towers, like Fryingpan Mountain near the Pisgah Inn or Green Knob near Mt. Mitchell. Even the newly constructed tower atop Mt. Mitchell, eastern America’s highest peak, is included in the Challenge.

Hikers who make it to all 24 lookouts get an embroidered hiking patch and a certificate of completion from the Carolina Mountain Club. They also receive formal recognition at the hiking club’s annual dinner banquet and inclusion in its newsletter. But the greatest reward is the magnificent vistas afforded by the towers.

Here’s a list of all 24 towers in the challenge:

Nantahala mountains: Wayah Bald, Wesser Bald, Albert Mountain, Yellow Mountain, Panther Top, Cowee Bald, Joanna Bald.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Clingmans Dome, Shuckstack, Mt. Cammerer, Mt. Sterling, Mt. Noble.

Blue Ridge Parkway: Fryingpan Mountain, Green Knob, Mt. Mitchell, Barnett Knob, Flat Top Mountain.

Other Towers: Little Snowball, Rendezvous Mountain, Moores Knob, Chambers Mountain, Bearwallow Knob, Rich Mountain, Camp Creek Bald.

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