Cowley grad fulfills dream of hiking the entire Appalachian Trail

June 14, 2019

Devin (Dice) Taylor hiking in the White Mountains

Pushing her body to its physical limits, Devin (Dice) Taylor, a 2012 graduate of Cowley College, spent more than six months hiking the entire 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail.

Taylor, who graduated from Arkansas City High School in 2010, earned an Associate of Arts degree with a major in Mass Communications from Cowley College.

Active in high school as the Student Council President as a senior, Taylor cannot recall a time when she did not plan on going to Cowley.

Devin (Dice) Taylor at the Appalachian Trail northern terminus“It always seemed like the best choice—this great resource in my own backyard, so to speak, that would allow me to take the next step into higher education in an environment that was comfortable and familiar to me,” Taylor said. “I also have an older sister who graduated from Cowley before me, so seeing the experience she had only solidified my plans to go to Cowley as well.”

At Cowley, Taylor served as Media Club Co-President, Campus Editor for the Cowley Press, Field Reporter for the campus news broadcast (called Cowley College Television at the time) and Student Ambassador her sophomore year. She was also a member of the Concert Choir, CC Singers, and Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.

“There are many instructors who I feel were influential to my success at Cowley, and I think that’s because of Cowley’s small student-to-teacher ratio,” Taylor said.

Taylor credited instructors such as Meg Smith, Dejon Ewing, and Connie Donatelli for being supportive and pushing her to do her best.

Growing up in Arkansas City, Taylor’s favorite time of year was always Arkalalah.

“Experiencing it as a Queen Alalah finalist my sophomore year at Cowley was completely different,” Taylor said. “My fellow queens and I stayed so busy that week and really got to know one another. I’ll always treasure that Arkalalah in particular.”

She became engaged around the time of graduating from Cowley College and followed her soon to be husband to Fort Benning, Georgia, where he was beginning his Army career. Taylor soon enrolled at Columbus State University in the nearby city of Columbus.

Taylor studied Spanish for a year before changing her major back to Communication. She was named Communication Student of the Year during the 2014-2015 academic year and received her Bachelor of Arts in Communication in 2015.

“Cowley was the perfect stepping stone between high school and university,” Taylor said. “I was able to get my footing as a college student in an environment that encouraged me to get involved and explore my interests. By the time I transferred to a four-year university, I was much more comfortable navigating college life—I didn’t feel overwhelmed despite transferring to a much larger school. Plus, I saved a ton of money on classes that transferred toward my degree with no problem.”

While in Georgia, Taylor learned about the Appalachian Trail. She became fascinated with the idea of doing a long hike.

“For five years after that, I felt a strong pull to the trail that never went away. I always knew I would hike the trail; it was just a matter of when,” Taylor said.

Taylor started her hike on March 4, 2018 and finished on September 8th. She started at Amicalola Falls, GA and walked northbound through 14 states to finish at Mount Katahdin, ME.

“I hiked every bit of the 2,190 miles of trail without skipping any sections,” Taylor said. “There are really no words to adequately describe the impact my hike had on me. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but the most rewarding. It was the most amazing adventure of my life. There was something so freeing about living every day immersed in nature with complete control over how I spent my days: if I wanted to hike, I’d hike, if I wanted to sit by a waterfall all day, I could do that too. Out there, it was just me and my thoughts, without the background noise of society. I got to know myself and learned to love and appreciate who I am. The trail nearly broke me, but instead I came away with a strength I never imagined I’d have.”

After completing the mammoth undertaking, returning to civilian life was a challenge at first.

“Trail life has its challenges, but it’s overall much simpler than off-trail life,” Taylor said. “Out there, it’s food, water, shelter, miles, with one simple goal: get to Mount Katahdin. Once that goal was achieved, remembering how to function in the “real world” after six months of living in the wilderness was a little difficult. My husband and I moved to South Korea shortly after I finished the trail, so that helped keep me busy and distracted from the fact that my hike was over. I was always 100% committed to the journey, so no matter how tough or rugged or grueling the terrain got, it never really felt like it was too hard—it was just part of the experience.”

The experience gave Taylor a renewed faith in humanity.

“Every day (in off-trail life) we see so much divisiveness and despair in the media, and I think it’s understandable to see those things and believe our world is filled with hate,” Taylor said. “But on the trail, disconnected from the media, I saw boundless kindness. I saw complete strangers providing for hikers, often in the form of a hot meal or a ride to town, but many other times by simply helping in whatever way they could.”

Taylor left a job in the Communication field before starting the Appalachian Trail and plans to resume working in the industry when she and her husband return to the United States from South Korea.

“I take Korean classes and participate in study groups almost every day of the week. It’s helped tremendously with culture shock and has introduced me to a lot of really great people,” Taylor said. “It was frustrating not being able to communicate at first—I didn’t even know the Korean alphabet when we moved here—but now I have basic conversation skills and can read Korean, so I feel more confident venturing out to explore my new home. Korean is a brilliantly constructed language that has been fairly easy to learn, so I’m very grateful for that.”

Completing the Appalachian Trail, moving to South Korea, and learning a new language would not have been possible without Taylor’s time at Cowley.

“My time at Cowley will always have a special place in my heart because it was a season of growth and discovery in my life,” Taylor said. “At Cowley, I felt accepted and encouraged enough to venture outside of my comfort zone and explore interests I hadn’t before—I joined the campus newspaper staff, I auditioned for the choir and show choir, all things I had always been too shy to pursue. Through these activities, I met friends I’m still close with today. I’ll never forget how Cowley’s campus felt like home—the instructors and staff genuinely cared about students’ success. I never felt like just another face in the crowd; I felt seen, heard, and valued as a student. That’s a feeling you just can’t buy from any university.”