It’s Going to be My Dream Come Thru

Over the past few months, I have started sharing my plans to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail (the AT) with friends, family, coworkers, and basically anyone who will listen to me talk. The more I share, the more questions I’m asked. “How long is the trail?” About 2,190 miles. “How long will it take you?” If I do it all, four to seven months. “Are you taking a gun?” No. “Will you smell really bad?” Yes.

I tend to get similar questions over and over, and I have my canned answers down pat. But every so often, I’ll get a question that I don’t know the answer to. Over lunch one day, one of my coworkers asked me one such question. The conversation went something like this:

Coworker: “But why are you doing this?

Me: “I guess because it’s been my dream for a while now, and why not?”

Coworker: “Yeah, but why?”

Me: “Uhhhh… like… because…”

This question left me shaking in my boots (well, actually, trail runners). What is really motivating me to attempt a thru-hike? How did this become my dream? After a lot of thought and reflection, I’ve realized the answers to these questions are really complicated. I’ll attempt to explain.

The Spark

We’re weaving in and out of cars, dodging tourists with cameras around their necks and kids on their shoulders. After about 30 minutes of searching, we’ve finally done it: We’ve found a parking spot at Clingmans Dome.

It’s spring break 2016, and I’ve traveled to Western North Carolina to visit one of my oldest and closest friends. So far, we spent my visit exploring the mountains, driving the Blue Ridge Parkway, and eating excessive amount of Cook Out and barbecue. It was a great trip so far. But my host tells me that Clingmans Dome is going to blow everything else we’ve seen out of the water. The parking lot situation has me feeling skeptical.

Clingmans Dome and a few of the thru-hikers who inspired me.

Of course, my friend was right. I was totally blown away. But probably not in the way that he thought I would be. I noticed something that day that would stick with me much more than the view or the crowds: thru-hikers. Some were taking snack breaks on benches, some were hauling their packs up to the observation deck, and some were eating pizza out the trunk of a car in the parking lot. They were everywhere, and they all looked like they were having the time of their lives. 

As we drive away, I think about the view, I think about the hikers, and I can’t help but think, “Maybe I should hike the AT, too?”

The Fuel

A little spark like this could have easily flickered out. Hiking the AT could have just been a fleeting thought. It took me a while to tease it out, but I’ve realized that there are some things about me that made this idea stick. Here are some of the most important ones:  

I love adventures (big and small). 

My whole life I’ve loved adventures of all sizes. Here are a few of the adventures I’ve enjoyed/enjoy:

  • Scaling the curtains to climb out of my crib.
  • Riding my bike to the local ice skating rink to climb “mountains” (aka the piles of ice left outside by the Zamboni).
  • Going on an archaeological dig in Cyprus.
  • Taking long road trips to weird places.
  • Teaching pre-kindergarten.

An early adventure.

I am an independent woman (aka I love to do things on my own). 

While I’m a big fan of spending time with friends and family, I also really love doing things on my own.  Solo adventures, such as the following, are so special to me: 

  • Attending college 1,000 miles from home.
  • Exploring my city.
  • Taking both day and overnight hikes.
  • Going to overnight Girl Scout camp (and being super peeved that another girl from my troop signed up for the same week as me).

I love to walk. 

I’ve always been a walker, and I’ve always loved it. I have incorporated walking into my life by: 

  • Extending my walks to/from school by cutting through backyards, across empty lots, and down alleys.
  • Skipping the campus shuttle to walk to and from class.
  • Walking to and from work whenever possible.
  • Wandering around Milwaukee with my friends.
  • Packing nearly all of my vacations with hikes.

Walking on Zion National Park’s West Rim Trail.

The Fire

The spark of visiting Clingmans Dome and the fuel of who I am and what I like have, together, made my dream of hiking the AT burn very bright. This dream feels like it fits me so perfectly. I’ve now spent about three years saving, researching, and preparing to hike the Appalachian Trail. I can’t be certain that I’ll finish the whole thing, but just having the opportunity to try is really a dream come true.

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Comments 11

  • Gloria Swearingen : Jan 14th

    This is beyond exciting! Good luck! I look forward to hearing more about your journey as you explore. ?

    • Katy Amphlett : Jan 31st

      Thanks, Gloria! Hope everything is good with you!

  • Mike S : Jan 15th

    “Are you taking a gun?” No.

    Why is this answer always “No”? Almost every state has a provision for some form of concealed carry. I believe very few people would ever “need” to have a show of force and even less likely to use deadly force.

    What would be the reason for carrying a weapon? Wild life. Just because every person that hiked the trail before you, never had a problem with a bear, is no reason to think you won’t. Smaller animals may have rabies.

    Other people. Perhaps you will not cross paths with a dangerous person(s). Why would someone be threatened with robbery? That is probably right up there with bear attacks. The most dangerous people are not after money. I’ll let you finish that thought.

    If you are incapacitated, you can fire several rounds(not into the air) to get the attention of others.

    You are not wrong for opting to go without a weapon. Neither am I for carrying one. I would rather have one and not need it, than need it and not have it.

    • Katy Amphlett : Jan 31st

      Thanks for the thoughts, Mike. I’ll definitely dive why I’ve made this choice in a future post. That said, I totally believe that others can and should carry what they need to feel safe and secure on the trail (given that they have the appropriate training and are following state and national laws). Happy Trails!

  • Me-han List : Jan 15th

    YOU ROCK SO HARD! Am so so excited for you and can’t wait to hear about it/ follow your journey. Sending you lots of love and strength, thank you for sharing!
    PS: The title of this is gold, and so are you. Go Katy go!

    • Katy Amphlett : Jan 31st

      Thanks, Miss Megan! You’ve always been the best supporter! Hope you’re having a blast in Moab!

  • Allie Leonard : Jan 15th

    Hahaha the title of this is brilliant. Awesome article, maybe I’ll see you out there!

    • Katy Amphlett : Jan 31st

      I thought of the title before I knew what I wanted to write about… haha! And yes! Maybe we’ll cross paths!

  • Dave Mizelle : Jan 16th

    Hope to meet you out on the trail! And no, I’m not taking a weapon either haha

    • Katy Amphlett : Jan 31st

      Hope to see you out there, too!

  • Pony : Jan 25th

    @Mike S

    I suspect the reason most thru-hikers don’t carry a gun (though I know of a couple who have) is that it’s a lot of weight to haul for thousands of miles for something you almost certainly will not use.

    If one decided to actually “open carry” on the trail, it would actually make more sense than packing a gun in your pack. Why? Because if you were attacked by some form of large wildlife (so rare on the Triple Crown trails that it might as well be zero), you would not have time to unshoulder and unbuckle your pack, open it, and rummage for your weapon to do you any good. And, of course, if you *were* able to get at the weapon, then the allegedly dangerous wildlife wouldn’t be quite as aggressive or dangerous as you thought. Ditto for danger from humans (again, such a rarity that the chance of this is almost zero).

    If you did open carry, you would certainly alienate many of your fellow hikers.

    Again, I know a couple people who have hiked with a gun in their packs, but the extra weight alone is enough to put most thru-hikers off the idea.


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