ATKO - The Appalachian Trail Kickoff - Grad School for Thru-Hikers

Gene Espy at ATKO 2014. Gene's gear reminds me of folks who say bumblebees should not be able to fly. ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

Gene Espy at ATKO 2014. Gene's gear reminds me of folks who say bumblebees should not be able to fly. ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

Come join the hardcore hiker crowd at the Appalachian Trail Kickoff -- better known as ATKO -- at Georgia's Amicalola Falls State Park over the first weekend in March. They'll help you learn and unlearn all that it takes to complete a hike of the AT from end to end.

Hoping to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail this year or someday? Slap on a T-shirt, a pair of blue jeans and work boots. Grab your heaviest backpack, camp stove, machete and frying pan and head to ATKO.

Sure, they'll begin by kindly telling you to ditch everything I suggested that you bring. No problem. That will leave plenty of room for the stuff you'll really need and will have the strength to carry for 2,189.2 miles

ATKO begins on Friday, March 6th at Amicalola Falls State Park, in the shadow (almost) of Springer Mountain, the beginning of the Appalachian Trail for northbounders (aka "nobos"). It's like grad school for hikers.

The ATKO website describes this hikers' conclave as:

The Appalachian Trail Kickoff is an annual event held at Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia for the last 14 years.

"AT" experts, authors, vendors, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, hiking clubs & organizations and "newbie" and veteran hikers alike congregate in one place to meet, greet, educate and give the north-bound "thru-hiking" class of 2015 the send-off of a lifetime!

Not going to thru-hike any time soon? Come anyway. Pseudo-writers clog all the tables in coffee shops to look like writers. So, all wannabe-hikers are welcome to rub elbows with real hikers at ATKO, even if you're not heading out to hit the Trail with a plastic spork and a shower curtain.

David "Awol" Miller, author of The A.T. Guide at ATKO 2014. ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

David "Awol" Miller, author of The A.T. Guide at ATKO 2014. ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

Please Note: You will not want to rub elbows with real hikers at ATKO. They smell and they're dirty. Although, to other hikers, few scents are as pleasing as eau de Trail. Please bring disposable gloves if you must shake their hands. Thank you.

I'm not sure who you'll find at ATKO 2015, but last year David "Awol" Miller was there. If you give me $25, I'll ask him to sign a copy for you!

Friday, March 6th will be here before you know it.

Sir Packsalot from the Top of Georgia Hostel at ATKO 2014. ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

Sir Packs a Lot from the Top of Georgia Hostel at ATKO 2014. ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

Registration only takes a minute or two. Lodging will fill up too, so plan ahead. Rooms in the lodge, cabins and campsites are among your choices at Amicalola Falls State Park.

Come for the fun, the weirdly fun folks or for the wisdom of Bob Gabrielsen, aka: Sir Packs a Lot. One of his famous bon mots is "Don't quit on a bad day."

Rhea Patrick, Betsy Trope, Morgan Sommerville (Regional Director of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy) and a handsome stranger at ATKO 2014. ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

Rhea Patrick, Betsy Trope, Morgan Sommerville (Regional Director of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy) and ATC volunteer Peter Pan at ATKO 2014. ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

That will grow on you. Wise words to hike and live by on all kinds of life's paths.

You might be able to meet Morgan Sommerville, Regional Director of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and his crew.

Be sure to ask if they're offering any special deals for trail crew volunteers this summer.

Previous winners got free water in return for their time at the hardest job they'll ever love.

Whiners need not apply.

You are free, however, to come to ATKO and whine all you'd like -- with friends and strangers -- if you can't hit the Trail this year or anytime soon. We'll all understand.

ATKO isn't like going to a Trail festival or sharing hot wings with hikers. It's a happily intense and intensely happy time all about hiking the Appalachian Trail from hilltop to mountaintop.

Click Here for ATKO 2015

Click Here for Pictures of ATKO 2014

"Hiking the entire Appalachian Trail isn't hard.  Just begin on Springer Mountain in Georgia and head north until you mount Mount Katahin.  Pffft.  How hard can that be?" said no one ever. ~~  Photograph by Robert Sutherland

"Hiking the entire Appalachian Trail isn't hard. Just begin on Springer Mountain in Georgia and head north until you mount Mount Katahin. Pffft. How hard can that be?" said no one ever. ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland


Tags: Attractions, Events, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Appalachian Trail, Camping Gear, News, Appalachian Trail Conference, Appalachian Trail Festival, and Robert Sutherland Travel Writer

About the Author Robert Sutherland:
Robert Sutherland is a travel writer enjoying life. Robert has two adult daughters and six grandchildren.
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