ATKO 2015 -- Appalachian Trail Kickoff Pictures & Memories

Georgia's Amicalola Falls State Park ~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

Georgia's Amicalola Falls State Park ~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

All the usual suspects gathered once again over the first weekend in March for ATKO 2015 -- aka the Appalachian Trail Kickoff -- at the gloriously beautiful Amicalola Falls Lodge high above Amicalola Falls State Park.

We weren't all there to hit the Trail on Springer Mountain, "a few scenic miles" away, up a bazillion steps adjacent to one of the highest waterfalls east of the mighty Mississippiissippi River.

The legendary Gene Espy spoke at ATKO 2015 at Amicalola Falls State Park near Springer Mtn in Georgia. ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

The legendary Gene Espy spoke at ATKO 2015 at Amicalola Falls State Park near Springer Mtn in Georgia. ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

We scooched ourselves together to hear tales of the Trail from a few of our favorite folks who have gone before us from start to finish.

This was the place to be if you wanted great advice on what to pack or how to pack it or what to pack it in for a long hike.

Proving once again that old guys are way more cool than we give them credit for, Gene Espy spoke to a packed crowd about his pioneering thru-hike. Gene earned the respect we have for him.

Gene hiked the Appalachian Trail from end to end before anybody else even thought about doing it ... using gear that hikers now consider to be absurd in so many ways.

But he did it. Happily.

Before "we" could give him 42 reasons why he'd never make it.

Everybody's pal, David AWOL Miller -- author of the priceless AT Guide -- spoke about his thru-hike and how to employ his guide if we take the Trek.

Everybody's pal, David AWOL Miller at ATKO 2015 with a copy of his AT Guide for thru-hikers. ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

Everybody's pal, David AWOL Miller at ATKO 2015 with a copy of his AT Guide for thru-hikers. ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

It would be easy to think that was just a commercial. It wasn't.

Hearing AWOL was more like survival training or boot camp. Even a bit like hearing Captain Kirk telling of a five-month mission to explore strange new worlds and new civilizations. Boldly going where he has gone before.

One of David's most charming qualities is that he's a bit uncomfortable in the spotlight, I think. Not a nervous wreck or awkward.

Gene didn't hike the AT to be famous and David didn't write The AT Guide for popularity. They're both nice guys who loved their hikes and who want to help others do it too.

Read his book, AWOL on the Appalachian Trail, and you'll get to know him very well, but it's better to meet him at Trail festivities.

For section hikes, don't leave home without AWOL's AT Guide.

There were sessions about ultra-light gear and words of wisdom about how to turn your attempt to thru-hike into a finished thru-hike. ATKO gave us all a chance to relax with fellow hikers.

Skywalker -- the tallest man ever to hike the Appalachian Trail (maybe) at ATKO 2015 at Amicalola Falls State Park near Springer Mtn in Georgia. ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

Skywalker -- the tallest man ever to hike the Appalachian Trail (maybe) at ATKO 2015 . ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

You'll be happy to know that "we" decided that Bill Walker -- better known as Skywalker: author, hiker and tall guy -- was and/or is the tallest man to ever hike the Appalachian Trail.

When asked about being named the tallest guy to hike the AT, Skywalker said -- and I quote -- "Well, I guess that could be true."

What more proof could anyone ask for?

If you haven't read: Skywalker--Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail, you'll love it.

Only a fortunate few will attempt an AT thru-hike and only a fortunate fewer will be successful. That can't stop us from vicarious victory by reading AWOL's book or reliving Skywalker's hike.

Better yet, try to attend an AT event like ATKO this year. You'll meet new friends and maybe new hiking companions. At the very least, your love for the AT will grow.

Maybe even the inspiration to hike it yourself.

Click Here for AT Events like ATKO on the Trail


Tags: Events, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Appalachian Trail, Hiking Gear, News, Appalachian Trail Clubs, Georgia Appalachian Trail Club, Appalachian Trail Conference, Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association, Appalachian Trail Festival, Robert Sutherland Travel Writer, Festivals, and Hikers

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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