Appalachian Trail Kickoff A Smashing Success As Hiking Season Begins
The annual ATKO (Appalachian Trail Kickoff) at Amicalola Falls in north Georgia saw record turnouts this year. The crowd was evenly divided between ex-thru-hikers, current year thru-hikers, and wannabe hopefuls for the future. The event was a another display of how the Appalachian Trail is America’s great trail of the masses, with a stunning diversity in its hiker community. One of the featured speakers was a fifteen year old girl (‘Chipmunk’) who last year became the youngest woman to ever solo thru-hike (without the presence of her parents). All I could think about while listening to her was how she probably learned a lot more lessons for the future out there than she ever would have during the few months of school she missed.
On the other end of the spectrum was Gene Espy of Macon, Georgia who was the second ever thru-hiker (although some now say he was the first as there are questions about Earl Shafer’s 1948 thru-hike) in 1951.
Hikers, by their very nature, project enthusiasm. I did my presentation on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal and my most recent narrative, Getting High. As I told the audience, I got the idea to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) while on the AT, the idea to walk El Camino de Santiago while on the PCT, and the inspiration for the Annapurna Circuit while on El Camino. Objectively, I gleaned great interest from hikers in one day heading to Nepal to walk the Annapurna Circuit which reaches 17, 768 feet and is the most popular hiking trail in Asia. And it made my weekend when three different people came up to tell me they were doing the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage this year based partly on things they had heard from prior year presentations I had given on it at Amicalola Falls.
Yes, the depth of the Appalachian Trail community is staggering and 2014 is setting up to see record participation once again. And a million thanks to Lauretta Dean of Amicalola Falls, the maestro who orchestrated this marquee event so flawlessly.
Bill Walker is the author of Skywalker–Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail. He is also the author of Skywalker–Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail, The Best Way–El Camino de Santiago, and Getting High–The Annapurna Circuit in Nepal.