ATKO (Appalachian Trail Kick Off), by Whitney "Allgood" La Ruffa

ATKO (Appalachian Trail Kick Off), by Whitney "Allgood" La Ruffa

Appalachian Trail Approach Trail

Revisiting those first steps, "Allgood" at the infamous Visitor Center Arch

At the end of February I set off to attend the annual ATKO, Appalachian Trail Kick Off Event at Amicalola Falls State Park and Lodge in GA.  Amicalola is the unofficial start of the Appalachian Trail (AT) where thousands of hopefuls often take their first steps on a journey that will forever change them regardless of the fact if they finish or go home beforehand. The Approach Trail is an AT legend for being steep, muddy and rocky....wait that sounds like how I remember the entire AT being...Some hikers decide to start at the visitor center and walk the approach trail 8 miles to Springer Mountain, others get a shuttle to Springer Mountain the official Strat of the AT.

Somewhere on the AT back in 1996, From Left to Right, "Marmot", Erwin (dog), "Allgood", and In"Inter-Planet Janet"

I was personally here 23 years ago myself, as an 18-year-old kid setting out on a hike that little did I know would shape my entire life's' direction.  I remembered struggling those first 8 miles with 85lbs on my back (yeah I've come a long way).  The joy of making it to Springer Mountain and the greater joy I found with a proper pack shakedown and send home of extraneous gear at Neels Gap a few days later.

23 years later and my trip to Amicalola was similar in some ways (mainly I had no car), I flew in to Atlanta, got a train to the Marta Station North of Town, and had Survivor Dave'sShuttlee Service drop me at the Park, this time however I wouldn't be walking to Maine, instead I'd be there with our dealer Anti-Gravity Gear helping out and talking gear for the weekend at the ATKO.

Six Moon Designs booth at ATKO

I arrived on Wed morning even though the event set up started on Thursday evening, this provided me a couple of days to get back into AT life.  I spent my first few days there going on short day hikes, retracing the steps of the infamous approach trail and soaking up the nostalgia of my first long-distance hiking steps.  Then an incredible thing happened, I had the opportunity to help others who were setting out on their first steps, calm their nerves, and lose some extraneous pack weight.

"Allgood" Helping sort through the gear to make packs lighter and the miles more enjoyable

I sat in the lodge chatting with hikers and offering to give a final pack shakedown if they wanted.  I always started by saying, "we'll go through the pack, I'll help you talk through the gear and you decide because at the end of the day you have to carry it up and down the trail, not me"

Talking through one's gear lets them decide what to keep and what to send home, there are no right or wrong answers just personal decisions to be made.


Hot Mess Hiker was all smiles during her pack shakedown and shared her story with us of her native heritage and support her tribe is providing to help her on her hike.

It was fun to connect with these new hikers and get infected with their enthusiasm.  Some tough decisions were made, lots of gear was bagged up and mailed home, but best of all they all left smiling and feeling more confident before they started out the next day. 

@sarahikesnh upgrading her umbrella to a new Silver Shadow Carbon

In true trail community fashion I saw a couple of friends heading out on the AT too, my friend form the CDT in 2016 Rampage was there hiking the first 30 days of the trail with her uncle before heading to the PCT to work on that Triple crown, and then my good friend and ALDHA-West Gazette Editor Charles showed up on his very first long-distance hike.  It was great to see them and get a chance to connected before they each left on their hikes.

"Rampage" and "Boo" off on their start of the AT

 As the rest of the weekend unfolded I spent my days talking tents, backpacks, and trail life at the ATKO in our small booth space.  It was great to meet hikers and those hoping to hike in the coming years. One major highlight was a 30-minute talk I gave on 10 tips for long-distance hiking.  Instead of talking gear and what the latest and greatest item is I got real, and we talked about blue sponges and blisters...a great way to end a trip on memory lane was to help others prepare to walk it themselves.

Charles after completing his first mile of the Approach Trail

We'll be making the trail event circuit his year so come see us at one of these great trail events.

Continental Divide Trail Days, April 26-28, Silver City, NM

Trail Days, May 17-19, Damascus, VA

PCT Days, August 16-18, Cascade Locks OR


About the Author

Whitney "Allgood" LaRuffa grew up in rural NH where he forged his love of the outdoors and activities such as fishing, skiing, and his true love backpacking. His time spent in Boy Scouts helped him hone his outdoor skills as he worked his way to becoming an Eagle Scout and fueled his passion for long distance hiking.

Allgood has clocked over 9,000 miles on long-distance trail in the US. In 2014 he and two friends pioneered the first thru-hike of the Chinook Trail, a 330-mile route through the Columbia River Gorge in WA & OR. In 2016 Allgood left his career in the world of forest products and reconnected with rural America by successfully completing his thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail from Mexico to Canada. Since this hikehe has taken on a new career path that combines his love of sales and marketing with his love of backpacking and long-distance hiking. Shortly after joining Six Moon Designs, he thru-hiked the Oregon Desert Trail as a way to reconnect with the state he calls home and further familiarize himself with our gear. After walking 750 miles through punishing terrain, the Fusion 50 proved its worth, week after week carry any load needed to survive the desert and withstanding constant abuse.

After many years on the trail, Allgood is a sought after speaker, educating people about responsible backcountry use with their dog, ultra-light hiking, thru-hikes for working stiffs and a vast variety of hiking related topics. Despite all this, Allgood is the sitting President of The American Long Distance Hiking Association-West (ALDHA-West) where he volunteers countless hours helping to be the voice of America’s long-distance hiker. 

You can find Allgood walking the trails around the US in need of a shower, a cold beer, and a pint of Salt & Straw Ice Cream.



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