The Andy Lane trail starts at a big parking area in the Catawba valley about ten miles north of Roanoke, VA. There's no better evidence that it's a seriously well-maintained trail than this major foot bridge that the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club built across Catawba Creek:
The sign at the trailhead says it's a 2.3 mile hike, but my GPS measured 2.6 miles on the way up and the same on the way back. That's 5.2 miles of extra hiking I'm forced to do just to get to my starting point on Monday. But it's either hike those extra miles or try to do this 20 mile stretch of Appalachian Trail in two humongous day-hikes from either end. The Andy Lane Trail lets me add a third day to cover the middle. Better not to burn myself out. Once I'm in shape, after maybe a month of hiking, two consecutive twenty mile days would be doable, but not right out of the starting block.
So that's the plan: Hike maybe 8 miles out and 8 back from Troutville on my inaugural hike tomorrow, then come up the Andy Lane Trail on Monday and do maybe 4 miles of AT both ways, and finish up this wilderness stretch with another 8 out and 8 back on Tuesday.
My view of McAfee Knob came from the Catawba Valley this afternoon, as I did a bunch of sight-seeing and scouting road access and parking areas for the first week of my adventure. Here's the rustic view - the Catawba Valley is a little hidden bit of Appalachian paradise:
So tomorrow the adventure officially begins. After two days of warming up, I'm ready to go. Unfortunately, the weather is forecast to go in the other direction (cool down - in fact get downright winter-like). I'm ready for the cold, just hoping that not much more than flurries come with the arctic chill. Stay tuned ...
... and have a wonderful New Year's Eve celebration and a prosperous and joyful 2012. See you next year :-D