You do a hike for the 20th time over a seven-plus-year period and you ought to know its every twist and turn. Which we pretty much do for this favorite, though of course there are always a few small surprises:
1. The Andy Lane Trail appeared less maintained than we've ever seen it, without the usual summer cuttings along its edges and with the use-and-return clipper tools all gone at the base.
2. Where are the cows? The lower part of the trail used to be littered with cow pies, and the four stiles were attached to taut barbed wire to help contain them. On this day we had to climb only one of the stiles, as beside the other three the barbed wire was on the ground.
3. The guidebook, we noticed today, calls it the "Andy Layne" Trail, while the map, signage and other sources ID it as "Andy Lane."
4. No osage oranges on the ground; the spider-phobic Greatest Day Hiker had to pluck her four alleged arachnid-repellers directly from the trees.
5. You realize, up the Andy Lane, up the AT to the high point, that you don't have the camera.
What never changes – no matter the season or the weather – is the reward of the 1,700-foot elevation gain: the look out over the Catawba Valley and beyond at the mountains of West Virginia; the breeze from the west, and the wonder as you sit and eat lunch and look at those mountains and the wispy clouds, how one little part of the planet can look so pure and healthy and yet not be so.
Andy Lane Trail to Appalachian Trail to Tinker Cliffs and back. 7.2 miles.
How to get there: Va 311 west from Salem over Catawba Mountain; right onto Va. 779 to parking lot on the right in about 8 miles.