The movie will bring a new level of fame and attractiveness not only to the whole of the 2,180-mile trail, but also to Virginia’s 550 miles of it and to what is arguably the trail’s most famous en-route spot—McAfee Knob.
Let’s hope the movie is as cool as the ironies.
In Bill Bryson’s famous and best-selling 1998 book, “A Walk in the Woods,” he and would-be-thru-hiking companion Stephen Katz (among those whose “names and identifying details have been changed to protect their privacy”), get off the Appalachian Trail near Knoxville, and they catch a cab “to Roanoke.”
Word is they never set foot on Roanoke’s backyard-attraction part of the A.T., McAfee Knob.
Jump forward more than 15 years to the coming of the movie based on the book—with a nationwide release date of September 2—and lo, behold and consider, the poster shows the two hikers standing on . . . where else but McAfee Knob.
Word is that movie stars Robert Redford and Nick Nolte also never set foot where Bryson and Katz never did either.
Doesn’t mean that the most photographed spot on the entire 2,180 miles of the trail as it winds from Georgia to Maine is not the perfect setting for the cover photo of the movie.
Doesn’t mean that the magic of Photoshop and excellent stand-in doubles are not the perfect way to get the likenesses of Mssrs. Redford and Nolte up there at 3,197 feet after a 3.7-mile walk.
Doesn’t mean Roanoke’s most popular hike is not going to get even more popular once the movie comes out—to the extent that the regional A.T. office out by the DMV is now considering moves to address the anticipated swell in the number of A.T. hikers as a result of the movie.
In fact, my most recent attempt to go up the trail to the formation, on a day a month in advance of the movie, was blocked at least in part by some of the early steps to address the anticpated swell. This was Sunday, August 9, early afternoon, and the former semi-expandable, cheat-in-here-or-there parking lot was completely full, and guarded by a new length of chain at one edge. And in the former “overflow area”—along the edge of Va. 311 headed down toward Salem—were shiny new NO PARKING signs.
“Why are you driving through again?” said The Greatest Day Hiker Of Them All as I circled around, chiding this car and that for not being parked close enough to the next one to allow another car.
Well, the reason was that I sort of refused to believe, for that one more pass, that we were really going to be precluded from a favorite hike. For the first time ever in maybe two dozen times of rolling in, grabbing the poles and packs, and heading up.
Yes, the climb up the Andy Layne Trail to the A.T. and Tinker Cliffs was a perfectly fine hike for the day. And we finally remembered to remove our layer of ignorance about the word “riparian,” as related to the sign near the recent trail re-routing and tree plantings around the creek.
There are, according to local A.T. office head Andrew Downs—director of the Southwest and Central Virginia Regional Office—likely more changes coming to the McAfee lot. The two porta-potties—first time we’d seen those as well—may be replaced by a permanent facility similar to the one at the Dragon’s Tooth lot. There may be more work on the parking. And perhaps more of a presence from A.T. staff and volunteers. And more signage to talk not only about trail etiquette and practices, but also to help guide the inevitable few who get out of their cars and head south instead of crossing the road to start up to McAfee.
The Roanoke area’s most famous rock is about to get even more famous. May the lot, the rock and the trail leading to it survive the test.