After looking into it, I can accept that I need to spend $2000 on a decent bike, and that recumbant isn't the way to go for me.
I think my plan is going to be to buy a cheaper bike, ride it over the next few months, see what I like and don't, and then buy a better bike in spring. More expensive that way, but better than spending $2k on a bike I don't like. My local shop has a Jamis Coda 540 for under $600 that looks pretty good. (Any thoughts on that?)
I can get set up with that and start biking on the trails around me; if things go well, I will have a week in October to try and do the Great Allegheny Passage/C&O towpath; if not, spring break.
My base weight (ie no food or water) for hiking is about 15-18 pounds; I travel light, but not ultralight. I can be tough on gear, and especially given that I haven't ridden a bike more than a couple miles at a time in years, I'm going to need a rugged touring bike.
Getting excited about planning this. Any general advice welcome.