Somewhere around Salisbury, CT I realized hiking 2,000+ miles in a single season is, as my friend U-Turn would say, cray-cray.
I wanted to linger in Salisbury. To spend another morning at Sweet William Bakery sipping coffee and eating croissants that made my eyes roll back in my head with pleasure. To peruse the aisles at LaBonne’s market, my favorite resupply of the entire trail. (I packed out potato salad. It was heavenly.) To sit and sketch that cute little town so I could justify carrying a hard-cover sketchbook and a set of watercolors in my pack.
But I didn’t.
Because thru-hikers are like sharks. We have to keep swimming or die.
And I regret it.
I met a Long Trail hiker in Vermont. Her name was Erica and she was taking a month to hike 273 miles, to linger in quaint New England towns and to pack out wine to share with fellow hikers along the way.
“How civilized,” I thought, envying her pace (9 miles/day) and her relaxed demeanor. “I want that.”
I have some lingering regrets about my thru-hike. They all involve rushing. Rushing past views and swimming holes. Rushing through miles, making it impossible to hike with or visit with friends and family along the way. Rushing to keep up with my tramily and sacrificing my own vision.
One thing I don’t regret is getting off the trail in Maine. I don’t regret not finishing (though it was hard to see all the Katahdin photos coming in, I’ll admit. I had pangs.).
But there’s a consolation prize.
I get to return to Maine and hike it Erica-style next summer. I get to linger in beautiful places. Take my time. Set up my tent mid-day if I choose. Sketch. Pack out wine for my fellow hikers.
I get to be less like a shark, more like a loon, free to move, free to stay.