I've encountered this phenomenon many times in my hiking career. There are just some places that are so inviting, so hiker-friendly, that you absolutely don't want to leave. It seems impossible to break free from their gravitational pull. Most often, it's a city or small town but it can just as easily be a hiker hostel or even a lone acacia tree in the desert.
My first encounter with a Hiker Magnet was when I was northbound on the AT in 2011. I had been warned that Damascus, VA was a very special place and that many hikers not only stayed there way too long but some even quit their hikes to live there! After one day in that town, I could see why: Damascus offers an interesting mix of hikers, mountain bikers and old school Southern charm. Lots of cheap hostels and good food. It's a 'bunching up' point where you're likely to see people you haven't seen for weeks. And it's VERY difficult to leave. Southbound on the AT in 2015 was even worse: After a double-zero in this town, I ducked into a bar on my way back to the trail to top off the charge on my cell phone only to find college football (Michigan State vs Ohio State) on the big screen TV and Bell's Two-Hearted pale ale on tap. Must.... *clearly straining* Resist.....
There are hostels and hiker hangouts that are just as bad (Casa Luna on the PCT comes to mind). It takes super human levels of will power and determination to get out of there and get back to the trail.
Pagosa Springs, CO (on the CDT) was so darn welcoming that I felt as though the city itself was trying to keep me there. I eventually ran out of town, hip-checking multitudes of Trail Angels and fending off well-wishers with my trekking poles until I finally escaped.
The city of Arad here in Israel has a similar vibe. It's the first town you arrive at, as a northbound hiker, when you emerge from a month in the Negev Desert. Geographically, it's not too big yet it still has everything a hiker needs and it's easy to get around on foot. There are several good grocery stores and at least a couple of bars that serve huge cheeseburgers and delicious craft beer. There is even a house - a really NICE house - that hikers are welcomed to stay at for free. It has no furniture aside from a couple couches and lots of sleeping mats on the floors of the bedrooms. It even has a shower and a fancy flush toilet! I never met the owner - not sure anyone has - but someone is paying the bills for that place and I'd sure like to thank them for such a pleasant stay. Of course, I was reunited with all my hiker buddies in Arad. We swapped stories about how difficult and beautiful the desert had been. Friends of friends invited me to their home for a wonderful dinner. Visiting the Dead Sea was a (Trail) magical experience. It was all so good... How could I leave?
After two days in Arad, I (gulp) summoned the courage to hike on. Even as left town on a Sunday morning, shop keepers were opening their shuttered doors, filling the air with the scent of fresh baked goods and just brewed coffee. I felt powerless against these overwhelming temptations. I staggered, half delirious with desire, back toward the trail.
I'll let you know in my next post if I escaped or not. In the meantime, leave me a comment!