WELLFLEET — One of the few people you’ll see on Wellfleet’s Main Street in the early morning hours, pandemic included, is Kevin Carroll.
Chances are he’ll have a backpack strapped over his shoulders. He’ll look a little windblown. And he’ll tell you, for he talks to almost everyone, that he has just completed a five-, or a nine-, or a 12-mile hike.
For Carroll, such a walk is not a sometime thing. He hikes, mostly alone, some 40 to 60 miles a week.
In 2006, Carroll founded the Wellfleet Hiking Club, which has meant sharing his walks with small groups of people, leading them through woods, by ponds and beaches, down fire roads and tiny trails, up dunes, and into dry depressions that appear out of nowhere, like craters in the woods. He claims to know every deer path from Wellfleet to Provincetown.
Intrigued by the idea of a hike that stretches across most of a day as a way to see the town where I’ve lived for 25 years differently, I joined Carroll for a walk. Together, we set out from Wellfleet Town Hall. Before the windless March day ended, we had logged 11.91 miles, barely touching pavement.
Right from the town center, my guide led me along tiny animal paths and fire roads. We walked by eight ponds, and along three town beaches — White Crest, Cahoon Hollow, and Newcomb Hollow. His knowledge of the woods reminded me of the way children understand the woods they play in every day.
After five hours, I almost understood what Carroll meant when I asked where we were going, and he replied, “We’re here. Where else do you want to go?”
Carroll explained that he started the hiking club as a way to reconnect with friends who worked at Mac’s or the Beachcomber. The intensity of the season always made it impossible for them to see one another during the summer. Hiking for hours in winter would make up for that. Carroll, who is a real estate agent, said his group on Facebook now has over 600 members and people have shown up in all kinds of weather to join him for walks.
“My motivation is very simple,” he said. “Be healthy. Get outside. Learn more about nature.” What amazes him is the way it always presents something new. “I can do the same walks but see a different tree or a different pond, or the ocean looks different. It’s really miraculous.”
I asked if he had ever been lost, hurt, or in trouble.
“I often get lost and I’m happy about it, but I’ve never been in trouble,” he replied.
When pressed, however, Carroll concedes he’s had Lyme disease six times and now showers after every trip.
It was a calm, warm day, and we were in shirtsleeves before crossing Route 6 towards the ocean. We marveled at our luck at picking the exact right moment to greet the approaching spring. A hint that this dark winter has ended could be found on the red notes of the native cranberry along the trail.
Though Carroll has seen coyotes, foxes, elusive fisher cats, and all manner of birds, don’t expect a lengthy lesson in ornithology or advice on gear. I asked what kind of nutrition he brings along and he said, “Oranges and strawberries. They just give me energy, and they make me smile. They’re colorful.”
This is probably obvious, but at 48, he is in really good shape. Having played four sports in high school (tennis, soccer, basketball, and baseball), and soccer at the University of Lynchburg, where he fell in love with hiking the Blue Ridge Mountains, he has an athletic stamina. His mood was jovial even at mile nine, when I was out of drinking water and my hips ached.
“I’ve had people that have run marathons, done the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Coast Trail, the John Muir Trail, and the New England Trail,” he said. But his walks aren’t about conquering specific routes. “Mainly it’s all about the group, being inclusive, and loving each other and having a good time without too much community politics.”
Carroll is gregarious and knows practically everyone in Wellfleet, where he grew up. He’s had short stints in places like Australia and San Francisco, but this has always been his home. He’s worked, traveled, roomed, or played poker with many locals, whom he describes, invariably, as “totally cool.”
During our hike, we talked to 10 strangers and petted half as many dogs. At a beach parking lot, Carroll asked a woman to take our picture. He had interrupted her smoking a marijuana cigarette. But she got out of her vehicle and took a few shots. We took off running down to the beach, and Carroll called back loudly, “Thanks! Enjoy that joint!”
“This is what I love about hiking,” he said at the bottom of the dune. “You never know what you’ll see.”
Kevin Carroll and his walks are on Instagram: @wellfleethikingclub.