Be…In This Place: SOBO Days 25 – 27
In my home province of New Brunswick, Canada, our license plates briefly read “Be…In This Place”. This switch took place the year I turned eleven. I thought the slogan was silly. Nothing like my birth province of Nova Scotia, whose was “Canada’s Ocean Playground”…cute, right? Anyway, “Be…In This Place” didn’t last for very long. Now the license plates just say, “New Brunswick”. I guess adults thought it was silly, too.
But you know what, let’s bring back “Be…In This Place”. Just this once, just for this one post.
In a previous post, Hiker Stream of Consciousness, I talked about how my thoughts while ascending and descending mountains yo-yo’ed between the present and past and future. Sometimes I got caught up in a stream thinking about my time at university, or what I’m going to do after the trail. But, I was always jerked back to the present as I focused on the tricky terrain.
Well, let me tell you about tricky terrain.
The Beast That is Southern Maine
Southern Maine is known as one of the most difficult parts of the Appalachian Trail. It is, you should know, also some of the most beautiful. You might think, who am I to judge after less than 300 miles? But, the NOBO’s are saying it too. Every day, we pass numerous Northbound hikers who are making their way to the end of their trek. And they agree, this place is seriously beautiful and seriously rugged.
Maine calls a hiker to pay attention to what they’re doing. No wandering thoughts allowed because you are hyper-focused on identifying every root, rock, and uneven surface in front of you. Let alone trying to catch your breath on the notoriously steep climbs or trying to reduce the burden on your knees on the descents.
Be…In This Place
Besides challenging hikers, Southern Maine offers the chance to really be in the moment. This is great, since one of the reasons why I am choosing to hike the Appalachian Trail is to be more present.
Throughout my academic life (all 19 years of it), I always had the next assignment on my brain. The next test. The next project. And there were a lot of them. While I was definitely focused on being in the moment while working through the endless mathematical problems, my free time was usually spent worrying about the next one.
The trail is devoid of responsibility for me. My monthly bills are a Spotify subscription and a cellphone bill. I don’t have a dentist appointment or a haircut or an apartment viewing or an…anything, until after I’m home from hiking the trail. I’m incredibly grateful in this sense. And, it’s a great time to practice being present.
I recently finished listening to the audiobook, “Unwinding Anxiety” by Dr. Judson Brewer. In this book, the author discusses how curiosity and mindfulness can be key factors in reducing the spinout from anxious habits.
I’m no doctor myself, had to take a hard pass on medical school after getting faint while dissecting a worm in high school, but mindfulness and being present seem to be linked.
You can read many other articles about mindfulness and its benefits for your body, but here are some of the ways that I am practicing being present on the Appalachian Trail.
Be…On The Trail
- Practicing breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth. This proves difficult on some climbs that leave me just short of breathless, but we’re not shooting for perfection here.
- Drinking coffee only while in town or occasionally on trail, but specifically when I have good coffee to drink and the time to enjoy it. This lets me savour every sip instead of rushing through the cup for the caffeine boost.
- Reading before bed. Instead of participating in the endless scroll with blue light searing my eyes before I fall asleep, I’ve been reading on trail. This is partly due to the lack of service and partly due to the conscious decision to work on healthy sleep habits. I’ve been flying through books as a result! Book reviews incoming!
- Listening to the birds and the wind. Meditation practice is incredibly new to me, so I find it difficult to participate for any extended period of time. However, when it comes to mind, usually a couple times per day, I try to leave my hiker stream of consciousness thoughts behind and focus on the sounds around me. For a beginner, birds chirping and the sound of the breeze through the trees are useful to focus on.
- Eating breakfast without distractions. At home, I’m notorious for catching up on emails and messages over breakfast. On trail, other than whispering with fellow hikers, it’s just me and my oatmeal (and a big scoop of peanut butter). I’ve loved enjoying the taste, feel, smell, sight, and sound (questionable?) of my oatmeal every morning and taking the time to take it in, especially the calories.
Into Town And a Blast From the Past
After a grueling however-many-miles between Rangeley and Andover, my crew and I stopped for the night at the Cabin, where we met our 90-year old host, Honey, as well as her helpers Hopper and Don. Honey and Hopper told stories over supper of past hikers and the many memories surrounding the Cabin. I was launched from the present moment to the past and was reminded that every person should live within a healthy balance of the past, present, and future. And over Honey’s shepherd’s pie and Hopper’s brownies, I was happy to enjoy reminiscing on the past before taking off on trail again the next morning for another steep climb.
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