Finding Stillness On a Crowded Trail

Updated: Jun 6, 2019

Start of DuPont State Forest waterfalls adventure.

As a lifelong runner (until recently - more on that story here and here), I’ve always found a way off of the roads and onto less traversed trails, even though I was never quite a trail runner.

Once I cut back on my running mileage and met Amol, the peace and quiet of walking trails found me.

My mind has a tendency to run about 100 mph in a million different directions, which is tricky when you’re trying to slow it all down.

“Oh hey, look a squirrel!”

Putting myself in nature, and more specifically (or pacifically - haha), hiking on uneven terrain - pushing through challenging climbs and descents, I find my inner calm person who is usually trying to push their way past my anxious, distracted monkey mind.

Now, I wouldn’t exactly ask Amol if it appears that I’m calm while hiking, because he will most likely tell you that I spend a lot of time talking to Cody (our dog) or just blathering on about something that probably doesn't relate to anything actually going on.

“Oh hey, I was thinking…” is probably something he fears more than, “Oh hey, there’s a bear.”

Amol is waaaay too kind to tell me to shut it, but he has the beautiful ability to be silent. (Or some may say he’s ignoring me.)

His silence or selective hearing reminds me to listen to my breath and appreciate the beauty surrounding me instead of trying to fill the still air with hot non-sequitur ramblings.

With this stillness; I can enjoy hearing water in the distance.

I can listen to the birds calling out to each other.

I can feel the earth under my feet.

And I can smell the intensity of the fresh air.

The calmness provides my anxious mind and body with a well-deserved break.4th of July week, our little family snuck up to the mountains of Hendersonville, NC in an attempt to hide Cody from the “bombs bursting in air.” #merica

After a relaxing evening of card playing, movies , and Cody snuggles; we headed into the woods the following morning. I was pretty pumped because this was my first hike since my hip surgery, and I love to test the limits of what my hip does or doesn’t like these days.

Granted, I’ve been doing really well and feeling much stronger than I may have anticipated after surgery.

Even so, my curiosity had me questioning how my hip would feel on uneven terrain, carrying a backpack, and traveling a few miles up and down hills.

Our adventure led us to DuPont State Forest. We hiked the Triple Falls, High Falls, and Hooker Falls trails.

The views were absolutely breathtaking (check out the photos above)!

There were plenty of climbs that weren’t overly difficult, but were tough enough to test my hip strength.

The majority of hikes that we’ve taken are rather solitary other than the company of each other.

Due to the beauty of this trail, probably the ease of being able to explore the falls, and the holiday, the trails were FULL of people.

There were so many pups for Cody to say hello to, and friendly folks to give a nod to or answer the question, “how much further to the falls?” as we were descending and they were inching along the climb that felt like it wasn’t going to end.

“Just a little farther was our response,” no matter how far away they were from reaching the top. (That’s basically like your trainer telling you “two more,” when they really don’t know what the rep count is and know you can push harder. We totally do that. If you aren’t counting, we SURE aren’t counting.)

With all of the extra foot traffic on this adventure, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were still moments I could find that pause in my mind - where I was able to take in everything around me and quiet the chatter of everything running through my mind.

We took our time exploring the trail, stopping to have a snack at the base of the falls while Cody cooled his belly in the water.

At the end of our hike, Amol took a dip at the base of Hooker Falls, while Cody and I rested on a nearby rock.

This entire experience was a much needed mental cleanse.

There are so many trails that we’ve been grateful to have the opportunity to explore and below are a few places in North and South Carolina that I’ve found challenging enough that I can focus on my walking and breathing instead of that nagging neverending to-do list.

#1. Graveyard Fields Trail to Black Balsam Knob. This trail will always be near and dear to my heart - and my blood pressure. It’s the very first nature adventure that Amol and I experienced together and the one and only time we’ve tent camped. The trail is right off the Blue Ridge Parkway with breathtaking views as you hike along the ridge. This adventure came to a halt after Cody’s barking saved our lives, but that’s a story for another time. #nocampinghere #toomanybears

#2. Graybeard Trail, Montreat, NC. Amol and I have completed this hike twice; one with Cody and one without. Up to the peak and back takes about 8 hours with stops to eat and enjoy the scenery. The second time we completed this hike, I had a tiny bout of increased anxiety. We took our gloves off to eat lunch and my hands got so freaking cold. Once I put my glove back on, my hands wouldn’t warm up.

As we climbed, it became harder and harder for me to breathe - once in a blue moon my asthma will flare up, but it had been years. So on top of being uncomfortable, I couldn’t breathe. We stopped hiking and I basically had to take a minute to breathe. Once my body and more importantly mind were calm, we completed our climb to the top - so worth it.

Sometimes you just have to push past discomfort or give yourself a pep talk when life gets ugly before you can carry on and accomplish your goal.

#3. Raven Cliff Falls Loop, Caesars Head State Park, Greenville County, SC. This trail was a tough one with unmatchable views, refreshing waterfalls, and bridges that make you stop to take it all in (or, you know, shuffle right along if you’re uncomfortable with heights). We hiked this 9 mile beast over the weekend of Memorial Day in 2017, and had the place mostly to ourselves. We were fortunate to share this escapade with our dear friends. And if you’re going to spend the weekend in Greenville, I highly recommend getting fueled (a.k.a. politely stuffed) at The Pita House.

Always remember to stop and breathe.

There are so many more places to explore and share that we’ve experienced along the eastern part of this amazing country and last week’s hike reminded me how vital it is to maintain my meditation practice.

I decided to recommit to using my meditation app.

My intentions are to:

1.) intentionally pause once during the day and before going to sleep and

2.) increase the duration that I can sit in stillness.

I know that I am a better human being to not only others, but to myself when I consistently meditate, making my stress and anxiety manageable.

It also helps me maintain focus and decrease my procrastination.

Interestingly, I’ve been out of a consistent meditation practice since my hip surgery, which means not only have I not been running, but I also haven’t purposefully paused in many months. (We won’t even talk about the last time I unrolled my yoga mat.)

In a few months, there will be a follow-up blog here on my thoughts and feelings about the progression of my renewed meditation practice.

Remember; it takes “approximately” 66 days to create a new habit. And for my subscribers/readers - in case you’re wondering, yes, the 5 Second Rule has been used multiple times to get me to meditate - because no one is too busy or tired to pause their mind.

Where’s your favorite place to seek calmness?

Tell me the places that you love to explore to free yourself from the shackles of the daily grind of your mind!!

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