Long-distance hiker Mary Anderson, 63, wrote the following post as she was crossing the Wyoming desert in early June 2021 on a thru-hike of the rugged Continental Divide Trail. A few days later, she had to take a pause because of a knee injury. Mary is working on a book about hiking and living with dissociation and other effects of trauma.
Years ago I took classes with Ram Das, who wrote the book Be Here Now. I think of the importance of being here now, in this place, as I hike this desert.
It would be so easy for me to go to so many other places: the nasty, unwanted divorce waiting for me when I return to Vermont. Concerns over what I will do for a car if the insurance company decides to total my vehicle. What will happen once I hit Glacier and all that snow. Closer to today is the snow I will hit as I near Bridger Peak and Battle Pass. Then there is concern over water or just making it the twenty miles to the night's camping place.
Sometimes I look ahead on the trail and think, That climb looks daunting, but once I get there I find it is not as bad as it looked. I am trying to remember that by the time I reach something I have worried about, I will be a different person just by having lived the time it took to get there.
Each time I jump ahead, I am less present in the moment and more apt to miss the beauty around me. The wide open views are beautiful, even if a bit repetitive. The wildflowers are stunning even if sparse in places. The clouds and shadows on the far hills are gorgeous in their shades of colors set against the blue of the sky. So the challenge for me out here is to not jump into the future but to stay in the present
“Be here now” has another meaning for me. I have spent so much of my life with post-traumatic stress, which means that the least little thing could throw me into the past. I still struggle with that. When the physical pain becomes too big, I find myself in the past. The challenge for those of us with post-traumatic stress or dissociative parts is to separate past trauma from present events which remind us of the past. Trust me when I say this is not easily accomplished. But I continue to practice it each day on the trail, hoping it seeps into all those cutoff parts of myself. I don't want to lose any more time worrying about what probably won't happen in the future. I want to be here now, amid the splendor of the spring wildflowers in the Wyoming desert.
Mary hiked the southern half of the 3,000-mile Continental Divide Trail in 2020 and is undertaking the northern half in 2021.