Hiking Without Ear Buds
Thinking seems like a bit of a lost art to me, even here on the trail. I see most hikers hiking with ear buds, listening to music or audio books. I understand how this makes the hiking feel easier. But what does it do to the thought process?
I used to do some of my best thinking when I was weeding vegetables on my farm. I noticed when I started listened to audio books while weeding I did a lot less thinking. I've noticed the same with driving; when the music or book is playing in the car, I focus on it and less on what is going on in my head.
I do a lot of thinking on the trail. It is how I have been able to write blogs while hiking. Sometimes I let my mind wander. I'm never quite sure where it will go. There are times when I get so lost in my thoughts that I can barely remember what I was thinking, but I sense that the thought process shifted something deep inside of me.
Sometimes I feel as if my mind is blank. At times such as these I feel i am just a walking machine. I lose all sense of self, and all I am aware of is that I am walking. It's a bit of a weird feeling, this complete emptying of the mind and loss of any sense of self. I wonder if it is what some religious people aspire to in meditation.
Sometimes I hyperfocus on the trail—if, for example, I need to figure out where I am going, or if I am going steeply downhill. I focus on my feet and sense of balance so I dont slip on loose rock and take a header as I make the steep descent. The uphills take less concentration. Sometimes on a particularly long, steep climb I have to reign in my mind from wondering where the top is. I often enjoy the uphills, feeling my strength as I pull my pack-laden body up the mountain, but when it is particularly long and steep, I have to hyperfocus on just getting up a small section of visible trail. If I think too far ahead, wondering when the climb will end, I’m more prone to get discouraged. I remind myself that by putting one foot in front of the other, no matter how slowly, I will eventually get to the top.
Usually at some point during the day I think about which of the few options in my pack I will eat for dinner. I think about how good it will feel to make camp for the night. I try to make conscious memories of what I am seeing along the trail. Every day I think about my friends from home, as well as the new people I am meeting on the trail.
By the end of most days, the thinking has helped me learn something new about myself, often something I want to remember going forward in life, or some connection with the present to my past in a way that will help free me from the grasp the past has around my neck.
I think some of the distraction of music and audio books is a good thing. But I fear we are losing the ability to be comfortable with just letting our minds wander and seeing where the thoughts take us. I am afraid the children of today are growing up relying on external stimulation rather than depending on their own creative process.
Above: Road walk along the Big Sky alternate route. Lots of smoke from wildfires.
When 63-year-old Mary Anderson set out to hike the southern half of the 3,000-mile Continental Divide Trail in the spring of 2020, nobody thought she would make it. Hikers give themselves trail names, and Mary’s was Old Lady Hiker. A few days into her solo trek, she ran into some younger hikers who decided she needed a new name. From then on, she was known as Mary Badass. In the fall of 2020, Mary began writing her story in a Korongo workshop hosted by Kimball Library in Randolph. This summer, she is blogging from the trail as she hikes the northern half of the CDT.