• Mary Anderson

Learning to Slow Down

Mary Anderson is walking the 3,000-mile Continental Divide Trail, one step at a time.

I slowly and painfully lift my stiff body from a sitting position on the ground. I stare at my pack, willing it to levitate into position on my back. When that doesn’t work, I give a grunt and lift it into position, buckling and cinching my hip belt and adjusting the shoulder straps. Then I set out for the last few miles of the day, which often feel like a challenge to me. Depending on the day, they can be a big challenge or a little one.

I got to thinking how those last miles are kind of like old age. My body is sore and tired. All I want to do is lie down. Ideally, someone would cook my dinner and feed me, but of course that’s not going to happen. Enroute, I eat something to keep my blood sugar up. If I’m lucky, I’ve managed to save my favorite gummy-bunny snack for this time of day. If not, I pull out a Clif Bar or some such thing, which by the end of the day is hard to get down. Eating helps me pass those last few miles and makes me less prone to tears, which won’t help get camp set up for the night. I have to pull from deep within to walk those last few miles, not minding if my pace is slowed. As long as I keep putting one foot in front of the other I will arrive at my end point. Sometimes I stop and rest a bit more often. But mostly I try to keep going. I think of what a good friend who is fifteen years older than I told me: “Don’t stop doing the things you love. Just do them at a slower pace. It’s ok to get less done. Just keep going.”

And so I do, sometimes finding that as I get close to the end of the day I feel the quickened step of a horse approaching the stables. But often I am just weary. I set up my tent, and in grizzly country I gather my food and find a place away from the tent to cook. As I eat my dinner, savoring my evening cup of tea, I try not to feel lonely. I think of all the great things I saw and experienced during the day. I look at the trail app to see what lies ahead for the next day. I secure my bearproof bag to a tree and sigh with relief as I crawl into my sleeping bag. I’m tired enough that lying on a lightweight air pad with some rolled-up clothes as a pillow feels like a feather bed.

I hope I can still take pleasure in simple things as my body ages and I slow down on the path of life. For now I’ll just keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep doing the things I love, even when I’m barely plodding along.

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