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Being Present as We Hike

I have learned more about how my mind works from hiking than was ever mentioned in the bevy of psychology courses I took at university.

“Attention” is the most important.

I mean, where you give your attention while hiking is key to hiking safely.

Bill North MaroonI’m not just talking now about staying aware while hiking to avoid dangers like grizzlies, cougars or snakes. To be sure, being alert to them is an excellent use of attention.

But, I’m alluding more now to common concerns – tripping, stumbling, falling, heart rate, taking meds and things that are more likely to occur on any hike.

For example, I’ve had only three falls in over seventy years and thousands of miles of hiking. Each fall was because I became distracted.

These falls could easily have been prevented if I had kept my attention where it best was needed to where I was stepping.

Stumbling or twisting an ankle is more than likely the most common trail mishap. And it can cause considerable difficulty. One of those tumbles I’ve taken twisted my ankle it took me an excruciatingly long time to get back out.

This type of trouble is the most easily avoided, simply a matter of paying attention to our hiking.

Another risk we all face no matter how physically fit we are is drinking enough water, especially in hot, dry country like we have out here in the Southwest.

Surprisingly, there are more hiker deaths in the Grand Canyon from heat and dehydration than from all other causes. And that is despite the enormous amount of signage and education rangers try to impart to hikers.

And as good as a gulp of Gatorade or other power drinks are, they don’t provide enough salt to replenish what you lose from heavy perspiration on hot, dry desert days.

 

Meds on the Trail

There are dramatic instances I can cite of hikers endangering themselves from mis-use, or failure to use, the right doses of their meds on hiking trips.

I don’t know why this should be a problem, but I confess I too have had it.

I’m a diabetic and ordinarily keep good control of my meds. But one time I was on a long, strenuous hike and ran into a problem.

I was climbing a trail up a mountain with the determination of gaining its summit of course. I noticed I was getting unusually tired. So at first, I lingered longer on my rest stops.

I began noticing that this was not doing it. And I also was getting a bit light-headed. It occurred that I was getting more than just tired from the climb. I was suffering from low blood sugar, instead of high blood sugar.

I was in need of an energy boost that my body was unable to produce. I needed granola, dried fruit, an energy bar, some source of energy.

But I had eaten my last bite awhile back.

Clearly, it was time to turn around!

But, it was a long way back out. And with each quarter mile of trail I got weaker and dizzier. I prayed for stamina enough to make it.

When a diabetic gets low blood sugar it is extremely dangerous, even more dangerous than high blood sugar.

I lucked out, stumbling to the trailhead, I downed a banana that was still in the truck and some Lifesavers, which I keep there for such emergencies.

 

Diabetic Trail Crisis

There was a more dramatic episode about a diabetic that a friend told me about. The victim was a doctor who should have known better. He was backpacking with my friend, another physician.

This fellow failed to take an adequate shot of insulin and after dinner he went into a severe acidosis funk.

Luckily, Allysin was able to get in touch with rangers who got his pal helicoptered out to a hospital for remedial treatment.

All I am saying in this post is that hiking requires our full attention in ways that ordinary everyday activities allow us to skirt around.

It gets right down to our need to give full attention to where we place our feet one step at a time along the trail.

This is a good exercise. I’ve learned how to control my attention more of the time as a result of hiking, almost as well as I get in my meditations.

I simply need to allow all thoughts that pop into mind to continue on their way out of mind as fast as they come into it. That gives my attention to what I am doing – hiking, one foot in front of the other.

Sounds so simple. Yet is not so easy. Paying close attention increases the pleasure of a hike.

Furthermore, one-pointed attention is what spirituality is all about.

The more focused the attention, the better the spiritual practice.

Like my new trail acquaintance, Dennis, says, “Hiking without talking – no conversation – just being quiet as we walk. That’s what I like.”

And yes, that is one reason why both Dennis and I hike alone most of the time, to avoid conversation on the trail.

 

Be Here, Now

There’s a lot of talk these days about “staying in the present.” It’s basic spirituality.

Try it. Not easy.

The world around us demands our attention in thousands of ways. TV, texting, email, cellphone calls, advertising, loud music and movies. Needs of family and friends. Everyone, and everything, tries to snatch our attention. Some scream louder than others for it.

I always admire the way some people seem able to manage keeping control of their attention in town.

Norbert, the owner of the shop that services our vehicles, gives a customer his full attention while others are waiting for him to attend to their affairs, and employees holding a phone awaiting Norbert’s attention.  But Norbert, stays with each task until it is done, then moves on to the next customer’s needs.  Amazing to me that he does not get distracted.

With all this noise in town, it is very difficult to stay present for any period of time. It’s why I live in the mountains, the nearest human, a neighbor a few acres away.

After all, it is our greatest freedom – to give our attention to that which we choose. We don’t have to allow others to whip it away from us.
The more we control it, the greater our spiritual potential.

I’m going to discuss other things that have helped me gain more control of my attention in further posts. Watch for them.

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I have loaded my latest book with suggestions of how to hike safely, Backpacker & Hikers’ Handbook.

2 Responses

  1. dickswiftblog
    | Reply

    Hi Bill, I’m 69 and planning to thru-hike the AT in 2019. I found your address in Backpacker Magazine on page 75. Thanks for your example to the younger set. Cheers, Dick

    • BackpackerBill
      | Reply

      Go for it, Dick,
      Let us know how it goes. And send a picture or two from your trek. Hope I’m still around to hear from you.

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