Slowing Down to Feel Alive: A Reflection from Kaylin Richardson
Breathe in. Breathe out.
When you break it down to the absolute basics, breathing is the essence of being alive.
Therein lies a wonderful simplicity that, until recently, I had failed to recognize.
For me, the frenetic pace of winter is always a welcome feeling. Backcountry tours, filming, powder days, and events; it all strings together into a deliciously exhausting few months… and I love it.
This year, my winter norm extended into spring, and the crazy rate of adventure and activity carried on. I didn’t mind it at all, as fast-paced adventure is what I do; it’s what I enjoy most.
On one of these late-spring adventures, I was invited on a little weekend excursion that I thought would just be another “episode of awesome.”
And it was. But not in the way that I had imagined.
A TRIP TO THE COAST
My friend Cam and I took an early morning ferry passage from Seattle to the Olympic Peninsula. After crossing Puget Sound by boat, we headed to Port Angeles by car. There we procured the camping permits at the National Park ranger station, borrowed a bear canister, and made the rest of the drive all the way to the coast. We found some questionable parking in someone’s front yard outside Neah Bay (per our instructions at the ranger station), gathered our gear, and ventured west at the trailhead, making our way to Shi Shi Beach.
As we marched along, I thought, “I should be doing something more extreme than this. Not just walking on a flat trail to a beach.” Being used to more strenuous struggles, I marveled at how light my pack was.
(Insider tip: the Nemo Dragonfly tent weighs next to nothing… you may want to look into it…)
Like many of us, I get caught up in the social media rat race, thinking that if I don’t post something gnarly every few days, my status as a professional outdoor athlete will falter.
“Unwittingly, I had equated adventure with struggle, and felt I was not measuring up.”
Luckily, Cam said something funny that pulled me out of my inner monologue and into the present moment. It’s true that the trail wasn’t strenuous, but I found that each step proved more beautiful than the last, as we descended into the temperate rain forest.
I chose to focus on my surroundings. I didn’t have to gauge my energy for a big climb or steady my breath for balance, so I was provided a freeing sense of exploration. Without my normal exertion level, I was able to taste the sweetness of the heavy forest air, with just a hint of brine. I reveled in the great, moss-riddled trunks stretching to the sky, creating a cathedral of dappled light around us. I was able to hear the rhythmic loop of waves growing more prominent with each step closer to the beach.
And then, just like that, we popped out onto Shi Shi Beach.
Immediately, we were met with enormous rocks jutting out from the ocean, looking like the spine of a hibernating sea-dragon peeking out from above the tide. Looking south, we could just make out the silhouette of Point of Arches, our destination for the night. Without the distractions of sound and sight that were in the forest, I found myself gazing out, meditating on the enormity of the ocean. We walked along at a steady pace; slow, but deliberate.
And to my surprise, I loved it. There was more time for my mind to wander, my curiosity to expand.
Point of Arches is a staggeringly beautiful mile-long stretch of rocky sea stacks. When we made it to the starting point of their rugged march down the coast, Cam and I set up our campsite well above the tide line.
With no agenda or objective, we began scrambling around like little kids: peering into tide pools, chasing the water, jumping from rock to rock (and sometimes falling in…), scaling boulders, shooting photos, and taking in everything we could in such a miraculous corner of the world.
When the tide changed and the sun dipped, we gathered driftwood and made a fire. Ramen and chocolate bars will never taste as good as they did on that beach. The sunset wasn’t spectacular, but for that night, it was ours. And that was more than enough. As I watched the embers of our fire wane as the moon rose, I just relished breathing, in and out.
In and out.
LESS CAN BE MORE
The simple act of being alive made me feel more alive than I had in a long time.
In the damp, early-morning chill we ate our breakfast of oatmeal in contented silence. After breaking down our tents and tidying our site, we said goodbye to Point of Arches and headed north.
As we retraced our steps, I was filled with a deep sense of peace. I found myself mentally sifting through my collection of prior mountain-top experiences. I smiled at the thought of the utter exhilaration, exhaustion, and relief I often feel after summiting a peak or reaching a goal. It truly is an amazing feeling.
However, what I realized was that the quiet moments – taking time to commune with Mother Nature, as opposed to battling her challenges – makes both experiences more profound.
“My mind and heart had needed a reminder of that.”
At the end of the journey, I arrived back home with a strong desire to continue marveling at the natural wonders and demands of this planet. I was more inspired to explore than ever!
But it wasn’t an “aha”-type moment (the kind I feel after pushing my body to its limit) that gave me clarity.
It was when I slowed down, eliminating the wonderful din of the extreme, that I could hear the call of true adventure.
Are you listening?
You can see more of what Kaylin is up to, over on Instagram: @kaylinrichardson