What to do in Oregon

Steve and I have been lucky enough to visit Oregon several times and explore some of the beautiful hiking trails and viewpoints throughout the state.  Oregon has some of the most beautiful waterfalls, gorgeous beach scenery, desert adventures, and wonderful mountain views in this country.  There are so many things I could write about, but I narrowed it down to 13 of my favorite things we’ve seen and done in Oregon.

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Mount Hood

1. Abiqua Falls – It was a very rough road to get to the parking lot of this waterfall.  We drove a high clearance, 4WD truck and it still felt like the car might be destroyed. It was a short hike on a rugged, steep, and slippery trail.  When we arrived, the waterfall was absolutely breathtaking as the late afternoon sun rays poured through the trees to light up a magical scene.

 

2. Wahclella Falls – This is an amazing waterfall located in the Columbia River Gorge.  It is a relatively easy 2.4 mile round trip hike in a beautiful, lush forest.  The waterfall itself is powerful and covers you in refreshing mist if you get too close!

3. Trillium Lake and Lost Lake – These are two great spots to view Mount Hood.  We camped at both of these lakes during our van trip and really enjoyed the stunning views.  Lost Lake was very crowded on a summer weekend.  If you go for a day trip, make sure to arrive early to claim one of the lakefront day use spots.  Trillium Lake was a bit more rustic and much more calm and peaceful.

Here is a photo of the Milky Way over Lost Lake taken by my talented husband Steve Walasavage.

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4. Punch Bowl Falls – The 3.8 mile round trip hike to this waterfall is a stunning walk through an incredibly beautiful northwestern forest. When we went, it was drizzling and the hills were draped in thick fog.  There is an awesome view of the falls from above and then another after you climb down to the bottom. I really loved this hike!

5. Samuel H. Boardman State Park – This is a beautiful stretch of the rugged Oregon coast with stunning views and precarious hikes. I wrote more about Samuel H Boardman State Park in this blog post!

6. Toketee Falls – This was a very quick 0.8 mile round trip hike.  It leads to a viewing platform with an amazing view of the falls.  The waterfall is stunning and the basalt columns give it a really unique look!

7. Tamolitch Blue Pool – We woke up early to make the 2.1 mile hike to the Blue Pool (4.2 miles round trip).  The hike was easy and beautiful, weaving through lovely forest scenes and crossing perfect rivers.  When we arrived, the view of this dazzling blue pool completely blew me away! There were only a handful of people there when we arrived and we scrambled down the steep slope to the edge of the pool. After some trepidation, we dove in. It was some of the coldest water I’ve ever felt!  But the rush of being in such a beautiful place and the refreshing jolt of jumping in made this an unforgettable experience.  On our hike back to the car, hundreds of hikers were coming in and the parking lot was completely full. Be sure to get up early to do this hike. It’s worth it!

8. Multnomah Falls – This is one of the most accessible and beautiful waterfalls I’ve ever been to.  It can be crowded with tourists and gets very busy, but the scenery is breathtaking and it is definitely worth a visit if you are ever in the Columbia River Gorge! (Photo by Steve Walasavage)

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9. The Painted Hills – Most of the time we’ve spent in Oregon was at the coast, in the woods, or exploring waterfalls.  However, there are some really beautiful desert areas.  A few years ago we drove out to the Painted Hills in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.  The unique sand hills and rainbow of colors were really incredible!  Watch out for rattlesnakes if you visit this spot.

10. Tamanawas Falls – This was a very pretty waterfall on a relatively easy trail (3.6 miles round trip).  We didn’t have much time to spend at this waterfall, but enjoyed the hike and the lovely view of the falls!

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11. Rowena Crest –  This is a beautiful lookout over an incredible winding road. It’s straight out of a car commercial (in fact they were filming a car commercial the day we were there!) We also went in April when the wild flowers were unbelievable.

12. Susan Creek Falls – Unfortunately this waterfall was swarming with mosquitoes when we visited this spring.  However, it was still a gorgeous hike and I would love to back in a different season!

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13. Crater Lake – This is one of the first national parks I ever visited!  The lake was formed by a volcano that collapsed around 7,700 years ago.  It is also the deepest lake in the United States at 1,949 feet deep! We only spent one afternoon there, but I’d love to go back to explore and do some hiking!

 

What are your favorite spots in Oregon? Have you been to any of the locations listed in this blog? Do you have recommendations of places to visit in Oregon that aren’t in this post? Let me know in the comments or on Instagram (@carrieoutdoors).

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What to do in Southern Norway

I hope you enjoyed my blog post about advice for traveling to Norway! If you missed it, the link is here: Norway Travel Advice

In this blog post, I will share with you my favorite things that Steve and I saw and did in the southern part of Norway! Next week I will do a similar post about northern Norway.  To be clear, Steve and I went to Norway with the goal of hiking and seeing natural beauty, so my list doesn’t include any museums, restaurants, or city attractions.  I am sure there are plenty of those, but we chose to focus on the great outdoors!

So let me start with a quick overview of our trip. We flew in and out of Oslo and rented a car for the full three weeks. We drove west to the fjord areas in the south, then drove north all the way to the Lofoten Islands and Senja, and then back south to the fjords and back to Oslo.  

Before the trip, we made a custom google map with pins for each hike or attraction that we wanted to see. I highly recommend doing this before taking a big trip!  It helped us plan our route and made sure we didn’t miss anything.  We even color coded the pins (yellow = cities, tan = beaches, green = hikes, etc).   If you want any tips or have questions on creating a custom map or traveling to Norway, feel free to email me (carrieoutdoors1@gmail.com) or message me on Instagram (@carrieoutdoors).  Here is a screenshot of our Norway travel map:

Norway Map

Alright, now time for our favorite parts of the trip!  This includes hikes and viewpoints. I tried to put them in order starting with the best spots, but there was no science that went into the rankings.  Everything we saw and did in Norway was AMAZING, so ranking them was tough!
#1: Trolltunga

  • It was a 13.6 mile roundtrip hike.  We did it in one day and it took around 10 hours including a lot of stopping for photos.  Though we didn’t camp, we saw a bunch of tents near the end of the trail.
  • We started this hike at 5am and were so glad we did. When we got to the destination, there were only a handful of people there and we had plenty of chances to take photos. On our way back to the car, we passed hundreds of people heading in. I have heard stories of people waiting in a line for HOURS for a photo! If you go, go early!
  • If you walk out onto Trolltunga, be VERY careful. I heard that someone fell a few years ago.

 

#2: Kjeragbolten

  • It was a 7 mile roundtrip hike to this incredible boulder that is stuck between two rock walls and hovering thousands of feet above the fjord below.  The hike included a lot of ups and downs, was very exposed, and had some steep and slippery rocks.  Wear good hiking boots and bring sunscreen if you do this hike!
  • Go early! It was very crowded at the rock and there was a long line forming by the time we got there in the middle of the afternoon.
  • Be very safe and careful if you decide to step onto the rock.  I had someone hold my hand because I was so terrified.

 

#3: Preikestolen (aka Pulpit Rock)

  • This was a much easier hike than the first two hikes on this list at only 5 miles roundtrip without much elevation gain.  We hiked up to the top on the same day that we did the Kjerag hike.
  • We brought our tent and camped up at the top (we set up our tent far from the edge).  There were only ten or so other campers who spent the night, which is amazing considering I have see photos with hundreds of people up there! We woke up early and scrambled up above the rock to watch the sunrise over the fjord below. It was absolutely incredible.
  • PLEASE leave no trace when you visit (or during any hike)! There was a lot of trash and food left along the trail and even on the Pulpit Rock itself.  Don’t forget: even banana peels and apple cores need to be packed out!

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#4: Bondhusvatnet

  • This might not make most Norway top ten lists, but it was one of the most beautiful spots we visited on our trip.  It is a short, flat hike to a peaceful glacial lake.  We went in the rain and were treated to a beautiful foggy scene with perfect reflections!

 

#5:  Trollstigen

  • This is not a hike, but the drive up the hairpin switchbacks is just as exhilarating! There are several viewpoint platforms at the top to enjoy these incredible views.

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#6: Besseggen

  • This is a beautiful ridge hike with gorgeous views of mountains and two brilliant blue lakes.
  • There are three options for doing this hike.  You can hike there and back, hike to the end and take a ferry back, or take a ferry to the end and hike back.  We chose the last option.  We took the ferry ride down the lake to Memurubu and then did the four mile hike back.
  • The hike was pretty tough but the views were breathtaking.  Be sure to arrive early because the ferries sell out quickly!

 

#7: Lovatnet

  • This is not a hike, but a beautiful glacial lake that you can drive to.
  • We could only stay for a little while but we were able to sip delicious coffee at an adorable cafe and take a handful of photos by the dazzling turquoise water.

 

#8: Romsdalseggen

  • This is another beautiful ridge hike in Norway.  To do this hike, you can hike there and back or take a bus to the end of the hike and hike back, which is what we did.  If you choose this option, be sure to book your bus ticket ahead of time and don’t be late!
  • This hike had stunning views of the valley below and included some tough spots for hiking.

 

#9: Lysebotn

  • This is not a hike but an adorable fjord town that you can drive to!
  • We stayed at the campground, enjoyed beers and burgers at the charming restaurant, took walks along the misty fjord, and watched base jumpers soar down from the cliffs above.

 

#10: Geiranger

  • This is a beautiful fjord with an adorable town! It was packed with tourists but was stunning nonetheless.
  • We stopped at some of the viewpoints and took a boat tour through the fjord to see the beautiful waterfalls.
  • We had some unbelievably delicious pizza in town!

 

Stay tuned for the next blog post which will describe my favorite viewpoints and hikes in central and northern Norway! As always, you can find more of my photos and stories on Instagram (@carrieoutdoors).

Norway Travel Advice

Do you have wanderlust? Do you loving hiking, beautiful vistas, and a mix of mountains, lakes, and the ocean?  Have you ever thought about traveling to Norway?

Steve and I spent our honeymoon driving, hiking, and camping around Norway.  It turned out to be one of the most incredible places I have ever been.  I get asked all the time about my recommendations for the best things to do and how to experience Norway.  After writing multiple versions of the same email to different people, I figured I might as well pull all of my thoughts together into some blog posts! Since we spent three whole weeks in Norway, I won’t go into the details of each day of our trip, but I will instead share the highlights and some tips and tricks that we learned.  This blog post will focus on advice and the next post will highlight our favorite hikes and viewpoints from the trip.

Here are some photos of us from the trip. Notice the huge variety in landscapes! From misty fjords, to white sand beaches, to dramatic mountaintops, to turquoise lakes, there is a never ending supply of natural beauty in Norway.

 

Our Kind of Honeymoon

Steve and I could never go on a typical honeymoon.  All-inclusive resorts have never really been our thing.  We knew that our honeymoon would have to involve camping, hiking, and breathtaking views.  We were looking for adventure! We had both been drooling over photos of Norway for quite some time and it seemed just epic enough for a honeymoon.  We had to wait from our September wedding until my summer break in July to go, which gave us plenty of time to extensively plan every moment of an unbelievable three week  trip!  We drew most of our inspiration from Instagram.  I had saved dozens of amazing photos and created a google map full of pins…there were enough hikes to keep us busy for several years!  We spent time researching, reading blogs, and eventually narrowed down our itinerary to a reasonable amount of activities for three weeks (though in reality we still ended up skipping a handful of things due to exhaustion!)

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Advice

We learned so much during our planning process and on the trip itself.  Here are some pieces of advice and tips and tricks for planning a trip to Norway!

1. Norway is not cheap.  Okay, that’s an understatement. Norway is EXPENSIVE. It is one of the most expensive countries in the world. Food is expensive, drinks are expensive, and gas is very expensive. I want to say this first because if you’re a budget traveler like me, you really have to do your planning to make Norway an affordable trip.  To do this we did a LOT of camping (read tip #2 for more details about camping in Norway).  We also saved money by trying to avoid eating at restaurants.  We brought our small camp stove and bought fuel when we arrived to make coffee and hot meals. We had a lot of granola bar meals, peanut butter sandwiches, and trail mix.  Sadly, the food we did eat at restaurants was really delicious, especially the pizza, which made it all the more difficult to stay on budget.

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2. You can pretty much camp anywhere for free.  One wonderful thing about Norway is their law known as “allemannsretten” or freedom to roam, which essentially says that you can camp on public lands for free. We made use of this rule, and pulled over to camp on the side of the road in some beautiful areas. We did free camping on the beaches, on high mountain passes, and rocky areas alongside the fjords. This is such a huge contrast to our recent van travels in the United States where we had to check and double check where we parked for the night to make sure we didn’t get a ticket or a fine.  Before you visit Norway, be sure to do your research to stay up-to-dates on their current camping laws! Here are some photos from random places we camped for free:

3. Plan your ferry rides in advance.  If you plan on exploring the Lofoten islands or any coastal island areas, which I highly recommend, be sure to plan your ferry schedules ahead of time.  For example, we really wanted to hike Rodoy, but the ferry only ran a few times and days of the week, so it ended up not fitting in our schedule.  If we had known this ahead of time, we could have planned accordingly.  There were also a few times when we just barely missed a ferry and ended up having to wait upwards of an hour for the next one.  Also understand that ferries cost money, which can add up after a while.  To get to some islands, it can take two or three ferries each way!  Here are some photos from our ferry rides:

4. Prepare for some wild driving. Norway is famous for its unbelievable winding switchback roads like Trollstigen and Lysevegen.  The main roads near big cities were fine, but the mountain passes and the descents down to the fjords were narrow, steep, and downright scary! There were times I was sure only one vehicle could fit on the road, and yet somehow we just barely squeaked past another car! I was tempted to slow down on the hairpin turns and narrow, foggy roads, but the locals in giant trucks were happy to slam on the gas and speed on through. Thankfully Steve took the wheel on most of those mountain passes. Here are some screenshots of roads in Norway:

Here is a photo I took of the famous Trollstigen road:

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5. Bring layers and prepare for all types of weather.  When we visited in July, the weather was typically in the 50s and 60s.  It was perfect hiking weather, but got pretty chilly in the evenings and at high elevations.  It even snowed on some of the high mountain passes!  Bring a coat, gloves, and a hat…even in the summer!

6. Avoid crowds if you can.  Some of the most beautiful spots in Norway are, as you might expect, incredibly popular.  Even some of the long and challenging hikes were swarming with tourists! I highly recommend waking up early to visit the popular spots at sunrise, or go in the evening and plan to camp overnight to avoid crowds. We started our Trolltunga hike at 5am.  When we arrived, only a handful of people were there and we were able to spend plenty of time walking out onto the precipice and taking photos.  We had heard stories of people waiting in line for hours for their turn, and we were so glad we went early!  Sunrise hikes can also lead to some stunning views!  I had seen photos of hundreds of people up at Preikestolen, so we decided to camp up there.  Only about 10 other people spent the night, and we practically had the whole place to ourselves at sunrise.  Here are some photos from famous spots early in the morning, before the tourists showed up. I hope you’re not afraid of heights!

7. Prepare for a lot of driving. You could probably hit a handful of the best spots in Norway without too much driving and without leaving the southern part of the country.  However, some of the most beautiful scenery and hidden gems were in the northern region.  We ended up doing a ton of driving in order to make it to the Lofoten islands and Senja. While these areas had incredible hiking and scenery, I am not sure I would have done all of that extra driving if I were only in Norway for 1 or 2 weeks.  This photo was from the remote northern islands:

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8. Don’t plan on doing laundry.  We learned the hard way that laundromats really aren’t a thing in Norway. Since we were there three weeks, we planned on doing laundry a few times (especially with all of the hiking we were doing).  Laundromats were almost nonexistent and we ended up begging a hostel to let us use their laundry machines.

9. There are sheep everywhere.  Watch out for sheep!

10. Bring your camera and extra batteries.  Norway has some of the most incredible scenery you could imagine.  I found myself snapping photos constantly!  Stay tuned for my next blog post with details and photos of my favorite spots in Norway!

New Hampshire 4000 Footers

Hello again!

So this blog post is going to be a little different in that it is not super current. I am still exploring SoCal and not quite ready to blog about this part of the trip yet, so in the meantime I wanted to take a moment to write about my recently-completed quest to summit all 48 of the 4,000-foot mountains in New Hampshire (aka the 4,000-Footers). Even though I am out exploring some unbelievably incredible areas of this country, the mountains of New England hold a special place in my heart and I often think back to many awesome moments in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The beginning of this post will be a general overview of my journey that everyone can enjoy, and the very last section will be specifically for anyone who is actually considering hiking these peaks!

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The Presidential Traverse!

 

The Beginning

I’ll start at the beginning. After a few months of dating my now-husband Steve, I decided to move from New York City to join him Boston, where I found an excellent teaching job. Right away, Steve introduced me to the White Mountains in New Hampshire and I quickly fell in love. As a kid growing up in upstate New York, I loved spending time in the Adirondacks hiking the trails, climbing the mountains, and swimming in the lakes. I grew up loving the outdoors and spending time in beautiful nature. During my time in NYC, I was very busy with work (I taught at a public high school in the South Bronx) and often felt trapped in the city without a car, and therefore I rarely saw the wilderness.

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Hiking on my mom’s back in the Adirondacks as a baby!

Once in Boston I quickly realized that I was only a 2-3 hour drive from the beautiful White Mountains of New Hampshire and was reminded of how much I love hiking and being in the mountains. Then Steve told me about the 4,000-Footers and how he had climbed 10 or so of them over the years with his friends. For those of you not familiar with the 4,000-Footers, this is a list of the mountain peaks over 4,000 feet in New Hampshire (there are 48 of them in total). We decided to head up north and hike a few of them together and I was instantly hooked. As a lover of to-do lists, I suddenly found myself in the midst of a massive to-do list of 48 mountains, each containing incredible beauty, intense work outs, and unique experiences.

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Our 4,000-Footer pin map

Over the next four years, Steve and I drove up to lovely towns like Woodstock, Lincoln, Gorham, Jackson, and North Conway which would be the basecamps for our hikes. We hiked during spring rainstorms, on hot summer days, in the gorgeous foliage of autumn, and even on snow covered winter afternoons. Some hikes were quick and included one summit (for example Mount Hale which is a 4.4 mile hike and took only three and a half hours) whereas other hikes took multiple days and hit multiple summits (for example the Presidential Traverse which hit 7 summits and was 23 miles of hiking with 9,000 feet of elevation gain). Each hike was incredibly unique, considering they are all within a short distance from each other, with lovely wooded trails, occasional ponds and lakes, and many beautiful views from the summits. We hiked alone or with friends and met some incredible people along the way.

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Tecumseh in the snow with some great people!

Our final hike, number 48, was Mount Carrigain. This was a medium difficulty hike but was incredibly memorable. At the summit we ran into a family who was celebrating that the father was also completing his 48th mountain and they had a bottle of champagne which they joyfully shared with us on the fire tower! I have found that hikers in the White Mountains are incredibly kind and down to earth. We may not have the rocky peaks and epic alpine lakes like the Northwest, but the beauty of the New Hampshire mountains is very special. Whether they are shrouded in dense fog, basking in sunshine, covered with amazing fall foliage, or layered with snow, the White Mountains are a treat for those willing to leave the comforts of home and hike into their wilderness. Working through the 4,000-Footer list forced us to hike a wide variety of mountains, not just the popular and most scenic peaks, which ended up revealing a lot of unique beauty and solitude that we otherwise may have never experienced.

 

This was truly an amazing journey. I fell in love with peakbagging and found comfort and motivation in checking mountain after mountain off of our list and adding pin after pin to our map. Steve and I grew stronger both physically and mentally and the hikes brought us closer together as a couple. We even got engaged on our overnight hike of Lincoln and Lafayette!

 

If you live in the northeast I highly recommend hiking some of the 4,000 Footers. If you would like suggestions on which ones to hike, please reach out to me! If you live far away, but like the idea of hiking lists or peakbagging, take a look if there are any hiking lists in your area! Perhaps there is a mountain range nearby (Colorado 14ers, Adirondack 46ers, etc) or perhaps you could try something like the county high points in your state!

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Trying to represent #29 on my fingers!

 

 

 

 

Now if you’re nowhere near New Hampshire and have no desire to hike these mountains, you can stop reading here! However if you’re interested in doing the NH 4000 Footers, I have a few pieces of helpful information below!

  • Woodstock Brewery in Lincoln, NH is a great place to grab a bite to eat and some delicious beers after a hike! They even have a 4,000 Footer IPA! I recommend the Loon Dip and the Cogsman Ale!
  • My favorite hikes were Lincoln/Lafayette, Moosilauke, and the Presidential Traverse!
  • My least favorite hikes were Hale (no views) and the Wildcats.
  • Check out the AMC huts! They are beautiful inside and have awesome maps, pit toilets, and free water. If it’s in your budget, staying overnight at one of the huts is an amazing experience!
  • Whenever possible, I recommend trying to do multiple peaks in one hike. It’s a great experience and also cuts down the total number of hikes you will do to complete the list.
  • Try to catch some sunsets or sunrises in the mountains, they are unbelievable. If you can spend a night during a new moon, you might even be able to see the Milky Way over the mountain peaks (see photo below).
  • Always check the weather and trail conditions before hiking, especially on the Presidential Range or in winter and early spring.
  • As always, be sure to follow the Leave No Trace philosophy. These are some of the most beautiful and well maintained trails I’ve ever hiked and I want them to stay that way! Stay on the trails, follow the rules about camping and fires, and be sure to pack out ALL of your trash, including apple cores, banana peels, sunflower seed shells, and orange peels!

 

 

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White Mountains Milky Way by @walasavagephoto

 

And lastly, here are some very important resources to help you get started!

 

 

  • First of all, this website (http://home.earthlink.net/~ellozy/) is the best resource for hiking the 4,000-Footers!  I have no idea how we would have completed this journey without this site. It has mileage, elevation gains, and book times for the different routes to the peaks as well as commentary about each hike. It talks about which peaks can be combined together in a single hike as well. This site is super helpful!
  • This website (http://trailsnh.com/lists/New-Hampshire-4000-Footers.php) has trip reports with updates on trail conditions and weather. This is a great resource to check before you hit the trails, especially if it is during or near the winter months.
  • There is a great Facebook group Hike the 4000 footers of NH! which is a wonderful community of other hikers of the 4,000-Footers. There is occasionally drama in the comments, but mostly it is full of kind and supportive hikers who offer advice, seek suggestions, or organize group hikes in the Whites.
  • If you plan to hike Mount Washington or any of the Presidentials, this website (Mount Washington Observatory) is critical for checking the weather before you go. Mount Washington has been said to have “the worst weather in the world” and can be extremely dangerous, so be sure to stay up to date on the weather and be prepared for cold and snow, even in the summer!

How Do You Live in the Moment?

How do you live in the moment?

People are always advising us to: “live in the moment”. This is a beautiful sentiment and sounds like something we should all strive to do when traveling or exploring the outdoors. But what I rarely see included with these statements is advice on how to actually do it! I guess people would say to put away your phones and the cameras, which I think can help you be more focused on your surroundings, but is that all that needs to be done to truly “live in the moment”?

Maybe for some of you, it is easy and obvious. But for me, it was never easy. I certainly have always loved to see something beautiful, to be present, to enjoy myself. But I won’t lie to you – my mind is usually wandering. What will we be eating for dinner, when are we climbing down this mountain, I wonder what’s happening on Facebook, what’s going on with that latest political scandal, do I have new Instagram followers, what are we doing tomorrow… Even if my phone and camera were hidden away, I still didn’t feel like I was truly living in the moment but instead was planning my next move, worrying about something, or just letting random thoughts into my head and thus mentally checking out from the experience.

 

So how do you truly “live in the moment”?

I’ve actually been working on answering this question over the last few months since being on the road. I have been working at making a conscious effort to live in the moment. I’d like to take a moment to explain some of the methods I have been trying, in case you’d like to try it yourself. Chances are, plenty of you already do these things either consciously or subconsciously, but perhaps some of you don’t and maybe this could help you!

So here is what I do. When I find myself with a moment to pause in a beautiful location like at a sunset or at the summit of a mountain, I make a pointed, conscious, and purposeful effort to think about what all of my senses are experiencing in that moment. I push away thoughts about dinner, social media, photography, politics, and plans for the future and focus on what is happening right here and right now. I usually do this for about 5-10 minutes, depending on the situation and I try to step away from other people briefly so that I can focus.

  • To begin with, I pause to look. I make note of not only what is right in front of me, but also ask myself what are all of the details of the scene, what is the source of light and how bright is it, and where are the shadows. I make the effort to look in every direction, taking in what is to my left, right, behind me, below me, and above me.
  • Then I pause to listen. What are the loud obvious sounds and what are the quiet subtle noises that you might not notice. This can be tricky when in a popular place surrounded by a lot of people. In these situations, I usually don’t focus much on listening and instead focus on the other senses.
  • Then I pause to feel. What is the temperature like? Is there a light breeze or strong wind or is it completely still? Am I on soft ground, jagged rocks, a flat surface? Is it humid or dry? Am I feeling sore, tired, or full of energy?
  • Then I pause to smell. Is it earthy, floral, or a salty sea smell? Are there subtle hidden smells, like maybe a hint of a campfire somewhere off in the distance? Is there a sulfur or mineral smell, such as at hot springs?
  • If applicable, I pause to taste. I may not have anything to taste, but occasionally if I am sipping coffee in the morning or a beer by the campfire, I make a mental note of those.

Now I know most of us do all of these things all of the time in all degrees of magnitude. But what I’ve been working on, which I guess you might think is pretty corny, is to narrate each of these senses in my head, as if I were narrating an overly descriptive book. And I have to tell you, it has actually been really wonderful. I find that I notice more of my surroundings and feel in tune with the moment and the experience. When I do this, the scene actually becomes more complex and more beautiful. I also find that I remember details of the event much better afterward than previously when I was just looking and taking photographs. This process, like meditation, helps to push away all other worries or thoughts that may be floating around in my head and truly allows me to be present and focused on the current moment.

Below I am going to give two examples of times I have done this and what I experienced. What you are reading is a close replica of what I was narrating in my head in those exact moments. As you can see, I remember a LOT of details about each scene, and I believe this is a direct result of doing this exercise.

Before you continue I just want to offer a disclaimer: I teach math and physics and am a very science-minded person, not a poetic author or writer, so please bear with me!

 

Moment #1: Sunset in San Elijo, California

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  • I pause to look. The colors are beautiful. I can see every shade of red, purple, pink, magenta, maroon, fuschia, orange, yellow. Just as I get a sense of the scene in front of me, I realize that the view is constantly changing as the sun slowly sinks and then drips below the horizon like a droplet of water falling out of a faucet. The clouds are moving and shifting in a smooth but very slow manner, continuously changing size and shape creating a new and unique scene every few seconds. The waves roll toward the shore in irregular intervals. Some are smooth rolling bumps, carrying energy from the depths of the ocean to the sandy beaches. Others build, fold over, and crash, creating a small explosion of ocean spray and mist. Looking left, right, and behind me I see puffy pink clouds like cotton candy floating on a darkening greyish-blue background. There are tall, thin palm trees swaying in the breeze. I see people gazing at the sunset, petting their dogs, holding hands with their children and loved ones. A group of pelicans flies across the kaleidoscope sky in formation and couple of lizards skitter among the rocks in a garden behind me.
  • I pause to listen. The most obvious sound is the waves crashing and the undertow noisily pulling water back out to sea. I hear the wind rustling leaves in the bushes nearby and the palm trees above. I hear a child giggle, footsteps of joggers on the sidewalk, murmurs of quiet conversation. I try to listen for the footsteps of the lizards of the flapping of birds’ wings, but the crashing waves are too loud and drown out these tiny noises.
  • I pause to feel. The warmth from the spring day lingers in the humid air but there is a cool breeze blowing from the ocean. My loose locks of hair are blowing in the wind and occasionally tickle my neck and face. The beach is soft under my feet and grains of sand feel rough on my sandal-covered toes.
  • I pause to smell. There is a salty, and mildly fishy smell in the air. It is a familiar smell that brings waves of nostalgia from past trips to the beach and childhood family vacations to the coast.
  • I pause to taste. There is nothing to taste at the moment, but there is the anticipation of the pizza we will eat once the sun has finally set and the skies turn dark and gray.

 

Moment #2: Campfire in Kaibab National Forest (photo by @walasavagephoto)

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  • I pause to look. There is a brilliant fire before me. The embers are glowing and sparkling with a deep hue of orange. The flames are a dazzling yellow with a pale blue edges where the fire meets the charred logs. The fire is constantly moving, growing and shrinking, and changing directions as the wind shifts. I move my gaze upward to see the tall pines reaching up toward the night sky, which is speckled with millions of stars. I stop to remember that while the sky looks two dimensional, it is really three dimensional. Those stars are huge, burning, glowing objects nowhere near us and nowhere near each other. This begins to overwhelm my mind to think about so I look back down and around me. In all directions I see more and more trees of varying heights and widths spread throughout the forest around me. I peek at our van behind me, with the bouncing flames of the campfire reflecting off of its shiny silver paint.
  • I pause to listen. We are deep in the forest so silence around us is heavy. The fire crackles and occasionally sputters as it burns through log after log. Every so often there is a small crack of a twig somewhere off in the forest or a skittering sound of some small animal making moves in the night.
  • I pause to feel. The night has grown chilly and I am bundled up in my favorite fleece blanket. The fire is warm on my face and hot on my hands as I poke and prod the flames with a stick. When the wind changes directions, the smoke burns and stings my eyes a bit, as I wait for the breeze to blow the flames in another direction.
  • I pause to smell. The smell of campfires is one of my favorite scents. I don’t quite know how to describe it except that it is a deep, heavy, smokey smell. I am reminded how each place I visit has its own unique campfire smell due to the native trees. In this case, we are smelling the sweet scents of Juniper and Ponderosa Pine.
  • I pause to taste. I take a sip of hot cocoa and taste the delicious and rich chocolatey flavor as it warms my tongue, mouth, and throat.

 

Hopefully it is clear how doing this exercise helps me to feel, experience, and live in the moment. It is almost like a meditation. Each time I do this, I expose the complexity of beauty and wonder that exist in a single moment in space and time. I don’t do this exercise every day or every time there is a beautiful scene. But I will say that each time I have done this has enhanced the beauty of the experience and helped me remember it crisply and clearly in the days and weeks after. I look at the photo and and transported back to the moment, and can remember the experience vividly. I advise you to give this exercise a try next time you are somewhere incredible and you want to “live in the moment”. It’s not just about simply putting the electronics away, but is about experiencing something fully and purposefully.

 

So now I will ask you. How do you “live in the moment”? How do you fully immerse yourself in an experience? Are you someone who does all of the things I have written here automatically? Do you have other methods or strategies? I would love to hear them and try them out! Let me know by email (carrieoutdoors1@gmail.com) or on Instagram (@carrieoutdoors).