As much as I enjoy all of the novelty, unknowns and fluctuations that come with thru-hiking adventures, at times, I can get overwhelmed by the chaos. I've found that having a solid morning and evening routine while out trekking helps me stay grounded and focused.
My Morning Thru-Hiking Routine
My morning routine provides a stable foundation for the day ahead, and helps me stay connected to my journey and my purpose.
I like to wake up naturally, ideally to the sunlight or bird songs, although sometimes it's to the wind, rain or other early rising hikers.
First things first, I answer nature’s call, then drink about 16 oz of water to rehydrate my body and have an 'inner bath'.
If the sun is out, I look to the bright sky to set my circadian rhythms. Even though this is a morning activity, it has been found to help you sleep better at night, too.
Then, I crawl back into my tent for a 10 minute, closed eye meditation, which I begin by choosing three things I am grateful for, as well as something I want to focus on/ practice for the day, and something I want to 'let go' of.
Then, I try to focus on my breath. (Read: breathe, get lost in thoughts, come back to breath, and repeat. Haha.)
I end my meditation with three deep breaths where I OM or hum on the release to stimulate my vagal nerve (sorry, nearby campers), which can help increase positive emotions and regulate stress responses.
Then, it's time to pack up my tent, the camping version of 'making my bed', which happens in the same order everyday.
I roll up my air pad and place it in the stuff sack with my sleeping quilt. I then roll my clothes neatly into a pack pod.
I pack any loose ends like my headlamp, battery bank, etc. into my backpack, then break down the tent.
After everything is put away, I go through a short morning stretching routine to wake up my body; usually some arm swings, jumping jacks and good morning bends.
Mornings where I'm particularly rested, I throw in some push ups and air squats as well, especially if it's cool and I need to warm up.
Breakfast is an overnight oat cold soak with whatever nuts, seeds and spices I’m able to round up, along with a heaping spoon of nut butter and some maple syrup for added flavor, nutrients and electrolytes.
A gift I received from the Vietnamese Buddhist Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, is the reminder to 'eat mindfully' and be thankful for the food.
I do my best to bow before my bowl and give thanks to all the hands and hearts that made my meal possible.
Then, I attempt to eat slowly, chew thoroughly and give myself a few minutes afterwards to sit, be grateful and digest.
After all this morning goodness, I tend to feel calm, centered and ready to seize the day with a smile upon my face.
I slip on my pack, head for hills, and let the adventure of the unknown and unplanned unfold before me.
My Evening Thru-Hiking Routine
So much can happen in a long day of hiking that my mind can struggle to process it all. When I arrive at camp, as excited as I am to eat, set up shop and lay down for the night, I need to remind myself to sit down, if only for a few moments, and breathe.
This little bit of slowing down time before beginning the evening activities helps me move more mindfully, and make better, smarter and safer decisions.
After my little break, I feel ready to tackle my evening routine, which is flexible depending on the time, the weather, and the call of my stomach.
First, I change into my camp clothes to signify to my mind and body that we are done with the big efforts for the day. Just this simple transition seems to calm my nervous system down.
Then, I set up the tent, blow up my air pad and lay out my sleeping bag. This is something I'm consciously trying to do with more mindfulness and gratitude; appreciating the shelter of my sleep system as I set it up helps me avoid feeling like the task is a burden or a chore.
I like to say to myself, "I GET to do this."
Dinner often involves chopping up some cheese, cracking a can of refried beans, and taking some corn tortillas out for a Mexican feast.
Even though I'm frothing at the mouth for food, if I can slow down a bit while prepping and noshing, the food tastes better, my stomach (and heart) feel fuller, and my body can digest with more ease.
A short evening stretch in the tent goes a long way. I love ‘happy baby’ pose after a long day of walking to release any tension in my back and lower body.
Once my body is limbered up, I put some time aside for my dental care, flossing and brushing before one last bathroom break for the night.
Once I'm back in my tent, laying down and ready for bed, I like to do a brief recap of the day:
Where did I wake up this morning? What aspects of the trail/ day were highlights for me? How did I handle challenging situations? What could I have done differently? How would I like to show up tomorrow?
Asking myself questions and reflecting on the day helps me, quite literally, remember what I went through (hands up if you've ever forgotten where you woke up), focus on where I'm going, and remind myself of the type of person I want to be along the way.
I find this self-reflection helps me process the overwhelming amount of information absorbed throughout the day, slows the mind's pace and allows me to fall asleep easier.
Benefits of Rituals and Routines, On Trail and Off
Throughout my time on trails, these rituals and routines have changed and evolved, just as I have, and continue to do so.
I try to remind myself to stay open and flexible. Each day is a new day, and a chance to try something different, shed the old and embrace the new.
I'm not perfect, I waiver on consistency and like anyone else, I can grow tired of having routines and at times, throw them to the wind.
But, ultimately, I come back to some semblance of order to bookend my days, both on trail and off, because mindful routines give me a sense of peace and purpose.
Ali Becker is a freelance adventure writer and narrative storyteller who shares compelling conversations about personal transformations, overcoming limitations, wellness education and adventurous situations. You can follow her rambling adventures on social at @thisisalibecker.