8 min read

Slow Down for More

Slow Down for More
Our Subaru Forester equipped with a Thule XT cargo box

We spent the last two weeks of August driving well over 2,000 miles. Owen (our 6-month-old), our two dogs, Annie and I all packed into our Subaru Forester.

(Thank you, Thule XT, we couldn’t have made this trip without you)

Since Annie and I have been together, this is our 4th major U.S. road trip that’s topped over 1,500 miles (two of our trips topped over 4,000 miles 🙄).

Here’s everywhere we stopped this time:

  • Corpus Christi, TX
  • Austin, TX
  • Rockwall, TX
  • Hot Springs, AR
  • Nashville, TN
  • Asheville, NC
  • Strasburg, VA
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Fairfield, CT
  • Somerville, MA

I’ve always preferred these road trips over flying because it’s a much slower way to travel.

One of many abandoned hotels in the resort town of Hot Springs, AR

Whether it’s the both beautiful and spooky vibes of Hot Springs, Arkansas, the Southern granola feel of Asheville, North Carolina, or the life underneath our feet during low tide on the beach in Fairfield, Connecticut, making the trip by car means we get to enjoy each mile we cover.

Sure, the costs aren’t the same (environmentally or financially). Nor is the duration (this trip was 13 days vs. the half-day if we were to fly). But by taking the slower option, we see, notice, and enjoy what we otherwise wouldn’t.

And with a 6-month-old, we took this trip far more slowly than we ever have before. This time, we were truly testing the mettle of our belief that it’s better to seek depth versus breadth.  

The era of single-day 16-hour driving marathons might be over for us. [1]  Instead, we maxed driving days at 5-6 hours and took 2-night pauses between longer days so the team—us, the pups, and our little pumpkin-wumpkin (too much?)—could recover. We stopped for a long lunch each day and played fetch in parks everywhere from Texarkana, Texas to Wilmington, Delaware.

The era of single-day 16-hour driving marathons might be over for us. Instead, we maxed driving days at 5-6 hours and took 2-night pauses between longer days so the team—us, the pups, and our little pumpkin-wumpkin (too much?)—could recover. We stopped for a long lunch each day and played fetch in parks everywhere from Texarkana, Texas to Wilmington, Delaware.

As we spent the last day of our trip checking out the coastal Connecticut town of Fairfield, Annie and I noticed that of all our trips, we enjoyed this one the most.

Slowing Down Against Your Will

Slowing down has its benefits. When you slow down, you pay attention and you notice more.

And nothing forces you to slow down more than having a baby.

The adjustment to a new pace can feel painful, especially at first, even if you were already more of a stop-and-smell-the-roses kind of person.

It’s not good or bad. It’s just change. Massive change. And change can be difficult.

But things seem to get easier when you realize what exactly it is that is making the change difficult. Often, it’s not the change at all so much as we’re resisting our new reality.

Life before, isn’t and just cannot possibly be life moving forward now that we’re growing into parenthood. As tough as it is, once we notice this, we begin to accept it, and then continue on this new path, eyes a little bit more open than they were before.

Acceptance never happens all at once.

It’s also not a one-time switch (especially when you’re operating off only sporadic winks of sleep that can send you down a “wait what’s happening” spiral), but the more you accept, the more you can embrace the slow, the more tensions melt away, and the better you feel.

You simply get to pay attention to what is, once we stop trying to force things to be something else.

And not just paying attention to whether Owen is too hot, needs some sunscreen applied to his legs, is hurting because a tooth is coming in, hasn’t eaten enough for the day, is getting his naps in at the right time, has a rash because he’s sick or because he’s allergic to something, is spending too much time in a car seat, is putting things in his mouth that he shouldn’t, has that weird pop in his shoulder sometimes because of a developmental issue (?), or is going to keep that white streak in his hair that we love so much.

Not just those things.

You start to see, hear, and feel so much more from so much less.

You’re crawling, forced to learn how to walk again. And while you drag yourself along the ground, covering much less distance than before, you can’t help but see what you didn’t take the time to do so previously.

Leave Your Shoes Behind

I made the mistake of booking us a non-dog-friendly hotel in Fairfield, CT when we so clearly needed a dog-friendly hotel in Fairfield, CT (this wasn’t the only thing to go wrong on this trip). [2]

Fortunately, under the sometimes abrasive Northeastern exterior, people in this area can show you familial-like kindness when you make a mistake like this. I was told to call them “service dogs,” keep them quiet, and leave the room clean. No extra charge, no need to find a new place to stay. Onward.

The first morning of our stay, after walking the dogs to the closest park, Annie, Owen, and I headed to the beach. Clear skies, bright sunny morning, it was incredibly refreshing to be by the water (as it always seems to be).

Fairfield Beach in Fairfield, CT

Annie and I went to the beach with sandals and left them where the walkway met the sand, both going barefoot for the low tide.

Instead of sand bars we saw shell bars. Hundreds of thousands of shells were piled up on the beach, most likely to be swept up and offered as new homes for another mollusk in transition when the tide rolled back in. We looked down at our feet in the puddles the tide left behind and watched snails slowly march themselves onto the breakfast plates of glutinous gulls working far too little for a good meal.

I was heading out for a run on the beach, dodging strips of seashells, horseshoe crab shells, and fish carcasses  that the gulls had yet to notice.

Annie strapped Owen on and went for a walk.

After about 30 minutes we reconvened. Owen was waking from a nap, and Annie told me about her wonderful walk.

She described how she felt slightly frustrated with herself at first because she had left her shoes behind. At low tide, a long strip of beach that protrudes out into the Long Island Sound emerges, but like much of the rest of the beach it’s completely covered with layers and layers of hard, sometimes sharp and cracked seashells.

Shells, shells, and more shells beneath your feet at Fairfield Beach

She thought if she had her shoes she could make it all the way out to the point! But, without shoes, we’re talking about another version of a hot coal walk.

Ooo! Ouch! Eee! Ahh!

On top of whether it would be possible, the question became whether that would that even be enjoyable?

Again, the sun was also out in full and as the morning waded further on, the heat continued to climb. There’s always that moment when you make it to the furthest point of an out-and-back walk or hike where you remember you still have to make the return trip.

So, she decided against the full venture.

Instead, she’d walk out on the point as far as felt comfortable. Still no shoes, but rather just taking each step carefully, slowly, cautiously.

Other people out on the point passed her up. They had shoes. They were working out or talking on the phone or having a morning walk with coffee. They came out to the beach with plans to make it out to the end of the point, and they wore the gear to do so at a good pace.

But as Annie walked slowly, eyes glued to the ground below, she paid attention to avoid planting her foot on the pointed side of any seashell. And, of course, she noticed more.

She watched the morning snail migration and noticed crabs hurry back and forth. She saw sea plants that took the form of immaculately kept dreadlocks, growing out of rocks or clumps of shells. She bent down, picked up, and looked at rocks that caught her eye. She put some in her pocket and put others back. She moved slowly through, switching between her own internal stream of consciousness and the life that was all around her.

Then, as she felt she’d seen all she see wanted to see (and all her feet could take), she decided to turn back. Despite covering a lot of ground, she realized she hadn’t actually gotten too far away from the shoreline at all.

Because she had Owen, because she wasn’t wearing shoes, taking a walk meant taking a slower walk. A walk where, because of the conditions of the beach, she had to really pay attention so she wouldn’t hurt herself.

And by paying attention, she found depth in a few steps instead of the breadth of the full distance. As opposed to focusing on the achievement (getting to the end of the point), by being forced to slow down she was able to focus on the rich details of the experience.

She took note of the life and wonder underneath her feet. She let herself be lost in her thoughts. She remained attuned to her (and Owen’s) level of comfort and curiosity. When either felt strained or waned, she confidently decided when she felt complete.

That need to achieve out of the equation, perhaps things felt quieter for her. So, she could notice. Notice what thoughts and feelings were arising and what kind of life was happening under each step.

“It was such a perfect metaphor for our lives,” she laughed.  

This morning, I learned that our field of vision expands when we’re calm and relaxed. It’s the opposite of tunnel vision in moments where we are tense or stressed. [3]

So there you have it, when we are able to relax—embrace the slow—we literally see more.

Since Owen came along, we’ve seen so much more as he’s turned every mile into two, stretched a minute into an hour, and made the morning walk into a marathon of a different variety.

These are things that can be very frustrating if we are set on getting to the end of the sand bar, but inspiring and enriching if we can just embrace the slow.

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1. Annie and I did this once from Steamboat Springs, CO back home to San Antonio, TX.

2. Annie and I each went on separate hikes in Hot Springs, Arkansas with Owen while the other worked. Later we realized we BOTH picked up tons of seed ticks and continued to panic as we tried to get every last one of each other and make sure none hung around on Owen. We still found a tick the next morning in our bed. I can’t stand ticks!

3. Turns out, our eyes are just connected to our brains, they literally are our brains. Our eyes are actually part of our central nervous system. This means, what we see (through our eyes) has an incredible effect on the way we think, feel, and perceive the world around us. When our stress response is triggered, our field of vision narrows (tunnel vision). When we are able to relax, the opposite happens. The most important point of this? It seems we have some ability to trigger this (one way or the other). Read more at Scientific American.

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