Exploring is my very best self care. “Self Care” is a buzzy phrase for millennial moms. Maybe the rest of you hear it a lot too, but as a millennial mom I am frequently reminded on various platforms that it is important to take a time-out to take care of myself. In our modern world, you’re likely wearing many hats and juggling more than one plate, and its important to take care of the person supporting all that. Especially, especially during times of unprecedented stress (ie. 2020). There are a zillion different ways to treat yo’ mind, body and spirit. I like to maintain an exercise routine and reserve a small chunk of time for self-pampering on Sundays, to feel good in my skin, and to keep my increasingly elderly body as fresh as can be. However, the single best thing I can do to take care of myself, the thing that leaves me feeling really good, every time, is to do something for me that gets me in touch with the person underneath all those hats and plates. The thing I do helps me remember that the foundation of the person who calls herself wife, mother, daughter, friend, blogger, nurse, etc, is me. I take myself exploring.
Back in the day, pre-motherhood, I’d take myself out on adventures of various sizes allllllllll the time. Now that I’m a mom, its simply harder to get out. Mornings exploring are cut short by nap times, and the fact that we all thrive on a routine sometimes makes it difficult to shake out of it. 24 year old Emma is rolling her eyes so hard at 34 year old me. But that’s life. So its important sometimes for me to leave everyone behind and do something as simple as hop on my bike and go for a little spin. Of course I love exploring with my family and this too brings me great joy, but so does occasionally leaving the house without a diaper bag.
We spent the final few days of our Baltic States Road Trip in Augustow, Poland. Augustow is a small town on the very eastern side of the country, surrounded by a handful of lakes, connected by a canal broken up by a series of locks that runs some 100 kilometers through Poland in to Belarus. We didn’t make prior reservations as we went along on this trip, and we kind of just happened to end up staying in Augustow because as we browsed accommodations all over northern Poland, this one ticked the most boxes. I’ve found that I like to reserve a few days of R&R at the end of a busy adventure. There’s a BIG difference between “vacation” and “traveling”. One is much more restful than the other and I like to return home feeling like I’ve had a little bit of both. Augustow was the perfect quiet place to chill out lakeside, maintain our physical distance from other fellow humans and soak up the late Summer sun. Augustow is a real life playground. Lakes for fishing, swimming, paddling, boating, waterskiing, wakeboarding and whatever else you can think of to do on a lake, forests for hiking and breathing freshly made oxygen, bike routes to explore, plus a cute little town with shops, restaurants, a big park, and a river lined with strolling paths, playgrounds, ice cream, the works. The memories from those days will keep me warm in the cold months ahead.
We stayed at an Airbnb apartment on one of the lakes and I was super excited to see a few bikes locked up on the porch when we arrived. I browsed a couple of brochures of the area, one of which contained a map of bike routes, and since only two of us in the family know how to ride a bike, and one of those two has to watch the kids, I made a plan for one of the bikes and I spend some time exploring together. As it turned out, the owner had the key to the bike lock and was inconveniently out of town. No bother, if I couldn’t bike the bike route, I’d run it instead. See? An exercise routine comes in doubly handy. I had the time, and I wasn’t about to let a little thing like transportation ruin my plan to explore the area. So I said goodbye to my family and set out to explore Augustow on foot…er, running shoe.
My route took me from the forest-lined lake in to town, which is intersected by the Netta River, lined on both sides with walking and biking paths, and draped with weeping willows. I generally don’t like running with music or headphones, I’m better able to listen to my body and pace myself without, and I like to hear the birds and be aware of whats going on around me. As I ran, I could hear music and singing from a ceremony at the cemetery nearby. I wanted badly to go check it out. It didn’t sound like a funeral and I suspected there was something else going on. My curiosity almost got the best of me, but I had a long way to go and so I kept on course. It will remain a mystery, but I won’t forget the spiritual soundtrack to my excursion.
I reached my turning point and looped around over the river, which narrows in to the Augustow Canal. The canal was built in the early 1800s and runs 103 kilometers (64 miles), crossing the border between Poland and Belarus. It contains 17 locks to compensate for differing water levels. I just missed a boat that had passed through the one pictured below. Originally built to transport Polish goods up to the Baltic the when the Prussian government wouldn’t allow them to be shipped along the main river in Poland, the Vistula, it is now used for recreation and provides one of the best kayak routes in the country. Or so I’m told. We did not kayak. But I can see how it would be an excellent adventure. I’m adding it to my list of next life travel plans.
As I turned and entered the neighborhood back toward the center of Augustow, I passed a bike route sign that let me know I was still running the correct path. Thoroughly sweaty and out of breath, I slowed down for a moment to quietly enter the Minor Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I admired the glowing stained glass, took a quick glance at the soaring ceiling and then continued onward. Daily Mass was beginning at noon and I departed to the sound of the bells ringing in the hour. You hardly need a clock in Europe, with all the churches across the continent reminding you what time it is every 15 minutes, or so. I love it. I left my route briefly to check out a small market that was set up in a large park. Then headed back up the road, toward the lake and the forest and my family. Recharged from my exercise and rejuvenated by all I had discovered along my way. I felt re-energized. Ready for the demands of mommyhood and excited to see my guys again, after a short solo adventure.
My Mr. Explorer lovingly teases me about my “me time”. I don’t know, maybe some people don’t need it. But I do! And time spent exploring by myself leaves me feeling my absolute best. So let this be your reminder, to take time to take care of you. All those hats you wear need a solid foundation, so they don’t topple. That foundation is you, so keep it secure and stable by doing the thing that you love to do! If you’re inspired to go on your own exploring self-care adventure, let me live vicariously through you, and tell me about it in the comments below! And be sure to tag your @exploremore.co inspired excursions on Instagram.
See ya out there!
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