Outdoor Spaces at Kenyon: Why Going Outside Keeps Me From Going Nuts

Spending time outdoors has always brought me joy and comfort. What can I say? I’m a Colorado Rocky Mountain girl. Whether I’m on a hike or in my hammock at a park, I find my mood instantly elevated after even a few minutes outside. Part of the reason I chose to come to Kenyon is the beauty of the campus and its surroundings. I love being alone, but alone time is not exactly part of the description of “the college experience.” Don’t get me wrong, I love my friends and the time we get to spend together every day, but as an introvert and an only child, I need my space sometimes. Since arriving on campus just over a month ago, I have found a couple of spots that I 10/10 recommend for finding peace and solace outdoors. 

 

The Labyrinth at the BFEC

The Brown Family Environmental Center is a great place to be on a sunny morning or a breezy afternoon. Walking through fields and trails, stopping to sniff a few flowers, or observing birds and insects are all really enjoyable ways to pass time. I had the opportunity to take a walk through the labyrinth at the BFEC during my first week at Kenyon, and it is an experience I will not likely forget. The labyrinth is not to be confused with a maze, which is designed to confuse or disorient. Labyrinths have one entrance/exit, one path, and no corners. Walking through a labyrinth is effortless, which allows for wandering thoughts and deep reflections. My first experience at the labyrinth was meditative and peaceful. The field in which it exists is gorgeous, with wildflowers and tall grasses; it feels magical. 

As I walked, I found myself losing track of time, not paying any attention to the steps my body took or even the feeling of moving at all. I did notice things around me, like a small frog the size of a dime, perched on a leaf level with my hips, and a praying mantis poking around the grass in the pathway. I felt the breeze on my fingertips and the sun on my shoulders. I heard the songs of birds in the trees skirting the Labyrinth field. My thoughts drifted away from my surroundings after a while, moving toward reflection about myself, my family, my new home, and all of my hopes for the future. I reached the center of the labyrinth feeling very raw and a little teary-eyed. I needed a moment of rest to process all the emotions I was feeling. I found that without any distractions, like my phone, music, or talking, I was confronted with the thoughts and feelings that normally take the back seat in my daily life. I’m not saying I had some eureka moment or reached enlightenment, but I realized that being alone with nothing but my thoughts, memories, and emotions was very powerful. After journeying back to the entrance of the labyrinth, I felt overwhelming gratitude for that place and I vowed to return whenever I should have feelings that need sorting out or a personal problem that I can’t seem to solve. I definitely think I’ll be going back a few times, especially during finals!

The Kokosing Trail

Besides being outdoors, I love to exercise and I also love music. The Kokosing trail is the perfect place to combine all three of these things. My favorite thing to do, whenever I have about an hour or more of free time, is to ride my bike on the trail and listen to music. When I visited Kenyon as a senior in high school, I fell absolutely in love with the Kokosing trail after my parents and I went on a walk there. The lush greenery, especially the trees, framing the trail makes me feel like I’m in a forest, with nothing around for miles. I find a great sense of freedom there, hair blowing in the wind, speeding alongside the Kokosing river. 

The great thing about the trail is that it’s almost completely flat. My bike is really small… like, I-got-this-when-I-was-eleven small. This means that, as a person who is 5’8”, my knees come up too far when I pedal, the handlebars are too low, and the tires are quite petite. Simply put, this bike cannot handle any more than a slight incline, so hills are not appreciated. When I’m on the trail, I can just zoom without worrying about whether I will come to a hill too steep for my little bike. The mindlessness and effortlessness with which I can pedal on the trail allow me to enjoy everything about the experience. I always see lots of wildlife out there, mainly deer, squirrels, or rabbits, and sometimes even chipmunks or beavers. The birds chirp from the trees, the sunlight streams through the leaves of the trees, my hair blows back, I smile.

Another great thing about my bike rides is that I get to listen to music! Back home, I would always listen to music in my car; that was my time to be alone with music and just really feel it and appreciate it. Here at Kenyon, I no longer have a car, but as it turns out, listening to music while riding my bike on the Kokosing trail is actually a big upgrade from sitting in traffic on the highway. I don’t listen to any music other than classical or ~chill~ lo-fi when I study, because I get distracted easily. When I’m in my room I don’t often listen to music because I’ll either be napping or talking to my roommate or eating too many chips for my own good. Walking by myself down middle path isn’t even a good time to listen to music because I’m always waving and saying hello to friends as I go. I couldn’t let music be reduced to such a low-influence role in my life, so discovering bike time on the Kokosing trail was honestly amazing! There I can listen to whatever music I want, discover new music, and really get into those good vibes because there’s hardly anyone but the occasional runner or a deer to see me busting down to “Juice” by Lizzo or lip-syncing the words to “All These Things That I’ve Done” by The Killers (a timeless bop). On a recent ride, I learned to ride with no hands. 

I had been trying for years to ride without holding onto the handlebars, but I could only ever ride with at least one hand. I have no idea what happened, but I was out on the trail, feeling so free and without a care in the world, and suddenly I did it. I simply let go and rode on. It was empowering and pretty sick (in a good way). I kept doing it, lengthening the time I could spend between putting my hands down, and got pretty good! (Also, yes, I did play “No Hands” by Waka Flocka Flame when I did this.) I literally laugh, cry, and go both crazy and stupid on the trail, which makes it so fun and therapeutic. Altogether, my experience with biking on the Kokosing trail has been nothing short of fantastic and I plan to never stop allowing myself to feel as good as I do when I am biking with my headphones on, my eyes focused on the nature surrounding me, my hands outstretched, and a giant smile on my face.

Overall, spending time outside has given me so much peace and happiness since coming to Kenyon. I will definitely keep exploring around campus and finding new spots to bike, hike, or hang out! I think it’s important to take time to relax and think about anything that is on your mind. Getting outside, away from your dorm room or your phone screen, can really help facilitate productive reflection, and it’s a great way to get some much-needed alone time. If you have some free time after class one day and you’re feeling stressed, take a walk by the Kokosing river or through the Labyrinth at the BFEC. You won’t regret it!

 

Image Credit: Author