Goal Setting: SOBO Days 75 to 79

Donkey! Drive-in movie theatre! Delis!

There’s a lot to unpack from the rest of New York, New Jersey, and the first couple miles of Pennsylvania. With less stellar views than Northern sections of trail, I found entertainment in the most random of trail encounters. Each day, I laid down on my sleeping mat and journaled about the unique, sometimes surprising, and spirit-lifting happenings of the day.

And there was truly something different every single day.

Scheduling on Trail

At this point in the journey, I don’t usually plan too far ahead. Instead, I just resupply for 3-4 days in every town and then set off! The specific locations are generally decided each day, or based around interesting features of the trail, like camping at the Warwick Drive-In Theatre.

Goal Setting on Trail

However, no schedule does not mean no goals. As I hiked through New Jersey, each day there was a goal:

  • Unionville, to stop at Wit’s End Tavern
  • The Secret Shelter to visit Jake, the donkey
  • High Point State Park
  • Gyp’s Tavern
  • Mohican Outdoor Center
  • PA/NJ state line!

These were small goals that were achievable within the day. When discussing the phenomenon of post-trail depression, many people cite that it is the lack of such a structured daily goal (hike 20 miles, visit xyz resupply location, etc.) that causes a feeling of being lost. Many real-life goals are more long term, or might not be concretely achieved within one single day.

Medium and Long Term Goals

Even beyond the daily goals, a thru-hiker also has conscious or sub-conscious medium and long term goals.

Throughout New Jersey, the green and yellow border with Pennsylvania at Delaware Water Gap was a medium-term goal. I had seen the border pictured on Instagram numerous times and couldn’t wait to be there myself. The destination was a finite number of miles away and each day of hiking put me that much closer to reaching the goal.

Approaching Pennsylvania, I also had the long-term goal of arriving at Harper’s Ferry, and then further, to Springer Mountain. These goals are further in the future, but nonetheless, progress is made towards the miles every single day of hiking.

The Importance of Goals

A thru-hiker’s goals are so simple and, when broken down, reasonably achieveable.

Most days, I complete the number of miles that I set out to do, with only a couple exceptions. This is incredibly rewarding. Every day feels adequately challenging, both physically and mentally, and yet, it is rare not to accomplish the goal.

For me, this feels quite different from my off-trail life, where things are often less predictable. I may have been aiming to finish writing a paper or an assignment that evening, but often, an unsuspecting snare delays accomplishing that goal — trouble finding a bit of research or getting stuck on a question, for example.

I can imagine that upon returning to pre-trail life, the sudden absence of a predictable, achieveable goal would eliminate the positive brain juices that come from accomplishing that goal. And I can understand where that could be difficult.

Post Trail Goals

With all of this in mind, I would be amiss not to mention that the creation of off-trail goals is becoming a subject of conversation among other hikers, as we approach the halfway point.

Some hikers are returning to graduate studies, others hope to save up for a PCT thru-hike next year. Ideas are being spit-balled as hikers try on the idea of a different life after the trail.

For me, we’ll see! Of course the ideas are starting to form and planning has begun, but these are stories for later. In the meantime, I think it’s important that myself and fellow thru-hikers let their minds wander to ways in which to quench the daily, weekly, and monthly goal setting. This practice is natural and productive, since it lends itself so easily to long distance hiking, but takes more effort off-trail.

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