Setting Small Goals for Thru-Hiking Success

Thursday 3:16 PM

Text from me to my husband: “Fuck these fucking mountains.” 

For some reason, I had it in my head that finishing the Smokies on Thursday would be an easy day. I was feeling like the trail OWED me an easy day after 6,500 feet of descent and a week of crazy weather. The climb up to Max Patch was substantial and the weather hot and humid. I’m learning quickly that the trail doesn’t owe me anything, and that to continue this quest, I am going to have to break this HUGE goal into smaller targets. 

 Setting small goals 

According to the website RescueTime Blog, “Our ability to stick to large goals requires mental and emotional energy as much as strategy and planning … there is a special power in setting smaller goals.” Harvard Professor Teresa Amabile calls it the Progress Principle: small wins build motivation, inspiration, and innovation.  

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.  

Carrying four days of food before finding some sort of resupply seems to be working best for me.  Instead of planning for a full six months or even a full week, I now plan for only three to four days. I then try to plan how many meals I will need depending on what time I will be coming into a town or hostel. When I get to that place, I reward myself with good food, coffee, shampoo, and a bed.  

Day by day

Next, I break it down by the day. What does the elevation look like today? How is the weather? How many springs for water are available? I allow myself to stop at an earlier shelter or campsite if needed and possible. I make hot meals for myself and dinner and have a cup of tea. It is important that I adjust my goals if needed, and go with the flow. 

Hour by hour 

Then I break it down by the hour. I try to stop and take my pack off every two hours to eat a snack and set a lunch goal for myself. Most days, my pace seems to average around 2 miles an hour, so I think of my day in time instead of mileage.  

Minute by minute 

And then sometimes I have to break it down to the minutes. “Just make it up to the summit and then you can sit down on a log for a while.” Just keep going a few more steps and then stop to catch your breath. More often than not, this is how I make it through my days.  

Keep moving

This week has been tough—beautiful but challenging. I am starting to miss my family, and am a bit concerned about weight loss; but sitting here writing in the sanctuary of Hot Springs with a hot breakfast and the luxury of a latte, I am full again. I NEED this zero-day both physically and emotionally, then tomorrow I will take baby steps on to my next stop in Erwin, Tennessee.

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Comments 3

  • Russ1663 : May 1st

    I move shelter to shelter. And yes I pick a rest spot ahead on the trail; top of a hill, the next corner in a switchback. I was in the Humpback Rocks area 27-28, high 80’s so I understand you statement concerning heat. Best of luck to you Luna
    Glad you have a supportive angel shadowing you.

  • James : May 1st

    Good description of your progress and how you’re making it happen. It is interesting to see how everything physical can actually be done with enough mental strength.

  • Amara Gardner : May 6th

    Exactly 👏👏👏


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