Goal Setting and Thru-Hiking

At the end of January, I began my longest attempted thru-hike. As I prepared for my time in the wilderness, I decided to set some goals. In this post, I want to reflect on the goals I set and what actually happened. On my flight down to the southern terminus of the Te Araroa, I wrote the following:

What I want to get out of this hike:

I want to unlearn independence, which seems like a very strange thing to start off with since I’m hiking solo. But, I’ve already experienced so much kindness here that I think this could be a good goal to pursue. American culture teaches us to be independent, but that’s not at all what God calls us to. This also seems like a strange thing to want, because dependence sounds scary. When the trail is unknown and the days ahead unexpected, this will be a very hands-on experience of what it looks like to lack control. When I think I’m in control, I act independently. And it seems safe to be independent. But it’s a lie, and I could benefit to unlearn this nasty habit.

Trust and forgiveness – in a new way. I’ve learned, as I’ve looked at patterns in my life, that I have a difficult time trusting myself. I sometimes am too fast to trust others, but I tend to lack trust in myself, my experience, and my years of learning. I learned my lesson of trusting God so many years ago, and my faith has grown because of it. But I don’t think I ever took the time to really trust myself. Also, forgiveness for myself and acceptance of the past, the present, and yielding to the future. When I make a mistake, it’s ok. And I need to learn that. I think here is the perfect breeding grounds for growth.

Case in point: I’m on the plane to Invercargill currently. The flight hasn’t taken off yet, and the flight attendant just said over the speaker that water bottles stored in the overhead bins tend to leak. I know that I have a water bottle in my backpack, but I’m seated next to the window with two others in the seats besides me. In America I would risk it, because I wouldn’t want to bother anyone. I would be too embarrassed. I would feel like I made an unforgivable mistake. All of these responses are ridiculous, but they stop me from doing what needs to be done more often than I care to say. When she came over the speaker and announced that water bottles leaked, I was tempted to risk it. But this was a good time to practice what I want to learn. I asked the woman next to me if she said that water bottles leaked. The lady next to me said yes, and she and the man sitting next to her promptly moved for me to save a potential mishap. They weren’t bothered; they were kind. Yes, I was still embarrassed. Yes, I still hated that they had to move and I had to bother them. AND, I’m learning. Learning to do anything is awkward at first. But I believe I can grow in this on this hike.

Considering others more than myself. I’ve already seen the difference here versus America. We’re very self-centered in America. The interactions I’ve observed here are others-centered, and it’s showing me what a large area of growth this is. I’ve become far too selfish. I want to practice this weekly. What ways can I consider others more important than myself?

In short:

  1. Dependence
  2. Trust & forgiveness
  3. Others-focused

Three Months Later

As my time on the Te Araroa has come to an end, I’m reflecting on my goals. I’m super glad that I wrote these out ahead of time, because I was able to be intentional on the trail about them. So, how did I do?


I think this is the area I experimented with the most. The biggest example of this is hitchhiking. Before arriving to New Zealand, I had never hitchhiked before. In America, I own a car. And if I’m on a trip where I don’t have my car, I call an Uber. With either option, I’m still very much in control. With hitchhiking, it’s a whole different story: I’m completely reliant upon others’ kindness. I remember my first time hitchhiking. It was probably around day 10 of my hike. A SOBO that I met in the hut had told me that she had hitchhiked the last 5k of road to get to the hut. Another NOBO (Malcolm from Canada) and I decided that the next morning we would attempt to hitchhike together. We stood on the side of the road with our thumbs out as we nervously talked and laughed. After about 30 minutes, a man pulled over, cleared out his backseat and invited us to toss our backpacks into the trunk of his hatchback. What would have taken us about 2 hours of walking took only 10 minutes in the car. Once Malcolm and I thanked the kind kiwi, grabbed our bags out of the trunk, and had begun our walk in the woods, we were on this post-hitchhiking high. We couldn’t stop talking about it. We had overcome a fear, and it was fun.

Throughout my time in New Zealand, I’ve hitchhiked nearly 20 times, and these experiences have been some of my favorite memories from the trail. I met incredible people from all over the world (vanpacker from Scotland, two farmers from Nepal, Olympic rower from New Zealand, world traveler from France, another world traveler from Slovakia, New Zealand immigrant from Slovenia – just to name a few). In each of these hitches, I learned what it meant to depend on other humans. If they were headed in a certain direction, I could be too.

Did this help me unlearn independence? Not entirely, but it definitely opened my eyes to human kindness in a way that I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise.

Trust and Forgiveness

This is the area that I realized I need the most work. I’m so quick to second-guess myself. Often, the trail was difficult to follow. This was especially true in a massive farm (station, paddock, ranch – any of these terms fit here). There weren’t consistent markers to follow, and when the farm opens up, I often didn’t know if I was supposed to continue straight, veer right, or turn left.

I would start in the direction that I thought I was meant to go, but if I didn’t see a marker after a few minutes, I would quickly retrace my steps and attempt right then left. What I found was that my gut instinct was usually correct. (Other than Linton Station. That place was awful. I ended up adding over an hour and a half to my day and multiple unnecessary miles due to bad markers and misdirection) I would return to the place where I started and realize how quick I was to assume that I had chosen incorrectly.

It was infuriating, but seeing this happen day after day definitely helped me to identify a pattern in my thinking. I was hyper-aware of my lack of trust in my decision making. Knowing that this is my default has helped me, and I look forward to growing even more in this area!


I still have a lot of room for growth here, but there were two main ways I tried to be intentional while on the trail. They’re both really, really simple. The first was sharing a smile or an encouraging word. When I walked by SOBO hikers, I always either smiled or stopped to chat. This was encouraging to me too! I met so many incredible hikers on the trail!

The second way I tried to grow in this area was by keeping the trail clear. There were quite a few days on the trail that I would be walking the day after a big storm. When I came across tree limbs that were down, I would toss them to the side to make the trail easier for future walkers.

Super simple ways to be intentionally others-focused, but it’s the simple things that eventually grow us into who we become.

In Conclusion

I’m super grateful for this time. I’m grateful for goal setting, and I’m grateful for intentionality. I realized overall that I have so much to learn, and I look forward to continuing to grow in all of these areas! If you’re thru-hiking (or day hiking!), have you set goals? What have you learned? What has the process looked like for you? As always, thanks for joining me on my journey!

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