A Triple Crowner’s Advice for Following Through on Your Hiking Goals

It’s January of a new decade and ’tis the season for ambitious lists, goals, and vision boards for the coming year—adventurous ambitions hopefully among them.

We set goals to push toward better versions of ourselves. Maybe it’s a peakbagging list, or getting more miles under those trail shoes so day hikes don’t end so painfully. Or maybe it’s finishing your first (or next) thru-hike or backpacking trip. Whatever it is, these projects can take a lot of preparation and energy to move forward. Often they suck up every ounce of your free time (and possibly savings account) in order to find accomplishment.

We’re a rare breed.

The hardest part of it all? Actually following through. Getting what it is you’re after. Because chances are, you don’t really know what that is yet.

There’s no doubt that challenges will get between you and your goals, questioning motivations, and forcing you to dig deep. It’s cute at the beginning of these journeys when everyone thinks (myself included) they’re perfectly capable of keeping themselves directly on course. But challenges can wear you down. The tasks and logistics surrounding these goals can be intimidating, and the physical nature of seeing it through (sorry, I mean thru) can open up all these other parts to yourself you didn’t know existed.

Goals: places that look like this. Pacific Crest Trail 2016.

If you’re reading this, chances are fall into one of these categories:

  1. You are an avid hiker but have never thru-hiked and don’t plan to. It’s merely a fantasy and you find it entertaining to follow others.
  2. You have never thru-hiked but really wish you could do that, but (insert series of excuses here).
  3. You have never thru-hiked but are planning one in the foreseeable future and therefore are scouring the internet for related articles (yes, this article contains the secret).
  4. You HAVE thru-hiked a trail and are currently accepting applications for brands that would like to sponsor you. You are probably working three jobs to save so you can hike another trail within the next 18 months.
  5. You HAVE thru-hiked multiple trails and are feeling very fulfilled and OK with settling into a steady job, assuming said job allows you to take off 2-3 weeks a year to hike shorter trails or high routes.
  6. You HAVE thru-hiked multiple trails and don’t know how to stop.

My point here is regardless of where you’re at in the world of outdoor pursuits, the thing everyone has in common is a craving for adventure, and so, adventurous goals. And now for some unsolicited advice on HOW to get yourself to the other side of that goal:

1) Make sure this is actually what you want

Things that spark growth: Running out of food. Very delayed gratification. Raw, blissful moments. Continental Divide Trail 2017.

No matter your goal, test the waters before fully committing. Before you go taking all your vacation time or quitting your job to go backpacking or thru-hiking, BE CONFIDENT YOU LIKE IT. You can only set achievable goals when you know yourself well. Go spend 3-4 days on any trail and ask yourself the hard questions. Do you mind being disconnected from your phone? Can you tolerate your own smell after four sweaty days? Can you tolerate silence without needing to fill it? Can you get comfortable with being uncomfortable? Be honest with yourself about what’s driving you toward this particular goal. If you get a taste of it to serve as motivation, you’re more likely to stick it out for the long haul. WHY do you want this? What’s the result you’re seeking? Because wanting it, without further consideration, probably isn’t enough to get you there.

2) Don’t jump in all at once 

All you have to do is commit to showing up. It can get overwhelming to try to do everything at once, especially during preparations. Don’t get ahead of yourself! Now is the time to get organized—break it down into steps and set a schedule with deadlines. Prioritize: get your permits, plan a shakedown hike, test your gear, and set money-saving objectives. When the mountain of tasks feels paralyzing, remind yourself to celebrate the small steps. Steps are steps and it takes many of them to get to Canada (or wherever your destination).

3) Create accountability 

This level of mud was not part of the plan. Appalachian Trail 2015.

Be accountable. If not to you, than to others. If it’s hard for you to go at it alone, involve someone else. Whether that means simply sharing your desires or meeting at the trailhead at 7 a.m. on a Saturday to hike up a peak. If you’ve set deadlines to have certain tasks done (like packing your resupply boxes or asking your boss for a leave of absence) write them down. Is there someone that you can call on bad day who will ask you the tough questions when you’re ready to quit? Seek them out.

4) Allow room for failure and readjustments

Time outdoors (and the goals driving you there) will push you to be unapologetically more self-aware. It’s the response to new challenges and unexpected obstacles that feed improvement and add to your capabilities. Problem-solving and making adjustments build mental endurance. Recognizing you’re not alone and asking for help shows strength. This is growth—and not the type that involves drawing a line in the doorway.

5) Find visuals

Visuals have a way of motivating. Wind River High Route 2019.

Seriously though. Throw something up on your walls, in your car, as your background, or at your desk. Something you can look at on a regular basis to serve as a reminder that dreams are what push forward momentum. It could be a full-on vision board, a map, photograph, postcard, sticker, poem, or simple word—anything that sparks your fire.

6) Lean into the fear

Any ambition carries some level of fear: fear of judgment, fear of the unknown, and fear of failure. It’s not to be pushed aside or disregarded—fear can be a powerful tool. People may place their doubts or fears on you—but this is a reflection of their own disbelief in what’s possible for themselves. Don’t allow fear of judgment and rejection hold you back. Instead, surround yourself with people who support your goals through encouragement, asking thoughtful questions and offering help. Fear of the unknown or unfamiliar can be overwhelming, but practice brings resolve. You have to start somewhere, even if that means lack of predictability. Trust yourself. The most common fear? Failure. Our brain’s way of protecting us is to steer us away from things that can cause disappointment. But here’s the secret: you can’t lose if you choose to learn from whatever happens.

Often we don’t know what we’re after until we find it. By the end of your efforts, whatever you’re truly searching for by feeling drawn to these outdoor endeavors, maybe you don’t have to get to the finish line to find it.

So, now that you’re fired up, want to share your hiking goals for this upcoming year?

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Comments 6

  • Samantha S. : Jan 21st

    “People may place their doubts or fears on you — but this is a reflection of their own disbelief in what’s possible for themselves.”

    Such a true statement that I often forget. Good read! Thanks for your insight =)

  • Deone : Jan 25th

    My hiking goal is to spend a month hiking the AT.

    I’ve just begun doing preparations in earnest and I’m thinking I’m very ill prepared. So far, I have my bag.

    I also have little to no experience in hiking. Am I jumping in too fast?

    • Barry : Jan 27th

      Reread “ 1) Make sure this is actually what you want”. Take a weekend hike and see if you like it. If so, do a week before going a month.

  • Gabriel : Nov 13th

    To be honest this is a goal of my own that I’m getting closer and closer each day. I was in a coma for almost 3 months after an explosion while deployed in Afghanistan. I was told to only have 30% of chances to be able to walk again… 7 years later I run 2 miles daily, still fight PTSD occasionally , but this time has served me as not only healing time but also to know what I’m really made of… I’m planning to start the AT probably in 2022. Not too soon but planning for my goal I feel that is a MAJOR step forward… Thanks for this amazing article and motivation… You’re an inspiration to me…

    • Dave LaSure : Nov 22nd

      Thanks. That’s my dream. Great stuff. I’m going to start with the AT next year.


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