Goal Setting for the PCT and why I hike

PCT Washington

Goal setting for hiking or working or relationships or just living have been a huge part of my life.  Noelle here, by the way.  Deciding to hike the Pacific Crest Trail was no different.  How would I break up a huge goal into smaller more manageable pieces?

Why hike in the first place?

First I had to think about the reasons I decided to hike the PCT.  I’m saying “me” or “I”, but just know that even while I had my independent reasons, Steve had his reasons and together we had our couple reasons.  I’m mostly speaking for myself here though.

Official 500 mile mark

Why would I want to attempt to hike 2653 miles? That’s a question we get asked a lot. Mostly by non-backpackers. Hell, mostly by non-hikers period. The easy answers are that I love existing outdoors and in nature. I want to wake up under stars and be in the sunrise. Carrying everything needed for life on my back fills me with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Simply getting to the next camp site or finding water on a hot, dry day are huge confidence boosts.  I did that. My own two feet got me there! These are the physical answers.

Beginning to think about goal setting

Months before we started, I read the book Pacific Crest Trials by Zach Davis and Carly Moree. It helped me define my “hiking why” (basically my last paragraph) and taught me about some expected pitfalls. The section on goal setting was especially helpful to me.

I’ve run two marathons in my life. The first was really because Steve had run a couple the year before and I thought it looked fun. I’d been casually running for years and had done fun runs, like 5 and 8k’s. Steve & I trained together and I certainly put in the miles but the day of the marathon wasn’t all that great. I hit a wall around 18 miles and the rest of it was a pure slog. I finished, but my time sucked and I didn’t feel the satisfaction I’d hoped for.

About ten years later, I decided to run another one, but knew I wanted to do it differently. I joined a training program, found my correct pace group, and met some great ladies who made the training runs so much fun. We became a part of each other’s journeys. We learned the physiology of our running bodies and how to best feed and nourish them. Most importantly, I learned to set many goals for the marathon day, beyond just “finish”.

One of my top goals was to smile, to have fun. I smiled all through that race. Another goal was to be strong when running up the hill to the St John’s Bridge. As it turns out, I wasn’t just strong, I passed so many people on that incline that other runners cheered for me, giving me words of encouragement. At the end of the race, I felt successful because I’d met several smaller goals, in addition to the main one of running 26.2 miles.

So how do running goals equate to hiking?

I tried to take that same sense of goal setting into our Pacific Crest Trail hike. Steve and I determined that our main couple goals were “don’t get killed (or permanently hurt)” and “have fun”.

The first sounds rather flippant, but it proved to be important several times. It reminded us to slow down, to assess the trail, to determine the best path forward. Sometimes that path was to take a zero day. Other times it was to continue a little more slowly over a sketchy part. Sometimes it was simply to acknowledge the danger or the challenge and to boldly hike though it! Ultimately, for me, it equated to buying a camper van. We wanted to not get hurt so we could continue to have fun.

PCT Canada
Happy smiles

Steve and I have talked about hiking the PCT ever since we’d spent twelve days on Mt Rainier, backpacking the Wonderland Trail in the 90’s. We continued weekend backpacking trips together and we went on many day hikes with our kids and after they were grown, more on our own.

PCT Washington
Noelle on the Kendall Catwalk hike

The Pacific Crest Trail has been in the back of our minds for many years, just sitting, waiting for us to not only acknowledge its pull but to take action.

When Steve’s heart was whacking out, we began thinking about life differently. When he had the last surgery, we had to really look death in the eye. It changed us, both of us. We decided to actively and purposefully live life more fully.

Deciding to live more purposefully

Creating the time and space to live in the moment became our highest priority. We’d already been great savers, paying our house off early then continuing to make a house payment to ourselves. Years ago, we’d done the same thing with a car. That allowed us to save enough to pay cash for the next one. And the next one. We actively choose to live a debt free life, so that we can have more freedom.

A couple months after Steve’s last major heart surgery, my mom died. The combination of those two events convinced us to pull the plug on the societal norm. We sold our house then rented (yes rented) an apartment downtown. That move gave us so much life back, as it cut Steve’s work commute by an hour to an hour and a half each way. I switched to a closer job and suddenly we had more free time. We knew we wanted even more!

Steve and Buddy

Steps we started to take

We met with a financial planner, who gave us the green light to take some time off work. The numbers showed that it was feasible and our retirement accounts should be just fine.

We knew we wanted an adventure but then the question became “which one”. Our decision to hike the PCT was based on our love of the outdoors and backpacking, but also on proximity to our family by staying on the West Coast. We’ve also talked about walking the Camino de Santiago across Spain for years, and we’re hoping to do it soon too. But staying on the West Coast was all about family.

“Our Dreams become Reality, when we first, give ourselves permission to Dream, wildly and without limits. Then we turn those dreams into Goals, which is the Bridge between the world Imagination and the Reality we create for ourselves.”

___Nara Lee

Setting goals to turn our dream to reality

We’re in our fifties, at the prime of our earning capabilities.   Our decision to give that up was based in facts, in logic and in very careful planning.  At the beginning of this journey, I was pretty caught up in planning, it’s who I am. Now, I’m okay to not know what our exact plan is.  Right now we know we’re here.  I’m doing everything in my power to experience right now.  Good, bad, fun, tears.  Just right now.

Here are some of the PCT goals I wrote down

  • Hike to have an epic adventure with my best friend
  • Challenge myself physically and mentally to see what I’m made of
  • Find beauty each day, even if the beauty is in sore muscles
  • Share our journey with family and friends
  • Lighten my backpack and gear load
  • Learn some new back-country meals
  • Learn to use a compass

How I defined goals for the PCT

  • Think about the overall project and what it entails
  • Write down realistic SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-based)
    • Capture the main goals and then break it out into smaller parts
  • Write down big picture and small picture goals that may not fit the SMART criteria (don’t get too caught up in the technicalities)
  • Share the goals with a partner or good friend
  • Regularly check the list to see how it’s coming along

Breaking down one of my goals

  • Share our journey with family and friends
    • (Specific – what do I want to accomplish? why is it important?) Our family had some concerns for our safety along the trail, so we wanted to keep them informed. We brainstormed how to share: Facebook, Instagram, Blog
    • (Measurable – how much would we share? How many posts per week?) We decided to try to write daily posts, swapping between the two of us.
    • (Attainable – How can we accomplish the goal? ) Adding a “follow us” button made a blog an easy way for our family and friends to get notified of new posts.
    • (Relevant – Does this seem worthwhile? Does it match our efforts/needs?) We decided that a blog was relevant for us, because it allowed us to share our adventure, but it also provides something of a diary for the two of us. We decided the effort spent writing was worthwhile as a sharing tool and as a way for us to look back and reminisce.
    • (Time-based – When will we write? What can we accomplish on trail compared to post-trail life?) A blog allows us to provide real-time info. What we found though is that we started to keep a time delay on our posts, because we didn’t always have cell or internet service. So the PCT blog actually stayed a week or so “behind” us in order for us to assure that regardless of cell reception, we could still send out updates. Post-trail, we’re hoping to write gear reviews, share recipes and re-caps.

Reality vs goal setting

My main personal goal was to adventure with Steve. I also wanted to challenge myself, to see what I was made of. I think I did that too. Perhaps having less financial security would have removed the option of buying a van. Perhaps that would have been a good thing. I don’t actually know. Certainly I have some regrets. Certainly I still had an epic adventure with my best friend.

In order to meet the goal of reducing pack weight, we each traded our faithful old backpacks for newer lighter ones.  And then we switched out our sleeping bags and other gear. I shaved about seven pounds off my base weight.  One day I’ll write a post about that…

Steve and I took a class with REI, where we learned to navigate with maps and compass.   We’ve not actually had to do that on the trail, as the Guthooks app takes care of most of our navigation questions.  But having the skill to navigate with compass gave me confidence.

I learned from the hike to appreciate the here and now and that’s where I’m trying to stay. Right here and now.  Currently that means Colorado, drinking Halloween margaritas. It’s a good life.

Hiking goal setting proved very important for my Pacific Crest Trail thru hike attempt. Here are some of my goals and how you can set your own.
Sharing is Caring!


  1. Ashley

    Love this!!! I appreciated seeing this experience through your eyes too. I’m in awe!!

  2. Chainsaw Manlove

    Adventure takes courage, and you both have lots of it!

  3. VFat

    Spending time with your best friend.



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