Goals Part 2: And They Finished the Hike!

“I was in heaven and in misery every day”.  Kevin Marsden

This statement sort of reminds me of the opening sentence in the book, The Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens,It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”.

But this idea can be true about many goals that we tackle. No pain, no gain, right?

So, in my first article about goals, which I published recently, Goals Setting: Be Audacious!, among other things, I talked about my husband Kevin’s goal of hiking the 221-mile John Muir Trail (JMT) soon and what he did to prepare for it.

Well, he and my brother-in-law David actually just finished it. Huge accomplishment!


Kevin & David, the scraggly men, minutes after arriving home!

So I Thought You Might Be Interested Hearing How It Went

Me: I hear the average calorie expenditure hiking that many miles daily in elevation is around 6000 calories. How many pounds did you lose during the hike?

Kevin: I lost 16 pounds. I am sure I came home dehydrated a bit, so some of it was water loss.

David: 6 pounds.

Me: What surprised you the most about this JMT experience?

Kevin: The mental energy it took to hike 7-10 hours a day, set up camp, break down, prepare food. The mental part of the trip is as important as the physical.

David: This was the hardest thing I have ever done. I was most surprised by how hard it was just doing the daily routine: get up, make breakfast, pack up, hike til you drop, unpack, make dinner (while fighting bugs), and then do it all again the next day.

Me: Although sometimes other hikers joined you at the campsite or hiked with you, the two of you basically did the JMT as a twosome. Was it difficult being together with each other constantly for 3 weeks? Was there ever any conflict? If so, how did you resolve it?

Kevin: David was the perfect travel companion. We had little or no conflict, and we were a good complement to each otherHe did not talk too much or too little, and we were always of one mind where to camp or how much to hike.

David: No, at all. Kevin was the best person you could ever hike with, very easy-going, no conflict.

Me: Your goal was to finish the entire JMT. Did you ever feel that you may not be able for some reason to complete it once you got started?

Kevin: I had severe foot pain and blisters during the first five days that made me question if I was going to be able to hold up. My feet healed thanks to good care, prayers, and Badger Balm daily. This stuff is a miracle worker. I was also worried about a gout attack since I have had them in the past. I tried to stay well-hydrated to avoid this.

David: Yes, at the beginning we had two days of rain and cold. Everything was wet and it was not fun. I was really hoping Kevin would say, “let’s quit” (hee hee), because I was not going to be the first, but after that it was great!

Trail leading to Muir Pass.

Me: Which day, of the 19 days that you were out on the trail, was the hardest, and why?

Kevin: Day 3, sitting in the rain overnight and then hiking through it and trying to find a place to camp. It was tough being cold and wet and wondering if I was going to get hypothermia. 
David: I think the last day because we knew we were almost done, but still had the longest day in terms of miles, and the terrain was the hardest on my legs.
Me: Which day was your favorite, and why?
Kevin: Day 18 we got into Guitar Lake early and it was a dream sitting there with David and Andrew amidst the grandeur of the mountains. It was a very special time of reflection and relaxation before we were going to push through to the final day.
David: Not sure of this answer because we had several, but if I had to pick one, it was the day at MTR (Muir Trail Ranch) because there we had the opportunity to replenish our food, and refresh our clothes, bodies, and spirit.
Me: Who was the most interesting person that you met on the hike?
Kevin: We met a young man named Andrew, who is 16 years old doing the JMT solo. He was exceptional in many ways, having traveled over 500 miles on the JMT in his young life, mostly with his parents. We met his parents at Charlotte Lake during a resupply. They were wonderful people. (You can check out Andrew’s YouTube video about his JMT adventure here.)
David: Andrew, a young man with a lot of ambition and drive. 
Me: What would you do differently with preparations or equipment had you known what you know now?
Kevin: I would bring less food for the first 10 days. I would bring more Next Mile Meals. They were my favorite! I would pack lighter, and carry less water over the passes as there is plenty to filter as you go. 
David: Better food, more snacks. I would put treats in our resupply buckets, and get a better sleeping bag so I would not freeze at night.
Me: I know that you stopped at In & Out on the way home and got shakes, burgers, and fries. Did you feel like you had enough to eat while on the trail?

Kevin: I always had enough, but I should have packed salt and Fritos.  Man, were we craving Fritos!

David: No, but thank goodness for all the food I was able to get from Kevin and other hikers. Plus being able to share and trade with others was great and fun.

Me: I heard that God answered a lot of prayers during your hike. Would you care to elaborate on a few?

Kevin: Yes. After a few days we started praying for His leading and guiding for things like the right place to camp, and also for help being patient, kind, helpful, and friendly on the trail. God really came through and we had some of the most fantastic camp spots with fine people there. And He gave us grace for those few peculiar people we met. Most of the people we came across were at their best, and we really enjoyed getting to know people and converse with folks from all over the country and world. Getting rooms at Muir Trail Ranch (MTR) and Red’s Meadow were an unbelievable blessing. This allowed us to refresh and restore.  We also met some fantastic people there.

David: At the beginning, we would get to the campsites late and several of the good sites were already taken and I would get frustrated, but then we started praying every day that we would find a good campsite and I put my trust in God that He would provide us the right stop. And what can I say, they were answered every day after that. Thank you, God!!!

Me: What 3 things helped you the most in attaining the goal of finishing the JMT? In other words, what advice would you want to offer to fellow goal-setters or those who aspire to do an epic hike?

Kevin: 1. Prepare,  2. Prepare, 3. Prepare. Talk with someone who has done it. Join the JMT Facebook group. Research as much as you can. One book, in particular, helped me with my preparations a lot, John Muir Trail by Elizabeth Welk. Don’t cheap-out on things like a great backpack, pad, or sleeping bag (mine was a Sea to Summit Trek, and it was a good choice).  Learn about how to acclimate to the altitude and what to do if you feel the effects. Get your mental game on.

David: 1. Prepare better (get the right equipment and food), 2. Hike with a very compatible partner, someone who hikes at the same speed as you and shares the same goal but is flexible when things change, 3. Do some training with weight.

Me: What did you learn about yourself? What did you learn about your hiking partner?

Kevin: I have fewer fears than I thought. I can embrace the dirt and stink. As for David, I learned that he is a little type-A, and likes to be really clean, and also has a very large appetite. I also saw repeatedly that David is adaptable to circumstances, and that makes him of high value.

David: I should have done a better job in preparing and not underestimate the task, and that I need to worry less and trust in God more. Regarding Kevin, he is one tough old guy and I would go anywhere with him. I learned that Kevin can take a lot of pain and keep going…

One of David & Kevin’s campsites.

Me: What time did you typically crawl into bed at night? What time did you generally wake up in the morning? What was your morning routine like?

Kevin: We usually went to bed at about 7:30 or 8, being tired from the day of hiking. I woke up about 5:30-6 and just laid there because I don’t like getting up in the cold.
David: Anywhere from 6-9 pm was bedtime. And when I got up? Well, I was quite regular at 5:00 am every day (if you know what I mean); my food was awful on my bowels. Then it was breakfast, pack up, then hike.
Me: How long would it take to set up camp each day? How about tear down?

Kevin: Setup: 30 minutes. Breakdown: 45 minutes.

David: About 30-50 minutes depending on how tired we were.

Me: How many miles on average did you hike each day?

Kevin: Shortest day was 7 miles. Longest day was 17 miles. Most days were between 10-12.

Me: You finished 3 days ahead of schedule. To what do you attribute this?

Kevin: We got our miles in every day. We didn’t take any days off, although we had a couple of “Nero” Days. Zero days are where you don’t hike any miles.

David: Hard work and mosquitoes!

Me: What difficulties, trials, or scary things did you actually face?

Kevin: There was nothing extraordinary we encountered that the other hikers on the journey did not also encounter.  The daily drudgery of setup, breakdown, sleeping on a small mat in a small tent and fighting mosquitos were about it. We got into a great rhythm of hiking our miles at altitude with great amounts of elevation gain even though it was taxing. 
David: The scariest thing was when Kevin trying to film while standing on an ice bridge and almost fell through. (Stay focused KEVIN!!!). I had promised Vanessa that I would come back with him.
Pinchot Pass with the sketchy snow and ice fields.

Me: So, what is next on the bucket list?

Kevin: The Way, Grand Canyon Rafting, doing the 70 mile High Sierra Route next year.  Maybe a repeat of the JMT in a couple of years.

David: White water rafting down the Colorado River…

Me: Any other comments/info here that you might think readers would be interested in:
Kevin: This was an awesome and life-altering trip in many ways.  The solitude, beauty, and challenge will be with me for the rest of my life. My brother Howard, when he hiked in to resupply us at Kearsarge Pass, commented that, “completing the JMT marks you for life”. In many ways, this seems to be true. I feel refreshed and confident in my ability to take on other challenges, whether they be hiking or other pursuits. It was important for me to be off the grid while hiking. I did not take any music, movies, podcasts, or the like. We had a Garmin inReach Mini for simple texting to loved ones. It was nice to not always be grabbing for my iPhone to check mail or messages.
Here is an excerpt from Kevin’s journal from Day 1 to Day 7:

John Muir Trail Hike
“The Golden Ticket” (If you can get the permit!)
7/23/19 – 8/11/19

Day One
Happy Isles to Sunrise Creek
We were issued our permit early as we were supposed to leave on 7/24. We prayed on 7/22 that this might occur and our prayer was answered…

After securing our permit, went back to Curry Village to gather our things, and hit the trail out of Happy Isles at about 10:30 AM. It was busy with day hikers – quite overwhelming for the first few miles navigating through them. Many were astonished when we told them what we were embarking on. One nice guy took our pic at the sign and wished us well.

We hiked up about 8 miles the first day. It was hot and the elevation gain (4500’) was intense. We started looking for a campsite as we had to hike beyond Clouds Rest per our permit. We entered into a kind of burned-out portion of the forest near Sunrise Creek and two 30-something sisters (Sarah and Kate) were kind enough to share their campsite with us. Pickings were slim so this was a blessing. We were blown out and exhausted. We barely got our tents up and dinner made and crashed for the night. Praised God that night for the strength He gave us for the intense climb.

Note: Carried way too much weight. We should have dropped off three days of food in the bear boxes at Tuolumne wilderness center.

Day Two
Sunrise Creek to Tuolumne Meadows

Woke up early to get on the trail. We had another good climb up and out and then a descent into Tuolumne meadows. We had not really planned on 15 miles, but it started raining and
thunderstorms so we made haste and booked into Tuolumne. Long, tough day and we did a lot of miles, but felt pretty good. We ate dinner and breakfast at the grill there and it was fabulous. I was not eating as the hiker hunger had not yet set in, so I was carrying lots of weight for nothing. We gave about 5 pounds of food to some PCT’ers from France. (PCT’ers = Pacific Crest Trail hikers. The Pacific Crest Trail, for those of you who don’t know, is a trail that runs from Mexico to Canada.)

My feet were starting to hurt and I realized I had some nasty blisters. I asked for prayer for healing as it made each step really painful and unbearable. I knew Vanessa would be praying… That was important for me.

We set up camp in the backpacker’s campground and got a good night’s sleep.


Tuolumne Meadows

Day Three
Tuolumne Meadows/Lyell Canyon to Lyell Forks

We headed up and out through Lyell Canyon, and it was stunning. The mosquitos were thick, but we felt good. We hiked about 9 miles and it started to rain again so we quickly put up our tents and holed up for a good 12-15 hours while the rain poured.

God was with us during this dark night. I thought a lot about contentment. Almost everything I brought was wet or damp. I remembered Paul’s admonition in 1 Timothy 6:8: “If we have food and clothing, with these shall we be content”. I had much more than that and during this time I was really able to meditate and ponder these truths. I thought about those who fight in our wars and put up with much more discomfort. I thanked God for what I had and asked Him to make me more content and not complain. I reflected on His sovereignty and thanked Him for bringing us this far. I remembered Vanessa’s prayer that “we would not be denied” the morning before we got the email that our permit had been approved, and how God answered it. I felt we were in the right place at the right time, and that God brought us there.

Note: If I do the JMT again I will try to go out of Tuolumne and not Yosemite Valley.


Donahue Pass

Day Four
Lyell Forks to Ruby Lake

Still raining early. We finally got up late AM and hit the trail up and over Donahue Pass and Island Pass. Its was clear and glorious. Really enjoyed that park of the hike as the views were unparalleled.

It started to rain pretty hard again and we could not find a place to camp. We went by Thousand Island Lake and It was beautiful, as well was as Emerald Lake. We finally found a
couple of spots at Ruby Lake after praying for help. It stopped raining for a while and we got set up and ate dinner after hiking 11 miles.

It was overall a tough day due to the heavy rain and lack of acceptable camping spots. Lots of hikers that we came upon were discouraged and fearful. The Lord sustained us and showed us that He wants to be involved in the smallest details of our lives.

However, we were uncomfortable and a bit frustrated wondering what was coming our way the next 15 days…

Day Five
Ruby Lake to Red’s Meadow

We woke up to a sunny morning and had a great hike into Red’s Meadow. It was long (16 miles) and exhausting. We passed by some gorgeous lakes and streams. Garnet Lake is one I would love to come back to. Shadow Lake and Rosalie Lake are nice as well.

God gave us strength and hope that day. Our equipment and clothing were still a bit wet and in need of drying out. My feet were still in pain and we were tired. We rolled into Red’s late afternoon. We checked to see if they had a cabin. There was one left! Praise God. We grabbed it. We were able to sleep in a real bed and take a shower as well as do the laundry.

We met Alex and Andrew at the laundry area there. Great conversations and guys. Andrew is a 16-year old doing the JMT Solo. Quite a kid.

We ate dinner and breakfast at the cafe and it was fantastic.

Day Six
Red’s Meadow to Duck Pass Trail

We hiked about 11 miles to Duck Pass.  We stayed at a little campsite above the stream.  We were by ourselves and it was relaxing and nice. 

We thought about stopping by VVR (Vermilion Valley Resort) on our way to MTR (Muir Trail Ranch). We had emailed MTR asking for a room. We checked our email and they had one left so we grabbed it and made the choice to bypass VVR. We heard good things about VVR, so if we do this again we will make that a stop.  We felt that God was looking out for us in getting us that room so we had something to look forward to in the next couple of days.

Andrew called this section of hiking the most boring on the trail. He was right.

Day Seven
Duck Pass Trail to Squaw Lake

Nice day hiking and we ended up at Squaw Lake, which became one of our favorite camp spots.  Simply a picturesque place right out of a magazine. Andrew was there when we arrived and was very hospitable and invited us to camp nearby.

Also there was a man with his son who was about 13 years old, and they were having a great time.  

Lots of good conversations. We did laundry, washed up and enjoyed the lake and stream.

Very relaxing… We were now enjoying ourselves.

Praying every morning and evening together. 

Morning prayer: That we would be helpful, kind, generous and thoughtful on the trail to other hikers. Thanking God for the opportunity to be there. That He would keep us and others safe as we hike. That our families would be blessed and kept safe while we were gone. 

Evening Prayer: Thanking God for His provision, for keeping us safe and for providing a camp spot. Thanking God for our families and wives. Asking that He would protect them and bless them while we were gone. Thanking God for the beauty of His creation we are exploring.

Kevin resting after Forester Pass on Day 17.

In Closing…

The acronym “SMART Goals” has been around for a long time.  I first remember hearing about this in nursing school.  Setting goals properly is key to achieving them. Goals should be: Specific, Measurable, Attainable/Achievable, Realistic/Relevant,Time-based.

For Kevin and David, JMT was a long term goal that was achieved after months of preparation, and contained all of the SMART Goal elements.

So, what goal (or goals) have you set for yourself? Set your own SMART goal if you haven’t already. Then start tackling it in bits and pieces. Consistently “move the ball down the field” toward your goal. Kevin loves this football metaphor; actually I do too, and we both use it often. After all, according to Sachel Patel, “Consistency carves canyons”.

Let yourself get excited at the possibilities!


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In addition to writing articles and working as an RN in a busy clinic, I also do health/life coaching. If you are interested in a free 20-minute consultation to see if we would be a good fit working together, click here. In addition, I am a consultant for Beautycounter, a wonderful company that provides safer, very high-performing skin care products and makeup. I encourage you to check out Beautycounter.

You can also find me on Instagram @wellnessadventure_RN.

You might also be interested in reading this prior article:
Goal Setting: Be Audacious!

Also, you can watch Kevin & David’s 16-year-old friend Andrew’s short YouTube video about his adventure here.

Updated: 9/10/19

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