Conquer Lengthy Trails in Small Portions

In this post I discuss how to build your self-confidence by “connecting the dots” and finishing portions of trails you haven’t conquered in the past.

Photo by Luis Quintero from Pexels

Today I’m going to discuss the incredible feeling of accomplishment that comes from completing a lengthy trail in small, manageable portions, regardless of how many tries, trips, or years it takes to achieve that goal. 😁  Below I outline several different trails we’ve done sections of in the past and have finally “connected-the-dots” on.

Willow Creek/Rushmore Trail (trail #5)

 We completed the Willow Creek/Rushmore trail (trail #5,) all the way to where it meets up with the Harney Trail {trail #9, the hard way up Black Elk (formerly Harney) Peak}.  This is really just a connector trail and not that big of a deal (though it’s a nice trek with lovely views).  It’s just such an accomplishment when you complete these various routes.  The Willow Creek-Rushmore trail was one I’ve been wanting to do for years.  Every time we’ve hiked the difficult Harney Trail (trail #9), we’ve always used the Willow Creek turn-off as a bit of a landmark to watch for.  So, to finally connect the two was such a delight! 

This accomplishment was especially exhilarating as it was already getting snowy up that way and some of the knee-deep snow was a challenge to hike through–we hadn’t taken snowshoes that day as the lower elevations didn’t have any snow and we didn’t know how much we’d be encountering.

Eagle Cliff Trails in the Black Hills

After numerous tries throughout multiple seasons, we finally completed several sections of various trails in the Eagle Cliff area.  We’ve enjoyed parts of these trails in previous years–sometimes skiing, sometimes snowshoeing, sometimes mountain biking–but we’ve never fully connected them all.  In the past, we failed to complete the entire loop as we’ve always turned around due to being tired, being cold, or losing the trail.**  This time, however, we started with the Hamburger snowshoe route (who comes up with these names?! 😝); took that to Lily Park trailhead; then continued on to the Holey Rock trail.  We then looped back to the Bratwurst ski trail and brought that all the way back to our starting point–not to worry, we stayed off the ski trails. 😇 (Another group had, kindly, already blazed a snowshoe trail alongside the main road that we were able to follow. 😁)

**As much as we love the Eagle Cliff area, we’ve frequently lost our trail up there.  This has occurred both in the summer and the winter months and has actually been worse in the summer (the tall grasses don’t do much to suggest a trail.  At least in the winter, there are, oftentimes, other tracks to follow!)  Fortunately, we’ve never gotten lost to the point of being in trouble, we were always able to retrace our steps and find our way back.  Sometimes too, we’ve been able to spot the valley we were seeking from a ways off and reach it via off-trail routes.  

I do believe some of this was due to poor signage, the old maps were difficult to read and often sun-faded, or they were an inaccurate match with the current trails that year.  The new ones seem far more clear.  The trail blazes on the trees also seem to be closer together and better-marked.  It could also be that we’re finally getting comfortable with the area as we’ve completed so many of the trails.  

To Conclude

The point to discussing all this is that, if there is a difficult or lengthy trail (or set of trails) you’re interested in, but they seem too challenging or long for you to accomplish in one sitting, complete them in sections.  It still counts as mastering the entire monster, even if you don’t do it all in one try!  Start from one end and try to make it halfway.  Then, on another occasion, start from the other end and make it halfway again.  You just finished the entire thing, even if you only ever did half a section at a time!  

I have a few other, personal examples of this in relation to local trails.  The Trekkers are aiming to hike the entire, 111-mile long, Centennial Trail that traverses the length of the Black Hills.  We also want to bike the entirety of the Mikelson Trail, the 109-mile long, graded, gravel path that spans the Hills, from north to south.  It follows an old railroad grade, leftover from the Gold Rush days of yesteryear.   It’s taken us almost a decade, but so far we’ve completed over half of the Centennial Trail and almost the same amount for the Mikelson.  

With routes that are quite lengthy, numerous trailheads often split them up into more manageable sections.  Completing one several-mile section every few months is far simpler than attempting an entire 25-mile trail all at once.  We’ve even split up single sections before.  There is a 14-mile portion of the Mikelson trail that we’ve just never been able to finish all at once.  We HAVE completed it using the “halfway method” mentioned above, starting from each direction, though.  This technique is also a good way to keep your spirits and enthusiasm up.  It’s much easier to stay motivated if you’re not trying to psych yourself up for a crazy excursion, but instead, a fun, shorter, one-day outing.  

Related posts:  Cross-Country Skiing at Big Hill, Spearfish, SDWinter Activities at Eagle Cliff

With this post, I want to stress that you don’t have to be a marathon recreator.  It’s perfectly reasonable to be more of a “sprinter”, who feels a five-mile outing is a perfectly acceptable definition of a “full-day”.  When you’re out on the trail you aren’t competing with anyone or anything else (with the exception of Mother Nature, of course).  Your only rival is yourself.  So, don’t compare yourself to others.  The only thing that matters is that you’re improving your skills, your strength, and your health–both mental and physical–along with it.  

The other caveat is, of course, that you’re having fun!  As long as you’re getting out, connecting with the natural world, working off the steam of any built-up, negative energy, and you’re accomplishing the goals you have set for yourself, that’s the only thing that’s really important.  You’ll find achieving goals is also quite the confidence booster, as you’re pushing yourself and meeting challenges. (If you are the marathoner-type person who can go out and accomplish 20 miles at one sitting, mad points to you too! 😉)

So, what are you waiting for?  Get out there and accomplish some goals and in the process, boost your confidence by finishing​ what you start!   

Have you conquered lengthy trails in small sections?  Tell me about it in the comments!

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Are you frustrated by a lengthy trail you just haven't been able to finish? Read on for my advice on how to conquer these in small portions.


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13 thoughts on “Conquer Lengthy Trails in Small Portions”

  1. I like this approach! There are a number of hikes (e.g. PCT, AT) that I’d really love to do the entirety of someday, but given my current life/job, I don’t think it’ll ever get to happen unless I split it up in small portions!

  2. I think section hiking is a great way to enjoy longer trails. I have been doing alot of section hiking during the pandemic on some of our local thru hiking trails. It’s such a feeling of accomplishment to finally link all the sections.

  3. Yeees! I love doing this too! We did a couple of long walks in the UK like this; 1 or 2 sections at a time until we had completed the whole thing…

    When we find a trail with two possibilities at the end, I quite like returning to try the second option later (or even trying the same trail backwards.)

    And then are are the trails that just kick our asses the first time, so we keep going back until we have managed to hike the whole way.

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