I’m not going to lie, our church does some seemingly whacky things.
I mean, we go to church for at least three hours every week, we don’t drink coffee and alcohol, we work hours and hours each week for callings that we don’t get paid for.
But there is a purpose behind it all. And I love it.
One of the most peculiar things we do is go on “pioneer treks.”
That’s where the youth dress up like the pioneers who came across the planes all those years ago to find a place to settle and build the church. They pull handcarts across rough terrain for miles on end for a few days. They camp, and cook for themselves (along with their trek “families”).
And they learn….a lot.
I’ve always thought going on a trek would be a good experience. I mean, how great first of all to reflect on ancestors and think about how life used to be way back when. And I always like things that are hard cause they make you grow so much. (“We do hard things”)
So when Max and Elle were both on tap to go this year (they only do it every four years), I was all about finding a way to go with them. I didn’t want to let the opportunity pass me up. They ask different couples to be “Ma” and “Pa” for each group of youth and Dave and I would have loved that. But because we’re in between wards with our pending move coming up that wasn’t really in the cards for us.
So I offered to go along as a photographer.
And they took me up on it.
Boy howdy, am I ever glad.
It was one of the best experiences I’ve had.
There was a bunch of prep work to get there. Elle and I whipped up some skirts and aprons before we left.
We were the last ones to drop off our supplies in the trailer the night before we left, but we made it in the nick of time.
We got up early to catch the buses to take us to the start-point up in the mountains.
There were a few perks for us photographers.
One of them was that we didn’t have to ride the school buses. We cruised along in air conditioning and passed them up.
When we got there everyone was divided into “families” with a Ma and Pa to watch over them along the route. Here’s Elle hugging her new “family members:”
Then they put together their handcarts and we were off.
I made that sound easy, but actually, with almost FIFTY handcarts, it was no small feat.
Us photographers went up ahead to get ready to take the “family pictures.”
I have to say that my friend Ashley and I had so much fun as the photographers (along with one other guy and three videographers…pictures of them all coming up at the end). We worked our tails off running up and down the trail to try to capture everything, were able to feel the pain as kids walked on blisters, stayed up late laughing until we cried and felt the beauty spirit of it all as we went along.
I loved seeing the “families” as they came through. After only a morning of walking they were already quite bonded.
Here’s Max’s trek family:
…and here’s Elle’s:
In the early afternoon we hit what they call “Testimony Hill.”
I guess they call it that cause you sure have to be strong to get up that thing.
The pictures can’t quite do the steepness justice.
They had to have rope pulleys for safety to get those carts up.
It was so neat to watch the families work together to get up there.
Max’s group was way ahead of where I was, but I got to catch Elle’s:
She was obviously not overly daunted about that thing.
…maybe that’s because boys like this were working their guts out to help them up the hill.
These two went up and down there at least fifteen times lugging up handcart after handcart.
I love how happy service makes you feel.
After about twelve miles of lugging those handcarts we arrived at camp, sweaty and dirty and tired as could be, but wow, it was sure beautiful:
The families cooked their own dinner and had devotionals.
Love these ladies from my ward:
That night they had some pretty fun dancing. It was so dusty and dry it made for some dusty pictures.
I loved watching the morning prep. Here’s a family at their morning devotional:
…and cooking breakfast.
There were lots of feet that looked like this.
The big deal thing on day two was the “Woman’s Pull.”
That’s when the boys leave off on their own little part, and the girls pull the handcarts for a while on their own.
Up really rough terrain.
And it’s really hard.
Our Stake Young Women’s president gave a talk to all these hundreds of girls about knots that I will never forget.
First she had a couple girls come up and hold those ropes on either side of her. She asked if they could tie them in a knot if they didn’t let go of the rope.
They couldn’t do it.
Then she told them to fold their arms first. They discovered that if they folded their arms holding on to each end of the rope, when they took their arms out of the fold, the rope would be in a knot.
The point: prayer makes everything possible. She gave everyone one of these bracelets:
(The rope-like one, not the leather one.) Each bracelet had two knots. One was for “doubt not” and the other was “fear not.”
She went on to explain that with God’s help nothing is impossible.
I wish I could describe the feeling in that grove of trees with all those women.
The air was thick as could be. It was my favorite part of the whole trek.
It was the best feeling, followed by the helpless feeling I had watching all these girls pull such heavy loads while I snapped away on my camera.
After a little bit Ashley and I had enough and we put down our cameras to help.
The boys weren’t allowed to help. The point was for them to feel how God feels at times when he wants so much to help us but we forget to ask.
It was a pretty powerful exercise for them as well.
Elle wasn’t too daunted…maybe she just smiles whenever the camera is out…
There’s Ashley trying to get a whole group picture…tough when you have 700 people…
And here’s Max in the midst of some girls. The poor kid, I couldn’t stop taking pictures of him.
Everyone was so happy to get into camp that night after another long day…I think nearly ten miles again.
They had all kinds of “stations” at the camp site that night.
(the girls were pretty thrilled about that one)
…that’s just to name a few…I think there were twelve stations.
Max and Elle were delighted that I made them stand up in the middle of their dinner so I could capture the beautiful light with them in it, can you tell?
Another day to bandage wounds before heading out again:
(I know, gross.)
All the parents were asked to send letters to their kids so they could read them there. They each got to find a quiet spot to contemplate and write down how they were feeling.
I loved their concentration and their pensiveness.
Here’s the group from our congregation:
I was so happy to be back with my Young Women again. Here are a few of them. Love these girls!
The third day was a little shorter, but still long enough for lots of blisters and heat exhaustion. Did I mention it was record-breaking heat that week?
Needless to say, everyone was overjoyed to get to the end. Here’s Max’s family coming through at a run they were so excited:
This is how it sounded:
A very talented guy made this temple to greet everyone at the end.
I cannot believe the work that people put in for the youth. It was to remind the kids to aim to get to the temple some day.
It had the names of every “family” and who was in it engraved into it.
Here’s our photography committee:
Miss these guys!
They are putting together a slide show I hope I can share here when it’s done.
My favorite part of the whole deal? Watching these kids who live in the middle of suburbia get out and walk for miles on end with blisters covering their feet and smiles on their faces. I loved watching them help one another so selflessly, even when they were having a really rough time themselves. I loved that they didn’t have cell phones or iPods or any technology at all and that they talked and sang together while pulling those handcarts for 26 miles. I love that it took us out of our regular lives for a couple days and made us appreciate our refrigerators, our air conditioning, our homes, our cars.
And our washing machines…you think we needed it?
But most of all it helped us appreciate those ancestors who went before us.
Those wonderful people who made sacrifices we try to duplicate but the depth of which we will never, every be able to fully comprehend. Some of them never made it. Some made it alone after losing family member after family member along the way due to extreme weather and incomprehensible hardships.
They were paving the way for their children and their children.
I’m so grateful for that.
And for the feeling in the air that it all created. How I hope we can all carry that through to our regular lives and realize that we too, in our own way, are paving the way for our children and theirs as well.
And that there is a God above who will help us through it no matter how rough it gets.