Sunday, July 01, 2007


Well, we survived trek. (I'm the tiny head covered with a white bonnet in the back left. Roger is the handsome, rugged tall guy in the back right.)

Sorry if it's too much like a travelogue, but I have some things to say about trek, so here we go.

For those of you who don’t live in Utah or near any other pioneer historical markers, “trek” is when a group of people re-enacts part of the pioneer experience by walking part of the trail with (hopefully) some measure of difficulty and distress and also some measure of spiritual awakening and connection with the faith of those who’ve gone before. Trek as an institution for educating our youth arose some time between the time I was a teenager and the time we returned to Utah. Apparently, almost all wards/stakes around here “do” trek once every four years or so and plan to continue doing so from here to eternity.

First let’s talk about healing. Remember how I was released from my primary chorister calling in January, and I was so upset? Part of what upset me was that I thought it was God telling me I wouldn’t be getting better from this illness as quickly as I had planned on. It was rather devastating. I believe I wrote about it at the time. Anyway, around that same time, the bishopric called me to be the “music director for trek,” and asked that Roger and I plan on being “Ma and Pa” for trek. I have to admit that I also saw this as a sign—that God was saying, “No, you won’t be better real soon here, but by trek you’ll be quite well.” I made trek my point of reference for my faith about being healed. I planned on being well for trek. I believed with all my strength that I would be.

Once in a while in the days leading up to trek, especially a month or so ago, the thought would come to me, “If I felt like I do now on the day before trek, would I go?” Sometimes the answer was no. But I continued faithful. Meetings for trek began in January and I was well enough to attend all but one (even though they began at the ungodly hour of 8:30 p.m., a ridiculously late time for me—I like to be in bed by 9:00 if I can. Really). (And let me say here, by the way, that those meetings turned out to be one of the highlights of this whole thing for me. I have been utterly amazed at the work and love that these people, the trek committee, were willing to put out for the youth in our ward. Some of the hardest workers and most committed [hey—“committee” and “committed.” Hmm.] were empty-nesters who did not even have any kids going on trek. I think the absolute best people in the ward were on trek committee and I loved going over to the church at night and being near them for a couple of hours.)

Last week the ward had a special fast that we would have no major health problems or injuries on trek and that the youth would have the experience we had been planning for them. Roger and I fasted, and, I have to admit, focused most of our fasting energy (is there such a thing? of course) on my health in particular. We felt hopeful. I felt quite well. (Not 100%, but my remaining “issues” didn’t seem the type to keep me from trek.)

At one point it became apparent that the bishopric had called too many Mas and Pas in an effort to protect against contingencies and back-outs. When I found that out (no one actually told me straight out), I volunteered to give up the Ma and Pa part, especially since Rog and I would still be going to trek as “support staff” because of my music director calling. That took a lot of pressure off of me because now I knew I would not have to walk all thirty-or-so miles over the course of the trek if I didn’t feel up to it.

So the time came to go and I went, with great gratitude in my heart because I can remember many, many days over the past year when doing such a thing seemed impossible. Those days I stayed in bed. Those nights I sobbed on my knees for healing. The weekend we thought I had cancer. And here I was, on the bus heading out. I imagine I was the most grateful one there to be going. (And many people kept coming up to me, looking deeply into my eyes and saying, “Are you SURE you’re feeling well? Are you OK to do this?”)

One really sad thing is that one of the guys who put in the most work planning for this got sick—with MONO, NO LESS—and decided at the last minute not to go. (And I mean last minute. Apparently, he had had mono for weeks before he even told the bishop, because he wanted to go so badly.) I couldn’t help feeling that old guilt—“Why should I be well and not him?” I’ve GOT TO GET OVER THAT! It’s not how God wants me to live! That man has his own path and mine becoming easier for a while has nothing to do with his becoming harder.

Day 1

So we got on the bus early Thursday morning. We had hoped the kids would sleep most of the six-plus-hour journey since we got them up at 4:30 a.m.—but no. So we sang songs and played games and made it to Wyoming. The kids set off with their Mas and Pas for the six-mile trek to camp, and, being needed to help get things ready, Rog and I took the bus to camp where he set up tents while I helped prepare dinner.

It was actually quite sad to see the kids arrive at camp that first night. The trek had been longer than they had anticipated, and their lack of sleep the night before had taken its toll. They trudged in glassy-eyed and depressed. I had been sad not to be able to trek with them but it felt good to see how much what I had done at camp was needed. I don’t mind being behind the scenes when I truly believe my work is needed. The amazing thing was how the kids perked up after they had eaten. They were as lively as ever after dinner and many of them stayed up quite late that night. (They didn’t keep me up, though! I brought ear plugs and slept blissfully, except at one point when I awoke to hear coyotes howling at the moon.)

Day 2

I was up at 5:00 to help get breakfast ready. I awoke naturally—I am a morning person—and enjoyed watching the sun come up over the mountains. During breakfast I was invited to become a “foster-Ma,” because one of the Mas had been overcome with the heat the previous day and didn’t feel able to do the long trek this day. Again, there was for me that odd combination of gratitude for my own good fortune and sadness for her loss, mixed with a little guilt (GET OVER IT, DARLENE). I agreed eagerly. I felt well. I could do this. And there are points at which I could bail out and be driven back to camp if it became clear that I was overly optimistic.

So, Rog and I became “Aunt and Uncle” to a small group of motherless trekkers. They really did come to feel like my kids over the course of the next two days. We walked around sixteen miles that day and I kept up fine. I kept those kids singing most of the way and they told me how much easier the trekking was when they were singing. It really wasn’t hard most of the time. I can’t believe how tough these teenagers are.

This was the day of the “Sisters’ Pull.” This is a portion of the trail that goes up a sharp hill. Right before the Pull, the men are “called off” in a re-enactment of the Mormon Battalion summons. As the men left us, we sang “God be with you ‘til we meet again,” and it was very touching. The men hiked up the hill and stood there in silence, waiting for us. The women listened to a sister missionary tell us about the woman who wrote “As Sisters in Zion,” and then we sang it. Then we arranged ourselves among the handcarts and began the Sisters’ Pull.

As we approached the hill, the men, standing in silence along the trail, took off their hats and held them over their hearts and bowed their heads for us. This was the most touching moment of the trek for me, because I thought about my biggest fear, which is that Roger will die before I do. I imagined to myself that if that ever happens, I will try to picture him always by my side, in silence, holding his hat over his heart for me. It was beautiful.

At the bottom of the hill I looked up to the top and said, “I have been through labor. I can do this.” And it really was so much like labor. Remember that feeling when it starts getting really bad and you know that there is no way out but through, and you dig deep down into yourself to push through it? (It really is a sort of claustrophobic feeling.) And there’s your husband nearby who cannot help you at all, but can just stand with his hat on his heart and pray for you. We dug in and we pulled. It was hard, but it was short (too short, I think), and we made it. We all did. But it was very, very moving.

(I'm on the far right in the front.)

We also went to Martin’s Cove, but it was very hot and we were so very tired that we didn’t really have the experience there that we had all planned on. (At least I didn’t.) Also, Roger and I made a tactical error. I had brought along a cd player because at one point we needed music for contemplation. But we didn’t want to carry the thing all the way through the cove. Seeing that people were coming back on our same path, we decided to stash the cd player in the bushes on the way in and pick it back up on the way out. But then we found ourselves coming out by a different path and realized that it was a loop. Rog and I ended up having to backtrack to get it. I didn’t mind terribly, though. It was kind of romantic to be walking there quietly with just my sweetheart. (And some twizzlers we had smuggled in.)

By the time we got back to camp we were all pretty beat, but I made them come into camp singing for the benefit of those who had stayed at camp working so hard for us. Again I was amazed at the resiliency and health of teenagers when they all proceeded to have a waterfight. After sixteen miles! Sheesh!

I spent some time in the medical trailer, but not for anything to do with my health, really. I had stupidly worn fancy hiking socks fresh out of the package instead of washing them first, and had an allergic reaction in the form of a bright red rash spreading up my legs. My calves were swelling up and I had to keep them elevated for the evening and all night. What a stupid thing to put me out of commission, after getting over all those other health problems! But I was still able to sit at the testimony meeting. I had assigned someone to sing “Prayer of a Walking Child.” If you haven’t heard it, check it out here. Amazing song. I can’t believe anyone can sing the thing.

I hear that the kids were up until 2:00 a.m. I wouldn’t know. Earplugs are my favorite invention.

Day 3

Up early to break camp. Then we set off for the final trek, six miles back to the visitor’s center where the bus will pick us up. About two-thirds of the way through this day’s trek is the “River Crossing.” I have brought music for this, since we didn’t want to ask anyone to bring his violin into the dust and wind of trek. I asked a young man in the ward who plays amazingly well and who wouldn’t be on trek to play and record several hymns. It seems sort of cheesy to be playing music from a tape player during trek but it really added a lot to the experience.

The River Crossing is an enactment of the pioneer’s crossing of the frozen Sweetwater. Remember all those stories of the boys (and others) who carried multiple people across and then died? This is the place where those stories happened.

Because of my rash (still quite extreme), we felt I shouldn’t get my legs wet with river water. So Roger carried me across quite early in the process. It was a good thing to do because it looked good. After that, several of the girls let the young men carry them across and it was very moving. Very last to cross was our sweet Young Women’s president, whose bad knee had prevented her from doing most of the trek (to her immense sorrow). She got a short way into the water and then appeared to really struggle. It was beautiful to see the people who jumped back into the water to go back and help her. Altogether it was a sweet experience, and the kids were quiet for the next mile—a good sign that they had been touched.

(Yes, that's Rog carrying me.)

Lunch at the visitor’s center and then the long, long bus ride home. It seemed twice as long coming home as going! At one point the kids were getting too wild in the back of the bus and I went back and sang with them. It was really cool to see some of the young men move to the back of the bus and sing with us, shyly.

Besides the fact that I was well enough to do all that walking, the thing that makes me feel like trek was a success in my life is this: I have developed a great love for the youth of our ward. (Did you think I was going to say “for the pioneers”?) I served them with all my heart these last few days, and I love them dearly now. Also my fellow yoke-mates, the others who served them—I have grown in love for them as well. All in all, it was a beautiful, beautiful experience. I am so grateful to have been able to go—grateful to God for granting me my request, grateful to my in-laws for babysitting, grateful to the leaders who planned it. I am brimming with gratitude today. And there you have it.


Jennifer B. said...

The trek sounded wonderful. I loved reading about your entire experience.

Denny & Joe said...

Okay, I have to de-lurk to tell you I love your blog. I'm Angie Hallstrom's Aunt Denny and I linked to your blog from her website a while back and have read all your archives. You write so very well and I enjoy hearing your insights.

Congratulations on finishing trek. Sounds like it was wonderful. Way to show pioneer spirit.

Darlene said...

Thanks, Denny! Any aunt of Angela's is an aunt of . . . er, friend of mine. Welcome. I'm glad you like my various ramblings.