Trek, wow, what an experience unlike any other. They say that the things that don't kill you, make you stronger, and by gosh did Trek nearly kill me but I think I'm stronger (Or at least more patient) :P
If I can spend 4 days trekking 41km, I can write this lengthy blog post!
My first Trek was back in 2010, when I was 14. I also went when I was a non-member, and it played a big part in helping my conversion process from the sacred experiences that I was blessed with on that Trek. So when I heard that there was a new Trek happening, 5 years after my first one, I was over the moon! Finally! After all these years, I get to return back to Trek but not as a youth anymore, I am a YSA attending Trek! I instantly signed up for the Support Crew, and my little brother (Nathan, who is 16 this year!) signed up for his very first ever Trek.
If I could go back, one wish and probably the only wish that I had was that we would have prepared ourselves a little more physically. When it comes to exercise, I am a hot mess. The type that will complain the entire trip just to the car before we actually get to where we will be hiking and then during the Hike, I will slowly but surely turn into Gollum. Exercise and I don't mix, even though I do it. I just do it grudgingly.
My first trek was a plain flat walk, with little to no hills, and due to raining a few days before Trek started, flooded rivers/giant puddles that we had to walk through (And I had to be carried over because the rivers reached my upper thigh) but this time I was told that the Trek was going to be hilly. Okay, hills. I can do that. That's not hard, isn't it?
Nay and I probably actually kicked into gear of walking about two weeks before Trek started. While I look back on this and realise how bad that was of a decision, and how quickly it is to procrastinate, at least it gave us some perspective for the actual Trek. We live near a mountain, so we used that as our pre-trek hiking. It was a hard reminder of how much my body hates physical movement when it's needed. We pushed through, and on the very last day before Trek, we finally climbed to the very top and had a nightmare of a time when I miscalculated how much time we had to walk up and back down, so as we started to walk down the mountain it was absolutely pitch black and all the wildlife was coming to hunt us down as we actually knelt in prayer because I have a deep fear of the dark and my little brother was in pain from the intense level of exercise. It was an absolute nightmare, but it made PERFECT preparation for Trek!
I'm sure the Youth were thinking, - ' Please do not put her in our family. She's going to be that embarrassing Auntie or something'-
I got put into my little brother's family, because there were some concerns that with this being his first Trek, it may get too hard and that he'd want to quit (During my first Trek I'm pretty sure I quit about, 20 times, before we actually finished the Trek.) so it would be a good idea to have a sibling there to encourage him and walk with him. I loved this idea, because I was put with my best friend and she was one of the biggest strengths for me (And that created an even deeper bond that formed over mutual struggling) so I was happy to be that for my little brother.
We stocked up our carts, tightened our bonnets and aprons, and bid our parents adieu just in case we were going to be the one who not only replicated Trek, but replicated the casualties and being brought back home on a cart. 4 days was underway.
Within a few minutes of walking I knew in my bones that this trek wasn't going to be line my first. No way. When one of the leaders told me that there was going to be hills, I did not actually expect hills. I did not think things through. Luckily the leaders eased us into it, giving us plenty of water breaks and checking us all for the signs of blisters or dehydration. I was just so pumped to be back on Trek that I was practically a bouncing bunny, giddy with happiness and excitement for what laid ahead. I walked side by side with my brother, keeping him hydrated as I became his mule to carry all our essentials in a hand made satchel: Our torches, 1 litre bottles of water, our journals and pens, and other assortment of things that we needed to carry.
As one who was now the 'Big Sister', I felt this completely different responsibility. Before I turned YSA, I was familiar with many of the Young Women and I absolutely ADORE every single one of them. They are a hilarious bunch, and I wish they had been in YW's during my time in the program, but instead I was seen as this funny and cool older (Yet shorter...) person to them. I'd see these Young Women trekking for their first times, and I felt the need to tell them that while it was hard, it was worthwhile and one of the things that you'd look back on and absolutely love. When they began to get quiet from focusing on walking, I'd skip over and crack my dad jokes, talk about books (Perhaps I get along with so many of the Young Women now because they're all book readers? The bond that comes from being bookworms <3), and try to keep their mind off of the distance that they were walking. Sometimes we would find out much later that we had walked an hour when in reality, it felt that only ten minutes had passed because we had talked and laughed so much. My concern this time around for Trek was a lot less myself, but for those that were around me, which was so surprising because I'm normally so minded on myself and on how I'm feeling, but this Trek hit something inside of me that got my butt in gear to help those around me and look for opportunities to make this the best experience for the first timers. The scenery was gorgeous, and there were plenty of farm animals to point out as you trudged along with a heavy cart behind/in front of you.
We had been walking for a few hours by that time, and night had come quicker than the blisters to our heels. I was doing quite well, considering by that time on my last trek I was practically getting dragged behind Savannah and told to just keep thinking of the food at the end of today's journey. I was bright, chirpy, eagerly trying to keep the kids motivated to push the cart when they were struggling or wanting to just curl up near the fire or crash into their sleeping bags. Though my feet hurt, and at one point my hip bone felt like it was grinding on itself (Oh gosh old age has come to take me to the grave) I was thoroughly enjoying being back on Trek.
Then after a stop, our Ma's and Pa's alerted us that there were Anti-Mormons around in the area, and to stay close. As we kept walking, some of the older kids knew what was coming up, and majority of them did not. When the fireworks went off and large flames erupted form the sides of the path, even I may have jumped and my heart was palpitating. The Anti-Mormons stormed through our camp, even shoulder bumping the kids out of the way (I was not recognised as one of the YSA's, so I got shoulder charged and I totally flung into the arms of one of the girls in my family. We awkwardly chuckled as we watched the scene unfold ahead of us) The Support Crew (The YSA's) were all wearing masks, in black, and had sticks to whack the carts and frighten.
There was a big speech given by the well acted Joseph Stubbs, who tried to prompt the youth to leave the trek. Some of the youth joked out of nervousness, and some of them told their families to hold still together. I was so surprised at those ones, the little kids who teared up and said that they were staying. It really warmed my heart that they had put their all into this, and taking the experience for what it was worth and not making light of something that had actually happened to real people, not these names and stories of people we are told.
It was always in the plans for me to leave the Trek and join the Support Crew with the YSA. We had been discussing how I'd get back to the YSA, but at last minute we decided that when the Anti-Mormons would be trying to convince us Pioneers to leave and desert, I would choose to leave and abandon my family. It would let me be with the Youth for one whole day, but also to get back and stay with the Support. It was a win-win!
When one of the Anti-Mormon leaders came around to our Cart, I stuck my hand up and said -
After the Youth left, all the Support Crew climbed into the cars and went to finish up whatever was left to do, and I was led to the camp to get ready for the night. I was so energised from the walking, from the youth, from being in nature, that I couldn't sleep at all. I ended up staying up late to talk with one of the YSA's who was actually in my Trek family 5 years ago, and we reminisced over people we knew, our Trek, and other things. It was so nice to relax by a fire, to rest my feet, and to reflect on how far I've come since I first joined the Church.
Native Americans and pancakes. What do they have in common? Absolutely nothing, just like how I felt cooking pancakes out in the middle of farmlands. Support Crew is exactly what it says - to support. We cooked meals, we prepared the next areas for the Youth, we got skits ready (Like the couple whose child dies during their trek, and buried on the side of the road. Or the Native Americans trading with the Pioneers, which was done this day) and we did so much cooking and cleaning. It was like being at home but dirtier, more uncomfortable, and with none of the pleasantries of modern day living.
The second day went by in a blur, with one of the coolest experiences being the YSA in the back of a truck flying through the path and driving beside a stampede of cows who were interested in the truck and us hooting at them. I couldn't help but laugh and wish I had my phone to take a video of it!
But I had missed the walking and supporting the Youth. As much as I loved the Support Crew and doing the behind-the-scenes work, I wanted to be able to help the youth who look up (or...down...at me because I'm shorter than all of them?) to me. I also wanted to be with my brother as much as possible, and I remembered that Mike had visited me plenty when he was in the sick-bay. He even brought me food! I wanted to do that for my little brother, because it meant so much to me when Mike did it.
At one point, while we were setting up the giant bonfire for the Youth's second last campsite, I ran into one of the Pa's who happened to be the missionary who gave me my baptismal interview. It was so weird to catch up with him and to talk to him about his wife (The Ma of their family) and their children back at home. He thought it was weird that I was now YSA when he knew me at 14 years of age, and to hear all about my family joining the Church. It was a very surreal moment. As we talked, it was revealed that he needed some help with the family and that they'd love to have a big Sister to come in and help wherever possible (Whether that's cleaning/cooking, pushing the cart, or just encouraging the other youth) and so I was eager to jump on that opportunity. I felt entirely more useful in the Trek instead of in the Support Crew.
It was discussed with the Leaders, and Shoobridge told me that he'd run it past if they could kidnap me for their family. I was eager to hear back from them when we went back to our Support Crew camp, and got ready for the next day.
I awoke to being told that I was going to leave for the Youth Camp, and that I was going to become a Big Sister in a new family.
Yaaaaaassssss! Prayers are answered! :)
This family had been that family on the Trek, the ones with the sick children being moved to different families, a sick ma (Last trek I had a sick Pa who had to go to the hospital, so it was like dejavu), and some of the Youth who weren't getting along as closely as they could due to the elements. They needed someone, and I was more than eager to fit into that role. I packed all my stuff and I completely skipped breakfast as I raced in the car to the Youth's Camp.
When I arrived, it was big smiles all around but tired eyes. It has been sprinkling all night, and in the mountain terrains it was even colder which made sleep rare for most of the camp. Leaders came up to me and asked how I slept, and we both knew just by our yawns that there was no sleep had. The Spirit upheld every single person on that Trek, because I know for a fact that none of us should have been able to move or even stay awake on how much we all slept collectively. In my normal day to day life, if I don't have a meal in the morning/afternoon/whenever the world decides to awake me from my 1,000 year slumber, I become aggressive and bitey, but that morning with an empty stomach, I was nothing but smiles and love for everyone and their adorable faces.
I was assigned to the Shoobridge Family (There was an actual name for them, but because I knew the Pa as my missionary, I couldn't stop calling him Shoobridge. It's a problem of mine - Missionaries I know will ALWAYS be referred to as their last name, even when they're married and have children and it's been 10+ from their missions...they will still be called by their last names -
I also knew two of the girls in the family, who are in my Stake, and we're all AVID (to put it lightly) book-readers, so we instantly started chatting once I got to their family. I had dropped a bag of skittles that I was given by one of the other Support Crew members as a gift to my little brother, and he shared it around with his family. It was such a role reversal for me, and it was still blowing my mind that I was bringing him food, just like my older brought me food years ago *Cue Twilight zone music*
I instantly got to work, and got these two girls to go to the creek with me to clean the pots. Of course, the 4'11 "Big Sister" got to carry the heaviest pot of them all, which I'm pretty sure weighed the same as me, but I slung it over my shoulder (Then onto my hip, then in both arms but that covered them in soot, so I went back to the hip, and by the time we got to the creek I was holding onto it with my fingertips) and got to the creek in one peace.
Squatting is not in the list of my capabilities. To squat near a creek and wash an unbelievably oily pot isn't in that list either. Eventually I got so sick and sore of it, I took my shoes and socks off, and girded my loins and climbed into the creek. It was absolutely freezing cold, but my productivity went straight up to 100%. It's weird how much you don't care about dirt and looking messy and having a bit of water in your shoes when you're on Trek, you just make do with what you've got, and my apron was used a lot of the time to wipe my wet feet from climbing into water repeatedly (This was just the first of the week) and no one cared that it was grimey and had soot on it. Everyone looked bad, so no one looked good :) Equality!
While we were gone, the letters from home came. This was my one of my crucial turning moments in the Trek before, when I didn't get a letter from my parents who weren't members, but one from my uncle. I knew what was coming, and I had been preparing for it since we got on Trek, so I politely took my letter and climbed up into the woods area by myself. I was already tearing up a little bit, but thought - 'No! You've got this! You did Trek before! You're a maaachiiiine' - all the while I was sobbing into my apron. Smooth.
As I was tearing open my letter, my little brother had found me and wandered over with his letter. He was not aware that letters were written, and as soon as I saw him I knew. He was having his own conversion moment. He sat down next to me, his letters all in disarray in his hands, and he was crying as we sat together on this log in the middle of the woods. To see him crying made me cry hard, probably worse than my first trek. It was bad.
My sweet, kind, and lovely little brother had felt the same Spirit of God that I had felt, and was one of the most cherished memories of mine from Trek. It's why I was back out here, to feel that again and to help others have that experience too. We sat together for a while, joked and laughed and cried together on that little log, and then it was time for all the families to pack up and get ready for the walking that day. I gave Nay one big last hug, because we were not in the same family anymore, but I told him over and over how much I loved him and was proud of him, and that mum (The one who wrote the letter) was proud of him too. He snort cried as he walked back to his family, and I used up all my tissues.
A big shock came to the kids when they said that the only way back to where we originally started this Trek (And where our parents would be welcoming us back and a BBQ was awaiting our rabid stomaches) was the way that we had come.
Yes. The entire way that the kids had been walking for 3 days was where they had to go back. In my Trek, we walked a straight path that started in one place and ended in another, but this Trek was different because there was no straight path from point to point. It ended. There was no no more path to go on. The only way was back. Then the other concerns came of, 'We did all that walking in 3 days, how are we going to do ALL of it in just one day?' and it was true. I would be walking the 3rd and 4th day with these youth, and even I was worried about somehow walking that distance in one entire day. We were assured by the Leaders that they were doing everything in their power to make it as easy as possible, and so we had faith that they would and focused on the 3rd day of walking.
It was the shortest day for walking, and I was told that it was to fit in all the sports/games activity, the Fireside/Talent Show, and the Bonfire dance that would happen later in the night all in one day. Only after walking for an hour or two, we set up camp, and the festivities began. I'm not a big fan of party games, but I love watching them. I sat with the youth who were feeling ill, exhausted, or just did not want to participate, and watched the Youth played in a 4-way Tug-of-War, and a race in sacks. I went to go and spend time with my little brother who was relaxing in his family tent, and we chatted about the experiences he had had on Trek, and then another Young Woman joined us as we joked around. It was time for me to calm down and rest while the other youth were busy expending their energies and enjoying the day before the long Trek.
But then we had two other YW, Eden and Lexi, come up to our tent and call my name. I turned around and was bombarded by these flour bombs made by putting a bit of flour in tied up stockings. It left a print, but didn't hurt or explode. They ran off giggling and I watched the other youth coming into the campsites with grins and their hands behind their backs. Catherine (The one in the pictures below) came up to me and hit me in the chest, and then I narrowly avoided another YM who tried to peg one at me. I wasn't prepared for it at all, and I laughed at the girls who explained that 'The YSA were allowed too, so we came to find you and pelt you' :P I definitely felt the love.
I have a very older brother/younger sister friendship with Shoobridge. We both talk about the some nerdy things, and we have the history of missionary work to relate and bond over. We teased each other majority of the Trek, and this opportunity was no exception. I grabbed one of the flour bombs that had not exploded, and realised that I could untie it. I went up to Shoobridge, tapped him on the wrong shoulder, and as he looked up I poured the flour on his back. This began something to the equivalent of the Slap Bet in How I Met Your Mother, where every time Shoobridge came around me he'd slow down so I thought he was going to pour flour on me, or do something in retaliation, so I lived in fear pretty much the entirety of the 3rd day of Trek. He would say it was hilarious, I would say it was tormenting.
We then had our Fireside/Talent show, it was awesome to see certain kids I had never seen before get up and sing, or Shoobridge and one of the boys from my family get up and crack a whip (I was so sick of that whip by the end of Trek, trust me. The novelty of 'pretending to whip your kids to push the cart faster' wears off after it narrowly hits you and you feel the air crack near you), and some skits.
Then we went on to go to the dance, which was AWESOME. My trek's dance was in a barn, and it was actually where I met my best guy friend, Stephen and where we really talked for the first time. This time it was outside, surrounded by bonfires that had been started by the YSA guys, and a large Tepee. I was extremely tired, and wanted to just check on the Youth but not really dance. Nope. That was never going to happen when you're the height of the youth and they find that adorable, so they love you and want to drag you into the dance multiple times.
I even got hit on by one of the youth D:
At one point I finally did get up to dance, and utterly humiliate the youth with my Rick Astley dancing, and I succeeded so well at that by the end of the night. I was super proud of myself.
It was our last sleep, and our biggest trial laid ahead of us in the form of our last walking day.
The Leaders began by telling us that they were going to make some changes to make our last trek a little more easier. All our gear was going to be put into the trucks/gears, and so was all our pots/pants/utensils/the big heavy ass wooden box that weighed the Cart down the most. There was also lots of breaks planned, and a testimony meeting after our hardest part. There was a stir of fear and a bit of anxiety because of how long we were going to have to walk for, but after hearing that all our stuff was going to be taken ahead of us, we relaxed at bit more.
Unfortunately, Naomi (The Ma) in our family had gotten even worse in her sickness that she had to leave the Trek and to follow behind in the car with the Support Crew. Our family was pretty upset that we wouldn't have our Ma walking with us, but we understood how much she has been trying the other days, walking while being sick was hard. We offered our love and support to her, and then began on our journey for the day.
In a weird way, I was the next oldest, so I kind of became the Ma *Enter panic mode and absolute madness* I became the Big Sis Ma...
The other youth kind of thought it was hilarious, because I kept calling them my children. And I was bossy.
Catherine had hurt her foot, so I walked alongside her while the guys pushed the cart for majority of the time because Catherine and I couldn't really do much. I'm 45kg of nothing, and Catherine was injured. We walked ahead, talking about books and boys (The most important B topics there are!), and endured the walk.
The worst part of this Trek was that I was not aware of just. HOW. MANY. HILLS. THERE WERE!! Each time we'd go up a large hill for half an hour, and then we'd reach the plateau, and ANOTHER huge one would loom in front of us.
But when I saw how many people were in our family who needed help to push, I knew I had to go get in there and help out. I took my shoes and socks off and gave it to Catherine to hold for me. We braced up, got everyone in line, and started rushing full pelt through the lake. I was not expecting sharp rocks to be underneath the water, and I learnt a valuable lesson in that very second of entering the water. Rocks with bloody tips stabbed into my feet as I ran across, hunched over and shoving the cart with all the strength I could muster. The water was ice cold but it was perfect for the heat beating against me. The entire bottom of my dress got wet and it created a barricade of cold against my legs, keeping my temperature perfectly balanced. As the cart go through the water, I leaned off to the side so that I could go and dry my feet off, put my socks and shoes back on, and get back to pushing the cart. It was little things like this where you realise the basic simple necessities of life are shoes and bridges.
There were some times where I had to put my hands on my hips, keep talking to make sure Catherine didn't focus on her pained foot, and take step after step. Whenever times got hard, I'd go back to help the others and check on them and make sure they were drinking because last Trek, I almost let myself get dehydrate because I'm a stubborn mule and also forgetful. But mainly a mule.
There's a reason why the Saviour teaches about service. When you're really serving others, with a heart full of love for them, something miraculous happens. You forget yourself, your own pain and your own struggles. Things become easier because you're focused on helping others to push through, to encourage and support them, and you realise that the very words that you're saying are supporting you too. Whenever I wanted to wallow in self pity, I'd go get myself to go and talk to one of the Youth and joke with them, talk to them about their Trek experiences, and to serve wherever I could. I believe personally that's what I was to learn on this Trek, and I came away with a valuable lesson learnt about how if you do not have love for your fellow beings, it is just that much harder to serve them, so we need to love our neighbours as we love ourselves (And let's face it. We love ourselves obsessively)
Compared to my last Trek, it was significantly harder. Without a doubt. It was very easy to complain that the Youth had it easy when I was cooking, sitting at camp, and probably only walking as far as to the bathroom, thinking that the Youth just needed to harden up because that's what I had to do through my own Trek, but once I was walking with the Youth, I figuratively ate and walked all over my words. It was excruciating at times, and the only thing that eased it was to pray and to sing a hymn with my Family, or even just with Catherine walking by my side. My favourite to sing was my all time favourite hymn, 'The Lord is My Light' or 'There is Sunshine in my Soul Today' and it was a blessing to sing hymns and feel strength come to you that you know was not yours in the first place.
At the very last hill, when I thought I was about to break and someone (Possibly my Pa) had to carry me to the top of the hill, we saw the even ground and the sky. It was finished, and the last stretch was flat dirt. Something bursted into all the youth, perhaps it was the idea that we were so close to finishing and that sense of accomplishment or the promise of a sausage sizzle, but we were nearly racing to the end. A fire was lit in our hearts and we could feel that sense of achievement closing in with each painful and sore step. The leaders started to gather us up all closer, and as we started around the bend and heard the hoots and cheers of our parents and families, a few Families started to sing 'Come, Come ye Saints' but everyone was near tears to even sing it. I'm sure some of those tears from the boys was because they saw hamburgers, sausages, and juice boxes, and I'm pretty sure they started charging up the last hill to the Church with the girls just holding onto the wooden bars and letting their feet drag.
It was a love fest at the end. Millions of pictures being taken of each family and individual kids by their proud parents, the Ma's and Pa's crying at their achievement and the achievement of their Trek children, the boys for the awaiting food, the girls for long awaited showers and functional toilets. The love was truly abounding in grateful heaps.
We had our last message, and last photo with everyone from Trek, and then Nathan and I raced (Nearly rolled down) the hill towards where the food was. It was something I couldn't believe I was tasting. I'm pretty sure I ate it in half a second and bit my fingers in my excitement. I even have a photo of me eating, but I'm not sharing it because I literally look like I'm fazing out of this life and moving into the next with a gleeful mouthful. You never realise how much you appreciate food until it's something you get day-by-day, not whenever you're feeling hungry and spending the energy to walk to the kitchen to grab something for yourself.
When our parents saw us, they pulled us into hugs but immediately pulled back when our stench hit them, and when we actually got back home, I understood. Being out in nature really freshens the smell of not showering for 4 days and being covered in a level of grime that was unimaginable until you wiped your neck with a baby wipe and it was brown. I'm not naturally brown, people. Our mum smiled at us and we thought she was coming to hug us, but in reality it was more of a spray down and disinfectant before we go into the car, AND the house.
I did things that I honestly thought I couldn't, I faced the future with a hope that I thought was once lost, and a new courage in myself that I, like a quote from a YW's leader that I've remembered and often used as a mantra to keep me going, knew now that I can do hard things. I wouldn't exchange these experiences for anything, and I love Trek. It's something I think every mormon should experience, and those who are interested in investigating the Church like I did when I was 14 (You feel crazy doing it, but you'll love every second of it)
My first time going to Trek - I was a 14 year old little sister, investigating the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
My second time going to Trek - I was a 19 year old Big Sister/Little Ma, preparing to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
and hopefully my third time going to Trek, in the next 5 years - I will be a 24 year old, married saint and Ma on a Trek for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Now I've got 5 years to find a Pa ;)
Until next time,
(Ugh, toilet, I have never appreciated your white porcelain perfection so much before)
"I Can Do Hard Things'
- Sister Clark, YW's Camp 2013