***Note all the pictures for the Trek posts were taken by my fellow Trek paparazzi (and beloved husband), David Wolf, who is an AMAZING photographer, check out his website!***
Suppose you take 150 kids, aged 14-18, make them leave behind their cell phones, iPods, Xboxes, internet service, (and yes, even make-up and deodorant), dress up in clothing from the 1800's, divide them into "families" with people they may or may not know, and then tell them they have to load all of their gear into a handcart, and push it around a mountain in heat and dust for four days?
Crazy, right? No teenager in their right mind would do that.
Members of the Lacey Washington Stake from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint (Mormons) did just that. Not only did they survive, they grew, they learned, and most of them actually loved it!
This was my third Youth Trek serving as the "fly on the wall," the paparazzi, or officially trek videographer. "Trek" is a reenactment of what many of these kids' pioneer ancestors were forced to do when they were driven from their homes in Illinois because of religious persecution. The Mormon Pioneers had to push handcarts from Illinois to what is now the Salt Lake Valley. Trek is a link to their past, but more than that its preparation for the future. It's hard and hot and dusty and smelly, but it teaches them that they can do hard things, they can rely on each other, and they can rely on their Father in Heaven.
The Trekkers started day one--fresh faced, eager, nervous, and clean. Fresh-faced and eager stayed around for pretty much the whole trip. Clean was one of the first casualties due to dust and sweat.
At registration the trekkers were assigned a "company" (red, yellow, or blue) and given a bandanna with that color. After a few "get to know you games" and lunch, they had to pack all of their belongings (albeit meager, after a strict pack check), dutch ovens and other means for cooking, sleeping bags and tents into one handcart per family. A family consisted of a volunteer adult couple (Ma and Pa) and 7-10 of the teenagers.
Its always fun to watch the kids pack their carts on the first day. The Ma and Pa have been instructed (yest there is such a thing as Ma and Pa training) to stand back and let the kids pack the carts. Securing everyone's gear with ropes and tarp to the handcart provides an interesting challenge. The load can't hang over the sides or the back and it has to be balanced to make it easy to pull. They don't usually get it right the first time, so I saw lopsided loads, wide loads, and loads with saggy behinds.
Once the carts were packed, then the real fun began, and by fun I mean walking. They walked, and walked, and walked, and walked, and when they were done with that they walked some more. Devoid of any other means of communication (aka texting) they talked to each other. (Novel idea, but it worked!)
A couple of miles in they were met by a group of women who begged the Trekkers to take their babies with them--the orphan trail. Each family received at least one baby (dolls weighted to feel more a real baby) some had twins. The babies came with names and instructions about how to take care of them. (Think egg, doll or flour sack assignment in "Life Skills" Classes.) In this case if the baby was mishandled it was pronounced dead and the whole company had to stop for a funeral.
After a good long time of walking (and pushing and pulling) the Trekkers stopped for some activities at Gnat Flats. Trust was a big issue during a bridge building exercise. One Trekker walked across boards held between members of their family. Team work was needed to "walk" a giant triangle across the meadow with one Trekker standing inside.
By the time they left Gnat Flats and walked and walked and walked and walked (you get the idea), they were getting pretty tired and very hungry. They were happy to find out that the next stop brought a chance for food--at a price. One family member was picked to go hunting (target shooting) with a black powder rifle. If the family sharp-shooter hit the target the family got jerky, otherwise...(okay they all got jerky and dried apples anyway, but most of them hit the target.)
After more walking (I sense a theme here,) three men arrived on horseback with a message from the U.S. government. This part of the Trek was another reenactment of The Mormon Battalion--a group 500 Mormon men who were asked to leave their families and enlist in the U.S. Army during the Mexican war in 1846. As with the original Mormon Battalion, all of the men of the group went with the Battalion and the women were left to pull alone up a long steep hill. The ladies stepped up to plate and with courage and determination (and help from a few "angels" scattered along the path) made it up to the top of the hill before the men were released from the "Mormon Battalion."
They walked some more (that may have been the most realistic part of the Trek, a lot of walking), and finally reached camp for the night. But even then there was no rest for the weary. Tents had to be put up and the carts had to be unloaded. This points out one of my favorite lessons of Trek--everybody is needed. Whether you are pushing and pulling a cart or setting up camp, every single member of the family has to contribute. If one person is sick, or hurt or just lazy, the whole family suffers.
Nightfall brought stew, rest for tired bodies and, oh yeah, mosquitoes! Luckily one of the modern convinces they were allowed to bring was mosquito repellent. It helped keep the less determined bugs at bay. (Not completely away, but a bit less thick.)
With the buzzing of mosquitoes, snoring of new family members, and coyotes singing a sweet and (hopefully) distant lullaby, the first day of Trek drew to a close.
I will post more about the rest of Trek soon. There was so much going on I need to take it one day at a time. In the meantime I want to hear your comments. If you went on Trek, tell me what was your favorite part of day one? If you didn't go on Trek feel free to put in your two cents about what you think of the idea of Trek and what makes 150 teenagers do something like this. (And don't say they do it to meet members of the opposite sex. I told one of my son's friends he could go on Trek and meet girls. His reply was, "that's still not worth it.)