[Back in January G and I were asked to be the trail bosses for the youth pioneer trek that happens every four years in our regional congregation. It's where all the youth 12-18 experience a few days of pioneer life, complete with pulling handcarts across country terrain, camping out, leaving modern conveniences behind, and even dressing the part as 19th century pioneers. So here's more than you ever wanted to know about trek in Australia:]
I have to admit, I was a reluctant pioneer--I'd never done trek, let alone led one--but G was enthusiastic and convincing. And he was right--it was energizing to work on a project together.
G spent months of weekends driving trails and paths in the area in search of a trek route that would work since the church farm where previous treks were held was no longer an option. As we finetuned the route based on campsites and access and planned activities, we realized that this was going to be a difficult endeavour as treks go--very hilly and quite long--but a gorgeous setting. We wanted it be meaningful and challenging but rewarding for everyone. As a somewhat trek-skeptical participant, I worried and fretted over the hardships. What if we made it so hard that it wasn't a lesson of accomplishing hard things but one of failing at trying hard things?!
While we were on the trail side of things (everything to do with the trail, trek youth, and families), behind the scenes there was a support crew who took care of all the logistics (outhouses, water, food supply, handcarts, equipment, etc.). They were fantastic. The YSA in the stake served on the support crew and also took on all the re-enactments and the bonfire dance on the last night. Others in the stake pitched in with photography and pioneer games and medical support.
Trek finally arrived, 29 Sept-2 October. We walked 41 kilometres over 3.5 days--and saved the hardest day for last, when we had to walk all the way back out, about 17.5 k. Sometimes the learning curve was as steep as the hills were and we definitely had to be flexible and go with flow as things unfolded. But these kids and their awesome trek parents were incredible--positive, flexible, kind, willing. It was so inspiring and gratifying to see their efforts and feel of their spirits. No phones. No tents (just tarps). No showers. Making meals over the fire. Yet even on the hardest segments, there was chatter and singing and cooperation throughout the group. Amazing.
I haven't yet found the words to express how this experience transformed me. G and I and Sam have talked and rehashed and philosophized about the multiple lessons of trek--everything from learning to be a better leader/communicator...to gospel parallels & perspectives...to how strong our young people (especially the women!) are...to how fascinating it was to watch how this little microcosm community of different families worked. I would love to do a study on the different things I observed: how the families embodied the different personalities and priorities of the parents and how sharing meaningful work seemed to animate and draw together the families that had that collaborative, all-hands-on-deck approach. So fascinating! Pioneer Trek reality show, anyone?
The hardest thing for me wasn't the sleeping out or the long walking but being the ones who were making everyone do all this grueling work! As trail bosses, we walked out in front of the handcart train and coordinated with the support crew and captains. We led everyone through steep hills and tall grass and through rivers and over steep hills again, the apparent imposers of the hardships and the keepers of the schedule. It was uncomfortable and I don't think I did it particularly well but I did learn a lot--and got to practice patience and humility and asking for forgiveness along the way.
We all made it. In our hillside testimony meeting, the youth talked about their own lessons of trek--what they had learned and even how they'd do it again in a heartbeat. (Whew, so glad!) Together we all felt that boost that comes from doing something that's just past what you thought you could actually accomplish and the unity of pulling together to a common goal.
That night we got home, took off our shoes and socks, tended to blisters and aches, and cleaned off four days worth of sweat and stench and Aussie dirt. Before our hair was even dry, G looked at me and said "That was awesome to work together on that. What should we do next?" Whatever it is, I have one request: something with access to showers.
These fantastic photos via Brooke & Dean Fisher, Keturah Manning, and Allison Clark