Saturday, June 09, 2012

Faith in Every Footstep - Day 4

This morning we broke camp. It was very bittersweet. Although I won't miss sleeping on the ground, I will miss what we've been doing here. I'll miss the people I've been able to hang out with. I'll miss the amazing sunsets with no mountains to cover them up. I'll miss the closeness of the Spirit we've created every day by talking about the Pioneers and walking where they walked. The Spirit of Elijah is so strong with me and I hope I can keep it going and keep feeding that fire by researching my own ancestor's stories. Maybe I'll even find a gap or two that I can help fill.

We took family pictures this morning.

Aren't we beautiful?! From left to right there's Julisa, Kyra, Auntie D, Unca G, Ben, Steven, Mama B and Papa Steve. I truly do love these guys! We had SO MUCH FUN! One of the reasons I walked for who I walked for (to be elaborated on in another post) was because she kept her sense of humor even through hard times. I truly believe there were people like us who tried to lighten the severity of their situation by finding joy. Seriously, we had the best family ever!

These are our fearless leaders. The Dickeys were our Trek Planners, Motivators, Question Answerers and just general Trek Extrodinaires! They put an amazing amount of work into this whole thing. We got to ride up with them and I know they put their hearts and souls into making this into what it became. Not to mention Kimberly sewed her apron and bonnet and it was practically her first time sewing. She did Awesome! Other than using the glue gun for the flower! ;D Next to them are Elder and Sister Billings, the missiornaries that checked on us every day and encouraged us. They square danced with us and prepped us for the different activities. Aren't they adorable? I think this would be an amazingly Awesome mission!

The only thing on today's agenda was to drive an hour and a half to Rock Creek and have a testimony meeting. We almost lost a carload, but we found them. It was a web of dirt roads after following a miniscule sign off of the "main" road. It's a wonder that we all made it there, honestly! Totally worth the trouble.

After eating lunch in their picnic area, we dropped our water bottles outside of the gate and reverently walked back to a memorial of the people that died. When the Willie Company got here, it was during a horrible winter storm. Wind, lots of snow and lots more wind. It took them 27 hours to get all of the weakened Saints up and over. They lost 13 people that day. Including little Jens and his foster sister Bodil. They were all buried here at Rock Creek in a common grave. The two men that dug the grave died by the next morning and were also buried nearby. Some of the accounts I read said that not everyone who had relatives die even came for the funeral. They were incapacitated of body and also spirit in some cases. We walked by reverently to pay our respects.

When President Hinckley visited Rock Creek, he declared that the Savior had walked there. It truly is sacred ground. He and other members of the first presidency brought their families to visit here and feel of the Spirit there.

You can still see the wagon tracks engraved into the rock. As I stood and looked, I imagined I could see some of the Saints that I have gotten to know through their stories. They would not have been looking back at me, though. They would have been looking forward, towards the Valley. They would have kept putting their feet down in the direction of Zion no matter how much they hurt or how sick they were. 

 It was so sacred here. I felt like I should take off my shoes in respect. I didn't say hardly anything this whole time. I just soaked it all in. We gathered in a little clearing on some long benches for testimony meeting. They had a little portable microphone and I wondered if the wind would carry the voices away, but I was able to hear every word. So many sweet testimonies were shared. My eyes were wet the whole time. Before we went on this Trek, I thought I knew how Amazing our Youth are. They floored me. They are INCREDIBLE. As they stood there one by one with light shining in their eyes, I couldn't help but echo everything the General Authorities have ever said about the Youth. I am so grateful for every one of them and how the time I spend with them makes me a better person. They spoke with power and love for their Savior and the Pioneers. I think they are a great testament to what the Pioneers suffered. (I hope they get to glimpse from Heaven the testimonies that they are still affecting, hundreds of years later.) I felt like my heart was going to burst! I am in Awe of these warriors of the last days. 

This is all of us seated as families after the most amazing testimony meeting of all time.
I wish I could say we were flown home on the wings of angels. I really didn't want to leave this holy place, but if we had to go, it would have been nice to have done it uneventfully. Geoff had a "windshield war" with some unnamed youth. (Don't tell him that I was the one that gave them the glass chalk to write with! ;) By the time we left Rock Creek, everyone had a fun phrase on their cars to distinguish us by. Geoff did a fun collage of all of the sayings on his blog.

The Awesome Brigade
 As we traversed the dirt roads back towards the main road, we decided to stop by a small ghost town we had noticed on our way in to Rock Creek so Geoff could take some pictures. We only planned to stop for 5 minutes and bring up the rear. Right after we finished waving to all of the other cars passing, we turned to get back in the car and discovered a flat tire! I wish I was kidding. It was extremely ironic. We were travelling with Bob and Paz, the newlywedded couple that acted as the liason to the Spanish Branch, and 2 kids from the Branch I hadn't met before. Bob pretty much changed the tire and we drove on the donut for an hour and a half before we could get the tire fixed.

I sent out a mass text letting everyone else know what happened. The trick was that we were pretty much the only ones with a signal up there. I sent out the text knowing that no one would get it until they were close enough to civilization to get a signal. Lucky for us, the Blackhursts got the text and they were traveling with the Dickeys who were driving their other car. They waited for us, but we didn't know that and accidentally passed them. They caught up and we were grateful not to be alone. We stopped at a Walmart in Rock Springs, WY to fix the tire and get dinner for the kids in our cars. It's not a family vacation unless you eat dinner in a parking lot, right?! :) 

Fried chicken! Yum!
If someone came up to me right now and asked me to go back out on Trek for any reason, I would go in a heartbeat! It was the most amazing experience and I am so grateful to add it to my memory banks. If you start to hear rumblings of your Ward or your Stake going on a Pioneer Trek, find a way to go! When the Dickeys heard about Trek and offered their help, they were put in charge! Honestly, though, it is the hardest experience you will ever LOVE.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Faith in Every Footstep - Day 3; Women's Pull

I really don't know if I can do this event enough justice. I take comfort in knowing that I hold much more than I could write in my heart. I hope that whatever I can express here will serve to remind me of an experience that has changed me.

This special event was created with the grim fact in mind that many of the Pioneer men died trying to help their families across the plains. They often gave their meager rations to their wives and children, therefore depriving themselves of much needed nutrition. They often exhausted themselves pulling the handcarts without asking for help. Sadly, this meant that so many of them left this life and their families behind. As the missionaries called our Priesthood men away from us, we stood with our hands over our hearts and watched them trudge away in two lines along the sides of the trail. You will have to read Geoff's account to know what happened to them.

My very good friend Kelli talked to the women as we stood at the bottom of the hill. She had her own trial as she felt the adversary working against her being able to give the talk. She spoke with the Spirit of the Lord and the unquenchable fire of testimony. She told us that we can do hard things. She talked of our worth as Women. She lit the fire in all of us.

As we turned back to our carts, our family turned out to be one of the smallest. We had 2 grown women and 2 growing women. We started out with Ma Brittany and I pulling and Kyra and Julisa pushing. Up to this point, I had been spending a fair amount of time placing a wet bandana over different parts of my face and neck to keep from overheating. My face doesn't sweat. I knew with no one to spell me off that I must pull without letting go until we reached the top or I would let my family down. As we started to walk, I started to pray. "Please let me do this. Please don't let me overheat. Please don't let me faint and make people worry about me. I know I can do this with Thy help." As I closed my prayer, the faintest puff of cool air caressed my face and I smiled, knowing the Lord was behind me. I kept waiting to feel the familiar heat in my cheeks and it never came.

It was not easy. It was hard. We were going uphill in the sand. Even though I am pretty tough being Becca's Mom and all, I know I did not walk completely on my own strength. As we neared the top, the families with more girls turned and came back to help those of us still coming. All was done in silence and Geoff told me how hard it was for him to watch without being able to help.

We did it!

As we were milling about at the top, everyone was looking at something and I turned to see what. As Suzy began telling a story into the microphone and I recognized the names, the tears began to leak out again. Geoff said to me, "It's Michelle. And she's pulling Brian!" They were reenacting the story of Jens and Elsie Nelson. Jens' feet became so frozen that he could not walk on them. At the bottom of Rocky Ridge, a high stony peak, on a stormy, snowy near-zero day and night, he could go no further. He begged his wife to leave him there and go on without him. She refused and loaded her much, much bigger husband into the cart and threw her tiny frame against the braces of the handcart and towed him up and over Rocky Ridge.

 To watch Michelle and Brian was heart wrenching. He was trying to turn the wheels from inside the cart as she struggled. Their trek family was standing and waiting to help, but they wouldn't let them go. When she was still struggling, but not coming any closer, they let them go, one by one, to help. They were her angels. When they made it to the top, the missionaries turned the microphone over to them and let each of them speak. Brian talked about how HARD it was to watch her and not be able to help. The "Aunt" of their family talked about how she was ANGRY at first that she couldn't help her. One daughter mentioned that we would have been ANGELS then and perhaps we were some of the ones that came to her rescue. Our petite Tracy took the microphone and simply stated, "She was 4 feet 11, that's how tall I am." Michelle said afterwards that her chest was burning. She is a very, very fit person. She runs, pushing her girls in a jogging stroller often. She said after trying to train for this that she realized that there was no way to train for it. Elsie didn't either. She just knew she had to get her husband over Rocky Ridge so they could get to the Valley and be Sealed for time and eternity. They ended up losing their only child, Jens, and the foster daughter they were helping across the plains to meet her sister in the Valley.

Faith in Every Footstep - Day 3

Today we trekked around Sixth Crossing where we have been camped. We decided as a group that we wanted to slow things down and have more time for contemplation. As families, we waited before leaving so that there were several minutes in between each family group. This was my favorite day for trekking because of that. Our family's way of bonding was to laugh together. We had so much fun just talking and joking and teasing each other. It was the type of communication that worked for every one of us. We really enjoyed each other. We had several inside jokes, but I can't tell you since you're not one of the family. Sorry! ;)

As we were taking our time another Trek Group came up on us in a big hurry. They were a very large group and so some of our groups at the end let them catch up and pass rather than them hurry us on our way. A couple of them expressed envy at our group's slower pace. I really am so glad that we slowed things down this day.

As we were walking, we saw one of our groups off to the side all kneeling down. We quieted as we came up on the Blackhurst family all kneeling around a shallow hole with their Pa's shirt with a blue baby afghan laying in it. Sister Blackhurst really is expecting and she is my friend, so to watch her burying a baby really started my tears. Their faces as they knelt there with tears in the kids' eyes got me, too. I simply cannot imagine burying my child along some trail I will never have the opportunity of traveling ever again. I can't fathom not knowing where my child's body was because I had no means of marking it. Or far, far worse not knowing where they were because the wild animals in the area desecrated their resting place.

(Picture to come)

Just as we get past that experience, they came and chose one person from each family to pass into the immortal realm. They came and tied a white arm band around Kyra's arm and took her away from us. We were all kind of shock at first. I turned and saw my good friend's family and she, the Ma, was the one that had died. Her husband stood with his arms around his trek kids and the looks on their faces...! We talked about losing a daughter and a sister. And then we talked about losing Kyra. I, knowing her the best, talked about the things I admire about her. She is incredibly smart, like dizzyingly intelligent. She is way better at Math than I ever hope to be even including my college degree. She is very compassionate and is always thinking about others. She is hilarious! She is so witty and always makes me think. We really, really missed her as we began to walk again.

As we walked up on our "angels," they were all standing along the trail with their heads bowed, watching over us. The first person I saw was my friend Kelli who I had been walking with every morning and texting with everyday and we are practically family. My eyes filled with tears as soon as I saw her and before I had taken very many more steps, I was audibly sobbing. Seeing everyone standing there reverently and realizing how many lives they represented that had to leave their families behind to suffer on the trail really did me in. So many mortal lives ended along that trail. I can't help but think they must have spent so much of their next life watching over those that were still walking to the Valley. How hard for those of us left behind!

Our Angels
 After lunch, we did the Women's Pull. It was easily my most favorite Spiritual experience and I feel that it needs its own post to really do it justice.

The first night that we did Square Dancing, the missionaries seemed to be functioning under the assumption that we had never done these dances before and so they were very instructional. This time they knew that we knew them and so jumped right in! They were calling things so fast, it left me breathless! This was not helped by the contest some of the boys seemed be having between themselves to see who they could throw the furthest while spinning them around!! McKay sent me spinning! I was relieved to have the dance quit right before I danced with Ryker because I saw how far he was throwing his partners! It really was so much fun!

Tonight the Pioneer Express rider visited us. Before the Pony Express, they had the Pioneer Express which delivered mail in a 6 week loop between the last settlement in the east out to Salt Lake. Ephraim Hanks was  a famous Pioneer Express rider, as I mentioned before. Tonight, the rider brought letters for the kids from their folks back home. I know that my good friend and Beehive Advisor worked tirelessly to make sure every person on Trek got a letter! They all went off to read their letters and enjoy that bit of home after being gone for 3 days. :)

After personal time, we gathered again as families. Again, our family just really enjoyed each other's company. Kyra

Our family also holds a tender endearment to cow chips. And I don't mean Pringles! ;D I can't explain it and I won't say much more other than it was suggested that at our Pace-d Patty stand we should also say shellacked cow pie clocks. We would of course use the winners of an undisclosed contest involving the petrified gems of the prairie. It should also be noted that as we sat around the family fire enjoying our Pace-d Patties, Ben got a mosquito bite in his ear.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Faith in Every Footstep - Day 2

 Today we drove over to Martin's Cove. The Willie Company and the Martin Company knew about each other and travelled somewhat close together, but their stories ended quite differently. The Willie Company was in Salt Lake by the time the Martin Company was finally all rescued and on their way. I knew a lot of little details from all of the personal stories that I read. It was a really neat experience to walk in the places that they walked.

Martin's Cove is up against some rocky hills amidst miles and miles of rolling hills. I couldn't help but think that it must have been hard to be able to see so far, in a way. One of my coping skills is to take a step back and try to see the whole picture. It helps me to quantify my trials in the terms of how much of my life they actually take up. Usually it helps me to see that things are not so bad in the great scheme of things. Walking hundreds of miles to a place you've never been, it must have been so hard to take that figurative step back only to see hundreds and hundreds of more miles towards a place you only hoped had a place for you in it. We joked about having "bonnet vision" where you could only see what was right in front of you. I think I would have had to force myself to focus on taking that next step and only thinking about them one at a time. Probably not all the time! Most of the time, I'm sure they looked forward to Zion and Temple covenants and their optimism and testimonies fueled their steps for sure.

The Martin Company was in much more dire need of help by the time they were rescued. I find it interesting to note that the rescuers didn't just scoop them up and carry them off. The first rescuers to reach them were on horse back because they had left the supply wagons to hunt them down. Nobody was quite sure where they were. When they did find them, they had them give out slightly bigger rations and then they had to walk for 3 days to get to where the rescue wagons were. When they got there, the rescuers had built big fires and put up tents (which the bedraggled saints hadn't had the energy to do for days). It must have been such a welcome sight! But they still had to use their own feet (mostly frozen feet) to get there. I think Heavenly Father watches us struggle and wants to help us and so often sends help, but we still have to get ourselves out of the mess. He knows how much stronger we will be if we do it ourselves. If you have ever read any stories from any of these pioneers, you can feel how strong their testimonies were. They used their own personal refiner's fire to its greatest advantage.

Tressa and Suzy played some beautiful prelude music as we rounded the rocky hills to find Dan Jones Cove. As we came around the corner and heard the beautiful strains from the flute played by Tressa, complimented by the harmonizing guitar, it really set the tone for our time there. When the company did reach this place, they had no room for them in the one building that was previously a trading post. They tried to shelter them in the coves created by the rocky hills there to wait out the storm. The storm was so bad that there was little relief to be found. We knelt and prayed in Dan Jones Cove, all of us together. As Brother P. voiced the prayer, I could feel the knitting of hearts happening.

We did a reverent river crossing this day. For us, the sun was shining and it felt nice to get our feet wet. When the pioneers crossed the Sweetwater river over and over, it was in freezing temperatures and snow and ice. The stories talk about the ice floating on the water and cutting their legs. My good friend Michelle B. and I were standing on the banks waiting for our turns. We talked about how at each crossing you would have to worry about if it would be over your kids' heads or not. Or how you would get them all across with the least amount of trips through the icy water. I was in tears before I even crossed.

Right before we crossed the water we sat around the statues dedicated to the (at least) 4 young men who took it upon themselves to carry everyone they could across. The statues are heart rending. One held a little boy on his hip and then when you look closer, you can see a little nose sticking out of a blanket inside his jacket where a baby lay in his other arm. Two men carry an old man with a long beard and a bandaged foot together, walking sideways. One carries a girl about the size of my daughters with her head on his chest. I'm sure they had a glimpse that day of the great deed they were doing. I hope they are still allowed the privilege to glimpse the impact those lives they saved has had to this day. There are generations of people now here that came from those people they lovingly carried when they couldn't carry themselves.

As I was crossing the river, holding on to a previously-placed guide rope and on a warm day, I tried to imagine ice floating in the water and the current pushing on my already-weakened legs. I watched as Grant walked across by himself with his arm in a sling, knowing that he would have carried many across if he could have, but he couldn't. I watched Ben carry his sister Tracy across who had earlier been riding in a rickshaw because her foot hurt from a previous injury. I watched our Pa carry our Ma across, both grinning. I watched Jake carry his Mom across with a determined look on his face - he didn't stumble once. I watched a crowd of boys that would have crossed back over and carried more of us if the missionary had let them. I watched Mitshell and Miguel watch from the bank, not being able to cross for health reasons and probably wishing they could. As we walked back to our things in bare feet, I imagined the bloody tracks that cracked and raw feet left in the snow all those years ago when their shoes finally gave out. I imagined the fear and loss they must have experienced after each and every wintry river crossing. As we left, we walked past the even smaller stream that some had to be carried across because after all they had borne, they could not stand the thought of crossing one more stretch of water.

Levi Savage talked to us tonight. At the last minute they gave me Giovanna and Jordyn to add to my Spiritual committee. Jordyn walked for Levi Savage and so I asked him to give the thought as part of the devotional this night. He got up and talked about how Nephi did what he was asked to do even when it seemed impossible. Levi Savage knew how hard that trek would be for the pioneers under his care. He urged them not to go so late in the season. When they opted to go anyway, he got up again and said that since they had decided to go, he would go with them even if it meant dying with them. Several accounts mentioned this story and all of them also talked about how hard he worked alongside them. Jordyn did an amazing job relating Levi's story to Nephi's. Giovanna gave the prayer in Spanish which was so appropriate with our friends from the Spanish Branch there. She prays with such a sweet spirit that even though I don't understand the words, I can feel of her love for her Heavenly Father and she is an obvious example of how much He loves her, too.

Our kids played together every chance they got. One of the missionaries said that most groups divide off into smaller groups in the evenings to hang out. They were impressed that all of our kids played together. They had this ninja slap game and a tail snatching game. On one of the other days they even dominated Red Rover. They would play until it was dark and our Trek Mama would blow her whistle to send them off to bed.

Geoff decided he was too cold on the air mattress fully inflated and so he slept on the ground. I tried to sleep on the mattress, but without him there to hold down the other side, I was pretty much on the ground, too. Luckily taking my joint stuff and Aleve and walking a ton kept me in the manageable pain zone. 

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Faith in Every Footstep - Day 1

We had a fair share of transportation drama with this trip. We went from buses to 15 passenger vans to Ward members' vans. In the end, we ended up with 2 rented vehicles and 10 Ward member's vans and trucks. We were told to be at the Church at 4:44 am since we wanted to leave by 5:30. We ended up leaving at 6:30. This did not set the pattern, though. We were usually early or right on time since our inspired Trek leaders had wisely built in extra time into our schedules. I say getting 66 people out the door with all their stuff that early in the morning was a great accomplishment!

Right before we left, they gave us our families. As leaders, we anticipated resistance and complaining or even rebellion, but either they were super tired that early in the morning or anxious to get going because all we heard was excitement. Geoff and I got to be the crazy aunt and uncle in our family. Our Ma and Pa were Steve and Brittany (all last names withheld to protect the innocent. ;) and we had 2 nephews, Ben and Steven (obviously named for his Pa) and 2 nieces, Julisa and Kyra. I can't even begin to describe how inspired our families were. 

Geoff and I ended up driving after the desperate call for vehicles went out the night before we were supposed to leave. We scraped out the layers of kid clutter and threw our tent and buckets in the back. We ended up with an all-adult vehicle and I can't say I didn't love that! It was quiet. We toted the Trek leaders, Nick and Kimberly, and a Ma and Pa who were the liaisons for the Spanish Branch, Bob and Paz. I am so glad we invited the Spanish Branch to come with us. It was neat to get to know them better and even though their numbers dwindled, I am glad for every one of them that ended up able to come!

We arrived in Wyoming and ate our sack lunches. Not shockingly, several of the kids had finished their lunches in the car. We delayed setting up camp for our first trekking and I can't say that I wasn't worried that we'd be putting up tents in the dark. We didn't. We camped at the Willie site and had the place pretty much to ourselves. We weren't a very large group and we were early in the season which resulted in us having a giant campground. We dropped off some of the men so they could bring the handcarts to camp and drove our precious cargo and all of their stuff up the rest of the way.

Our first walk as pioneers opened my eyes as to how much weaker I am physically than they were. Four of our family members stopped at the bathroom and four of us kept going and it was MUCH harder, but we couldn't stop or we'd be left behind. We eventually stopped and waited for them to catch up. Many, many years ago, there were those that were either too weak to go on or left to catch up late into the night and I realized how abandoned they must have felt. All that the rest of the company was doing was putting one foot in front of the other over and over. And while that kept putting them one footstep closer to Zion, I think it must have felt quite hopeless for those that had to stop for any great length of time.

This was the first time we got to get to know each other as a family. Ben is incredibly strong! He could probably walk all day with that handcart and he was very tired this day, not having slept much the night before. Steven is so tall and wiry and he and Ben have so far done the lion's share of pulling. Julisa is very quiet. I keep drawing conversations out of her even though she only gives short answers. Kyra is, of course, already my friend. :) She is extremely funny and fun to tease and talk to. Steve and Brittany are great parents to us all. I have always loved talking to Brittany, I'm looking forward to getting to know them better. She and I make a great team with our disparate heights. :)

You know, I've been this height for a long time now, but I've not heard so much about it as I have today! From in here, I forget how tall I am from outside of myself. It's not that fun to be reminded so often, but they'll get over it! I just use all of my usual answers and laugh it off. :)

We walked through our first water today. We walked quite a ways in marshy grass before we got to some clear water. The marsh also doubled for a cattle toilet, if you catch my meaning. Ick! First we pulled our handcart through. And by "we" of course I mean Ben and Steven.

Then we helped ourselves across trying not to get our skirts too wet.

Oh Johnny! Oh Johnny! Oh!

We practiced square dancing tonight. We had one youtube-assisted practice before we came and I guess we did pretty well because the kids jumped right in and danced great. The Senior Missionaries were SO cute as our callers and extra partners. "Oh Johnny" gets stuck in my head all the time now! It's just like "The Song that Never Ends," because it just keeps going around and around. The kids really get into the dancing... it's more like a work out!

As the sun went down we got to hear from a missionary acting as Ephraim Hanks. He said his friends call him "Eph" which is what we call Ethan all the time. He was a really cool guy! He had a great relationship with the local Indians and was called on often to keep the peace. He rode for the Pioneer Express, which was a pre-cursor to the Pony Express. It travelled the route the pioneers did before the train, but as fast as he could on horseback by himself. It took most people 6 weeks, Eph could do it in 23 days. By him doing that, Saints could get letters to and from their families every 6 weeks. I can't imagine only hearing from my sister every 6 weeks instead of being able to pick up the phone or write her an email!

Ephraim Hanks

Our tent is a good size for us and I loved the softness of the air mattress. The temperature did not agree with Geoff, he shivered most of the night. I wasn't cold, though. Weird. We each rolled up a quilt in our 2 warmest sleeping bags. The campground is pretty sandy and very, very open. The half-height mountains are very far away and the landscape is rolling molehills compared to what we're used to. Lots of room for the wind to rush around in.

Can't wait for tomorrow!!