Friday, August 6, 2010

Pioneer Trek: Second Story in Honor of Amy

From Under a Sunbonnet: 1990

Against my better judgment I became a pioneer woman for a week. Our church youth group recreated a Pioneer Trek, complete with sunbonnets, bloomers, aprons and handcarts. As a leader I was expected to be part of the four-day activity as a chaperone, even though the teenagers would be divided up and grouped as families with kids they didn't know.

Specially trained young adult couples played the parts of Pa and Ma, while the legitimate adults were assigned to accompany each family as participants. I had a 16-year-old son and a 14-year-old daughter who were excited to go, so I reluctantly agreed to join the group. I knew we wouldn't be put in the same trek family, but we would have a shared experience and that was a good enough reason.

It was a grueling first day. The kids started out with energy. I started out tired. We put together our own handcarts and loaded them with supplies. Since they weighed several hundred pounds, each member of the family was supposed to help pull or push the handcart on the 13-mile hike.

Ours was one of the first wagons in the train and we set off with vigor. Excited jabbering and singing was heard down the trail behind us. By 2:00 in the afternoon the little enthusiasm I had had early that morning was gone. It was 100° and I was out-of-sorts with exhaustion, and hunger. Some of the kids were whining and complaining and I identified with them.

I started dragging behind, walking slower and slower as the other handcart families passed me by. Whose idea was this anyway? Why would we take a bunch of teenage kids into the wilderness and subject them to such hardship? I felt disoriented, lightheaded, and miserable.

The trail boss, a man I respected and trusted, noticed me and led me over to a stream where he soaked my bandanna in the cold water, and gave me a canteen of Gatorade. He suggested I ride in the support vehicle behind the group for a few minutes to regain my strength.

Relieved of my sunbonnet, in the air-conditioned Suburban, I cooled off quickly, and chatted with the driver, a good friend who was a physician. He assured me I would make it, so a few minutes later he caught up with the group and let me out, and then dropped out of sight again.

I walked a little faster, passing other handcart families to reach my own. Instead of the flat trail we had been walking all day, we were now going up a mountain. It got steeper and rockier, and was difficult to navigate in a long skirt. Soon I was actually scrambling on all fours, climbing over the rocks. I had passed one group and now I was behind a handcart that perched precariously on some rocks. It was off balance, and the kids in front were pulling while others were behind, trying to push.

Suddenly I noticed that it was quiet. The ma's and pa's had asked the trekkers not to talk. The kids had to negotiate the handcarts on this difficult stretch silently, cooperating by observing their companions, and just doing what became obvious to them. Then the pa's whispered to the boys that they could not participate in the work. It was time for the Women's Pull.

We had been forewarned that there would be a section of the hike where the girls pulled the handcarts alone. Of course it was highly anticipated. The young women were anxious to show off their fortitude and stamina to all the guys. However, the results were not anticipated.

The mountain was the most demanding area we would encounter. Everyone was tired, and shaky from heat and exertion. Going up the steep, rocky slope the families had needed everyone's strength, and now it was cut in half. The boys witnessed the trouble the girls were having; some ran for water, and others whispered encouragement, and went ahead to move big rocks out of the way. The girls had resilience, and discovered new muscles emotionally and physically, tears running down their cheeks as they exerted courageously. The young men were overwhelmed with respect, wondering if they could have risen to such a challenge.

I'm embarrassed to say I didn't have the energy to help. Getting myself up the hill was all I could manage. I was several yards behind a handcart that began to tip. A tiny girl, her face shaded by a big sunbonnet, supported it from behind. I watched as her feet dug into the dirt between the rocks, her back hardened and her shoulders tensed. Her arms clenched while she
pushed the wagon with force and determination. With the help of the girls in front pulling, she jostled the cart up and over a giant boulder in the path.

For a moment she caught her breath and wiped the sweat from her forehead. As she lifted the brim of her bonnet I saw it was Amy, my 14-year-old daughter.

Even after 22 years, the lessons of my Pioneer Trek continue to unfold in my mind. I would never have expected such inner fortitude of young city slickers; we all stumbled on power hidden deep inside ourselves. The experience demonstrated potential and capacity, and I know we can do impossible things when we need to. And so can our kids.

Sometimes the most help we can give someone is to let them do it on their own. Desperation can be the source of motivation. A person who is balancing their whole world is more careful about where they place their feet. I learned that from a girl in a sunbonnet.

Amy Las Vegas 2010

The girl in the sunbonnet turned 35 today (technically yesterday, but I'm taking the celebration to a new level.) I'm continually in awe of her strengths and how she uses them to strengthen her family, and influence people for good. Happy Birthday, to my dazzling daughter!


Alisha Stamper said...

oh my. I am so glad I read this right NOW. It answered a prayer for me personally, and I know it will do the same for the people i'm sending a link to. Thank you so much for writing. I really enjoy you.

Christie said...

Beautiful story, Oma. What an amazing lesson from your tiny, determined girl! Happy birthday, Amy!

Raejean said...

A couple of my girls went on a Trek a few years ago. My husband went as support staff. The pictures and the stories of the woman's pull were the most touching. Just like your experience, their experience brought a higher level of appreciation for my girls and their leaders.

Susan Adcox said...

What an inspiring story! Although I am not LDS, I have always been fascinated by the handcart treks.

This is a great story for today's "helicopter parents." They try so hard to protect their children from hardship and injury that they sometimes inadvertently protect them from discovering their strengths and powers.

Misty said...

Beautiful, Oma! Happy Birthday to your sweet Amy.

al + sar said...

I love this post! What a great moment in both of your lives! Happy Birthday Amy!

Grandma Shelley said...

Great post. I always love hearing the strength realized on those treks. I have seen many teenage lives turned around after having the experience.

I was invited to go this year as a specialist and to plan and implement an evening of fun and celebration for our 200 plus youth group.

I had to decline since I had already committed to watching a set of grands so that their parents could go as a ma and pa on the same trek.

Your Amy is beautiful!

marta said...

this post made me cry! i love this story, thanks for sharing it so perfectly. amy is a strong cheerful pioneer in her own way. happy birthday, nimmy.

polly said...

happy birthday amy! and marty, you are a great mom to always recognize the positive traits and strengths of your kids and let them know it!

Amy said...

Thanks, Mom, for helping me become a well-balanced 35 year old woman! You're the best!

Diane said...

I had a similar experience 3 years ago (as a leader) and wouldn't trade it for anything. But it may be the hardest thing I've ever done. My hat is off to your Amy and all those other young people who show us the way it can and should be done.