Plano Texas Stake Youth Trek, June 2009
This is the overview of our trek to the LBJ Grasslands. We will always remember our ancestors who valiantly crossed the plains to Salt Lake City. I was just a walker among the Green Company.
The morning of the Trek was windy, pounding rain and mixed with lightning. I got a call at 5:30 in the morning saying that one of our youth was too afraid of the storms to go on Trek, especially since it was forecast that more storms would be coming. The boys and I stopped and tried to persuade him to come anyway. Later, his leader would also try, without success. Everyone gathered in the gym and were told, when they checked into their ward table, their room and family assignment. The Ma’s and Pa’s met with the Stake Leaders , then were released to go to their rooms. The youth then went to find their families. This is where the families met for the first time. They all put on their “Always Remember” bracelets that would help them to remember who they were walking for. They also received their pouch, booklet and bandana, which was either green, blue, or orange for the 3 companies. Then, as families, they went to the chapel to receive their instructions. The groups were sent up to the Trek Site in cars a company at a time. The last Ma and Pa had arrived with the last of the kids that had not dropped out and the Blue Company headed out. By the time we were loading cars up, the rain had stopped in Plano for a short time (Plano was hit hard for the next several days). We did go to the LBJ Grasslands up by Decatur. Green Company followed a half hour later. We had heard that 75 was very congested, so we went up 35 and got there just after the last of the Blue Company who had a half hour start on us. We got to watch them walk off to receive their carts and instructions.
All of Green Company arrived and it was our turn to pick our way through the wet, muddy trail. The area had been hit by the storm the night before and some that morning as well. It was wet and muddy. We walked into the clearing and there was a trading post and the handcarts. All of our buckets and sleeping supplies were divided into Companies and Families so it was fairly easy to get our stuff and claim a cart and put our stuff into the cart. Then we went to the trading post where the youth were given their service projects, toy making. Each family received a baby brother or sister to take care of. They were to love their baby and care for their baby at all times. Baby was not to ride in the cart, but to be lovingly carried. It was time to really begin our trek.
When we got out on the trail, we found out how muddy it was. The ground was sandy clay, mixed with a ton of water, making a sticky gooey mud. It came up above our ankles at some points. I saw several shoes sucked off feet and stuck in the mud. One Medic was thankful for the mud when ants swarmed her boots. The mud got them off of her. She had also given her drink bottle to a youth who had forgotten her bottle. I had an extra cup, which the youth used. I took the bottle and returned it to the Medic. The sun was really heating up by now and she was very grateful for the return of her water bottle. We definitely needed her and her skills on the Trek. The carts were hard to push in the mud. The hills that hadn't looked too difficult became quite slippery and hard to traverse. The first steep hill I was on the lead wagon in our company. I jumped on and helped turn the wheel. We almost didn’t make it, but the leaders at the top helped get us up and over the top. Then the boys on that cart stayed with me and helped the next cart up. We formed a human chain to get them up and over. I was impressed at how well everyone was working together to get everyone where they needed to be. This would be the way of the entire group--low amounts of complaining, but high cooperation and helping. There was some dissention, but not much at all. The families really worked well together.
Those pushing the carts constantly got bogged down in the mud. At first everyone daintily tried to go around the mud. It was impossible to avoid it. Eventually everyone gave up trying to go around it and just walked through the highest parts of the muddy water.
Some people really liked to push the carts. One of the families in my company had boys that really loved to push and they wouldn’t let the girls touch the cart. Other families had very strong girls that were as strong, if not stronger, then the boys. These families worked well together, rotating pushing and pulling positions. At lunch while we were eating, I talked to one young lady who had had knee surgery less then 2 months ago. She had no support on her knee. I put a wrap on her knee to give her some support. Medical made her take Ibuprofen to lessen swelling. She was banned from pushing or pulling the cart. This was a hard trial for her. She was very athletic and very strong willed. She settled for taking care of their baby. She carried their baby the whole way, and yes, their baby lived! Just walking in the mud was dangerous because you would slip and slide at any given moment. This young lady saved her strength and put it to use when they got to camp by setting up tents and then really helping with the cooking. Her Ma was very happy to have her be so willing to help and work. I also had a young man in our company that had had surgery on his knee 3 months ago. He also received Ibuprofen and was no longer allowed to push. This was a trial for him as well. Sometimes the trial is not in doing, but in abstaining from what everyone else is doing.
We didn't get any more rain that day, but it started to heat up. One large young man had been doing very well. Then he was asked to read in front of the whole company. He is a shy dyslexic. He struggled through the passage he had to read. Then he helped his family push his cart up a big hill. When I got to the top of the hill, he was sitting under a tree, not doing very well. He wasn’t sweating any more and he was getting dizzy. Medical came over and she started an IV on him. We had the rest of the company continue on. I tried to divert his attention away from the IV because sometimes that will put people into shock. He did fine with his IV, but he was put into the Jeep and taken to camp. He was able to remain there and finished participating in the Trek.
Shortly after that Green Company caught up to Blue Company. There was much rejoicing in seeing friends and family in the other Company. Soon Orange Company caught up to us. It was getting really hot and everyone was very happy to have a break. We were taking a long break because we had a cart with a bad wheel. It kept scraping the side. The Camp Jacks took off the wheel and tried to fix it, but there was no way to fix it with the tools the men had available. They couldn’t simply turn it around because the ball bearings were different sizes. They put it back on and we all continued. The companies were only a few minutes apart.
At the next stop, I talked to the Head Camp Jack and found out that we had taken a wrong turn. If we went back, it would put us into camp past 8 pm, which was too late. The Stake Leaders were flexible and just cut out that part of the trail. The obstacles and vignettes were put into the next day’s schedule. It turned out to be a blessing that we didn’t go the full amount that day. We still had several in medical. One young lady was supposed to go home, but her parents refused to come get her. She did finish the trek. We had a Ma get so sick that they had to send her home. The Pa took her home and in the morning, we had to divide up the kids into other families. We had several families in dire need of strong boys. The strongest boy went to the PJ family. They really needed him. He didn't want to go. His dad hated PJ. He had been promised by his dad that he wouldn't be in that family. He had no choice and he went, but not happily. He and another young lady wanted to keep their family together and not be split up. They probably could have done it, but their cart was needed to replace the bad cart. Besides, splitting them up is what had happened on the trail. It was very realistic to what had happened to the pioneers. We needed adults with the kids. The young man went with the PJ family and I checked up on him through out the rest of the time. He did great. He realized he was really needed and very valued. He got along great with his new siblings and still had reunions with his old siblings and parents, who returned to bring them home on Saturday. It turned out to be a great experience and he learned to love the PJ’s. The rest of the kids were all put in families that welcomed them and valued what they brought to the family, whether it was strength for cart pulling or tending the baby or just to add smiles to their faces.
The companies all hit camp at the same time. There was confusion on where the boys were to be in relation to the Parent Tents and the girl tents. It was very realistic to what the camps were like when the Pioneers first started out. They would get into camp and set up right where they stopped. It took experience to get camp set up correctly each night. The next night camp was set up very well and very well organized. It was amazing to see the meadow go from grass to tents in such a short period of time. The food was quickly prepared, and then happily eaten. Everyone was very hungry and very happy to be in camp for the night. It had been determined by the leaders that everyone was too tired for a dance that night. Each company held a fireside. The families were encouraged to have their devotionals and then head to bed. Most families were very happy to sit and talk as families. There was an exhausted, but happy feeling in camp.
Bright and early the next morning, the family whose Ma and Pa were gone were given the news that they would be split up into different families. They were very somber. Some were visibly upset. Others were angry. We talked and they all understood why they needed to be split up. Then the new Ma’s and Pa’s came into the camp site. They were so excited to be able to help these youth and also excited about what help the youth could bring their individual families. They greeted their new family members with open arms and big smiles. The youth were moved out immediately. They took their stuff and went with their new Ma’s and Pa’s.
The second day turned out to be grueling. The mud was not as bad as yesterday, but it was still a factor. I did notice that morning that when we first came upon the mud, those in the lead said, “Mud”, and then walked right through it. Then they would comment, “Well, at least that wasn’t as bad as yesterday.” The mud wasn’t as bad, but the heat was worse. We had the Texas heat hit up to 103. It was hot and humid and still a bit muddy, but we were very glad we weren't out in the weather when the area got all the rain :).
We were happy to have a break. I was walking in the back of the company. We walked through the high grass to the tree and put down a couple of tarps so we could have a nice rest. Then one of the boys noticed something on his arm. It was a tick. I had alcohol and tweezers. It backed out some, but not all the way. I couldn’t get it out all the way. He went to the Medic, who pulled it out the rest of the way. That was the only tick I saw. The Ma of that family did find one on her after we got home, but that was removed as well. It was very nice to have a low amount of ticks.
By the time we got to the first port a potty break everyone was getting very hot and tired. One of the families had a girl with diabetes. She was doing a great job staying hydrated, but the amount of water that she was drinking was making her blood sugar low. She kept snacking and trying to bring up the blood sugar level. We came to a steep ravine. We stopped to see the first of the company go down and then up the ravine. There were Angel’s there to help us up the ravine. After watching the first go, several of us looked up to see a calf. She was spooked. She headed to the ravine and went down and then up again. A few minutes later, a very ticked off Momma Cow came into the clearing. She was clearly looking for her calf. We all gave her plenty of room as she went down the ravine and then up again. I was very happy to see the two in the meadow with a bunch of other cattle a while later. Our diabetic was almost ok when our company was called on for volunteers for the Mormon Battalion. Brigham Young thought it was a good idea to support the government, and to have the men join up in the Battalion. The boys loved signing up and getting their weapons. Before we knew it they were marching off. We had a nice talk about supporting the priesthood. Then the women got to push the carts without any men. I helped on the cart of the diabetic. She was better enough to walk along beside us. The cart was heavy. We pushed the carts for about ten minutes and then the men were back. It wasn’t very long, but it was long enough. We were very happy for their help. They were very happy to give the help. It wasn’t too much further up to the road and our next port a potty break. It had been a long time since the last port a potty break. I had drunk plenty of water and was very happy for the port a potties. Many had gone into the trees in true pioneer fashion. It was very hot and even though everyone was drinking water, we still had people get sick. Medical got really busy. I was in Green Company, which was in the lead today. We had a long needed break. Orange Company caught up to us and came in. My son and his best friend were in that group. The best friend had gotten a dozen ant bites when he sat down at the Mormon Battalion. I put Melaleuca on him. He was struggling. He was dehydrating quickly. He ended up staying with Medical and going up to camp. Then I looked up and there was my older son, who was in Blue Company. I didn't know what he was doing there. Blue was the last company. Then I talked to him. They were walking along and one of his brothers collapsed. They threw him into the wagon--they had a bunch of big strong guys and a fit Ma and Pa. The Ma and girls ran behind the wagon as the boys and Pa raced the wagon ahead of the Blue Company, and passed the Orange Company to the rest stop so they could get him to medical. One of those boys had to remain in medical. Another one got sick a little later. My older son ended up getting sick after he set up his tent and had looked all over the place for his sleeping stuff(which we never found that night, but turned up back at the church with all the blue company stuff). He slept for several hours and then finally ate and then slept the rest of the night. The brother that they took in bore his testimony that he couldn't believe that they would do that for him. He was amazed at the love and sacrifice that they showed him.
The last leg of the trek on Friday was very hot. Several of the babies did not make it past the last Port a Potty stop. They were buried by the side of the road. The good news was that some of the babies did live! However, babies weren’t the only ones struggling. We were losing people left and right to the Medical Staff and their vehicles. We were so happy to make it to the trading post. The kids traded their toys they had made for fresh fruit. Many were struggling with the heat. Medical was very busy. We checked several by the handcarts to make sure they were ok. Many kids and Ma’s and Pa’s were in the AC in the vehicles, drinking Gatorade to prevent heat exhaustion. Finally it was time for us to go on again. I hung back with the family that had my stuff in their cart. Their Ma and Pa were both struggling and recuperating in the vehicles. The kids started out. I went with them. Then the Ma and Pa came to walk with their kids. They wouldn’t leave them. They had revived enough and were able to continue on. There was another Ma walking to catch up to the handcarts. I visited with her while we walked. It was much later that I found out that her husband was left in the Vehicle with Medical. We walked and walked. When we stopped the last time under trees, I looked up and there were about 5 or 6 kids sitting in the hot beating sun, refusing to move into the shade. I grabbed my water bottle and tried to convince them to come into the shade. I had remembered that when people were struggling the most, common sense left. One had hurt her knee and didn't want to walk over to the trees. Her friend refused to leave her. I put cold wet neckerchiefs on them and tried to shield them from the sun. The young man who had the knee surgery was stretching out in the cart and didn't want to move. His knee was also hurting. I put another wet cloth over his face. The next girl had major blisters and had abandoned all shoes except for flip flops. She didn't want to walk into the grass. She had been barefoot part of the time in the mud. I covered her up as well. We were pretty spent as a company, and we were in the lead. We felt bad for those behind us. We had to move on so the others could rest in the shade we were in. We were soon back walking. Many at this time were beginning to pray for relief from the sun. We got into camp and the clouds started to roll in. My older son said they gathered as a company and prayed for cloud cover. The clouds quickly formed and covered the sun, giving much needed relief.
I helped my company set up tents. I went from group to group and helped get the tent set up and then went to someone else who needed help. When the tents were up I went over to the stake area and The YM President was listening to the weather report. The weather had been up to 103 and the tornado
warning for our county had just been cancelled. The severe thunderstorm warning was still in effect. We had great cloud coverage and a few raindrops. Now we were worried about getting the other two companies in and set up, and hopefully not having to evacuate. Then one of the Ma's came over to check on her husband who had been in Medical. She didn't know where he was. They couldn't reach him. She cried on my shoulder a minute and then went back to work with her kids. Then she turned around and there was her husband, back with the medical team. There was much joy and relief in her eyes and face.
The Orange Company came and I helped them get set up. It was nice and breezy and still great cloud coverage. Still nothing more then scattered raindrops. Dinners were getting started. Blue company rolled in on Orange's heals and set up camp as well. Medical wanted everyone to get ice, water and Gatorade from the water buffalo. They needed to mix up the Gatorade and everyone in camp was to drink Gatorade immediately. I went from family to family to give them the message. One family said they had it but was saving it for the trail the next day. I convinced them to make it now and that they would get more the next day. There was a huge difference in a half hour. Everyone was beginning to perk up. We had sweated so much that we had sweated out all of our electrolytes, which is what the Gatorade replenished. I remembered licking my lips and being surprised at how salty they were. I was beginning to have a headache when I got the Gatorade, which I chugged down. No more headache. I was able to continue on. I ate with one of the families who had finished eating and had leftovers. It was a fantastic meal. I washed their dishes for them before moving on. When I was back in the stake area, one of the camp jacks had an I-phone with the radar screen up. He pointed to the blue sky and the tail end of the clouds at sunset and said it was the end of the storm, but we needed to see the radar. There were two parts to the storm, one on each side of us. We were literally in the center of the break. I have seen separate storm cells split like that many times. The miracle was that this had been one major storm cell and it broke and went around us. There were tornados in one part of the storm and the other had golf ball size hail. What did we get? Life saving cloud cover and sprinkles! This was a modern day miracle. Medical took a Pa into the hospital who couldn't breathe. It was a rare condition that was caused by overexertion and heat exhaustion where the lactic acid in the muscles start attacking the muscles. If it had gone any farther, it would have attacked his kidneys and shut them down. He was given a couple of IV's and sent back. While they were in the hospital, they were watching the news and they were saying that it is a very rare phenomenon where a storm cell will split like that leaving the middle untouched. Even the media knew and acknowledged the miracle.
We had one more day of trekking, but it was decided that we had had enough and that we would sleep in and take it easy the final day. It was hard for the leaders in the camp to make the decision, but it was the right decision. The Ma’s and Pa’s of each company were gathered and told that we would be staying put the next day. The Orange Company Ma’s and Pa’s were downright giddy about not having to Trek in the morning. They were exhausted! Most of the youth were very happy about not Trekking in the morning. Some were very disappointed. With dinner and Gatorade in everyone, the camp came more alive. Each company had their own fireside again tonight. The miracles of the day were told. Then the camp settled down quite quickly. I was on guard duty with the Head Camp Jack. We made the rounds of the camp and told the youth they had 20 more minutes. Forty minutes later we started again and told the few remaining youth to go to bed. We started in Green Company. The first group quickly broke up and went to bed, after I told them in a loving stern voice that I would love to see them again, but it had better not be until tomorrow! As we moved through Green Company a Ma stated that she was so happy we were putting the kids to bed. She could go to sleep and didn’t have to get up to put the kids to bed. My husband and I moved from tent to tent and told the youth it was time to sleep. They needed all the rest they could get to make it through one more day. The camp was quiet by the time we woke up the Camp Jacks who were on duty next.
Everyone was moving pretty slowly the next day. Everyone was told to sleep in and then have breakfast around 9 am. Most were just eating when the Pony Express arrived. The head Trail Boss and the head Camp Jack were the Pony Express. They rode around the outside of the camp at a gallop. They stopped at Green Company, then Orange and then Blue. The horses wanted to run so they took off for a two mile ride. I waited and waited for them to come back. Finally I went and started breaking down my tent. Then the Head Camp Jack found me and delivered my letter to me from him. It is always great to get mail. The youth in camp really enjoyed their mail. Many tears were shed as they read their letters from their parents.
Around 10:30 all the camps were cleaned up and broken down and we had some handcart races, which were a bit too scary for me, especially when one young man was sandwiched in between the two carts and he went down. They got the cart stopped just as the wheel of the cart was going up his leg. He tore his pants and skinned his knee, but he was valiant through it all. Another young man let go of the cart to grab his hat and almost dropped the cart. I yelled at him to let the hat go. It did go flying off and he did let it go. The Ma and Pa in the cart were safe. The pioneer games were next. The whole group was too exhausted to play the games earlier. They had enough energy now. The 3 companies were evenly split into 3 groups with families from Blue, Orange, and Green in each group. The games were Steal the Flag, stick pulling, tug-of-war. It was great to feel good enough to play.
Finally, we had a great testimony meeting. We had guest speakers come and talk to us. They talked about the Trek Experience they had been in charge of in Utah on their Mission. They had a great way of talking to the youth and bringing in the spirit. Then the time was turned over to the Youth for Testimonies. The spirit was very strong. Many youth gained strong testimonies. Some had their first small testimony grow. After Testimony meeting, it was time to eat. We had a wonderful, catered meal. Cars were shuttled up to our campground and everyone car pooled back to the Round Rock Stake Center. There were many happy reunions with family members who had been praying for us and were so happy to hear we had made it through all of the storms.
Two weeks later was our Trek Reunion for the Stake. I really liked one Brothers analogy. He related that this Trek didn’t go as we had planned. Many times things don’t go as we planned, but as the Lord planned. He said that we were like Zion’s Camp. They didn’t accomplish what they had started out to accomplish. They fell far short of that goal. We fell short of our goal. A much higher goal was reached by Zion’s camp. The leaders of the church would be pulled from those that completed the march with Zion’s Camp. There will be many leaders that will come from this group of Youth that worked so hard during this Trek. The Lord has refined us in ways that he refined the pioneers. I have a much better understanding of some of their trials. I really understand why the men were dying on the trail. They gave all they had to their families. I know why the survivors of the Willie and Martin Handcart Companies never said anything bad about the leaders and decisions about going on to Salt Lake City. They felt the hand of the Lord. They knew the angels were there to help them. How can you complain when you KNOW GOD? The miracles were there, all around us. Yes we suffered. Yes, we struggled. But that is necessary for us to do. When it came down to it, during the fourth watch, or when we had done all that we could do and had gone as far as we could go, Heavenly Father was there for us and the miracles were provided to help us the last little way into our safe harbor. (Medical thought they had plenty of IV's for 3 days. The beginning of the 3rd day they had only 1 left. They had done so much for so many). We hit our 4th watch and we prayed for relief and Heavenly Father helped us by sending the clouds, and protected us from the major storm in a miraculous way. The Lord is always there. Sometimes we have to give our all before it is time for him to step in. If he made it easy for us, we wouldn’t appreciate the miracles.
This was a great Trek. It is one that I will “Always Remember”.