Sunday, August 7, 2016

Rose Park Stake Trek of 2016 was a life changing experience for me!

Photo courtesy of Christina Stanley on our
first evening with my beautiful wife and
partner in crime, Cathy.
 Trek experiences were never there when I grew up.  In fact most youth outings involved water, either river running or water skiing.  They were good experiences, but for someone who wasn't a great swimmer and who hated to leave home, they were usually tests of my faith and conviction.  However I had great Priesthood Leaders who did much for me, and I usually had a great deal of fun and look back fondly on those experiences and with gratitude of the personal sacrifices those leaders spent to make it happen.  However as a consequence, I usually don't go looking for outings, and even in the four years of serving as Bishop, really only had one "Trek like" experience from which to base my own decisions.  I've relied heavily on the insights of my counselors and as we've discussed it, have come to a feeling of unanimity in our decision process.

Shortly after we were called as a Stake Presidency in November of 2013, we realized that we needed to make a decision in a short time frame about a Trek experience for Summer of 2016.  Many places required multiple year notices and they also require a great deal of discussion and planning.  The prior Stake Presidency had been very judicious and had left us sufficient resources for a wide range of options, but nevertheless, we had to make a decision.  Our Stake holds trek every six years, with the idea that every youth can have the opportunity at least once.  It does mean we include 12 and 13 year old youth, who often aren't included in other activities.  However, we knew they would be important to include and they did just fine, often carrying more than their own weight.  As a Stake, they had been to Martin's Cove a couple of times, but never over Sixth Crossing, including over Rocky Ridge where the Willie Handcart Company had gone in order to meet up with the rescue party from Salt Lake City.  As we met with other Stakes who had done it, looked at multiple options concerning it, we felt impressed that this was an experience our youth needed to have.  I'm not one to tell someone what their spiritual experience should be or where it should take place but this experience would prove that in fact, it happened in multiple places in multiple ways for different people.

Almost literally on New Year's Day 18 months ago, we made application for the date because it also required going on the old pioneer trail over BLM land, that in itself had many restrictions.  However we were fortunate that the Church had extensive experience and the missionaries were always ready to help us on nearly every turn.  The way opened up, and we were one of the first groups that would take the trail in 2016.  Our youth prepared both spiritually and physically in the year leading up to it.  They prepared a name to take to the Temple to do work for someone else and they prepared physically for the couple of days of extensive walking as part of our Trek.  In a previous blog entry I talked about some of the experiences in watching our youth interact with each other.  What I didn't realize at the time, is how reflective that would be for the whole experience.

A year ago this month, we visited as Stake leaders Martin's Cove, WY for some training and a short Trek ourselves.  I had been intending all last summer to condition my legs and prepare myself.  However I was reminded from Alma 34:34 that it also holds true on a physical sense as well.  At the end of the walk, I could hardly move my legs for the last mile and by dinner, was cramping so bad, I could hardly sit or walk.  Cathy took me into Casper that evening where we secured a motel room and I drank a couple of gallons of Gatorade.  I probably should have gone to the hospital, but in a tender mercy, got through the experience.

From my experience from August of 2015, I learned and started to workout.  Nothing spectacular or note worthy, but I couldn't see how I could ask our youth to do something that I myself didn't do.  While I had made a great deal of improvement and found some ways to help me walk better, I was quietly worried about how I could do it and what message I would have for the youth after their first day of the experience.  I was sitting in a Sacrament meeting thinking about the individual I was walking for (my brother Milton, who died at age 11, shortly before I was born) and again what message the Lord would have me give the youth.  I then received an overwhelming answer that while I would be walking for my brother, my parents would be walking with me.  My father passed away in 1976 and my mother had passed in 2004.  They both had a huge impact in my life but I only shared this impression with my 16 year old Sarah prior to Trek, who herself was wondering about how she would do.

My S Health reported on that first day, I walked, 55,442 steps or a total of 30.87 miles (which was much longer than the formal hike of 15 miles).  While I'm not sure those figures are entirely accurate, it did say, I burned 7,214 calories and I know that week, I lost 10 lbs.  My brother Clayton had purchased me some walking poles and I literally leaned on them at times to keep me going.  I didn't have the burden of a handcart like the youth and their leaders, I figured my job was to get myself to the end.  As I walked and felt like I was holding someone up, I stepped aside and let a few handcarts pass, then walk, stepped aside and let a few more pass me.  When the company would stop, I worked my way back up to the beginning and started over again.  As we pulled through the first of six crossings, which was a mud hole that went up to the axle of the handcart, I couldn't help but think to myself, what had I done to these youth and their leaders.  However they not only pushed through it, but five more that day and did so in an amazing way.  When I we walked into camp that evening after being a few hours behind our original plan, I knew there was only one way I had achieved that experience, and that was with two angels that I loved so much.

The next day, the youth walked again for another eight miles around Martin's Cove as well as "Women's Pull".  When we came out of Martin's Cove and I could see a string of our youth over the skyline and ridge of the next hill, I had an overwhelming feeling that not only had we been in the right place at the right time, but it would have an effect on them and their knowledge of how God helps us accomplish tasks that go well beyond what we think we can do if we place our trust in him.  I saw many tender mercies from both the youth and their leaders during those four days.  We had unseasonably cool temperatures on the day of the longest trek.  Even a couple of mechanical problems with a pickup truck and the U-Haul we rented to haul our cooking and support equipment, happened in a way as to not hinder the experience.  In fact that evening, when the tow truck brought the U-Haul to our Church to unload our equipment, that despite the fatigue and drain the prior four days had been, we were overwhelmed with volunteers who unloaded our gear in a few minutes and everyone made sure each other had their needs met.

 Just like you can't determine when and how someone will feel the spirit or have an experience, I don't think I'll ever know the full extent to what this experience has been on those who participated.  I have been touched however by the outpouring of testimonies, including my own daughter that have reminded me on how the Lord knew what should happen for the youth of the Rose Park Stake.  I will be forever grateful.

Side note:  While I've avoided press experiences now that I've left public office, I received a call asking to comment on the Trek experience for the Salt Lake Tribune.  That article can be found here.