We left on a Thursday morning and went up by Strawberry Reservoir. There we loaded all the handcarts, got in our families and sent them on their way. I was one of the adults who was left to move all the cars from the starting to ending point, so I spent all of their first day driving. We were brought to the first night's camping site just as they were pulling in. And that's when the real adventure started.
Anyone who has lived in Utah knows that the weather can change every five minutes. As we were starting to make camp, we noticed a bank of clouds coming our way. Trying to work as quickly as we could, we got all the tents out to set up before the storm hit. Unfortunately, when you are working with unfamiliar tents, the "setting up" part didn't happen fast enough to outrun the storm. Wind, rain, and hail fell furiously while we were trying to hold onto tents so they didn't blow away. A young man came running over to help and try to cover me from the hail (it was big and painful!) but I told him to not worry about it and just hold onto the tent. He was very kind and, upon later introducing him to Maggie as the young man who helped me, found out that he was the boy who made sure she did her math homework every night! He, of course, became a fave of mine :-)
After the storm passed, we finished getting everything set up as best as we could. The Ma's and Pa's started working on dinner while the kids tried to get warm and just socialize. The family I was assigned to was fabulous; Maggie's? not so much. Most of her family had fallen apart by the end of the first day. Having seen what they would be doing the next day, I was really worried for her group and let me family know that I would be helping Mags' family through the pull on Friday. It continued to rain off and on through the evening, making the square dance a muddy mess. Everyone wanted to go to bed early so we settled in the tent for the night. I was fortunate enough to be sharing with another "aunt," Kristin Preston. Maggie asked if she could join us for the night as she was having trouble with her asthma. We were fortunate to have an amazing tent that withstood with ease the horrible wind that blew all night long.
When we came out of the tent in the morning to find that our boys' tent had lost its cover and was open to the freezing air. They had all hunkered down deep in their sleeping bag to stay warm. Our Ma and Pa were fabulous and every meal was so delicious with lots to spare. And the kids really were so great, not being picky about anything. Skins on potatoes? Yes. Rolling up pancakes with jelly inside? Absolutely! We broke down the tents and loaded up the handcarts for the long day ahead. As I said earlier, we had come through the trail for the day on our way back from moving all the cars and it was a beast.
Most people who know me know that I have a problem with a heart arrhythmia. When I go to higher altitudes, it takes me 2-3 days for my heart to make the adjustment. When you are only there for 3 days, there's really no adjustment time, so I knew this would be a challenge. At the start of the trek, the leaders had asked us to set some goals for ourselves. Mine was just to make it through the women's pull. Knowing it would be on the second day and having seen the trail, I was concerned about achieving that goal. The trail ahead was full of ruts and holes as well as big, long hills.
(Maggie's Ma had made a point of telling me how much she enjoyed Maggie. She said that even when he complained, she did it in such an entertaining way that all they could do was laugh.)
For most of the morning, I was no help. I couldn't get my heart beat to normalize and couldn't get a decent deep breath. I kind of just trudged along with Marilyn Talbot and brought up the rear. When the group stopped for a break, I figured I should just keep going to try and get out of the way. We stopped for a few minutes to listen to stories of loss along the trail before going on up the rest of the way. We learned later that going down really isn't much easier than going up.
When we stopped again for lunch, we could see the next set of storms rolling in. We could also, down at the bottom of the hill, see a really steep climb. I had a feeling that that would be the place for the women's pull. And yes, it was. Having been only a little successful at helping pull or push a handcart that whole day, I thought, "Well, this is it. If I'm going to do anything, this is the time."
Brother Phil Allen gathered everyone at the bottom of the hill and talked about the Mormon Battalion. I could tell by looking at President Wolfert who was tearing up that it was time. I was surprised by the number of young men who wouldn't leave their carts. We made it a point to reassure them that we would be fine and would work together until we were all up the hill. I went to my original family and reassured Maggie that I would be back to help her. So my family of 6 girls started the pull up the hill. I couldn't believe how easy it was. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that others were there helping. The hardest part was probably going down the other side of the hill as it's critical that the people in the back hold the cart back so it doesn't run over the people in the front. It was a struggle for sure. By the time we made it down to the bottom, there were just a couple of carts that hadn't already gone and made it up the hill. We ran and jumped onto another cart to help while the young men and leaders who lined the hill watched. That second cart about did me in.
After the last cart was at the top, the leaders gathered everyone (in the rain again) to hear stories about people who "did hard things" across the plains. I joined Maggie's family again and we, being one of the slower groups, kept trudging along. My rain poncho was pretty much shredded from the wheel of the cart and I figured it just wasn't worth it anymore. I took it off and stuffed it in the cart. Most of the remainder of this day was minor hills, for which I was grateful. The rain came and went and the temperatures were pretty good. All in all we did 8 miles that day. And once we made it to our site for the night? You guessed it, the rain started again.
One of the things that happened each time we parked for the night was that Maggie was surrounded by the same group of young men: Lance Elliott, Andrew Olsen, Daelen Prete, Joshua ??, and Ryan Hatch. I was perfectly content with that. There had been some discussion amongst the leaders about some of the youth getting too "close." I didn't care of the closeness kept my girl warm and laughing.
By this time, we were all cold and wet and pretty much everything we had was wet too. There was a major "conference" to discuss whether or not to pack everyone up and get them back to Orem or to continue on. President Wolfert decided it was best to just build a major bonfire to try and warm everyone up and dry them out, as well as have our testimony meeting. For those close to the fire, it was successful venture. For those of us not close, we continued to be wet and cold, shivering more and more. I was grateful when the meeting ended and we could shift ourselves in, even rudely saying, "Hey! You've been here for an hour and we are freezing. MOVE!" The fire was so hot that we were dry within minutes. Again not feeling the desire to hang out and play games, we went to bed.
Day 3. Still raining. Mud everywhere. Just want to get home. So cold. So tired. So wet. We knew that it was only a 2 mile pull to the cars. I was so grateful when we made it! There was supposed to be a rescue breakfast in the parking log awaiting our arrival. Fortunately, the night before we were able to make a call down to the group organizing it and have them do it at the stake center. So we loaded all the kids in the cars and headed back. I didn't realize until we got out of the car in Orem just how sore I was. I could hardly move my legs to get out. I could only shuffle to get my food. And then, having only had maybe a cup of water to drink the whole time, a couple bowls of soup and a few apples, I inhaled as much food as I eat after giving birth.
We got home and showered, probably one of the best showers ever. Everything was filthy. Maggie had been warned on the trail to have some remarks ready. She said that she learned the following: Why would anyone do what they did if it wasn't true? Why would you sacrifice all you had, including your family and possibly your own life if the gospel wasn't true? We talked about the similarities between the trek and the iron rod.
Was I glad I got to do it? I'm still not sure. But after hearing about the trek in my home stake where it was in the high 90's with high humidity, maybe it wasn't so bad to be cool and wet!