The 2012 Pioneer Trek is over. The participants will never be the same.
Bishop Walter Sleppy asked participants from the Mesquite 3rd Ward to report their experience to the ward congregation. Each reported lessons learned that brought about “blessings from sacrifice.”
Rob and Beckisue Stepp served as “parents” for nine of the young trekkers, six girls and three boys. Their experiences were unique to their group as in any of the trek families.
Beckisue Stepp said she felt like she had “suffered it all” with treating bloody noses, blistered feet and hands, as well as dehydration. At one point she stayed back while her assigned children trudged on without her or her husband. When she returned to camp and she saw their accomplishments, she realized, “We have some extraordinary youth in this stake. The kids hustled together and got the handcart there (to the day’s end location). They set up camp and started fixing the meal. My hardest part of all was not wanting to take it (the responsibility) off them. My feet are tore up, but those children made it all worth it.”
Rob Stepp’s lessons were different. By profession he is a policeman with the Mesquite Police Department and is used to being in control “to bring calm to chaos”.
He said, “I learned I am not in control. God is in control. I had to learn to rely on others. We had four girls and three boys (at the beginning). We were working together to push the handcart up the hill. I was surprised to see people over the hill coming over to help us. Everybody came together.”
Acting as parents was new to the Stepps. He found that on the second day their “family” really came together after they prayed together in the LDS tradition of “family prayer.”
The counsel Stepp learned was “Get close to God in our trials. He will show us how to obey. We must then do what he tells us.”
Food was another issue. The trekkers learned that when you are hungry you eat what is at hand, no matter what it is.
Colton Mickelson, 14, said that in his trek family, “We had enough to eat and always had leftovers.”
Jeremy Vogel, 15, said he asked himself at dinner one evening, “When at home would I ever eat this -- a piece of frozen chicken? It was really good.”
Mrs. Stepp said that there were things better than food.
“We did not have a great menu, but I’d give it all up tomorrow to go again to see the laughter, tears and the unity and care I saw from these kids.”
Surmounting Angel Hill became the most memorable event of the trek for her.
“A message was sent down to all the men and boys. Suddenly they just turned and walked away,” she said. This symbolized the time in history when the men were sent off forming the Mormon Battalion, which marched through New Mexico, Arizona and southern California, arriving in San Diego. This left the women and children to their own abilities.
“We women and girls were left to push and pull our handcarts down a basin and up Angel Hill. My girls made it up,” Mrs. Stepp explained.
While it was the toughest experience many of these teenagers had ever experienced, it ironically became their most treasured experience.
Vogel said, “Angel Hill to me was really, really fun despite what others were thinking. You really do pray a lot to get to know your family. You feel the spirit.”
Sleppy had his own challenges, as well as those experienced by the trek families. “I was on horseback, but I walked more on Wednesday than on horseback. (There were) nasty hills on Friday. The last hill before Angel Hill, me and my horse went down. He got scratches on his face and I got scuffed up some. We are okay.”
Abigail Barnard, 16, said that the trek was hot, hard, and the handcart was heavy.
“At first the trail was really easy and I thought, ‘No problem.’ I was really thirsty, but it (the trek) was really amazing. I feel we were put into certain families for a reason. It changed my attitude about those kids. I didn’t hardly know them before,” Barnard said. “But, it got harder. Kenyon Leavitt told me that every time he passed, I had to smile at him. So, I did -- even during the hardest parts.
“One day we just went five miles. I didn’t drink enough. I was light-headed and thought I would pass out, but I got help.”
She said that provided her with a greater appreciation for the other young people in the local church and its leaders.
Bailee Noel was the second youngest of the trekking troupe. She is 13, not the required age of 14, but still qualified to go since she is an on-going freshman. Noel summed up her trek experience despite her individual challenges with the heat.
“I went 33 miles in 106-degree weather in four days. I got the best family, the (Josh) Teitjen family. We only got halfway up Angel Hill. Then the boys came to help us up without leaders. I am very glad I went.”
Noel also advised future trekkers to wear wool socks to avoid blisters, to stick to your trek family and to work together a lot.
“My trek family really became my brothers and sisters,” Noel said.