After the storm there is a calm. It is calm inside my head today and it feels strange. Only inside this calm can I see how very afraid I’ve been for at least six months. Pioneer Trek was not the only reason I was afraid, but it seemed specifically designed to punch every single fear I had. It took my family outside of our comfort zone and far away from all our usual coping strategies. It made us uncomfortable and miserable. We were obligated to a large group of people and so we had to find ways to keep going even when we felt broken. All of the struggles I’ve had with my kids were exposed to view because there wasn’t any privacy.
And that was just my emotional stuff. There was six hours of driving with an hour where the caravan of nine vehicles was stopped on the side of the road because of a faulty tire. We had another hour stopped because our bishop received word that his mother had died suddenly. It rained while we were setting up camp the first night. Then it rained again halfway through our second day of hiking. Not just rain, but cold, blowing, almost hail. We were soaked and cold. My son Link was riding in a rickshaw because the walking was too much for him. Other people had to pull him every step of the way and I felt the burden of that. By the time we came to the river crossing, no one bothered to change into their water shoes because everyone had been walking in squelching shoes for more than a mile already. Then back at camp we discovered a wet mess. We’d collapsed the tents because we worried about them blowing away in our absence. All of the tents were covered in puddles of water. Many of the tents had leaked through. Lifting the tent sent water inside of others. About half of camp had wet bedding and it was still raining. We’d taken some of the smallest kids (twelve year olds) and put them inside a heated van because hypothermia was a real possibility. We had word that our planned third day of hiking was not going to be allowed because the group who had gone out that day had to be rescued off the trail. The goal was mild hardship, not actual peril. So the leaders met and decided we needed to pack up and go home two days earlier than planned. Wet things were rolled up and stashed chaotically into the trailers. We fed everyone and then drove from six pm until midnight-thirty. The last part of the drive was through an astonishing amount of rain, thunder, and lightning, all of which was headed right toward where we would have been camping.
We spend the third day all gathered at the church building. We put tents back up to let them dry. We lay out sleeping bags and pads. We cleaned out the rented vans and ate some of the left over food. We finished up some of the planned activities and put a closing prayer on the whole thing.
All of that, plus months of advance stress. And I’m very glad for all of it. Here are the things which would not have happened if we hadn’t been miserable:
Link got to see other members of our congregation willingly pulling him along in his rickshaw. In fact there were more people who wanted turns than got them. I didn’t hear anyone complain that he got to ride when they didn’t. On the first day I broke because he had shut down and I was terrified that the experience would break him in a permanent way. By the third day I saw him working side by side with others and talking to them.
Gleek, Patch, and Kiki all checked up on me to make sure I was okay, because they saw how stressed and cold and miserable I was. They saw me cry messily. So did others and they took care of me too.
Gleek walked with me through the cold and rain, her arm around me.
Kiki stepped up and had some hard conversations with Link during the time when he was so emotionally shut down that he was ready to just sit in a van until time to go home. He talked to her about things he’s never said to anyone except me.
Patch forgot his rain poncho back at camp, so during the cold, wet walk he was completely soaked. Yet he kept going. He was one of the hypothermia kids we put into dry clothes and into a heated van as soon as we hit camp.
And those are only the specific instances that I can remember off the top of my head. More than anything else I think that the calm comes from knowing that this hard experience was really important for all the members of our family. I still don’t know why, at least not all of the whys. I do know that hard experiences force growth and we’ve been in sore need of some growth. I feel like this experience has shifted some things in me. It has built connections with our church community. It pushed all of us beyond our limits, so now we get new limits. I am less afraid of things to come, because I can’t imagine that any of it will be harder than the past three days. I feel scoured out and clean with most of the mental chaos washed away.
All that remains is to put away the camping gear, wash away the mud, and to sleep until we’re not physically tired anymore.