In October 2016, I got a phone call from one of the leaders of our church asking if I would be able & willing to serve on the stake (a localized group of 9 church congregations) pioneer trek head commitee as the food co-chair. Kara, a dear friend of mine, & I were being asked to feed 200+ adults & teens (ages 14-18) for 3 full days in the wilderness. We couldn't have any fire, no generators or electricity, & the youth would be hiking miles at a time & needed good healthy nourishment to replace the calories they were going to lose hiking with handcarts all day.
Needless to say, I felt VERY overwhelmed at even the idea of this. One thing people don't realize is that our church is run by pure volunteers. Our local leadership is not paid to do what they do even though they put in countless hours in serving the people of this area. This would be the same. I knew it would be hundreds of hours of preparation & work, but it was volunteer service & I was willing. Bring it on right? I can do this.
Kara & I spent the next 10 months putting together a food committee, planning menus, supply lists, etc. I spent months alone window shopping for the very best prices on all our food. I made the grocery list of everything we needed. The quantities were insane.
120 pounds of pork roast,
150 chicken breasts,
1000 little smokies,
400 sausage links,
40 pounds of stew meat,
50 pounds of potatoes,
50 pounds of onions,
800 slices of lunchmeat,
80 loaves of bread,
800 bags of chips,
32 pounds of grapes,
the list goes on & on & on. It was an insane amount of food. Here is what our menus looked like:
Day 1: Lunch - Ham & Cheese & PB&J sandwiches, chips, bananas, cookies,
Day 1: Dinner - Beef Stew, cornbread muffins, watermelon, salad, fresh veggies, & sheet cake
Day 1: Family Food Activity - Homemade bread & butter
Day 2: Breakfast - Pancakes, Johnnycakes, lil' smokies, hot chocolate, oatmeal, cantalope, milk, & OJ
Day 2: Lunch - Ham & Cheese & PB&J sandwiches, oranges, chips, cookies, cold lemonade
Day 2: Family Food Activity - Homemade ice cream in a bag
Day 2: Dinner - BBQ Chicken breasts, corn, baked beans, watermelon, salad, fresh veggies, & pie
Day 3: Breakfast - Breakfast hash (hashbrowns, eggs, cheese, onions, peppers, sausage), oatmeal, bagels & cream cheese, grapes, hot cocoa, milk, & OJ
Day 3: Lunch - Smoked pulled pork sandwiches, chips, fresh veggies, LEFTOVERS, cookies
And then of course we had several snacks on the handcarts for each of the kids to eat whenever they got hungry or tired. . .
goldfish, pretzels, fruit leather, jerky, banana bread, fig bars, granola bars, hard candy to suck on, & fresh fruit.
Anyway, it was probably the hardest thing I've ever accomplished in my life which is pretty exciting. Sure, I was exhausted, stressed, & ready for it to be over, but boy it was exciting & fun & a memory that will last a lifetime for myself & for all those kids hiking with handcarts like the pioneers. It was amazing & I'm SO glad I did it.
One exciting part about the whole thing is that Cadence got to go. It was only for youth ages 14-18 so she was pretty thrilled she got to be a part of it. Not only did these kids get to feel what it's like to push handcarts, but they got to dress the part too. . . so did I. We actually had to wear pioneer style clothing the entire trip.
I made Cadence a red colonial pioneer dress & bought her a cute white apron to go with it. I also made a white shawl for the "dance" up there. Cadence made her own blue skirt & bonnet. It was the first time she's ever sewn & she did a great job.
All the prep work for this was extensive, but pretty amazing & organized. Two nights before the trek we had the youth bring sleeping bags & pillows in black garbage bags & all their clothing/toiletries in 5 gallon buckets. If it didn't fit in the bucket, they couldn't bring it. It really made it so they could only pack necessities. As leaders we labeled all the buckets & bags with the kids' names. . . sorted into trek families. There were 13 families & 13 couples asked to be "ma's & pa's" for the kids. One ma & pa would be in charge of 1 handcart & 8-9 youth. Each handcart had a colored bandana flag & that became the family flag. All the buckets & bag were labeled with these colors to help us get them sorted into their families faster. The kids didn't find out who their families were until the busses dropped them off in the mountains.
Meanwhile, Kara & I were busy stocking all our food onto our refrigerated truck. Thank heavens for that truck. We absolutely couldn not have pulled this off without it.
Everything of ours . . . food, paper goods, canopies, tents, tables, chairs, etc. fit on this truck. It was wonderful. And when it got hot up there, we'd just sit in the fridge truck to cool off. It was heaven.
We barracaded all the food behind our tables so it wouldn't shift during the 4 hour drive to the Mormon Immigration trail. We had some brilliant minds on our committee.
On Thursday morning, we woke up at 4 am to get ready to head out. Cadence & I were both excited to be pioneers for a few days.
Cadence rode the bus with the rest of the youth. My food committee had to drive ourselves up, so we carpooled together. We made a bathroom stop at KFC & couldn't figure out why everyone was looking at us funny. Then we realized we looked like "Sister Wives." ha ha ha.
Once we got up to the trail, we saw all the handcarts lined up with their family flags. It was such a beautiful sight to behold.
We took pictures & giggled while we waited for the busses to arrive with all the youth.
We also had a drone friend who would be taking video & pics of our many adventures.
Two members of my committee were also appointed the SHERRIFF of the trail which was super cute. He had to stop the handcarts at the top of the hill & make sure they weren't smuggling gold or women.
We also had 3 doctors on the trail with us making sure we were hydrated & healthy along the way.
Once the kids started arriving, the fun began. (One of the busses broke down along the way which put us back about 2 hours, but we still managed to get everything done)
Cadence was very happy with the family she was assigned to. She had friends in her family & her ma & pa were just the sweetest couple ever.
Our stake president & his wife were there too which made it extra fun.
We put the sack lunches on the handcarts & the families started on their 6 mile trek for the day while our food committee drove our truck to the base camp to set up kitchen & start on dinner.
We had an amazing charcoal grill that we used to grill things on. We got permission to use charcoal & propane, just not open fire.
And we had this lovely water truck that always had an endless supply of water waiting for us. It was wonderful.
I didn't get to participate in the hiking the first day, but Cadence said it was great. There were little vignettes that leaders did where they told stories of pioneers & things they went through on their trek west. She said is was nice to have little breaks between all the walking/pulling.
They even had some men dressed up as missionaries from that time period to tell stories of what it was like being on a mission during that time. The whole thing was really well put together. I'm SO glad Cadence got to experience it.
Meanwhile, at base camp, we were busy peeling a bazillion potatoes, carrots, & onions for our stew.
But our stew was AMAZING.
Everyone loved the food, & afterward went to the cliff edge to enjoy the sunset & a short devotional.
It was the most beautiful sunset I've ever seen.
After devotional, the kids helped do their nightly chores (Cadence was on garbage duty) . . .
And then we gave each family a jar of whipping cream to shake as a family. When you shake it for 15 minutes, it turns into home churned butter. We had church members bake several loaves of homemade break to spread their butter on. It was a delicious bedtime snack for everyone.
Everyone slept like babies that night.
But of course, someone had to get up before the sun so that everyone in camp could eat bright & early. The food committee got up at 4:30 & started on breakfast.
My favorite part was watching Merrill make the pancakes. We made over 800 pancakes that morning so we mixed the mix in 5 gallon buckets with a drill & cement mixer attachment. It was kind of hilarious, but effective to be sure when you're trying to make that much in such short time.
We cooked our pancakes on the charcoal grill & they were perfect. We couldn't have done that many pancakes without it.
And I loved having a cute little visitor every meal. Cadence was always there ready to give me a hug before eating. She was having so much fun.
Friday was a busy day. The kids would be hiking a full 8 miles that day & we had our biggest food items that day as well. During breakfast, we tried really hard to complete most of the lunches & start dinner early so that maybe some of our committee could go & hike with the kids a little bit.
We were very excited. A few members of my committee didn't want to hike, so they took on the responsiblity of getting the lemonade ready at the lunch spot (& have the lunches ready there) when we arrived with handcarts at noon.
I was SO excited to pull a hancart with Cadence. We went about 2 miles when we were stopped by President Wheatley wearing an army uniform. He called away all the men & boys for a talk.
He spoke to all the boys about how during the migration west, a lot of men were called to serve in the war happening at the same time. These men had to leave their wives & their children (& all their handcarts/belongings) & go fight. It was a sacrifice for them & a huge sacrifice for the women to let them go. He also spoke to them about the importance of women, their strength, & how they should be treated. It was beautiful & I hope the boys learned something from it.
On the other side of the field, the girls/women were spoken to as well. They were also told how during the migration, men were called to war or died along the route. A lot of women were left alone to take care of their families & pull those handcarts all by themselves. We were told the importance of women in the world & reminded of how strong physically, mentally, & spiritually we are.
Then we all went back as families to pull for 1.5 miles as just women. I got to be a part of the women's pull on Cadence's handcart. It was really neat doing that with her.
The women's pull was hard, both physically & emotionally. The boys/men were not allowed to touch the handcarts for the mile & a half. They could not speak. They just had to walk behind their families & watch them struggle to push that cart up the enormous incline for 1.5 miles.
It was really beautiful. It was hard. I may have cried a little bit. Cadence pulled from the front & I pushed from behind. The handcart was heavy on that hill. It hurt my legs & made me feel completely out of shape. But we kept going.
My favorite part was watching tears fall from the boys' eyes, when the girls could struggle or trip & fall. You'd see the boys move & try to help, but then were stopped. There were lots of tears on that portion of the trail.
After 1.5 miles of hard uphill pushing/pulling as women, the families were joined together once again & we attacked what was called Rocky Ridge. Rocky Ridge was the steepest hill of the entire pioneer trek. We needed 10+ people per handcart to get it up the hill. It was hard. People fell. Someone even got their foot ran over by a handcart. But boy, were those kids proud when they reached the top. It was amazing.
The kids made it to the top WAY ahead of schedule. Our food committee wasn't planning to be there for another 1.5 hours, so we ended up playing pioneer games before eating. It was fun. We played water games, stick pull, tug of war, & a few other fun ones.
And at noon, the rest of my committee was there with ice cold lemonade & lunches for everyone.
After all that excitement, the kids continued their hiking for the rest of the day. Me & my committee hopped into vehicles & drove back to base-camp to start dinner.
On the way back we passed the Trading Post. SO CUTE. They let the kids trade popcorn kernals for prizes, candy, & toys.
And back at base camp, we got right to work cutting up fresh fruit & veggies, watermelon, & worked on thawing our chicken that was STILL FROZEN. Yikes. But it all worked out. We had plenty of time to get it done.
We also were getting things ready for the 2nd day activity which was homemade ice cream. As soon as families started showing up, they came & got supplies from us, & then tossed bags with partners to make the ice cream. It was SO refreshing on such a hot day.
We make homemade ice cream all the time so Cadence was showing everyone how to do it. Hers was done first & once people saw it was real ice cream (& that it was cold), they all started having a blast with their bags.
Even my food committee got in on the fun.
And then the rest of us started on the chicken. I had the best men . . . & grill masters on my committee. They were amazing.
The food was a huge hit, as always.
After dinner, the kids got to participate in a hoedown dance out on the cliffside.
Our pet drone friend videoed the whole thing.
Cadence had a blast with her friends learning new line dances & old pioneer dances as well. I think this was her favorite part of the whole trek experience.
Friday night it rained all night. We had to get up & move our propane stoves under cover. I felt so bad for the kids who weren't in tents. We literally didn't have tents so they were huddled under tarps hung from trees. Cadence said she was a little wet, but not too bad. I guess it makes the experience more real right?
Saturday we were up & at them early again, firing up the charcoal grill to make hash. A lot of the kids had never had hash before & loved it. All it was was a combination of hash browns, eggs, sausage, onions, peppers, & cheese all cooked together. It was everyone's favorite meal surprisingly.
After breakfast, the kids had a 2 hour testimony meeting, so we utilized that time to completely take down & pack up our kitchen. I was amazed we were able to do it all in that amount of time.
So when the handcarts were ready to take off, so were we in our big truck. I seriously thought we'd be there all day cleaning up. But what a relief to have it done so early so we could also get home at a decent time.
I had to take one final picture of Cadence's wonderful family. She loved them all so much.
And here is our wonderful head trek committee. The ones who planned this whole thing. It was 10 months of blood, sweat, & tears, but it was SO worth it.
So while the kids hiked back to the area this whole thing started at, we beat them by vehicles & set up a "This is the place!" sign to welcome them home. We had a loud speaker playing "Come, Come, Ye, Saints" & pretty much all us adults were bawling like babies at this point. It was spiritually overwhelming, plus we were filthy, tired, past the point of exhaustion, happy that it was over, sad it was over. . . it was a melting pot of emotions at that point.
We stood next to the trail & waved white handkerchiefs at the kids as they pulled their handcarts the very last bit of the way.
The kids literally sprinted across the finish line. They were SO proud to have completed this experience.
When they were done & had their handcarts loaded up in the trailers, we had lunch waiting for them there. A friend of mine had smoked 125 pounds of pork for this trip. He is a saint for doing that for us. We just had to heat it up. We served it with all our leftover chips, fruit, veggies, snacks, & other food. The kids ate TONS of everything. It was a great way to get rid of all the excess food we had.
Then we cleaned up our 2nd kitchen area & packed it up to go as the kids got on their bus.
Merrill, combed out his beard . . .
And we got a few pics of our amazing food committee who did SO much.
Here's a list of what these amazing people did:
Heather (far left in 1st pic in orange) - chore assignments for the kids
Fehi (far left in 2nd pic in blue) - dish washing specialist
Kristin - serving specialist
Elise - allergy specialist
Kara - my dear partner in crime who helped do EVERYTHING with me
Susan - food prep specialist
Kathy - snack & food activity specialist
Merrill - grills & propane specialist
Craig - kitchen logistics & set up / take down
Nathan - refrigeration specialist
John - grill master
Tracy - before trek food prep (cut veggies & pre-cooked things for us)
Katie - chopping specialist
And we came home. . . filthy. Cadence & I took off our socks & this is how gross we were. We couldn't wait to shower.
It was a really amazing, life altering experience that we will never forget. I feel so blessed to have been a part of this amazing pioneer trek experience.