The next lesson I learned on Trek was a sense of family. Soon, we had to rely on our ‘pretend’ families (the ones they assigned us to)—it seemed funny until we found we really had to depend on each other. As soon as someone started to sag and their footsteps slowed while pulling the handcart, the others were quick to switch out. We had two teenage boys with us who hadn’t been that excited to go on this Trek from the beginning, but their attitudes completely changed as they took turns at the cart—especially when they saw our youngest member—a twelve-year-old boy named Tim. We called him Tiny Tim, but he soon became known to us as Mighty Tim. From the beginning I noticed a limp and thought he had bad shoes—I kept asking him if he had blisters, but soon found out that he always had this limp. He was DETERMINED to keep up with us and do everything that we did. In the last four miles of the last day, he had a hard time keeping up. I called out to these teenage boys who (just a day before) wouldn’t have cared that much for him, and they came sprinting back to me and Mighty Tim and picked him up and put him in our handcart. They didn’t complain about the extra load at all. They just wanted Mighty Tim to be with us; he never complained and had the best attitude—that’s what he gave us.

There were other ways we bonded. Our uncle in our group was a jokester (and a doctor). Whenever he was pulling the handcart, we wanted to be up there with him because he was hilarious. He started a game with the boys where they had to kick a rock and keep it going. If the handcart passed it, they had to find a new rock and kick that around. The pioneers probably played the same kind of crazy games. One of the older girls in our group picked up our youngest girl and hiked with her on her back for about five minutes. Even though she would never be able to keep it up, it was enough to encourage our youngest girl to keep hiking. Our oldest boy always volunteered for the hardest pulls. Another boy on the handcart behind us gave up his extra shoes to another trekker. It was just a taste of how things must’ve been like during these actual treks where everyone must’ve given so much of themselves to make the Trek easier.

The Ma and Pa of each group were incredibly caring towards their family. We got a mid-twenty-year old-ish couple with natural parenting instincts and they took the kids (and me and our ‘uncle’) under their wing and treated us like their own. Many of the ‘parents’ had the children sit on tarps during each rest stop and rub their feet. Others squirted us with squirt guns or gave out Gatorade and electrolyte boosters. I happened to be the hydration and sunscreen Nazi, and I’m sure the little girls were tired of me pulling their bonnets back onto their heads and telling the boys their noses were getting a little too red, and to reapply or I’d shoot them with more sunscreen. Better to drink lots of water now or tomorrow we’d die! Unfortunately, it also meant that we drained our water supplies before the last hill that would take us to the water tanks.

When we made it to the top of that hill—THIRSTY—we saw a figure in the distance wearing a bonnet and a skirt. We guessed it was a Highlander or a really ugly girl (judging by the broad shoulders). And that’s when we learned about Ephraim Hanks. The Willie Handcart Company long ago lost many lives before the first rescuers came for them. The first of these scouts who came for them was Ephraim Hanks; he had killed a buffalo just before finding them and gave it to the ailing pioneers (our friend playing him gave us a jerky buffalo stick too and it was GOOD). But back in the day, Ephraim Hanks noticed that the food wasn’t enough to raise the pioneer’s spirits—they had been through so much sorrow and death, and so that night, he put on a bonnet and skirt and danced around the fire just to get these survivors to laugh. It worked for them, and it worked for us too. Ephraim Hanks became my new hero.

Tomorrow: The Refugee Camp.