We ate oatmeal for breakfast and then one of our sons offered a concise but fitting morning devotional scripture, “Oh, be wise. What can I say more?”, and we were off. First stop, Devil’s Gate. We’d been up and down plenty of hills already--some descents so steep that our kids on the back looked like they were water-skiing through the dust as they planted their feet and hung on to the tail end of the cart--but this Devil’s Gate business was beyond anything we’d attempted.
We all cheered when the first cart rolled into place at the foot of the hill. A runner laboriously made their way to the top, grabbed a rope with carabiners on the end, and walked gingerly back down, sometimes bracing their hand behind them to keep from sliding. The runner hooked the carabiners to the cart, two boys stayed behind for a later assignment, and the rest of the family huffed and puffed their way up. When they’d reached the top and were no longer visible, the boys who’d stayed behind each took hold of one end of the handle and steered as a mysterious power from above heaved the handcart to the top.
From our vantage point, we couldn’t see what that power was, but I honestly thought it was a mechanical wench of some kind. Or maybe the rope was hooked to a pick-up truck. When it was our turn, I’d hardly caught my breath from the climb when I realized that the power at the top didn’t come from a truck or a wench, but teenagers in gloves, lined up along the rope, looking like they were involved in a tug of war match. As a ma, I was to stand about mid-way down the rope and as soon as a teen got to me, I’d send them running back down to the front of the line, and so it went until our handcart peeked its wooden self over the top. Truck indeed.
With that accomplished, we had some down-time while the rest of the carts made the climb. To escape from the hot wind, several families pooled their resources of tarps and ropes to construct shelters, some more effective than others. We were dozing when a young man poked his head under our tarp and asked if we wanted to join in a game of missionary tag. As adults and youth ran and laughed on the hilltop, I was struck by the beauty of the girls. Yes, they were covered in dirt, but they looked so healthy and joyful, bonnets blowing in the wind. No make up. No designer clothing. No electronic games in their pockets. Our ancestors had none of those things and in that moment, I envied them.
From tag, we moved on to Indian wrestling. It started innocently enough with all of us good-naturedly, almost apologetically, trying to shove our opponent off balance. Our captain caught sight of us and confidently strode over. He took his place in front of me and BAM! He not only threw me off balance, he almost knocked me on my pantalooned keister. “Umm, hello! I’m the MA!” To defend my honor, Pa Beck stepped forward. He tried valiantly, I’ll give him that, but he was schooled. Seriously schooled. With the old man vanquished, the captain waved our youngest trek son over to demonstrate some techniques. They jostled around for a bit and then in a moment none of us will soon forget, the captain completely flipped our son--straw hat over hiking boots. Our boy landed hard in the dust, jumped up, and rubbed his hip where he’d just crushed the metal cup hanging from his waist. All of us, including the captain who looked as surprised as anyone, just stood there, mouths hanging open. Our son limped a little but waved it off as a mere flesh wound. The captain apologized profusely and tried to squeeze the now-flattened cup back into shape, but it wouldn’t budge. Later, in a family letter to our captain, our son wrote, “Thanks for making my cup so much easier to grip.” We had the best kids.
The next stretch of trail I will call “the stinging sands”. We walked head-long into the wind, with dust continuously thrown into our eyes and mouths. Most of us tied bandanas around our faces, looking like bandits-of-the-prairie. I couldn’t raise my head at all, but just stared at my boots as they plodded through the deep sand. It was so hypnotizing, I worried I’d fall asleep and keel right over onto the trail. For the first time on trek, I wished I was pushing, hanging on to the solid wood of the handcart. From our whole company, I heard no singing. No conversation. Just wind and footsteps. Wind and footsteps. When the path finally turned and I looked up, I saw ahead of us the colorful tents of the Walla Walla stake. It was early evening and they were done trekking for the day. We could smell their dinner cooking. I thought of the last lines of the Robert Frost poem: “And miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep.” Silverdale stake is nothing if not hardcore.