Photo by Amy Cazier
Like the Martin and Willie handcart companies, the Everett Washington Stake trek had gotten a late start and they were challenged by unseasonal weather. Three hours into their 20-plus-mile trek on July 30, much of the company had traveled less than two miles. Stranded in the scorching heat, many were unable to go forward or back — and the temperature kept climbing.
Less than three miles away, the Pasco Washington Stake youth were recovering from their own previous exhausting day on the trail.
The Lord’s hand would bring these two groups together to bless the lives of the rescuers and those they rescued.
Sam and Stephanie Swanberg had spent 18 months carefully planning the Pasco trek. Sister Swanberg felt strongly that their trek experience should contain a “rescue” — so they manufactured one.
The plan was that on the second night of the trek, all the youth, age 16 to 18, would be pulled out of their families and taken to a special fireside with the stake presidency. The next morning, “Brigham Young” would call them to rescue those Saints who were stranded in the high country. In the meantime, the rest of the company would struggle without their older teens. The route was intentionally designed to be difficult and challenging so the rescue would be as real as possible.
In the planning stages it was perfect, but the intense heat crippled the Pasco company on their first day. The medical team sent 27 youth back to base camp. All the meticulous plans and carefully rehearsed vignettes were scuttled in the effort to just keep the trekkers healthy. As more than a year’s worth of planning was set aside, the “rescue” was hurriedly moved up to Day 1. The terrain was too easy; the rescuers came back too soon. It was nothing like what they had planned.
As the reunited company headed to Zion — and shade — Sister Swanberg wept at what she considered a botched rescue. Pasco Washington Stake President Robert Andelin pulled her aside at camp that afternoon and told her, “This trek is perfect.”
For Sister Swanberg, it was anything but. She could not have known a genuine rescue already had been set in motion.
Shortly after the Pasco group was getting into Zion (a day earlier than planned), the Everett stake was just getting started on their trek. Washington has two distinct climates. Everett is on the rainy, cool side of the state. The trek route is on the arid, hot side of the state. Typical temperature for summer days are in the 90s, but this year has been an exception. On an extremely warm day in Everett, the temperature might reach 80 degrees. For them, 110 was like a sauna.
They left Everett at 7 a.m., drove across the state, loaded up the handcarts and started trekking around 1 p.m. It was already hot. By 3 p.m. they still were several miles from where they would camp that night.
Bing Canyon missionary Elder Dave Freeman came to Pasco’s Kerry Calaway and said the Everett group was struggling. He asked the Pasco group to go back on the trail and set up the large hay tarp they had used the night before to create some shade for the Everett group.
As Bishop Calaway organized the men he would need to erect the large tarp, a request for shade quickly turned to a full-fledged rescue — a genuine one this time.
Elder Freeman went back to the trail and told Everett’s trek coordinator that help was coming. Sean Sweetnam envisioned a couple of men with a cooler of water. He was unprepared for a convoy of SUVs hauling more than 50 youth to help push and pull their carts. “It was such a relief,” he said of the rescuers.
On the trail, the huge tarp was exactly what the trekkers needed. As soon as they got to camp, the exhausted trekkers were able to lie in the shade for a little while. Within an hour they were “springing back to life,” Brother Sweetnam said. Without the help from the Pasco stake, the Everett leaders said they suspect that their first day on the trail would also have been their last, thus robbing them of several more spiritual experiences.
The next day Pasco trekked out and did their women’s pull and Everett headed into Zion. They both arrived at camp in the early afternoon. “For us,” Brother Sweetnam said, “that was the real rescue. When we all got back to Zion, the Pasco stake made us feel welcome and they included us in their games and activities.” There was a stick pull, a pickup game of ultimate Frisbee and both stakes joined together in an almost 300-person square dance.
At separate evening meetings, the youth of the Pasco Stake expressed gratitude and humility that they were able to be a part of a rescue and the Everett stake talked about modern-day rescues and how the Lord uses us to bless others’ lives. Both felt the Savior’s love in a way they had not known before and could not have known in any other way.
And, it was a perfect trek.