On a cool June morning, nothing seemed better than a Cub Scout hike up the canyon — and the Achievement girls in our Mormon ward had the exact same idea. We joined forces for a combined activity during the first week of summer break and added some motivational ice cream.

I’d heard of “ice cream hikes” before, and we were ready to attempt the experiment. According to the recipe, we mixed sweetened condensed milk, heavy cream, a pinch of salt and vanilla in one container, sealed the edges and then dropped it into a No. 10 cannery can with a lid. We packed ice and rock salt, duct-taped the edges and plopped it in a lightweight knapsack for the kids to take turns carrying, shaking and mixing. By the time we reached our destination, we hoped to have a creamy scoop of coolness for each Cub Scout and Achievement girl to eat as a reward.

Conflicts with sports camps, parent work schedules and vacations prevented a significant portion of our regular kids from attending, but instead of rescheduling or canceling, we held the activity anyway. As the kids gathered at the church, it didn’t take long to recognize that a smaller group was going to be perfect.

One boy who just turned 8 is an eager Cub Scout recruit. He leaped from his mother’s car and begged to ride with me in the “Scout van.” Another girl who was also just baptized is shy and proved hungry for acknowledgment and encouragement. An 11-year-old girl moved to our town just weeks ago, and the activity was a perfect chance to meet new friends and utilize her leadership qualities. Two others never come to church on Sundays but were eager to participate in our weekday activity.

My own son, who knew the hike was optional instead of required for advancement in Cub Scouts, utterly refused to attend until I buckled up his little sister and turned on the car. He jumped in at the last minute, fumbling with hiking shoes and not anywhere close to being “prepared” for whatever was to come.

As I drove a load of Scouts up the canyon, I decided to stir the pot with a gender-based challenge.

“You know, the Achievement girls are pretty strong. I wonder if they can hike further than the Cub Scouts,” I said, instantly freezing the boys’ conversations.

“That’s never gonna happen,” said the oldest.

“You gotta be kiddin’ me,” said another.

“We hiked to the rock slide last time, and they’d never make it that far,” said another.

After gathering at the trailhead and saying a prayer for protection as well as gratitude for a glorious vista, the two ice cream packs were distributed and another gender challenge ensued.

After five minutes up the trail, my most athletic Webelos started whining about the heavy pack. I told him he could switch when the other carrier was tired, prompting a devious smile from the 10-year-old girl with a highly camouflaged competitive spirit. Standing a head taller than him, she not only carried the pack, but began shaking it vigorously as she walked, prompting huffs and puffs from the boy who eventually waved a white flag as he surrendered the ice cream can on the trail.

We walked until the clock said to stop, and the kids gathered around a fallen log that served as a table for our ice cream. More than half voted with a thumbs down that the contents would be anything more than mush, and we were all surprised to find it thicker than expected. In one can, I had added a handful of raspberries that didn’t distract from the thickening process at all.

As I scooped out sloppy servings, I was nervous about the final taste test of our experiment. One Cub Scout summed it up by saying, “This is the weirdest ice cream I have ever tasted!”

Apparently if you use a large plastic yogurt container for your inner vessel rather than glass or aluminum, the salty brine infiltrates, resulting in a sweet and salty concoction that wasn’t entirely inedible but didn’t prompt many requests for seconds.

We dumped the leftovers in a fire pit then stacked piles of tree bark on top of the pink raspberry puddle for the next unassuming visitor. The kids threw rocks in the river, found treasures like gun shell casings and initials carved into a fallen tree. The girls imagined the details of a marriage proposal in that very spot while the boys wondered about the logistics of a previous visitor’s target shooting.

I had a conversation with an Achievement girl whose mother I used to visit teach. I can remember the day she was born like it was last week and yet, there she sat reciting impressive statistics on the percentage of the Earth’s drinkable water and imploring her friends not to pollute fresh waterways.

While a cool wind whipped as we descended down the canyon floor, the kids ran ahead like horses headed for the barn. The other leader and I, both with toddlers in backpacks, panicked the last stretch of trail until we caught up. Luckily another mom/ chauffeur was waiting in the parking lot and gave them their first scolding. The kids hid behind rocks and trees near our parked cars knowing a safety lecture was imminent — which it was — but then concluded with oatmeal cookies baked by another leader who was unable to attend.

The challenge of the day was both sweet and unsavory, much like life’s trail for each of these kids. But hopefully, an essential combination of friends, mentors, achievements and gospel testimony will keep them together on the path to their potential.

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