Last month, our teens found out what they were made of during a backpacking trip spanning 26.8 miles over four days in central Arkansas. We took advantage of the local school break, and loaded up the van. Seven hours later, we confronted the Eagle Rock Loop Trail in the Ouachita National Forest. This was the longest trip that the crew has attempted this year; we knew we were entering uncharted waters, with surprises and challenges ahead.
Before even stepping foot onto the trail, we knew that tackling some team-building preparation was going to be necessary. A ropes course tucked back in the woods of northern Louisiana energized our team for their time on the trail. Our facilitator had planned hours of activities that would promote team unity on a low ropes course. Completing each element—such as a 10,000 square foot maze—encourages perseverance and taps into solving problems as a group.
We took the opportunity to rest up our first night on the trail, enjoying time playing in the water, cutting up with the kids, and worshipping together. The next morning we hit the trail hard. Looking ahead at the nearly 30 miles waiting for us, a lot of optimism was in the air that first day. Those first eight miles included only one steep incline to warm us up, and plenty of hiking along the river through heavy forests. It was important to get through a lot of mileage right away, because awaiting us on day two were four steep inclines rising back to back. Good thing we started out easy!
It was intense. I was encouraged to see all of the kids supporting each other, all of them taking turns both leading out and struggling through. The end of day two found us hustling to set up camp with an unexpected storm moving in fast. No sooner was the last stake shoved in the ground than the torpedoes of ice began pouring down on us.
The hailstorm was forceful, scary at times. As I sat under the girls’ tarp, nervously devouring the rest of my trail mix and listening to the storm, the other girls slept curled up next to me in their sleeping bags. I guess they weren’t worried the way I was—what would we do if this storm continued through the next day? What if our tarps broke under the barrage of ice bullets? Fortunately, the storm’s intensity lasted less than an hour. The rest of that night was full of relaxing—hanging out in the tarps to avoid random gusts of wind surprising us with showers from the water soaked canopy of trees.
The morning after the hail storm brought the steepest climb of the trip. After this difficult push, we were rewarded by a beautiful forest that’s been described as something out of “Lord of the Rings.” By lunchtime the third day on the trail, the kids were dreaming about clean clothes, their own beds, and McDonald’s. Loren and I began talking about finishing the trail a day early, instead of saving the last few miles for the next morning.
We handed the challenge over to the kids! They could push it as hard as they wanted to in an attempt to make it back to our original campsite and set up for our last night a day early. Well, they accepted the challenge to power through and we finished the trail! Everyone was very proud of their accomplishments and what lay behind us. They were ready to head out early the next morning.
While getting ready to set up camp, we pulled everyone together for one last team meeting and made a surprise announcement. We were actually getting in the vans to head home that night! The excitement was overwhelming. With vertical jumps leaping higher than Michael Jordan could have imagined, the kids gathered everything and headed straight to the van. The trail was complete. With another notch proudly added to everyone’s hiking belts, we were on our way to Golden Corral, a veritable four star restaurant when you’ve been on the trail for three days.
We were so thankful for God’s provision for this whole trip. He saw us through some difficult times that helped us grow (with minimal injury and a deeper appreciation for each other). He also kept us safe by calling the trip a day early, which we appreciated quickly after getting on the road. Twenty minutes into our drive, an onslaught of scary storms hit us. We would later find out that these storms also produced damaging tornados earlier that same day in Texas. Those storms made the hail storm encountered on the trail seem gentle, and I’m extremely thankful that God called us off the trail that night.
And so our last big training trip of the year ended successfully—with each and every body safe, sore, and satisfied. We’re so grateful for this wonderful group of kids that we get to encounter such adventures alongside…what a crew!