Walking the trail is a part of Ella Allred’s everyday life. Every morning, when she and her brothers go to school, they walk the trail. Every afternoon, after school, they walk the trail home. When Ella goes to her part-time job, she walks the trail. And to go to Mutual activities, she walks.
“Walking the trail,” as Ella and her family call it, means hiking about a mile and a half on packed dirt up and down the moss-covered hills and through the thick forest leading to the Allred home. Ella lives with her parents and brothers on the tip of a peninsula in the forest of southeastern Alaska, outside the little town of Haines.
Ella’s day-to-day life is interesting and challenging. When she gets up in the morning, if she wants warm water to wash her hair, she has to build a fire under the water heater. She has to light a candle to practice the piano if the bank of batteries is running low. And if the tide is coming in, she has to row a small boat across the inlet that separates the end of the trail from the highway into town.
The Allred home is too far away from town to be connected to public utilities like electricity or water or phone service. But her family has figured out ways to live comfortably with some electricity provided by a small windmill and stored in batteries, with running water piped from streams, and with heat provided by burning some of the endless supply of driftwood or logs on their beach. They still make do without a telephone, which as a teenage girl, Ella finds something of a hardship.
Every single day, in rain or snow or darkness, she makes the trek back and forth. Just facing the ice-coated trail on a cold winter morning might make most teens think twice—or three times—about making the trip to Mutual activities or even to Sunday meetings. Not Ella. If it’s a Church activity, she’ll find a way to be there. When she had the opportunity to attend the dedication of the Anchorage Alaska Temple, she, of course, walked the mile and a half from her house to the road, caught the ferry to Skagway, got a ride with other branch members across the pass to White Horse, then boarded a chartered bus for the trip to Anchorage—hours and hours of traveling to experience something as special as the dedication of a temple.
Naturally, with hiking the trail every day, Ella is in great shape. She is a natural to run the distance events in track. But where Ella really stands out is that she has made decisions about how she wants her life to be and works at making those things come to pass.
For example, Ella was quite shy growing up. She didn’t want her shyness to stop her from having lots of friends and being involved in school and Church activities. Now, at 17, Ella certainly isn’t shy, and she has many friends in many towns. She travels with the track team and is also involved in debate and forensics. She plays the piano, sings, and figures out how to attend just about every activity for youth in her stake, even though the stake center is in Juneau and the stake itself extends from White Horse to Ketchikan, a distance so great that it’s hard for the stake to get together for anything.
How did she cure her shyness? “I watched the good things other girls did, how they acted, and what they talked about,” says Ella. “Then I tried to do the same things.” By trial and error, Ella found her place and a comfortable way to relate to others. She learned how to be a kind and supportive friend. Since she can’t talk to her friends by phone regularly, she has discovered e-mail and uses the computers at the public library to keep in touch. Then, when she does visit their towns for school trips or other reasons, she arranges to go to church or seminary or Mutual with them.
Although Ella loves her branch in Haines, she wishes there were more teens in Young Women and Young Men. Right now, Ella and the branch president’s daughter, Heidi Berry, are the only two active Young Women, and Ella’s brothers, Soren and Flint, are two of the three Young Men. Their youngest brother, Forrest, is still in Primary. Ella loves to attend the wards in Juneau, when she’s visiting on school trips, or in California, when she’s visiting relatives, because there are more teens. “Whenever I get a chance, I go to seminary or to church with them,” says Ella. She likes to experience the Church programs in larger groups.
But some things, like developing a testimony, don’t depend on having lots of members around. When it comes to Ella’s testimony, it is something that has been with her always. Ella says, “I’ve always felt that the gospel was true. If I’ve ever doubted, I’ve prayed about it, and I just have this feeling that if I knew before, then nothing has changed. I just know that it is true.”
Soren, 16, has had the same feeling. He explains, “I have the knowledge. It’s not like it’s suddenly there. A testimony kind of develops, and it takes time.”
Now that they are teenagers, both Ella and Soren have had strong feelings that it is time to study and read the scriptures regularly. “I was encouraged to read the scriptures in Sunday School, but I never really did,” says Ella. “At one point I just decided that it was time for me to start.”
Soren says, “One reason I study the scriptures as much as I can is to prepare for my mission. It’s good to know as much as possible, and it will make that experience much better.”
What Ella and Soren like about their home is obvious. No more than five steps from their front door is an incredible view of an ocean channel with ragged, sheer mountains lining the opposite shore. The quiet of their forest is deep and peaceful. Ella says, “I like it out here because it’s quiet. It’s easy to be by myself. If I spend all day here, I get relaxed.” Summer, with the long hours of sunlight, is a time to work on the gardens, fish, go backpacking, play on rope swings, and explore. Winter is challenging because of the long hours of darkness and the ice and snow. But the Allred home is cozy with plenty of time to read, their favorite entertainment.
Ella’s parents, Kevin and Carlene, are quite well known in their profession; they discover, explore, and map caves. Ella has been with them on some of their trips, but she admits it’s not her thing. “I can’t be in a cave for that long,” says Ella, “because I get kind of claustrophobic. I think it’s cool for my parents.”
Right now, Ella takes advantage of activities in church and school. She is committed to making good choices. And when you ask Ella what makes her so committed—committed enough to do whatever it takes to be where she is supposed to be, doing what she is supposed to be doing—she looks at you with her blue eyes for a few moments. She smiles a little as she’s thinking of just how to answer so you’ll understand. You can even see the inner strength that comes with her words. There is no doubt. There is no hesitation. It’s hard to find the exact words, but what she tells you is that when you believe something is true, like the gospel, then that’s how you live, no matter how hard, no matter what. How could it be any other way? If you have to “walk the trail,” then just make sure you’re on the right path. Ella is.