Lounging by the pool, planning slumber parties, flirting with boys ... sound like the ideal life for a teenage girl during the summer?
Three Sierra Mountain Middle School 13-year-old best friends chose to spend theirs a little differently - by being the youngest people to hike the entire Tahoe Rim Trail.
The 150-mile expedition took the soon-to-be eighth-graders, Alex Prodaniuk, Melinda Moon and Lauren Slosminski, 21 days to finish.
"All of our other friends think we're crazy," Alex said, as the girls walked their last few steps of the trail Tuesday afternoon. "It was a different summer, that's for sure."
The idea, like most crazy ideas the trio thinks up, was brainstormed by Alex, who heard a commercial on the radio about volunteering to help build unfinished sections of the Tahoe Rim Trail.
"I heard it was considered one of the best trails," she said, "and I decided I wanted to walk it with two of my friends."
Alex and Melinda spent one day volunteering to help build a section of the trail near Mt. Rose, and then the girls began to plan their trip. They would need to purchase the necessary gear and equipment, organize a food and meal plan, recruit their parents to take turns being their chaperones, and figure out where the best spots for food drops and parent exchanges would be. They mapped the entire trip out and gathered their parents together to pitch the idea.
"They wrote a one-page testimony on why they wanted to do it and why the parents should donate their time to be chaperones," said Melinda's mom Marilyn Moon. "They had never been backpacking before. They are not hikers, they are just determined girls."
Although all three were inexperienced backpackers, they are active with swimming and cross-country running. All three have grown up in Truckee together.
Before the girls left on the three-week trek, Melinda's dad, Paul Moon, took them on an overnight backpacking excursion to "have them get a taste of what they were getting themselves into."
"I took them on their first overnight and they were barely making it up the first hill," he said. "But then they did great and they decided they liked it."
What amazed the girls and the parents the most as the trip moved along successfully was that the group was never late for their drop times and parent exchange.
"I was amazed we were able to coordinate it all," Paul said.
"We really pushed ourselves to make it," Melinda said.
The group referred to Marilyn Moon as "Mountain Mama" because she chaperoned on the trail for a total of 12 days. Other parents hiked in to chaperone for between three and six days at a time.
When the girls reached the end of their loop Tuesday on Brockway Summit, they were sticky, sweaty, dirty and happy. All three had their hair set in tiny braids, which kept them from having to brush their hair while they were away. They were covered in Band-Aids and Mole Skin. And they were looking forward to the celebration dinner they had requested specially from the trail: double bacon cheeseburgers, homemade french fries, salad and ice-cream cake.
"Not a lot of teenagers would think of doing this," Lauren said. "The best part is finishing and letting the reality sink in that we actually finished this."
The girls said their highlights were backpacking in Desolation Wilderness and hiking up peaks to achieve beautiful views. Their views were obstructed the last four days of their journey by smoke from far-off fires, but that didn't get their spirits down. They only got off the trail once, when they accidentally reached the top of Twin Peaks before they realized they took a wrong turn.
"The hardest part for me was having a 13-mile day. It was 3 p.m. and we still had seven miles to go," Melinda said. "There were times when I said I didn't want to do this anymore."
Tahoe Rim Trail Association Volunteer Coordinator Sara Hurley and Associate Director Shannon Raborn met with the girls before they began their trek.
"They are the youngest folks to be part of the 150-mile club," Hurley said. Tahoe Rim Trail Association members who complete the 150-mile hike become club members.
Hurley said she saw the girls before they hiked out Tuesday while the association was trail building near Mt. Rose.
"We asked them if they would be interested in doing presentations for kids' groups," Hurley said.
"Before they left, we gave them some tips about long distance hiking and hiking for women," Hurley said. "They were super well-organized before they left and we were impressed. They really researched it and figured out what they needed to do this. I wanted to make sure that they understood that if they weren't having fun they should get off the trail and try it again another time. But they had fun and I was really happy to see them so happy and proud of themselves Tuesday."
The proud looks on their parents' faces as the girls came to the end said it all.
"I've seen those girls grow so much in the last three weeks it's amazing," Marilyn said. "They didn't even waiver, they are so enthusiastic. The limiting factor as far as energy goes was the parents. For me, it was fun to be with the girls and watch them interact."
Marilyn said they never complained about the weight of their packs or blisters on their feet, and worked as a team like she had never seen before. They took turns leading the trail and cooked all of their own meals.
"They just took care of each other," she said.
"I was convinced they wouldn't make it the whole way," she added. "They surprised me like you wouldn't believe. I admire them and am so proud of them. They support each other and back each other up."
Lauren's parents are Roger and Denise Slosminski and Alex's parents are Orest and Barbara Prodaniuk.
"The parents tried to help keep it fun for them," Marilyn said. "We brought them special goodies to the drops and supported them in every way we could."
What's next for the girls?
Alex, the dreamer, said, "Next I want to hike Machu Picchu (Peru)."