From 1856 to 1860, about 3,000 Latter-day Saints pulled handcarts across the American plains to gather in the Salt Lake Valley. These pioneers trekked more than a thousand miles through heat and cold; through mud, sand, and sometimes snow; and through rivers and over mountains. They faced trials that required great faith and perseverance. Their legacy of faith, courage, determination, and consecration is virtually unsurpassed.
And this week my three oldest children got the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of these pioneers.
This week was Trek week!
For the last few months my older kiddos, and other youth from the Pittsburgh North Stake, all began preparations for this unique and special opportunity to experience what life was like for those early pioneers who loaded their meager possessions into a handcart and pulled and pushed it across the untamed wilderness, driven by faith.
The last few months have been spent in preparation for this week. They prepared physically with endurance training, working their way toward the goal of walking four miles in an hour. They prepared spiritually with a fast from electronics for three days, memorizing scriptures, learning some hymns, reading a few talks and researching an ancestor the could walk for. They also prepared practically with specific packing lists and special sewing projects, as they created pioneer clothing to wear on Trek.
It was an experience that was months and months in the making, especially for the leaders who were the brains and brawn behind the operation. This was an undertaking of epic proportions and I am so grateful for those who made such sacrifices to bring this unique opportunity to fruition for our youth.
From the Trek website:
“This summer, you, the youth of the Pittsburgh North Stake, will embark on a Trek to gain a glimpse of what it was like to be a pioneer. We hope that by setting aside the things of this world for a few days, this experience will not only help you Come and Follow the pioneers, but that by so doing, you will have an increased desire to Come and Follow our Savior, Jesus Christ.
On Trek you will have the opportunity to:
1. Feel and recognize the enabling power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
2. Learn and live the laws of obedience and sacrifice.
3. Increase your understanding and appreciation of your family, past, present and future.”
Trek was being held 4 1/2 hours away in the rolling hills of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.
The kids were asked to arrive on Thursday morning by 10:00 am. We decided to leave early and make a mini vacation out of the experience by camping in nearby Luray, Virginia while the big kids trekked their way across the rolling hills of Hume, Virginia.
This was our second experience with Trek and we did the same thing last time we had to drive Grace down to Virginia for Trek.
(Photos from 2013)
Rather than drive 18 hours over the course of three days, we opted to camp at Jellystone Campground in Luray, Virginia and just make a vacation out of it.
(Photos from 2013)
It worked so well last time, we decided to do it again.
This time, however, it was just Tyler, Ozzie and I camping, as Grace, Molly, and Rusty were all now old enough to experience Trek together.
Thursday morning we dropped them off, all dressed to the nines in their pioneer duds with their packed buckets.
They were very excited.
The handcarts were lined up by the fence and the excitement was palpable.
They were in for an amazing three days and they couldn’t wait to begin their adventure.
The youth were all put into families.
Each family consisted of 8-10 teens and a Ma and Pa (adult chaperones.) It was in these assigned families that they spent most of their time. After meeting their family they loaded their handcart. Each family had a handcart that was filled with 12- 5 gallon buckets that held their clothes and gear, 12 sleeping bags, a large water cooler, food for the next 3 days, and tents. This was what they pulled across the rolling hills of Virginia for three days. 🙂 After everyone had their gear packed and strapped down with tarps they were ready to head out.
After saying our goodbyes we left, excited for the big kids and the experience they were about to embark on, but also excited to begin our camping adventure at Jellystone (more on that in the next blog.)
A friend of mine served as one of the Ma’s on trek. Here is her recording of all that they experienced over their three day adventure. (Thanks, Angie!):
“There are times in our lives that are so challenging & rewarding that we’ll never forget. It was an absolute honor to spend the past few days w/ these amazing, …faithful youth that will carry the torch of our pioneer legacy. To those pioneers, including our very own ancestors, who sacrificed everything for their beliefs, even some of them their own lives, we publicly say “Thank you! Thank you for never giving up even when it was hard.”
Day 1 –
We left out air conditioned cars to Trek in 105-degree temps w/ heat indexWe divided into groups and met our “family”, which consisted of 3-young men & 5-young women. We loaded up carts w/ our buckets, which held our personal supplies, tents, water, & food…. and we trekked a few hours.
We set up camp near a stream, cooked beef stew & bread by fire & built a replica of the Nauvoo Temple – amazing!! We were inspired by a spiritual devotional about the significance of temples & families by the Henries.
Each family made a flag. Our motto.. “WOW, IT’S HOT OUTSIDE!!!” -hc
Sweltering hot & humid night. NO sleep in our tiny tent. Never knew you could sweat so much laying still.
5:30 am – packed up camp & pulled out. A mob of angry livestock literally almost stampeded us while we were trekking. One of our boys lost his boot in one of many swamps & hopped on 1 foot while pushing the cart to the other side.
We had breakfast (cracked wheat w gobs of honey) & gave our message on sacrifice.We trekked up countless rocky ravines, scorching hot fields all while trying not to step in countless smelly fresh cow pies. The youth pushed & pulled that loaded 500-lb handcart by themselves each step of the way.
At one point, our young women were challenged to pull the cart by themselves up a steep hill. We stood in awe, humbled by their strength of heart, mind, & spirit. Such an empowering experience. They are amazing. They dug deep in themselves & never gave up.
We had a light lunch (bread, jam, melted mozzarella, & an apple) under some trees, planted an apple tree & headed out.
The mid-day sun was strong, many were weary & a tender mercy came in the form of a thunderstorm. And boy, did it pour!!! We were drenched from head-to-toe & it felt so good.
Many were exhausted & adversely affected by the heat. Some had to leave & take a break for a time & were taken care of by our top-notch medical & support staff. Others didn’t want to take a break & ran down hills to help other carts go up hills. Broken shoes were patched w duct tape, bug bites were soothed, blisters were forming but still everyone worked together. The focus & determination was amazing.
We shoveled cow pies so we could set up camp, ate pork-n-bean soup w rolls & then were spiritually fed by the Garcias on the enabling power of Jesus Christ’s Atonement.
We changed out of sopping wet clothes into dry ones & slept comfortably.
6:00am – the youth made apple-cinnamon oatmeal & we heard from our great Stake President Ray Carter on pioneers & strengthening testimonies. We had personal time for scripture study, prayer, & journaling. Then we had our last family meeting. We’ve grown so close together in such a short time. We love each one of them!! Before packing up camp, we ended on a high note w/ a group testimony meeting where the youth shared their faith, beliefs, gratitude for the church, & how they’ve grown.
Then we headed out into the picturesque valley. Few more hills, knee-high grassy meadows, deep streams, & rocks. Heat was ignored – we were enjoying every last moment as the wonderful & challenging experience was coming to a close.
One last steep hill concluded the trek, the youth used every muscle & inner strength they had to make it up that hill. The parents stood at the cattle gate, cameras in hand, welcoming their more experienced & strengthened children back. Tears were shed & embraces exchanged as the journey concluded.”
Saturday afternoon we arrived in time to see them pull into camp. What a moving sight it was to see these youth move toward us, pulling their handcarts.
They were all looking a bit dingy with sun burnt noses, dirty clothes, and muddy boots…but their smiles were brighter than when they left.
Over the last three days these youth were moved…touched…and affected in profound, life altering, testimony-strengthening ways.
What an experience!
The ride home was a delight. The little boys were eager to share all of their adventures and the big kids told us all about theirs..making bread over the fire, the beautiful countryside they slept in, their amazing families, the singing and spiritual devotionals, the physical challenges of pulling their handcarts up steep hills, the comaraderie that they felt as they worked with their families, and the satisfaction felt of making it to the end. They said that it was one of the hardest things they had ever done but also one of the most amazing experiences of their lives.