This weekend, I experienced one of the most physically hard, but spiritually and emotionally uplifting events of my life (aside from the birth of my children...). I went on a "pioneer trek" for a youth conference with the youth of the church ages 14-18. I took a ton of pictures and so much happened over the two days, so I put them into several collages in an attempt to make the post a little shorter. If you click on the collage, you will see it bigger and be able to read the captions that go with the pictures. The captions explain a bit more of the story in some cases. As I explain things, I will define terminology in parenthesis for the benefit of readers not of my faith. I did not include the basic beliefs of our faith, but you can read about them by clicking here if you are interested. I warn you before hand, this post is a bit long- but worth reading in my opinion.
Background Information:About 160 years ago, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints (Mormons) headed west from Nauvoo, Illinois in hopes of escaping the worsening persecution and living in peace to worship as they believed. Many used covered wagons with teams of oxen leading them. Many could not afford to do this, but still believed it very important to go and be with those who believed as they did. They constructed handcarts- small carts to be pulled by two people- containing their supplies. They walked across the country with their handcarts. Their total distance was 1300 miles from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City. It took them 6 months to go the first 200 miles (from Nauvoo to Omaha NE), and about 90 days to go the remaining 1100 miles. This is because the first 200 miles was through very hilly, muddy, rough terrain. When they hit the plains, they were able to move much faster. They averaged 15 miles a day. Those first six months, they could sometimes only do a mile or two a day, due to the terrain. They obviously did more than 15 miles a day once they hit the plains. Many died along the way. The sacrifices they made to live the life they believed is incredible. 1 out of 10 people traveling by handcarts died before reaching Salt Lake City.
Every year, the youth of the church (young men and young women) ages 14-18 go on a youth conference (a two (or more) day trip for educational, service, or fun purposes). This year, they went on a "pioneer trek" to commemorate what those yearly pioneers did and to learn about and appreciate what they went through. This trek involved the whole stake (a stake is a collection of wards- which is the term for a branch of our church. A stake is made up of about 10 wards). We had 93 youth go on this trek. I am one of the youth leaders (of the Young Women) in my ward, so I went as an adult leader to help out. They were divided into 10 "families" representing real families that went by handcart. They were given a family name and a history of what that family experienced. There was a total of 10 handcart "families" for this trek- with about 8 youth assigned to each handcart. They walked 11.2 miles the first day, camped in tents over night and walked 9.6 miles the second day. (Remember the early pioneers averaged 15 miles a day.)
Here are the youth from our ward (and a few others) who went on the trek:
And pictures of the handcarts we used:
Here are pictures before we got started of some other people. Pioneer clothing was strongly suggested but not required. We could not convince the kids in our ward to do so, aside from Amy, but many others got in the spirit. I didn't have any pioneer clothing, but came as close as I could with a plain jumper I bought at the thrift store for $2.00. I only wish I had a bonnet and apron- would have made the outfit. Anyway- here they are:
The Trek: It was HOTTTTTTTTT!!! It was in the 90's both days and very humid. Obviously, we did not want they youth to suffer heat exhaustion so we constantly shoved water down their throats. Each youth was given a water bottle. Each handcart had a large water container filled with ice water (see above collage). One of the trucks following the group had a 250 gallon water horse in the back and the truck to refill the containers as needed. The water horse was refilled overnight. Every little bit, we would make them stop and drink, whether they wanted to or not. We had a few vans in front of and behind the group to carry those who were overheated, or just felt they couldn't walk anymore. The youth were amazing and complained very little. Once the carts got going, they were relatively easy to pull. But the hills were killer. Of course, this couldn't be done in north-east Ohio, where it is flat. No, it was in the hills of south-east Ohio. Whoever wasn't pulling the cart, had to help push it up the hills from behind- not easy to do since you had to bend over to reach it to push. This was hard work. We also learned going down hill was no easier- but harder. The carts were heavy and if not controlled, would over take those driving and run them over and get out of control. So, we would have to pull it back from behind to keep it under control. Very difficult! I (and most of the youth) walked the entire distance- taking turns "driving" the cart and pushing/pulling from behind. The heat made it more difficult for obvious reasons as well as others. It was so hot, the tar on the roads (mostly back country roads) was melting and sticking to the wheels/ our shoes- making it hard to walk. It was "sucking" our shoes off our feet. Obviously, the pioneers didn't have this problem, but then they didn't have real roads either.
One the way, there were the following two displays for them to study and think about. The one representing a child's burial was very powerful to all. A sad reminder of what was so common on the original trek west....
When we arrived at camp that evening, we had walked 11.2 miles and we could all hardly move, but got our tents set up, ate dinner (more on that at the end) and then had other fun going on. See the pictures in the following collage.
The "cow pies" were from the following morning as we were just beginning the trek for the day. My brother, Randy, waited in the grass for all the youth to catch up to that point. He explained the importance of cow pies (and buffalo chips) to the pioneers (fuel mostly) and then said one person from each family needed to find one to share with their family- and then took a huge bite out of the one he "found." Everyone was totally grossed out until they found one for their family and realized it was a big cookie to share. Yum!
One event that happened to the pioneers was the invasion of the Mexican armies. Many of the Mormon men (any old enough/not too old who were able bodied) were pulled away from their families to help defend the country. They became known as the "Mormon Battalion." This left the women (and children and old men) alone to pull the handcarts across the country. Attacks by the Indians were also common. Both of these events were reenacted during our trek:
The food: This proved to be an experience all in itself. One one hand, I don't want to sound like we were complaining. We were lucky to have the food served to us. The original pioneers had to build their own fires and find their own food and prepare it after walking their average 15 miles. I can not imagine this- we were exhausted. I suspect they wanted meals to be simple, as they were for the pioneers- I have no doubt our food was way better than what they ate, but tough on us with how spoiled we are and how hard we worked. Here was our menu:
Day 1 lunch: granola bars, trail mix, grapes, celery, carrots. (lunch was 2 hours late too...)
Day 1 dinner: canned (way too salty) beef stew, yucky tasting boxed biscuits
Day 2 breakfast: sausage gravy (not too bad really...), same yucky biscuits
Day 2 lunch: PB&J (had never sounded so good...), apples, bananas, cheese sticks (pretty good in all..)
Day 2 dinner: Here is the kicker- after all the work the last two days, and somewhat skimpy food, everyone was starved. They had been promising a big feast to celebrate our arrival to "The Promised Land." I think a lot of us were expecting they would do something really cool like bring in pizzas or something- something the youth would really get in to. But, no...it actually resembled what would be a huge feast to the pioneers...I am sure they would have been in heaven but..... it was a pig roast- a real pig roast. With a pig (skin still on!) spread out on a platter- pop can in its mouth, eyes poked out. (It was served with corn, potatoes, watermelon...and the same icky biscuits...). With the pig, the cooks had to peel back the skin- scrape of the fat- and pull of the meat. It was a bit much for some of the youth to handle..... some couldn't even look at it and some wouldn't eat it. I had a little- it was really pretty good, but needed salt- otherwise good. But, many of the youth were still hungry when we left because they just couldn't eat much of it. Our van stopped at Wendy's on the way home..... I doubt we were the only ones.
Some of you may be wondering about bathrooms en route. I, for one, was worried- hoping I wouldn't have to go in the bushes. Well, let's just say some luxuries are just too important to give up....
My brother-in-law, Kris, drove his SUV with this trailer and these 4 port-a-potties for the whole trek. Basically, he would drive ahead 2 miles and stop and wait for us to catch up (in his air-conditioned car, watching movies on his lap top...). We would have a 15 minute break, go potty, drink water and he would drive ahead two miles and wait for us to catch up again.
Again, I have to say the youth are incredible. They worked together and complained very little. I think they understood that yes, they hurt- but so did everyone else and they just had to keep going until they were done. So, they all pitched in and did the work. I think they learned a lot about what the pioneers went through and the faith those early pioneers had. They got an appreciation of how hard the work was and some perspective on it. We walked just over 20 miles- those pioneers walked 1300- and had to work for their own minuscule meals, with little to no water. We had a testimony meeting at the end ( a chance for those who desire to stand and declare their beliefs and what they learned and their feelings) and the faith and the spirit of these young people on this trek this year just amazed me. I can't imagine what those early pioneers went through. I was so exhausted and in so much pain the first day (I was pushing/pulling with them! Not just walking!) that I could hardly move and had no idea how I was going to do it the second day. At times I wasn't sure if I could keep walking- and I knew that next step was going to hurt, but I took that step anyway- and another and another. I suppose that is how the early pioneers did it- they just kept taking that next step- no matter how bad it hurt or what trials they faced- until they got there. That says a lot for how strongly they believed in their faith. After two days, I got to go home and take a shower (ahhh.....the best!) and sleep in my own bed and hug my healthy children and eat pizza. After 2 days (and many many more...) they still had to get up and do it all over again, despite their pain/exhaustion/hardships. But, they all said it was worth it in the end. I have to say it was worth it as well. The appreciation I have gained and the growth of my testimony (not to mention the excellent free workout :)) were worth it. Here is a shout out to the 3 wonderful Young Women from my ward that I get to work with on a weekly basis (there is more, but they were unable to come on this trek- the young men were awesome as well- I just don't know them as well and wasn't around them as much.) I know you all did an awesome job in many ways, but here is what I noticed the most:
Jackie B- You pulled that cart more than any of the guys- and you are not a "big" girl- but obviously strong! You pulled that cart at LEAST your fair share the first day, and way more than your share the second. You were positive and helpful the whole time. I truly enjoyed walking beside you this weekend.
AmyB-You walked the entire way and remained positive, helpful and uplifting to the others. You watched out for everyone. You were in the spirit of the trek with you dress and attitude. Thanks for bringing your viola and sharing your talent along the way. You have an incredible spirit.
Rachel F-You went up a day early with the stake leadership to get things set up and ready. Thank you for efforts in helping to plan this event and working so hard to help bring this all together and for being there. You worked hard and stayed positive and friendly despite small injuries you faced, making it impossible for you to walk day 2. I know you would have if you could. You are amazing- thanks for all the work you did in planning!
Also, to my wonderful husband, Aaron-Thanks for taking such great care of the kids while I was gone- and putting them to bed still even though I arrived home in time to do so, as I was beyond dead and wanted to do nothing more than take a shower. Thanks for rubbing my sore legs (after my shower...), letting me sleep in a bit Sunday morning and making breakfast for me and the kids. Also for humoring me while I typed this horrendously long post while we were also watching a movie. You are amazing and I love you so much! A few people asked how I was able to get away from the kids for the two days and I said it was because I have such a wonderful husband.
I know this post has been long, but I took so many cool pictures, and I could only talk myself into leaving out 2 of them. There were so many different experiences and I just had to explain them all and have them recorded. It was truly a painful, difficult, but wonderful journey!
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