Trek is a reenactment of the travels of pioneers as they migrated across the United States. It's usually done over a week long period and includes pushing and pulling a handcart while wearing 19th century-styled clothing. Treks are well planned and prepared and include youth, ages 14-18 in a stake, as well as adult leaders. The purpose of a trek is to honor the sacrifices of those who braved the wild frontier, who walked as many as 1,300 miles or more, in order to provide religious refuge free from persecution, where temples could be built and covenants made. We go to gain a better appreciation of the challenges they faced as well as to experience a small portion of the miracles and blessings associated with such sacrifice. Many treks take place locally, in the region you live and occur about every 4 years. We were fortunate enough this year to be able to go to Wyoming and trek along portions of the original Mormon and Oregon Trails.
Handcarts. A genius invention that allowed thousands of people to travel with necessary goods, by foot, when funds ran scarce and wagons, teams of horses and oxen and other means of transportation could not be afforded.
I can testify that I know that the revelation for the design of the handcarts was inspired, just as were the boats used to carry Nephi and his family and the Jaredites across oceans. I marvel at the capability of these wood boxes on giant wheels. With man power, both human and angelic, they can crawl over and through any terrain, including the rockiest of trails and rivers. Believe me when I say I know that it took both man and Angels to do it, as I witnessed it for myself.
My role in this trek began over a year ago when Boyd and I were called to head the Family History and Temple Committee and as a Ma and Pa to a family of 8 youth. It was determined that the goal of our committee was to prepare the youth for a stake temple trip to be held the week before trek, where each youth would bring 5 of their own names in order to perform baptisms for them. Throughout the year, they would be trained to use the new techniques in finding ancestors who needed ordinance work done. We would also have each youth and adult research and find an ancestor to trek on behalf of. This ancestor could be one that they admired or the first one they could trace back to joining the LDS Church. We would want them to provide the conversion story, if possible, and a brief history as well as a short paragraph about what they admired most about their ancestor. All of these histories would be gathered and then printed on individual cards that would be worn by the trekker as they hiked in remembrance and in honor of their pioneer.
A pioneer isn't necessarily someone who walked from Iowa to Utah, pulling a handcart. Anyone who charts new territory or initiates change can be considered a pioneer. Perhaps some of the youth themselves, or their parents would be the first members of the Church in their families. That makes them a pioneer.
So my purpose for the year, was to help the youth prepare spiritually for the trek by learning the techniques and tools for finding ancestors, providing the opportunity for them to perform ordinance work for their ancestors and drawing near to them by learning about their history. And I was to do this while fulfilling my ward calling of Young Women's President and later, Girls Camp Director. The day after President Bown asked us to participate as a member of the Stake Committee, I called the St. George Temple and reserved a day and a half in the baptistry for the following July for the youth, and my 'work' began.
Pioneers made the trek west as families in Companies. Our treks are similarly designed. We trek as 'families', under the guidance of a Ma and Pa and we are organized into Companies made up of several other families. As we were called to be Ma and Pa, this would require us preparing our family for the trek as well. We were 'assigned' 8 children, which we had stewardship over and we were given the task of helping them prepare spiritually and physically. The process by which youth are placed in families is done with much prayer, temple attendance with thoughtful and concerted fasting. Father in Heaven directed how our families would be set up. Our stake was planning on 400 people, including youth, leaders and other committee members participating in this trek. Ultimately we would have 33 families and 4 companies of A, B, C and D.
My assigned family consisted of 4 girls and 4 boys. Sage Anderson, Brittany Koopmans, Annie Heath, Kiarra Dalley, Ammon Takau, Zach Rolfleness, Parker Killian, & Shon Paul Swensen were our 'children'. We were family #30 in Company D.
Fast forward through a year of meetings, firesides (of which we were in charge of one) and many many hours of work to July 17th & 18th. These were the days designated for the youth to come to the temple and perform baptisms for 5 of their ancestors, whom they had done the research to find. The time slots were divided into hours by families. Two to three families, including the Ma and Pa and their 'children' came to the temple during their designated hour and were baptized and confirmed for their own family names. Most of the youth brought their own names and over that 2-day period, the youth of our stake were baptized for more than 2,000 people. The baptistry was a hive of activity and the Spirit was strong as was the presence of many who were so grateful to have their work done. The Stake leaders were there the entire time and it was an incredible experience.
My other role, in gathering the histories of the ancestors, was to type them up on a card that would be worn during trek. I began condensing, typing up and putting together these histories in June. I spent countless hours pouring through individual's stories. Many, many times I was stressed beyond belief at the weight of this responsibility. I have had many personal burdens in my life this year, as well as other callings and a job that I work at part time. I found myself pulled in many directions and overwhelmed. I would sit down to the computer and begin reading and typing and I would sob through inspiring histories. I literally marveled and the heritage of the youth of our stake. I personally came to know the ancestors of almost 400 people. I felt their love for their posterity. I know they are very near and I know that they are grateful that our hearts are turned to them. I had numerous sacred experiences and felt blessed beyond belief over this opportunity. I have typed until my fingers were numb and my eyes throbbing from the strain of staring into a computer monitor but throughout I have experienced real joy and sacred moments during late nights and early mornings, where the veil was very thin. Very thin. I testify of the love of family and of our Savior who strengthens us in our weaknesses. I was still typing, printing, cutting and laminating cards until the day before we left for trek.
The logistics of putting together a trek for 400 people is staggering.
Transportation to Wyoming and back and food and bathroom facilities....I still can't comprehend how it all comes together. The only way any of this is possible is through hard work, prayer, fasting and miracles. All of those things happened. The Stake Presidency, the Stake Young Women's Presidency, the Stake Young Men's Presidency and the Stake Trek Committee Chairs have gone above and beyond in preparation in order to provide the youth an unforgettable and sacred experience. I will be forever grateful for all of their efforts.
The theme for this year's trek was selected and voted on by the Stake Youth Committee: Shoulders Wanted
Our physical trek journey began at 4am on Monday morning July 27th when we boarded seven buses, followed by a dozen-or-so trucks and made the 15 hour drive to Wyoming. When we arrived at Sage Campground, the sun was going down and the wind was blowing 50mph. We had to set up tents in the dark, in the raging wind before we could eat dinner. Most of us ate dinner at 10:30 that night. We rose at 5:30 am to begin trekking Rocky Ridge. With the wind still howling, we took down our tents and packed them up before heading out on our 14 plus mile hike for the day.
My family, ready to embark on trek. This was before blisters, blood, sweat and tears. Pictured left to right: Shon Paul, Ammon, Parker, Brittany, Kiarra, Sage, Annie and Zach. (The other two youth to the right were members of another family)
Parker had his shoulder to the wheel.
Ammon and Shon Paul on the official Mormon Trail.
Rocky Ridge and the following campground at Rock Creek are designated historical sites and have also been dedicated by President James E Faust as "Hallowed" ground. President Faust explained that the designation of "Hallowed" means that the Savior himself has been there. It is evident that this sacred stretch of trail where the Willie Handcart company was rescued, is indeed sacred as it is the site where many saints consecrated their lives to the Lord by heeding the call to travel to Utah and ultimately giving their life in sealing their testimony and dedication to the Gospel and Jesus Christ.
Our family on Rocky Ridge.
A sample of the terrain on Rocky Ridge. Pa pulled or pushed most of the way.
We contended with mud in a few stretches.
Pa and Ma on the trail.
Parker takes a break.
Zach seeks shade.
We encountered hardships along the way. There were cases of dehydration, sun burns, wind burns and blistering feet but there was a lot of joy as well. We stopped along the way for breaks and uplifting devotionals. The first day's hike took over 10 hours and we arrived at camp weary but still had to set up our tents again before we could eat. The first 4 miles stretch of uphill, took the Willy Company 27 hours to get through and we were able to get through the entire 14 plus miles in less than half of the time because we weren't contending with starvation and sub zero temperatures. At camp, we rushed through dinner and setting up camp to head to the Rock Creek Amphitheater near the cemetery where the saints of those who perished with the ill-fated Willy Company are buried. We had a spiritual fireside that evening and retreated to our tents just before midnight. We rose again at 5:30 am the next morning, to a thick layer of frost all over us. The temperatures would sink into the 30's and 40's by night and would soar to the 90's during the day. At the high altitudes we were at, the rays of the sun felt like they were searing your skin.
The second day of trek began with some transportation hiccups and delays which gave us a late start on the Trail of the Sixth Crossing of the Sweetwater River. When we reached the top of the ridge, the men were called out of the line in symbolism of the pioneer men leaving their families to participate in the Mormon Battalion. In many instances, women were left to get their families and themselves to Utah. Some times these women pulled handcarts hundreds of miles by themselves. Sometimes women would lose their husbands to illness, injury and death, requiring them to make the trek without their spouse. In each trek, there is an opportunity for the young women to experience a small portion of what these women went through. Without the men to assist them, our young women would have to pull their handcarts up a steep and rocky trail for a short distance. I gathered my little family of girls together and we said a prayer that we would have the strength to pull our handcart up the hill without our men and that angels would buoy us up and be with us. Kiarra Dalley later testified that she looked up and saw a vision of angels, including her own grandmother, standing all around and helping push handcarts. I know I felt the presence and love of many all around us. It was a sacred moment for many, including the young men who tearfully and helplessly watched as their sisters struggled to make it up the hill.
We crossed the Sweetwater River at Sixth Crossing, where the rescue party finally reached the Willie Handcart Company as they camped in the willows along the river. Here nine people died and were buried before help arrived. We attended a spiritual fireside in the willows before heading out and finishing our trek for the day. When we returned to camp, we had another late night dinner and the youth participated in a square dance.
Our last day of trekking was spent in Martin's Cove, location of the rescue of the Martin Handcart Company. This was the hottest day of the week but we were compensated by the Spirit and felt blessed to be there.
Our beautiful daughters, left to right: Annie, Sage, Kiarra, & Brittany
Our handsome sons, left to right: Zach, Ammon, Shon Paul and Parker
At this sacred site, we crossed the Sweetwater in the same place where young men from the first rescue party, offered rides on their backs for women and children and others too weak to walk on their own. These young men carried them through icy water in frigid weather and one by one would drop them off on the other side and then would return across the river to help the next person. They did this for several hours in water above their waist.
Many young women opted to allow the young men and Pa's in each family to carry them across the water so that they could have the experience of offering that service as the rescuers did. This was a spiritual experience for many young men.
Ammon carries Brittany across the Sweetwater River.
I myself opted to push the handcart through the water. I wanted to have the experience of what many of my female ancestors experienced. None of my ancestors crossed with the Martin or Willie Companies, but I did have many who made the trek and came during more desirable weather conditions with most of them walking the entire way. From their journals, I know that the journey was incredibly difficult but their testimonies were sealed in their trials. I also felt that it was symbolic for me to cross physically, as I have had to work and struggle for my own testimony and do many hard things alone. I felt the strength and promptings of great grandmothers and great great grandmothers throughout the whole experience. It is a blessing that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
We ended the day in Martin's Cove with a walk through the actual valley tucked behind rocks and a hill, where the Martin Company huddled together to try and seek shelter from the wind and snow and where they were discovered by the rescuers.
We returned back to camp after trekking in Martin's Cove, where we ate dinner and retreated to our individual families and held a testimony meeting. I know that every one who participated in this trek had their testimonies strengthened and witnessed many miracles during this week. Everyone was completely unplugged from electricity, social media, cell phones and everything else worldly. Not once did I hear complaining or mention of missing technology. The Spirit of the Lord was there. We all felt the love of our Heavenly Father and those who have gone before, making it possible for us to have the gospel in our lives today and temples enabling us to be with our families forever.
The last morning as we were waiting for the buses to return to pick us up, the stake held a small fireside near camp. At the end of the meeting, President Anderson gave a powerful closing prayer at which time, he pronounced a blessing on the youth of the Bloomington Stake. In his prayer, he blessed the lives of the youth and told them that they were being prepared as they would be on the earth ushering in the Savior when He returned at His Second Coming. I testify that this is true. The youth of these latter-days are strong and have been saved for these days and for these times. I'm grateful to have been a witness of this momentous occasion and blessing.
I am a witness to a few things:
Pioneer children were not so different from the youth today. They pestered their parents with "how much farther are we going today?" and "how many miles will we be walking?" or "how far have we gone?" It was really quite funny actually. I know that the pioneer children faced different challenges than our youth do today, but they are all still children of our Father in Heaven and as such, very much human and the same. By the way, I wore a GPS to track our walking. Not including running to and from everywhere around camp, fetching water, going to firesides, square dancing and so on, we hiked almost 30 miles.
Women's bonnets were not a fashion accessory. They were necessity. As stifling and constricting as they seem, they protect you from wind and sun. I should have forced myself to wear mine. While none of us looked 'pretty' on the trails, I couldn't help but be in awe of how BEAUTIFUL the women were. Pioneer clothing was practical. Hiking in skirts and bloomers really wasn't cumbersome or a burden, in fact, I actually enjoyed it. There is also a unifying experience about having everyone wear the same kind of clothing, just like there is in the temple.
Angels exist. They are all around us all the time. In some places, the veil is very thin and when we look with our spiritual eyes, we behold them. Our ancestors love us and are around us always. They petition on our behalf, they strengthen us and guide us. If we will turn our hearts to them and learn of them, they will make their presence known. As much as we honor them for their sacrifices and faith, they admire us for the challenges we face in these latter-days.
Miracles continue today. I have come to the knowledge that there are miracles happening all around us all the time, we just need to open our eyes to see them and then acknowledge them in gratitude. Our Father in Heaven is constantly blessing us with what we need and wishes to bless us with much more. He loves us with an infinite love and proof of that is in these miracles.
Our Bloomington Stake Presidency and Auxiliary Presidencies have been called of God. They live worthy to receive inspiration for what our stake needs. I am eternally grateful for their service and all that they do. Words can't adequately express my gratitude for their hard work on behalf of our youth and this trek. Our Trek Committee Chair-couple, Bro. and Sis. Trask are amazing. I love them.
The stories of the Martin and Willie Handcart companies are lessons in Remembering and Rescuing. Shoulders are wanted and needed in this great work. It is up to us to be prepared and willing to go out and serve and rescue.
Our Savior lives. He is our Redeemer and he lives and will be in sacred places where righteous people do righteous things with a righteous outcome. We are His. He loves us infinitely and individually and wishes to bless us with His love. He rescued us. He rescued me. He requires that we rescue others and that we always remember Him.
I feel that hearts and souls were changed because of this trek. I know mine have been. I came home a different person and pray with all my heart that I will always remember this experience and to stay valiant and endure to the end. I love my family and recognize the family unit as designed by our loving Father to be eternal. Happy day! All is well!