Dressed in bonnets, bloomers and suspenders, over 300 LDS youth and their leaders pushed handcarts as they traversed the rugged terrain in Eastern Washington all in an effort to experience just a taste of what thousands of their pioneer ancestors went through while crossing the Great Plains in the mid 1800s.
The group was separated into two “companies” as well as smaller family groups consisting of a Ma and Pa and nine “children” in each family. Their life-changing experience lasted four days as families worked together and walked in the shoes of their Mormon ancestors.
Long hours of walking, sparse amounts of food and the singing of hymns made the experience more authentic to these pioneers of the 21st century.
“There were times when I just wanted to sit down and die but it definitely helped to focus more on helping my Trek ‘family’ instead of on how uncomfortable I was,” Eva Melton, 17, of Lake Stevens said. “Having a good attitude was essential.”
The main focus of Trek was to give the youth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints throughout Snohomish County a chance to experience what their pioneer ancestors accomplished. But out of that experience came growth, commitment and a stronger faith and dedication to their religious beliefs.
“Today’s youth are constantly bombarded with different challenges and distractions that prevent them from focusing on what matters most—their family, their character and their faith,” Bishop Jeff LaPerle said. LaPerle served as a Pa throughout the four day trek. “Reenacting what the early pioneers experienced crossing the plains pulling handcarts, removes much of the world they currently live in today by taking away many of the distractions (electronics, music, friends) and testing them physically by pulling heavy handcarts up and down hills in the hot desert sun.”
Working together became an essential part of the whole experience. Seeing what can be accomplished when they worked as a team brought trek families closer together, just as it did in the days of the Mormon Pioneers.
“I think the trek experience is important so you can go through some of the hardships that the pioneers went through,” Shayna Follett, 15, from Lake Stevens said. “My most memorable moment at Trek was pushing the cart into our final destination or ‘Zion’. Everyone was happy and cheering for you. I felt so accomplished. “
While the challenges became more difficult the teens and their leaders worked in tandem to continue their march forward and reach their destination.
“In the beginning there was the excitement of a new challenge, meeting new people and knowing that there would be some fun ahead, not to mention they were well rested. Little by little, as the world they were used to was slowly being left behind, you could begin seeing their individual personalities coming out one by one,” LaPerle said. “Each was different, but good in its own way. There were some natural leaders, some innovative thinkers and others that were motivators. As their strengths began to shine, they started leveraging off from each other and helped magnify the strengths of those around them. Although they were physically challenged, they teamed together and maintained a positive outlook, knowing there were good things ahead.”
The four-day walk came to a close with characters strengthened, relationships fortified and a love and appreciation for the Mormon Pioneers who forged the way for today’s LDS Church members to be able to worship as they desired, without persecution.
“I know that it was important for me personally because it was difficult. It felt good to achieve something significant,” Melton said. “It also strengthened my testimony of how amazing the pioneers were. They left their homes and families, risked their lives to worship the way they wished. I think that just shows how much they truly believed in what they were fighting for.”
“My trek experience was awesome! I am so grateful I had the opportunity to be able to experience a part of what the pioneers had to go through,” Follett added.
Today’s youth have different challenges than those who left their homes over 150 years ago to travel to the Salt Lake Valley where the Mormon Pioneers settled. However, their strength is just as impressive.
“The youth today are amazing, and they each have the strength to get through experiences like this successfully (emotionally and physically). This just helps them know that they can and will be able to succeed with whatever challenges lie ahead for them in their lives as they look to what matters most....family, character and faith,” LaPerle said.
“I learned that I can do hard things—and it doesn’t have to be a physical challenge like it was on Trek,” Melton added. “I feel like if I take that same frame of mind that the pioneers had, that we can achieve anything in the strength of the Lord, then I can overcome any kind of opposition in my life.”