While traveling across the country today can take only a few hours, for the early Latter-day Saints it was a grueling journey that lasted months and took many lives.
With such differing life circumstances, it is difficult to imagine the hardships experienced by the pioneers who came before. However, those who participate in Trek gain a small taste of the trials, suffering and pain the early saints endured.
McKenzie Giles, 21, a senior from Pleasant Grove majoring in special education, recounts her experience on Trek in 2005 and said it helped her understand what the pioneers went through.
“We were so tired after a day of pulling our handcarts four miles, when (the pioneers) would trek much more than that in an average day,” Giles said.
Although many times she felt too tired to continue, Giles said the stories of the pioneers inspired her to press forward and she knew she could do it because they had.
Nevertheless, trek required a demanding schedule and posed hardships for youth and leaders. Adrienne Jensen from Provo, who served as a trek leader in June 2012, described a typical day on trek.
“We would wake up around 6:30 a.m., get ready and eat breakfast at 7:30 a.m.,” Jensen said. “The second day we hiked about six miles and the third day we hiked seven miles. During those seven miles we crossed a few bridges, rivers, muddy areas, a few steep hills (and) walked in sand and some grassy areas.”
Despite the difficulty during trek, both Giles and Jensen said they had several spiritual moments. Giles said one of her most spiritual experiences was during the Women’s Pull, in which the men were called off to “Mormon Battalion” and the women pulled the handcarts by themselves.
“The boys lined up on either side of the trail and just watched,” Giles said. “They were told not to say a word, but just to watch. As we got to the top we were all weeping thinking about how strong those women were, and the faith they had to have to do that day after day.”
Jensen said one of her favorite spiritual experiences was the Women’s Pull as well. She described the dedication of the youth, and particularly one young woman who refused to stop pulling her cart, in spite of having an asthma attack.
“We got her breathing under control and told her to walk beside the cart,” Jensen said. “But instead, this strong young woman pushed every step up this long steep hill.”
Although trek more frequently takes place in Utah and other western states, others from around the country also bear the heat and hardships of trek. Seventeen-year-old Madeline Gibson from Lake Orion, Mich., described her experience as thought-provoking and spiritually up-lifting.
“You see movies and hear stories about how the pioneers crossed the plains pulling their own handcarts, and you can only imagine what they had to go through,” Gibson said. “Actually going on trek and having to cross rivers and walk in the rain and heat is an eye-opening experience.”
Gibson said there were harsh conditions, yet her most memorable experience was when she had time to simply ponder her circumstances.
“We were walking down a trail and we were all singing songs,” Gibson said. “It was then that I realized how blessed we all are. ”
This was special, Gibson said, because her ancestors had traveled across the plains and sacrificed their lives for the gospel.
“My great-great grandfather was with the Martin Handcart Company,” Gibson said. “I thought a lot about their story and experiences and how grateful I am for all they sacrificed. It made me very proud of my heritage, very happy I was blessed with such a wonderful life and very, very grateful.”