Youths trek like pioneers
August 25, 2009
By Sarah Gerdes
What was it like to be an early American pioneer, crossing the Great Plains? More than 200 youths ages 12-18 and 100 adults recently set out to gain that experience, wearing pioneer clothing and pulling handcarts for four days through the hills of Eastern Washington, in an event labeled Trek Northwest ’09.
“Trek was developed more than 20 years ago at Brigham Young University as a way for youth to do more than just learn about pioneers,” said Wright Noel, the event coordinator. “In four days, they get to experience what it was like to be a pioneer.”
Trek ’09 is sponsored by the Bellevue, Wash., South Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and is held once every four years.
“It’s open to the community,” explained Noel, “and this year, included participants from Issaquah, and six surrounding cities.”
The teens were assigned to a family consisting of a “Ma” and “Pa” who had been pre-screened, and then grouped with other ”siblings,” usually eight to nine per family. An additional 100 adult volunteers assisted throughout the journey, including medical personnel to ensure safety throughout the four-day event.One day, 10 miles
With everyone dressed in pioneer clothing, close to 30 families started on the 16- mile journey. During the first part of the trek, the road took the group on steep hills with rocky paths, similar to conditions in the Rocky Mountains.
“The first day was exhausting,” Cindy Schiel, of Issaquah, wrote in her journal, “but absolutely no complaining” by the youth in her group.
She and her husband Ron were Ma and Pa to nine youths. The youths pulled together and worked as a team, even though they hadn’t known one another that morning.
The trek lasted into the night. Literally stumbling into camp that evening, the youths ate chicken broth and a roll, a pioneer meal, before crawling into sleeping bags, the one modern luxury allowed on the journey.
Led by the moon
After having pushed and pulled her handcart nearly nine miles, one of the company leaders realized he’d made a wrong turn.
“It was the longest day of my life,” recounted Eden Moss, a 16-year-old Issaquah athlete and A-student. “We were the first company to leave, and even though we had steep hills all morning, we were doing great.”
Then, the spokes on two wheels of the handcart broke; it was on its side as the men tried to repair the wheels. By the time it was fixed, it was pitch black, save for a bright moon that had emerged from behind the clouds. Eden’s Ma and Pa encouraged the teens to keep going.
“I was tired from the day, I couldn’t even think and my body was numb,” she wrote in her journal. “I was following the rhythm of the walking, letting each foot fall in front of the other again and again.”
Eden was assisting her “older brother” with the lead rope when it snapped, leaving her to pull the lead while her brother dropped back to help with the harness.
“I was ready to collapse when the moon came out and lit the way,” she recalled. “Suddenly, the cart seem to move easier and everyone was working together more efficiently. We were led by the moonlight into the camp, and when we saw two lanterns, we knew we were finished.”
A hoedown, scones and black powder
The third night was a blast, recounted Issaquah teen Margaret (Maggie) Bean.
“After dinner we had a dance, and it was called a hoedown,” she wrote. After teaching the group a few dances, including “the pie,” the youths “were having so much fun dancing in the cold while the moon shown a bright orange-reddish color.”
Issaquah resident Scott Gordon took his turn at shooting during black powder rifle practice while his wife Kerrie made homemade scones. Other pioneer games included rope tossing, tug-of-war, board walking and flag making.
The trip was a time of reflection for some who aren’t LDS, but wanted a new experience.
“This was a life-changing experience,” explained Brook Bonner, a nonLDS youth who came at the invitation of her best friend. “I was tired, my muscles ached, with my stomach growling and the pounding sun on my back. Before Trek, I thought I could do anything, but now I know it. I can truly believe if I set my mind to something, I’ll be able to achieve it.”
Uniting families, uniting community
Sixteen-year-old Daniel Abramson, of Bellevue, wrote in his journal that the lasting friendships he made were a great part of the experience.
“The biggest thing was I came to realize we need to stay together as families and communities. We need to unite, now more than ever, if we want to prosper for the future,” he wrote. “We need to pick each other up when we fall, and we need to just keep going, putting one foot in front of the other.”
The LDS church plans to start preparing in 2012 for Trek ’13, and it will once again be open to youths and adults.
Sarah Gerdes: firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.