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27 June 2009

the trek

Where to begin? I guess a little bit of background would be a good place.

Most everyone who knows me knows I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. A Mormon. And if you didn't know before, you do now. Anyway, there is a rich history associated with my church, full of persecution and faith and obstacles and more faith. (If you are interested in a much better and complete history of my church, go here) And a big part of that history was the trek west to the Salt Lake Valley. After the official organization of my church in 1830, the members were forced to move around a lot because of persecution, and in 1846 were finally forced out of the United States. Thus began the exodus west to find a place no one else wanted, where no one would hurt them or force them out of their homes anymore. And that place was the Great Salt Lake Valley (basically, a desert). However, at the same time there were missionaries (just like today!) sent out, and those sent to England (and some other European countries) were very successful. Back then, all the members were called to join together in one place, so those were baptized in other countries basically sold everything they had to go to the United States to join the other members of their church there. But once the members moved to the Salt Lake Valley, it proved to be a huge obstacle for most. They were very poor, and barely had the means to make it to the U.S., let alone all the way west. Which meant a wagon and team of oxen were out of the question. So they scraped together what money and supplies they could and bought or built handcarts: a little square container with two wheels and a frame in front that you would use to pull it yourself. And they went west, pulling their own supplies and possessions. Unfortunately, in addition to the obvious hardships traveling like this has, many of the handcart companies left late in the season and ended up traveling in the winter. Many, many died on the trek west and today they still serve as an example to us of faith and fortitude. So many gave their lives for what they believed.

So, this summer the youth of this area of my church had the opportunity to re-enact part of the handcart trek. Obviously, we're in a different part of the U.S., so our topography and climate is different, but they were still able to get a little feel of what it was like to travel with a handcart. I went as a photographer and took a lot of photos, but it was TOUGH so I must admit, they aren't my best. After the first couple of miles into it I went into survival mode:) And I'll let you know, I call it a re-enactment, but it wasn't a true re-enacment. We were all dressed like pioneers from the 19th century, but only to an extent: we all wore our own underwear and tennis shoes and I highly doubt there was a single corset. And we had kool-aid and tents and porta-potties and 4-wheelers to cart the sick and injured out. But I'm sure we looked crazy enough to the people who would drive by on the few parts we were hiking down the road.

It was in the 90s all three days and HUMID and really muddy because it had rained a lot the days leading up to it. And there were CRAZY obstacles those kids had to work around, like hills (and hills and more hills), and logs, and switchbacks, and a 4 foot drop, and creeks. And honestly, before I went I wasn't too worried about the physical side of it. I mean, I'd been jogging in the mornings and walking a lot, and I'd been on my fair share of hikes and death marches (really really hard backpacking trips). Well, I could not keep up with these kids. I would start out in the front, and slowly work my way to the back as one handcart after another would start to run me over. They were incredible. Not only could I not keep up with them (granted, I was carrying a very heavy camera and a bunch of other stuff, while they carried nothing and took turns pushing or pulling, which is a little easier than straight up carrying stuff) they tackled each obstacle like it was nothing. The last day they had to deal with some switchbacks and then the 4 foot drop. And they breezed right through them so fast they were forced to take a long break so they wouldn't get to the "valley" before their families were there to greet them. So even though I struggled and was completely exhausted every night, I'm so glad I went. It really was an incredible experience.

And now for some pictures...

They started in "Nauvoo," which is the city on the east bank of the Mississippi in Illinois that the original Mormon pioneers left from. One of the most recognizable features of Nauvoo is the temple there (which was actually burned as they left, but was rebuilt a few years ago) and they actually built one out there in the wilderness of the Cherokee Scout Camp. It was so neat and helped to set the mood (although we did not burn this one).
And an example of what we were hiking through. It was all over our legs and hems and hands and bums.
My adorable sister. And that's actually my other sister in the greenish dress that she's looking at.
The wheel of one of the handcarts.
Notice the mud? And it got worse as we kept going.
We had our dinner out of dutch ovens the first night. YUM. Everything tastes good out of a dutch oven.
Here is what a handcart looks like.
We even got to witness some spectacular sunsets out there in the wilderness.
And did some folk/square dancing. This is one of my favorite photos: I love the girls expression and the yummy light.
Here is one of the hills. This one literally made my jaw drop when I saw it. They had to attach a rope to the handcart and wrap it around a tree at the top to get them up it.
And here are the "badlands." THey were trekking over small logs and stuff. In direct sunlight. Man, were they troopers.
And here is the gator. After the first two days I was beat. And not sure I would make it another day. So I got to ride in this to as far as it could go and only had to hike about a half mile to the creek with the drop-off where they wanted me to take photos. It was so nice. If I do this again, I'm going to insist on them doing this everyday. Not because I'm a complete pansy, but so they get better photos. When we'd get back to camp I had no energy to move, let alone muster up the creative energy necessary to take great photos. And if I hadn't gotten a ride the last day, there would be no "if" I do this again, it would be an "I'm NEVER doing this again."
The pretty sky. And fun with the fisheye. Sorry for the ginormous watermark in the way.

And here is one of the many logs they had to maneuver those carts over.

So I hope that gave you an idea of what I did and why I did it. They're making a movie of the whole experience for the reunion in August; hopefully they'll put it online so everyone can see!

Oh, and here is a link to the article about it that was in the paper.


  1. awesome. i teared up just reading about this and remembering my pioneer trek as a youth. it's a really powerful experience - and i think you captured it so well. those photos are gorgeous. and i love the square dance photo too!

  2. I remember my trek as a youth too. It was tough indeed. Loved your photos.