Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Our Adventures in Trekking, Part Two

Part One is HERE.

On day two we had much less hiking planned. And boy was that a good thing. After having slept on pine cones and eating a quick breakfast, it was time to head out again. We'd barely made it past our campsite when the men were called away to the Mormon Battalion. Yep, we were really trying to recreate the toughest moments of pioneer trek history. Granted, our Sweetwater crossing was more muddy than freezing cold and it only lasted about twenty yards, and our nights weren't freezing cold, but the trek committee was trying to help us get something out of the whole experience. They wanted us to think of those that went on before us and had to make huge sacrifices so that we can now live in comfort. So in the morning of our second trek day, all of the men were taken away from us. This was symbolic of the men that were lost along the way-- either to the Mormon Battalion, to illness, or to death. There were many handcart families that had only women as leaders. These mothers, sisters, and aunts had to band together to keep going over the 1300 miles to get to Zion.

We had a small devotional where we talked about the pioneer women who went before us. So many women went as the head of their family, many came as single women, and many more lost husbands along the way. They then, had to do all of the physical pulling of the handcarts as well as the cooking that went with trekking. We got to hear the story of Emily Hill who crossed the plains with her sister Julia. They had joined the Church in England and were disowned by their family. Before leaving on a ship for America, Emily was given a blessing where she was told that, "she should write in prose and in verse and thereby comfort the hearts of thousands." Well, she and her sister helped one another get through their trek and sometime later, Emily married and wrote a poem that would eventually be known by virtually every LDS woman in song version-- As Sisters in Zion. When she first wrote it, however, instead of the first line reading, "As sisters in Zion, we'll all work together. . ." the original version read, "As sisters in Zion, we'll all pull together. . . " That song has always been one of my favorites, a celebration of women's strength and this united sisterhood, but after hearing about its origins, it has made it that much more of a meaningful song for me.

That was the end of the easy part of our morning, however. After that, we had to get back together with what was left of our families, and pull our handcarts up a steep hill for half a mile. Since I only had two daughters, we had two women volunteers jump on to help with our cart. And I am not kidding you when I say that hill was steep. The first couple of handcarts had the right idea and they just jaunted up the hill as quickly as they could. Unfortunately, our handcart was stuck behind a company that stopped a few times along the way. Let me tell you, it is not easy to get a packed handcart moving from a stationary position on a hill.

And where were the men in all of this? They also had a devotional where they talked about women, our importance, and how we are to be treated as princesses, because that's how our Father in Heaven sees us. And yet, at this juncture, they were not allowed to help us physically. They had to stand by on the sides of the road. They were allowed to whisper encouragement, that was all. They also hummed. They hummed the tune to "Come, Come, Ye Saints" (Make sure to select "words with music" before hitting play or listen to it here).

That is another song that has been a favorite of mine for years. I first grew to love it when I took classes at BYU that taught about the early history of the Church. It represented the hopes and dreams and realities that the early pioneer saints had to face when crossing the plains. One verse reads:
And should we die before our journey’s through, Happy day! All is well! We then are free from toil and sorrow, too; With the just we shall dwell! But if our lives are spared again To see the saints their rest obtain, O how we’ll make this chorus swell, All is well! All is well!
These early pioneers realized that not all that left on their journey would make it to their destination. Many would fall along the way, and yet they each made the choice to stick with their faith and make their best efforts to make it westward, no matter what they had to sacrifice. (That's dedication. If you want to learn more about the history of that hymn and hear modern renditions of it, there is a podcast HERE.)

So, as if I wasn't feeling emotional enough thinking about all of those early women who didn't have the extra help of a man with their handcart, I nearly lost it passing these men and boys humming and whispering to us, "You can do it", "You're doing great."or, "It's just a little further." Each of the young men and leaders that were standing there looking on had pained looks on their faces. Some boys apparently tried jumping in to help out, only to get pulled away. Our group of five got nearly to the top when one of the girls from my ward, Emily, came running down the hill, worn out from getting her cart up the hill. She could hardly speak, she was still so winded, but she went ahead and started pushing our handcart as well.

The women's pull was hard work. But it was also one of the most spiritual aspects of the trek. We women learned about our pioneer heritage, and we got to see that we could do hard things. The men, in turn, not only learned how strong we are, but many of them realized just how much they wanted to help us and how they respected us for doing what we did without complaint and without crying.

Huffing and puffing, but making it.
If you'll notice in the picture above-- I had to tuck my skirt and apron into the top of my skirt. The hill was so steep that I kept stepping on my skirts. And, don't we look awesome? :)

We got a break after that for about thirty minutes. That's when some of the girl's broke down and cried. Not my girls. We were tired, but thrilled that we did it, that that monumental hurdle was now behind us. We just tried to relax as much as we could before moving on. The boys all jumped up to help when we had to push off again, but we still helped later in the day. (Even after a lot of joking the day before about how after the women's pull, us girls were done.) It just felt like the right thing, to keep pulling, to keep helping, to work together as a trek family.

As an aside, Jon claims that our small band seemed to have the least trouble getting up the hill. He says that there were some groups of girls and women who had 9-12 people on their carts, and they really looked like they were struggling. To that I told him, "Maybe we should have made it look like harder work so that we would have had more help." But it does somehow feel like more of an accomplishment to have done it with so few.

That whole day seemed to be much more toned down after that. It was still over five miles of pulling that handcart over a few more hills, and down a long steep one, but we had a couple of breaks along the way. On one break, we were told a couple of stories of those that didn't make it to the end of the trek. Since we were each walking for a pioneer, they then handed out red hearts with the pioneers' names that didn't make it. Our jokester Tristen was one of the ones that died on the trek. He was trekking for George Padley, who was the sweetheart of Sarah Franks. Their story was one of the ones featured in 17 Miracles. (PS, if you want to cry, go see that movie.) So until we stopped for lunch, all of those that had "died" were not allowed to interact with the rest of their trek family. They couldn't push or pull the handcarts, and they couldn't talk to us. They had to just walk silently behind our cart. We weren't sure how well Tristen would do at this at first, but he was actually a great dead person. If he needed to communicate something with us, he was very adept at doing so with hand gestures and faces.

On our next break were greeted with freshly cut watermelons and the Pony Express.

Every child on the trek was given a surprise letter written from home. Well, one of our sons knew it was coming, but almost no one else did. It was interesting to see everyone's reactions. Our Sam took his letter from home and sat a little ways off from the group where he could quietly read what his parents had to say. Tristen got all excited, I think it was the biggest surprise of all for him to get a letter from home. And from what we could see, his folks went all out formatting it and adding a few small photos.

After everyone read their letters, they were then asked to write one home. Tristen, who shared on a few occasions how he hates writing, was the first to ask for a pen and sat down and started scribbling away. Two of our boys struggled with what to write, but Sam, Tristen, Kournee, and Mackenzie all took their papers and wrote real letters home. What a great surprise that will be for those moms and dads to receive a written response from their children.

We still had a little time after that, so I passed around small notebooks to our group and instructed them to write a few of their thoughts from trek down. I reminded them that it is because of the journals of the pioneer saints that we have a record of what transpired on the plains. I think it was a good practice for many of them.

We hit the road again after that and a couple of hours later, we arrived at our last camp. We had symbolically made it to the Salt Lake Valley. It was such a relief to know that most of our trekking was done with and that we'd have an evening to relax, to socialize, to play, and to eat well.

**I thought I'd get done writing about trek by now, but this post is already crazy long, so I'll save part three for later.

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