Youth treks re-enact the faith-building experiences of the Mormon pioneers who journeyed to the Salt Lake Valley in the mid-1800’s. Leaving behind modern technology and comforts, today’s young trekkers experience firsthand the challenges of an earlier era.
Just four days before the start of their trek, Church youth organisers learned that the storms had washed away tracks, causing closures and damage to the trail chosen and mapped out in the Mount Remarkable National Park. “We had to find an alternate route to ensure the trek went ahead for the youth,” explained ‘trail boss’ Chris Castle. “We held emergency meetings as a Trek Committee and fasted and prayed for guidance and a miracle.” What followed was exactly that – a miracle!
“Suddenly, we had land owners who’d previously not allowed us access through their properties open their lands up to us at a day’s notice, and when we inspected the trails we found that they were unaffected by the wild weather even though they were not far from the original site,” Chris said.
With that faith rewarded, and in high spirits, the youth and their leaders headed north to the Flinders Ranges on the 4th October. Leaving home comforts and technology behind, they resolved in their hearts to experience – even in small measure – what the church’s 19th century converts underwent as they trekked from America’s Midwest to the Salt Lake Valley, fleeing persecution and suffering privation and loss in their faith-filled quest for religious freedom.
Small miracles are not unusual on trek, as it is designed to build faith through sacrifice, courage and sheer hard work. Dressed in 19th century clothing, and enduring the meagre fare that was the norm for the pioneer trail, the 56 youth pushed and pulled their handcarts – often uphill – along the 21-kilometre route.
The youth were divided into six families, with a ‘Ma and Pa’, and were give the name of an actual pioneer family whose journey had been recorded. Sixteen year-old Sebastian Trudgen of the Playford congregation said sharing the challenge with his Trek ‘family’ (the Hoyts) was a highlight and blessing.
“That’s my favourite memory from Trek – the way my family supported each other through our weaknesses and trials,” said Sebastian. “We sang, prayed and kept our spirits up.”
It was still hard. “Most of us were on the verge of collapse after each hill but there were easier parts, and people who weren’t pushing or pulling handcarts always kept a watch to see if anyone needed a break. We helped each other out.”
Rest for sore feet and blistered palms came at night time as tarpaulins were thrown over the handcarts to make rudimentary tents. Sebastian said it was hard to sleep on the first damp night, but then – another blessing – the weather fined up and the sun shone.
Julia Quince, 17, of the Golden Grove congregation considers the ‘woman’s handcart pull’ the hardest aspect of Trek – and the most rewarding. “It was so mind blowing: tackling the steepest hills on the trail, and we did it three times,” enthused Julia, about the re-enactment of the pioneer stories of women who had to push and pull their carts west alone. “It got harder each time but it was a really good feeling; pushing through, and encouraging each other. I absolutely related to the pioneer women, but I know when the men went off to war, they had this hardship each day, and we only had it for a short time. How challenging it must have been for them.”
This was more than an eye-opener for Julia though. “I know my faith definitely increased when I put my trust in the Lord as I was pushing up each hill. So many times, I didn’t think I had the strength but I kept going and the Lord helped me a lot. It increased my faith and my confidence too, because I now know I can keep going. I can overcome challenges.”
Both youth agreed that being away from the distractions of everyday life for the three days of Trek helped them spiritually, as did participating in the testimony meeting at the close of Trek.
“I really felt the spirit,” Sebastian said. “Everyone did. It was inspiring.”
In the words of President Brigham Young in the summer of 1847 when he and the first Mormon pioneers reached the Salt Lake Valley – they were in the right place!
Story and photographs courtesy of LDS Adelaide News, Juniia Montague and Gillian Trudgen.