Last fall my wife and I were asked to help out with the Trek experience, which is a reenactment of the early handcart pioneers making the journey from Nebraska to Salt Lake City.
From the period of 1846 to 1868 less than 10% of the total immigrants into Salt Lake used handcarts, consisting of ten total companies. We remember two of those companies, the Willie and Martin handcart companies because they met with tragedy, more than 210 of the 980 pioneers in that company did not make it across.
These Saints were poor, the church was poor, as what was so common in our early history we were striving to build Zion in our poverty and God was with us. Their stories and sacrifices continue to inspire us to this day. We have church history sites in Wyoming in Martin’s Cove where these Saints sought shelter from a brutal winter storm awaiting rescue. And many stakes across the world, commemorate these sacrifices by a re-enactment we refer to as Trek.
Last fall, when our former bishop and now young men’s president, John Jones visited my wife and I to see if we would help out with trek, my thought was.. do you actually know my camping history? what I do for a living? That I spend my days sitting on a computer. We’ve tried to camp over the years with our family, but we always do so with a bathroom nearby. We gone on family hikes, but we have a history of turning around early.
I’m going to give you a brief summary of the experience from my perspective. I was asked to be a captain, helping John Jones navigate the hiking and communicating between the families and the leadership.
Going in we knew there it was going to be unseasonably cold and that there might be rain and maybe even snow. Normally on trek the kids sleep under a canopy for some overhead protection from rain, but basically outside. The first adjustment was that they brought in 10-person tents, two for each family.
Thursday morning began, we got the families together to assemble the handcarts, load in their bucket with their clothes and their garbage bags on top holding their sleeping bags. Everything was tied down with a tarp. And we started the journey. The first day was going to be out long hike. We started our hike around 10:30am and expected to finish somewhere around 6 or 6:30pm. We hit some initial challenges almost immediately. Sleeping bags kept falling out on the bumpy trail, and families kept having to stop to make adjustments. We hit the spot for lunch which was at a fork. If we went left as planned, it would take us on a pretty long loop north of our camp where we would hit a road that would take us south back.
The plan was that we would go down the road for some distance and then turn around back to the fork and then take another road that would bring us back into camp cutting out a few miles and avoiding some pretty steep inclines.
When we got to the point where we thought we should turn around, we decided to ask the kids what they wanted to do. At this point it was about 3pm. Still pretty warm though with clouds. We could push through and potentially be out on the trail after dark. We collectively decided we should turn back. And that was a good decision because as we started the journey back, some hard winds started to bear down on us. When the winds started to die down a bit of rain started. Soon that rain turned into a wet snow and the trail got muddy. Our shoes picked up a lot of that mud.
We had intended to let the kids and the big brothers and sisters push the carts, but soon after the mas and pas jumped in. And then so did I. With a collective effort we made it into camp before the sun fell and before it got really cold. That night it got down into the 20’s but worse, the wind continued relentlessly through the night. Some of our tents weren’t strong enough to resist, some broke collapsing on the families inside. None of us slept very well because of the relentless noise.
We got up, had a hearty breakfast and made further adjustments. We pushed the handcarts with just the buckets. Some of the kids were not up for the second day hike. Some couldn’t push and just had to walk alongside. The hike was shorter and concluded by lunch when we were able to enjoy a day of activities. That night we had a beautiful fireside. And finished with an incredible hoedown.
On the third day, we hiked out. By then, our feet and legs hurt, some of us endured blisters. But we were in good spirits. And we had fun.
D&C 88:13 The alight which is in all things, which giveth blife to all things, which is the claw by which all things are governed, even the dpower of God who esitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things.
The assigned topic given to me was that God is with us when we do hard things. And yes, God is with us. He will strengthen us and comfort us and guide us. God was in that decision to turn around we did, so that we would not over-extend ourselves. But if we had made the opposite decision, God would have been with us as we worked through the cold and snow and darkness. God was with us that night when the winds were blowing our tents over and none of us could really sleep. But God was also with us the next night when the night was a little warmer and the winds were still and the night was quiet. On that second night, we had a beautiful fireside, Mattie Watson spoke about her connection to our handcart heritage. The stake presidency spoke. We had a beautiful music number in the cold. And then we all sang “I am a Child of God.” in the dark and in the cold and God was with us.
Then they asked the kids whether they wanted to finish the night with a hoedown or just go to bed. They got a mixed response, but some kids wanted the dance. A ma and pa on the trip brought instruments and in the cold played their viola and violin while the kids danced. I was too tired and sore to join them but I watched the joy and the energy. God was in the dancing and in the music.
And that last day when we all hiked out. Some of the kids were strong, others less so, but we all made it out. About half way we pulled off and the families found spots of ground and had a testimony meeting. I didn’t listen but I could that God was in that moment of reflection and testimony.
God is in the midst of all things, including the details of our lives. Especially when our lives our difficult and we need him the most.
In the name of Jesus Christ Amen.