Terry and Marguerite Stephens

Pioneer Trek 2016

Earlier this month, I shared some photos from our Pioneer trek which my wife and I participated in with members of our community in celebration and recognition of the debt we owe to our pioneer ancestors.  Some of you wanted to know how such an event is organized and accomplished.  This post is in answer to that question.

The event Marguerite and I participated in included nearly 400 people trekking about 30 miles in 3 days by hand cart in the wide open wilderness on the border of Utah and Wyoming.  Hundreds of other similar treks are conducted every year all over the United States and other countries with virtually no media coverage of these very interesting and uplifting events. This account I am giving is taken from our personal experience, but is not unlike the accounts of others who have participated in these treks in their own communities.  Here is how it was done in our community:

You need to have a small community of around 500 families or so, all of whom want the best for their teen age children.  Then you need to find about 300 youth between the ages of 14 to 18 to be willing to go pull heavily loaded hand carts in whatever weather conditions nature provides on dusty roads, up and down hills, while wearing pioneer era clothing consisting of long clothing, big hats or sun bonnets and using NO personal electronics for the duration of the event.

You need to find some busy married couple (preferably young grandparents) who have other work, family and church responsibilities, to devote a year of their “spare time” to organize the whole project.  They put together a master plan based on a pattern from earlier similar events.  They set up a web site, put together an all-volunteer unpaid organization drawn from members of this small community to publicize and promote the event, provide for logistics, equipment, sanitation, medical and emergency services, food, cooking, fun, games, programs, fireside devotionals, mass transportation to and from the event site and a plan for keeping track of the massive volume of personal belongings as all these people pick up and move from place to place.

Next, you must find over 30 sufficiently healthy and fit married couples who are willing to leave their own families at home in the care of others while they miss several days of work so they can fill the roles of a “Ma and Pa”  to 8-10 teen agers whom they probably don’t even know. They must also be willing to devote considerable time, money and effort to attend pre-event training seminars and to buy or borrow a significant amount of equipment and supplies.

You must put these “families” together in such a way that they are a good balance of younger and older, male and female, large and small and then hope that they will endure living together in very close quarters for 3-4 days.  More than likely, these “brothers and sisters” have never met each other before or have only seen these new siblings at school or church occasionally.

You ask a well-seasoned and respected medical doctor and his wife to service all the “port-a-potties” and keep them stocked and clean with 400 people using them day and night; and they gladly accept the invitation! You find a successful business man and his wife who have their eldest daughter getting married that summer and have a humanitarian trip to Kenya already in their plans just a few weeks after this event to organize the food and cooking committee; and they accept the request! You ask trained and certified EMT’s and medical professionals to walk with the hand carts while carrying heavy back packs filled with first aid supplies to be on hand to provide first aid and to make crucial medical decisions with life and death consequences; and they accept the responsibility gladly without pay! You ask people in your small community to donate the use of their trucks, trailers and equipment and to load and unload them multiple times, day after day, in the heat of the summer sun; and they cheerfully accept the request! You ask for donated photography and videography services, expecting the volunteers to do it for free, but also to walk along with the trekkers while carrying their equipment under the hot sun and still not miss recording the events before and after each day’s trek. They not only enthusiastically accept this “once in a lifetime” offer, but kindly let a youthful trek participant who happens to be intrigued with all this special equipment join in the fun and help out!

All in all, you need 60 or so unpaid Ma’s and Pa’s and 40-50 additional unpaid support staff, most of whom have very busy lives and demanding occupations and family responsibilities to accept these “invitations”. They all gladly accept the challenges and responsibilities at their own expense. You expect and invite the ecclesiastical leaders of the community to come walk with the trekkers to show support and to provide their wisdom and experience to the effort; and you know before even asking that they will be there.

The community itself must be willing to offer sufficient donations and charitable offerings to cover the expense of food, transportation, sanitation, hand cart rental etc. so that there is no cost to the youth who wish to participate. They do this willingly even though most of them don’t have youth of this age in their own families.

You also rely on the good will and services of volunteer retired senior “missionary” couples who pay their own way to live “on site” at these trek venues.  The “calling” of these missionary couples is to build hand carts and to keep them in good repair and ready to go for many trekking groups all through the summer.  These “old people” plot out and mark multiple trek routes and trails though the wide open wilderness and choose favorable sites to set up camp.  They walk with the trekkers at the front to set a good pace and to offer wise and experienced advice. I walked with them and found them to be both remarkable and inspirational as we discussed their “mission.”

Now if all of this seems to be a little too overwhelming and miraculous or just plain impossible to accomplish on your own, there is a much easier way for you to let your children or youth participate in such an event.  Perhaps you think your community is not of the type I have just described.  Yet nearly everyone who lives in a community which includes a congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (also known as Mormons) already lives in such a community and just doesn’t realize the advantages available to them because of it.  All you have to do is ask your local “Mormon” friends if you can just join them the next time they do an event like this. They won’t ask you to join their church first and they likely won’t ask for a financial contribution to cover related expenses, but they may ask you to be a part of the support staff and offer your skills and talents to the effort.  You will likely never get a better bargain!

The personal “high points” which I experienced by participating in this event are as follows:

#1  Participating in a modern day miracle and seeing it all come together with every person doing his or her part and unselfishly filling in any gaps in planning.

#2  Witnessing the joy and exuberance of over 300 youth playing “two lips on the prairie” (A long standing traditional “contact sport” on our community’s treks) and kicking up a dust storm while doing the “boot skootin’ boogie” all together at the same time. (The senior missionary standing next to me asked me how they knew how to do that as he and his wife watched in amazement.  I replied “they don’t, but they’re sure having a lot of fun anyway!”)

#3  Watching in admiration and respect as the girls and women (including my own wife) pulled those heavily ladened hand carts all by themselves up a very long hill as the men and boys lining the way prayed for and even wept for their “sisters” and “mothers.” (This traditional trek component is meant to show that women, both past and present, have done and are doing many very hard things on their own out of necessity; and they deserve our admiration, respect and prayers.  Yes, we can and should help; but this event shows that they CAN DO IT ALONE if they must.)

#4  Getting to know and appreciate the talents and personalities of the wonderful members of our community whom we would not have otherwise had the pleasure of meeting and coming to love and know more intimately.

CONCLUSION:

The Fruit Heights Stake community 2016 trek was an example of modern day miracles which we as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have come to “take for granted” in our ward and stake congregations. To my knowledge, there is nothing like this anywhere in the world. It is a pure example of both the spirit and embodiment of the concept of “Zion,” which in our society means “The pure in heart” and that all are equal before God. It means “a community united in faith and love for each other.” My wife, Marguerite, and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to take an active part in this and to witness the miracle as it unfolded to our view!

Terry and Marguerite Stephens