To explain a bit, we are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. In the 1830s our ancestors started to migrate towards the west of America to get away from persecution and so they could worship freely. On the way, these pioneers had many tough times. Mobs were everywhere, few people accepted their religion. Many died along the trail.
We decided to join in a reenactment pioneer trek to be able to understand a tiny bit of what they went through.
We went to Martin's cove in Wyoming. It was nice (80 in the daytime, 40 at night) and WINDY! The first day we camped at missionary village where the missionaries for the area stay. We saw plenty of antelope right up close, some ground squirrels, and huge bugs. Lots of rabbits too.
I think we were all a little nervous thinking of pulling the handcarts in the days to come. We kept ourselves busy with marshmallows and chat, and planning what would go in the handcarts.
The next morning we made pancakes, bacon, and eggs and started sorting what to bring. With 12 people (us and our friends) to one handcart we knew it would be a tight fit so we started whittling down. It came down to things like, well we don't need bowls for everyone so we'll just bring plates and forks...we can mix in the dutch oven instead of the mixing bowl, and just bring the whisk and pancake turner.
We thought we were set and drove down to the unloading area where we would fill our handcarts. As we drove in to the visitor's area Russ and I could feel the spirit so strongly. It was overwhelming. I started to cry as my heart continued to fill.
Seeing the handcarts brought forth the reality that they were TINY! There was no way that 12 people's stuff would fit in that little thing. I cried some more to mourn for the families that had to put all of their belongings in a cart, and travel thousands of miles...all because they wanted freedom of religion.
I started thinking of what we could leave behind and just couldn't think of anything except our pillows and our change of clothes. Then, the kids came up and asked me what was wrong. I told them, I just don't know how we're going to fit everything in this handcart. We have 1 cooler with food, 1 tote with kitchen and misc. things, and 1 small bucket or backpack for everyone, sleeping bags, blankets, and pillows, plus a jug of water.
The kids immediately had a solution, they would leave behind their blankets and pillows.
I said, guys, the ground is hard, you need your pillows. You won't sleep.
It's ok mom, we can do it!
Remember how cold it was last night? You'll need your blankets or you'll freeze.
It's ok mom, the pioneers did it, we can do it. You bring your blanket and pillow mom.
WOW, was that really my kids talking like that? More bawling, more thinking of the things the early pioneers gave up, more thinking of kids freezing at night on hard ground with no pillow. But, like they said, the pioneers did it, we can do it. I sent them to unload without pillows and blankets.
Just then we got the news that there would be a relay van that would take our tent, cooler, and totes as well as our camping stove or dutch ovens. What relief. I was still floating on air though, thinking of what my kids were willing to give up.
We took the handcarts to a line-up and visited the chapel to watch a short movie. It was very moving and again...we cried.
And then....................we're off. The first day we trekked about 4 miles total to get to the camp. The pioneers treked from about 5-25 per day depending on weather. It was a great trek, the men mostly pulled, there were some terribly steep hills and the kids all got behind the handcart and pushed and pushed to get up safely. We were thirsty, feeling the sun. Adam pulled the whole way with Russ, the other kids helped off and on.
I had this little vision of all of us singing pioneer songs and laughing and chatting the whole way but the truth of it is, we were going quickly, it was so hot, and the pulling and pushing was hard. We didn't talk too much.
When we got to the camp (prairie, a well, and outhouses) we had work to do in setting up the tents and sleeping stuff and getting dinner started. The first night we had sliced potatoes, onions, and hamburger in a dutch oven. We didn't eat till late because of the time it took to get everything up and going.
That night we listened to the bishop speak...more crying. Why do we cry when we feel emotions? Even the men were teary eyed as they let their hearts open to the spirit.
The night was so cold, even with our extra blankets. As I lay on the hard ground and tried to warm my feet in my sleeping bag I thought of the little children long ago. How frozen they would have been, they came through in the winter time. They had so little to warm them. They didn't have firewood to burn (it was a prairie, no trees) so they collected dried buffalo chips (poop) to burn for food. Sometimes the ground was so frozen and it was so late that they would stop and just lay the tent over themselves and go to bed.
Morning came and with it, the sun. It warmed up fast and we made oatmeal that morning, did the dishes, gathered our things for the day, and set out for a much longer trek. By the time we were done ... probably about 10-12 miles that day. We circled around and went into Martin's cove where the pioneers took shelter from the elements. The Spirit was so strong there. I could almost visualize where they camped.
I have to insert the story of Oscar here. There is a big white dog who the people say sees with spiritual eyes. He's still a dog, not reincarnated or anything like that, he caught a baby antelope for dinner and he peed on the bushes to mark his territory. But, they all say that he's been there for many years and he is the guardian of the camp. He chooses a trek group to walk with each day and he always chooses a family within that group who has come to the cove seeking spiritual insight or someone who needs help. We were quite pleased when he chose to walk with us the first day, However, it took me till the 3rd AMEN after praying for my family to have a spiritual experience, to be able to know the Lord Jesus Christ, and to have our baby at home kept safe, to realize that every time I closed the prayer and opened my eyes, there was Oscar right by my side. I thought it was cool but still thought it may be a silly coincidence.
At the cove we heard the story of the trees being chopped down to provide heat and energy (there were a few trees in the cove). One in particular was about a man who was told, rather gruffly, that he needed to help chop some trees down and work for the camp. He was ready to die and he didn't want to but he did, chopping furiously because of his anger towards the gruff man. It was so cold that night that he would have died, had he not kept himself warm chopping trees for the good of the camp. Then they told the kids, even if your mom or dad sounds like that sometimes, they know what is good for you and when they call you, don't ask why...just do it and do it quickly.
At the cove I prayed again that especially Andrew would be able to really know of the trials the pioneers went through for their faith, that he would be able to know Jesus, and that he would be able to appreciate his family. I knew that Alyssa and Adam would get the idea of this trek but I thought Andrew may just think it was a long, boring, hot walk.
As we walked out of the cove I noticed that Alyssa was missing. Being my most responsible child I didn't worry much and knew she would slow down to meet up later or catch up with us. But, Andrew was very worried. He said he'd go back and look for her so I told him he could go to the end of our group and then come back if she wasn't there. Well, he did and he came running back as fast as he could, bawling and crying and telling me Alyssa wasn't there. I can only imagine what he was thinking because we'd just heard all of those stories of siblings dieing of being lost, frozen, eaten by wild animals, etc.
I asked him if he wanted to pray for her and he nodded. So, we prayed and guess who showed up after we opened our eyes, you guessed it, it was Oscar. Only this time he didn't just walk near us, he walked right up to Andrew and continued to walk with him (Andrew's hand on his back) for 1/2 an hour until we caught up to Alyssa at the lunch gathering. As soon as Andrew saw Alyssa, Oscar took off after a rabbit.
If you ever ask Andrew what his favorite part of the trek was he'll tell you it was when Oscar walked with him.
The walk was long but our hearts were so full. About in the middle of the day we had the opportunity to cross the sweetwater as our ancestors did in the past. It was running very high that day so we chose to take the handcarts over the bridge (built recently) and just take the family through the river. A rope stretched from side to side. It was cold but mostly I didn't feel it because I was thinking of the kids crossing. How in the world would we cross and not be swept down the river? As Andrew started to go under I reached for him and pulled him up by the collar. I had help. I didn't feel his weight at all. As soon as the helper on the other side grabbed him that's when I felt his weight. I felt myself starting to go under and my flip flops (I had put them on to cross) slipped on the mud and floated down the river. My feet were caught in the current and floating on top of the water. It took everything I had to use my hands and keep moving on the rope. Visions of the pioneers crossing river after river were playing in my head. We were able to get out and warm up, they were not.
I'll mention here also that Adam pulled the whole way home.
When we were finally in camp and set up we started dinner...chicken and rice, rested a bit, and had time to sit and think. It was all so surreal to be in the middle of nowhere.
We were able to listen to President Lorimer that night for a devotional. His stories were great and we loved the singing.
In the morning we packed up, had corncakes, bacon, and eggs, and set off for "home". It was another 4 mile day and not too bad. Adam and Alyssa pulled the WHOLE WAY HOME. Andrew pulled a long time, pushed a long time, then petered out and the last mile we let him ride.
It was a welcome site to see the cars but just weird. All of a sudden we were back in the real world, cushy seats, air conditioning, a leftover juice box in the back, there was such a finality to it all. We looked back and thought how nice it would be to just stay there.
We decided to stay for a while and explore Independence Rock where several names are carved into the mountain. We also went through Rattlesnake pass and saw Devil's gate. Then, we actually had to start for home.
It was such a wonderful experience. I can't put into words the closeness we felt with God, our pioneer ancestors, and the earth. I don't think I'll ever be able to put it into words. But, we are looking forward to coming back and I sure hope that it will be soon.