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Horrible Wonderful Journey
I never made any vocal protests about going on the recreation of a Mormon pioneer handcart trek. Everyone was too excited about going or my going. My mother made a big deal out about how I was old enough to go. A March birthday doomed me for the April trek and summer born peers looked on jealously, each wishing she was sewing bonnets and hunting through thrift shores, looking for, hoping for, a dress or skirt a pioneer woman, of the mid to late 19th century, might of worn. The rattled of the sewing machine and the stories of my ancestors’ treks across the Mormon trail, had caught any of my protests in their optimistic death grip. After all, spending your three day weekend wearing pioneer clothes, calling an assigned group of strangers “family”, cooking your own food, sleeping in tents, not bathing or using anything modern, and, don’t forget, pulling a handcart, is one of the greatest and most fun experiences ever. If it rains on you, its bonus points; the real handcart pioneers trekked through snow and this event with 500 youths is about them.
I left my MP3 with my mom and left all connections to the outside world as I checked in and was handed a new name and family, Savage. I made a face, pulled the name tag over my hand and pushed my bonnet back on. Sometime in the one meal we won’t cook ourselves, a chilling wind blew in and all the cotton clad, Texan pioneers shivered even before the sun went down.
All 500 of us were called together to listen to a sermon given by none other than—Joseph Smith. Of course, leaders explained before Joseph Smith was martyred before the exodus to Utah, but he was the prophet people forsook their conformable homes in Europe and the United States to be mocked, beaten, frost bitten and, in some cases, killed for.
Brother Joseph spoke gently but loud enough so no one had to strain to hear him. But his speak didn’t last long for a blacken-faced man stormed up and with a nasty snarl yelled “Where’s Joseph Smith?” His mob friends burst from near trees, breaking wooden chair as they repeated the cry “Where’s Joseph Smith?” Joseph Smith spoke to the leader, pleading with them, and they took him, they took Brother Joseph, my second sister showed up, and the trek began.
I’ve heard the night march was only supposed to be a mile or two, three at the most. It wasn’t. It was five. Five very confused and dark miles. We camped in a field and finished the sermon (Not Joseph Smith this time) before turning in for the night.
The second day was cold, very cold. Who ever had brought a jacket put it on as we walked through mud. We stopped in a little meadow and played red rover before moving on to the river crossing.
We actually crossed the stream twice. At the first crossing, I was carried to the other bank by my oldest brother. The second time, I removed my shoes and socks and held my skirt up as a waded across, that time the other bank was 20 feet or so above the water. I felt a little like a rock climber as I grasped the rope and walked myself up, however, near the top, something happened and I lost my balance, nearly toppling over into the mucky water below but then, a hand reached out and catching me, steadying me and pulling me over the edge and on to the ground above. One of the 18 year old guys who had been helping people get up had seen me almost fall and reacted swiftly.
On the bank, Leaders had set up a pulling system to haul the hand carts up the steep slope. Men pulled on ropes while women and girls sat around, waiting for their families and carts to get up. I didn’t feel right, waiting and doing nothing, so I grabbed hold of a rope and helped heave the remaining carts up. The crossing went beautifully.
Not long after everyone and thing crossed the river and got up the slope and we had lunch, we stopped in another meadow, not to play red rover but because a man on horseback had ridden up. The Mexican war had started and all the boys were called to fight for a country that had expelled them from its bounders and denied them the rights it claimed they had. At this note, I took up the cart with my oldest sister. The wind had gotten much colder and pajama bottoms could be seen poking out from under skirts. My heart filled with gratitude for my mother who had insisted I bring gloves; otherwise, my hands would have been ice.
We girls pushed the carts up and down hills and around bends just like so many widows had done before us. The pathway before us was carved out of rock and it bent and twisted in ways a handcart is not made to do, not to mention the steepness of it threaten to crush the pullers with the cart behind them. Some of the male leaders were there with ropes to help maneuver the cart down the incline.
That was not the end. There appeared a sharp drop, a small brook with mud and then a turn and a steep rise. The men there said the first girls’ faces dropped when they saw the mud. As those girls passed through the water, they had created more mud as had the next group and the next. My family, the last in line, had a lot of greatly disturbed mud. I looked at my sister and asked her “Are you ready?” Of course she was. And then, we ran.
We all lay on the blanket after that night dinner, talking, until the call came out to attend the sermon. With much groaning, we headed to the fire site. The speaker spoke about the pioneers, specifically about the Willy and Martin handcart companies who were stuck in the Rockies in winters and would have died had Brigham Young not sent rescuers. She was reading an account from a dairy when she suddenly stopped, “Is that snow?” The air then filled with teenaged whimpers.
When the bugle sounded the next morning, calling us to arise and shine froth, I stayed in my sleeping bag, as did both of my sisters. Only the cry “Hot coca!” motivated us to groan and start to move. In the night, gallons of hot chocolate had been scavenged and hundreds of coats had been borrowed from the nearby church members to save these teenagers from the freak snow in a Texas April. We put on all the clothes we had, ate our breakfast, loaded our carts and walked on.
We came to a rocky slope up to a plateau in the afternoon and stopped. After a few second tones of people, male and female, adults and youths all wearing jeans and white shirts came down from the summit, the angels to bear us up. There were immense that I couldn’t even get a hand to the cart to help push.
Time came for us to walk the final leg of the trek. Those final few hours seeped laughter filled as we traveled to spot we had left the outside world at. We were greeted by our parents, food and a bluegrass band. My family exchanged phones numbers before each of us started on his or her way home.
I never have and never will regret that use of a three day week end. It was hard, draining, dirty, super cold, and totally amazing. Turns out Savage is a much better name than I originally thought it was. Levi Savage was trial guide who lead hundreds if not thousands of people to the Salt Lake Valley. It was an honor to share his name, even if it was just pretend. Last year, when local church leaders announced that trek would be held one year earlier than usual, no one was more excited than me. Plans went through my head about sewing two more trek outfits. But alas, a second trek was not in the cards for me. Don’t feel sorry for me, that one experience will stay with me forever.