Church members take pioneer trek

<p>Madison Garrett, Katelyn Rickords, Siobhan Holman and Chase Spratling struggle to keep a handcart from rolling down a steep hill during a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Pioneer Trek near Plymouth, Washington.</p>

More than 100 area youths went without cell phones and iPods during a summer educational experience that included trudging nearly 20 miles through sand and sagebrush.

Held the end of June, 104 youths and 42 adults members from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Pendleton, Milton-Freewater and Walla Walla participated in a Pioneer Trek.

Going over journals and pioneer history, the group reenacted what their ancestors may have experienced coming over the Oregon and Mormon trails. Beginning in 1846, the Mormon Trail from Nauvoo, Illinois, brought thousands of church members to their new home in the Great Salt Lake Valley in Utah.

Participants were divided into “companies” and then into “families“ of 10 to 12 people — each with a 20-square-foot wooden handcart to pull. The original Handcart Pioneers, emigrant members of the Mormon church, couldn’t afford teams of oxen or horses to pull wagons. They pulled their belongings in specially designed handcarts.

Dressed in period clothing helped make the experience more real, like most of their predecessors, they wore the same clothing for the entire journey.

However, there were a few things the modern pioneers enjoyed that their ancestors didn’t. They were able to take some personal items — whatever they could fit in a five-gallon bucket. Also, there were sunglasses, sunscreen, first aid supplies and the coveted cans of insect repellent.

The Trail Boss was John Rowley, president of the Walla Walla LDS Stake, whose ancestors were handcart pioneers. Pendleton residents Bret and Karilee Barfuss, Matthew and Sarah Yoshioka, and Craig and Melanie Contor were “ma” and “pa” of three of the families. Their duties included watching over the youths to make sure they stayed hydrated and took good care of their feet. A camp trailer traveled behind the group to provide medical care and a refuge from the heat.

The weather provided a varied experience, including rain, a strong wind and abundant sunshine. At night, they camped beneath the stars, danced, sang, played games, visited and made new friends.

After pulling and pushing the heavy carts up and down hills, they were covered in dirt from head to toe, had bug bites, blisters and a much better understanding of what their pioneer ancestors endured.

Many expressed joy when seeing the green grassy area that signaled the end of their journey — taking off their shoes and feeling the cool grass on their feet.

At the beginning of the trek, participants were encouraged to leave their current problems on the trail and overcome things that were getting in the way of becoming closer to Jesus Christ. At the end of the trek, the group held a devotional meeting.   

Those who participated said it was one of the hardest things they had ever done, but also one of the most rewarding. Karilee Barfuss described the trek as an insightful, learning adventure.

“It helped us gain a better understanding of what the pioneers endured because of their faith in the gospel and the desire to follow the prophet,” she said.

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