Local youth dressed in pioneer attire, pushing and pulling heavy pioneer handcarts is not what someone might expect to teenagers to do on a hot summer weekend in Southern Virginia.
But unusual as it may seem, local youth from the Roanoke Virginia Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints left the comforts at home to participate in a three-day trek simulating the 1840s westward migration of the Mormon handcart pioneers.
On July 23-25, 2011 approximately 45 youth and 16 adults participated in the trek along Potts Mountain, in Craig County, Virginia.
The youth were divided into “families” with an assigned volunteer “Ma and Pa couple” to lead each group. Dressed in pioneer clothing and with no access to technology, (youth and leaders were encouraged to leave all “battery powered equipment, including cell phones, mp3 players, and flashlights, behind) they experienced a true pioneer lifestyle, similar to the lives of the original pioneers and settlers of the Western States.
President Hal Cragun of the Roanoke, VA Stake said, “We [hold the trek] so that every one would have the opportunity to learn and see how it was done… We all face uphill challenges. The trek helps us discover our strength to handle them.”
After a strenuous first day of pushing and pulling the handcarts eight miles, they stopped to set up camp. The youth will be gathered wood, built fires, cooked their own meals (ingredients provided in advance by the Church) and slept on the hard ground under simple, lean-to shelters or under the stars.
Before lights out, the youth and leaders were entertained by Church members who came up from Roanoke to provide music and a hoe-down with dancing. Afterwords, the “family” units had time to discuss their experiences, feelings, and knowledge gained.
The second day of trekking included pushing and pulling handcarts another 10 miles, including a painfully long 3/4ths mile uphill pull.
The youth were encouraged to pick a name of an original pioneer and learn the story of that person. Many of the youth picked a name of one of their own ancestors who crossed the plains.
And what about the food? Using old-fashioned Dutch ovens they’ll make stew and homemade bread drizzled with homemade butter and honey.
Saturday they walked one last tough uphill mile, arriving at the parking area where they were greeted by their parents and families, and a large, ready made lunch.