Cartwheels rumble, the sun beats down and occasionally metal plates or cups clank and rattle as they fall to the ground. Latter-day Saint youth wipe sweat from their brows and fan their faces with wide-brimmed hats as a break is called. These modern pioneers, dressed in 19th century clothes, crowd around water jugs seeking relief from the hot summer sun and the dusty road they have traveled.
For four days, a group of 100 Vancouver Island teenagers re-enacted the epic pioneer journey of the Mormons crossing the American plains. They walked for 39.2 kilometres along logging roads and trails near Port Alberni pulling all their camping gear in two-wheeled handcarts. Along the way they crossed creeks, climbed hills, endured heat and dust and even crossed a raised train bed that, coming on the last day of the trek, must have felt like climbing a mountain.
“If we don't do things that are tough, we won't know what tough is,” Trail Boss Harry Slobodan told the youth as they assembled after the first day of walking. “We hope you will gain confidence, make new friends and learn to work together as a group,” he said.
“We want you to learn how strong you are,” Nanaimo Stake President Collin Van Horne told the youth. “We want you to understand what you are capable of…and that's anything!”
The trek started near Browns Bay on Central Lake for a 12.2 km march on the first day along the Ash River Road before making camp the first night. On the second day, the young people walked 15 km. to Beaver Creek area and made camp in the back acres of the Van Horne family's farm. The next day they participated in traditional competitions like sack races, stilt walking, caber tossing, hay bale stacking, two-handed sawing and, of course, cart racing.
A special part of the in-camp day involved a Pony Express delivery on horseback of letters to the youths from their real families. They then spent some time reading the letters, writing in their journals and quietly reflecting. The evening was spent at a hoedown involving traditional 19th Century style dances and singing.
On the fourth day, the handcarts were packed up again and they set off down the Log Train Trail for the last 12 km of the trek to the Mclean Saw Mill National Historic Site where they climbed aboard the Alberni Pacific steam train for a well-deserved ride back into Port Alberni and their families.
The trek sends the message to the youth that they are able to accomplish great things if they set their minds to it. They also learn to work as a team and get along with others. The sacrifice that the early pioneers made to establish their religion is also brought home to the youth of today in a very real way.
“We hope they gain an appreciation of the sacrifice that the Mormon pioneers made as they migrated to the Great Salt Lake Valley,” Slobodan said. “An experience like Trek strengthens and educates. If the youth are strong and faithful, the Church benefits with future leaders and dedicated members. The Church also emphasizes the need for people to be helpful, contributing members of society and the Trek experience promotes that idea.”