I was asked by the stake to be a “big brother” for Trek this year. “What’s a big brother?”, you ask. Well, it’s basically just a helper. All the youth on trek are divided up into handcart groups with a “ma” and “pa” (husband and wife couple) and adult “big brother” for each cart. The ma and pa are in charge of the handcart and the big brother basically just helps out, which suited me just fine. I had never been on a pioneer trek before. They weren’t en vogue when I was in Young Men. You have to be 14 by the beginning of June in order to go on Trek so that meant just Emily and I were going. I found a trek-worth hat at the local ranch store and Nancy made me up some pioneer shirts to wear. Nancy kind of over-estimated my size when she made the shirt so I end up with a big billowing shirt in the Wyoming wind for 4 days but they looked fairly “pioneery” so it all worked out. Nancy also made a pioneer dress for Emily that looked great.
The trek took place somewhere out on the plains of Wyoming and Utah at a church property where they ranch cattle, sheep, and youth groups. We got there, loaded up our handcarts and set off on the hike to the first campground.
At the beginning the kids were excited to pull the handcart and we moved along at a brisk pace – everyone all bunched up together along a grassy plain. After a few hours, we left the beautiful grassy plain and hit a dusty trail. Then the excitement of the handcart wore off and the chore of watching out for cow pies and leg-breaking gopher holes became the order of the day.
Water was supplied for the whole group by a big water trailer called “the buffalo” that was towed by a truck ahead of the group to the next break or campsite. Each handcart also carried water on the cart. The buffalo water was warm and highly chlorinated though so it tasted and smelled pretty bad. Our Pa had filled up the the cooler with a huge block of ice that kept the water cold and diluted the chlorine for the first few days so I was eternally grateful for it. By day 3 the ice was gone though so we were stuck with warm chlorine buffalo water.
For the most part we followed along a dusty dirt road that crossed over streams via culverts but on the first day we came to a little ditch that had water that we got to cross. It was fun to watch everyone try and figure out the best way to get the carts across the ditch.
There were two strategies – go fast through the ditch with momentum so you could get up the other side easier or go slow through the ditch to minimize splashing. We took the fast approach with our cart and it worked out well. Some guys carried the girls across the stream on their backs, some people took of their shoes and socks and waded across and some people just trudged through it and got their boots wet.
I suppose for the true pioneers the fun of crossing streams with handcarts soon wore off; especially once the weather got cold. Still, for us it was a fun little experience and everyone had a good time splashing around in the water.
Most of the handcart groups slept under their cart the first night. They tilted the cart up in the air and then hung a tarp from the cart to make a big type of tent – it looked like a nomad tent. The big brothers didn’t sleep with the youth or the mas and pas – we had our own tents. In some cases, the kids didn’t even bother with hanging tarps on the handcarts but just slept right out in the open on a tarp laid on the ground.
We weren’t allowed to have open fires for cooking but we did have “cooking platforms” which were foiled covered boards that we could put coals on and cook with a dutch oven. I’m never so hungry as I am when out camping. I’m not sure why but for some reason food always tastes great when you’re on a campout.
The next evening turned out to be freezing cold with strong winds and rain that turned to sleet. They broke out some big propane heaters, set up tents for everyone (they had brought the tents along just in case it was too cold to sleep under the stars), and basically everyone just focused on keeping warm and trying to get a little sleep as the winds blew during the night.
Day three turned out to be hot and dusty. Each morning various handcart groups had to do chores like cleaning out the porta-potties, making sure the camp was clean, helping load and unload the food trucks, etc. The porta-potties were all on a big trailer that was pulled ahead to the next break site and campsite each day, along with a big refrigerated truck that had the food for the trip, and the aforementioned buffalo. Before we could set out on the trail each morning we had to make sure that the potty truck and the other support vehicles had passed on ahead of us.
Day three was the day for the women’s pull. I guess the theory is that some pioneer women had to pull their handcarts all by themselves, or with their kids, because their husbands had died or were otherwise unavailable. The women’s pull was supposed to give the women a taste of what it would be like to have to cross the plains by themselves. All the men lined up along the hill and watched as the women huffed and puffed and pushed and pulled the handcarts up the hill. It was hard enough pulling them up hills with all the men and boys helping out so it certainly was a difficult task for the women to pull them up by themselves.
As we watched the women pull the carts up the hill, the first instinct was to want to jump in and help them but we weren’t allowed to. We had to just watch in silence as they struggled up the hill. It certainly gave me an appreciation for how hard the pioneer women worked to cross the plains.
Day four was a short trip in the morning from the campsite to the end of the trail where we unloaded the carts and loaded everyone into busses for the trip home. It was a fun trek and I’m glad I went. I got to know some of the youth in the stake and although camping and handcart pulling isn’t my favorite thing I was able to gain an appreciation for the work and sacrifice of the early pioneers. Both Anne and Caroline will be old enough to go in 2015 when the next trek is scheduled so perhaps I’ll get another opportunity to go again. I’ll be fine as long as there isn’t a “men’s pull” up that same steep hill.