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Walking in Muddy Footsteps

When Mormon pioneers traveled across Iowa in various waves between 1846 and 1868, they encountered cold, heat, snow, rain, mud, and a host of other challenges depending on when they traveled and how. Many walked, pulling handcarts with all of their belongings, because they could not afford to buy wagons. When about 70 teenagers and 35 adult leaders set out in June 2017 to reenact a handcart trek in southeastern Iowa, they did not know how hard it might be or what they would encounter. As it turns out, they faced heat, torrential rain, winds, fatigue, and blisters much like their progenitors had--but they also learned that it was worth it today just as it was then.

To recreate the setting, the teens were asked to dress in "period clothing" or at least something resembling what people in the 1840s might have worn, and to only bring what would fit in a 5 gallon bucket for a three-day, nearly 30 mile trek. They were divided into groups to function like a family and were led by an assigned couple who would be their "ma and pa" for the trek. Each group was assigned to one of ten handcarts, which weighed about 150 pounds (perhaps 450 pounds when full of belongings) and had to be pushed and pulled by the trekkers--through mud, up more than a dozen hills (totally 700 feet in elevation), with heat indices above 95°F. One youth suffered from heat exhaustion and was taken to a hospital as a precaution, but most youth only managed to get soaked, a little sunburned, blistered, and smelly and dirty (no shower for three days). Singing hymns to pass the time and find courage to move on, many would repeat their motto throughout the day: "No sacrifice, no victory."

Evenings provided time for dancing, games, spiritual discussions, and rest. One participate said they were all overjoyed at the end of the trek and had definitely gained a greater perspective about what their early Church members had to endure to find a place to worship Jesus Christ freely and without persecution. They also learned they can endure and do more than they thought possible.

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