Keep on Trekkin’

Tomas is heading off on Trek this morning. If you’re a Latter-day Saint, chances are you know exactly what that entails. Well, maybe not *exactly*, but generally. I’ve never been on trek, so this is the first real experience someone in my direct family has had with it.

For those of you not in the know, Trek is a sort of modern day reenactment of the experience Mormon pioneers had in the 1800s as they went across the country with handcarts on their journey west. The first reenactment dates back to 1966, where Latter-day Saints from Arizona decided to travel out where the original pioneers journeyed, recreating the experience as closely as they could. This was followed by more efforts in the 70s, mainly with college-aged students. Journeys would go for almost 100 miles through the wilderness. (More information about the evolution of Trek can be found in this great op-ed.)

All of these people participating in trek reenactments made its spread almost inevitable. (If there’s one thing Latter-day Saints can be relied on, it’s to take a good idea and run with it farther than it was ever intended, sometimes to less-than-optimal results.) In 1997, with the 150th anniversary of the original trek, more and more youth groups followed suit, and today there’s an entire online guide for how to run a successful trek activity.

Originally, these treks were designed to be as historically accurate (and grueling) as possible. Youth were sometimes encouraged to fast during some of the experience, the thought being that having a difficult temporal experience might help them have an even stronger spiritual experience. That’s been back away from (perhaps due to instances where individuals have actually died on Trek), so Tomas is heading out in pioneer-era clothes, but he’s also stocked with regular hiking shoes, normal camping gear, and a good supply of Swedish Fish. I don’t believe they’re hiking more than 8 miles any one day, though that will be with a handcart in tow. (Participants are grouped into “families” of around 10 people each, and each family has its own handcart.)

I’m not entirely sure what I feel about trek. On the one hand, my ancestors were part of those original pioneers, and I really like the thought of doing something that shows us firsthand what they went through. I like historical reenactments, and the thought of doing one of those early treks in the 60s and 70s seems like it would be appealing. (I especially like the California Young Women’s group that did it, where they spent the year getting ready for it and really dove all in.) On the other hand, I feel like it’s gotten streamlined to the point where perhaps it’s no longer quite as impactful as it could be. There’s a fair bit of pressure to go on Trek, with youth strongly encouraged to participate. That makes me skittish. Ideally people go because they want to go, not because they’re expected to. (I did ask Tomas if this was something he wanted to do a few months ago, and he seemed game. I’m not sure how excited he was to go this morning when he left at 7am, however . . .)

In the end, I think it’s still a good idea, as long as it’s done well. My hope is he connects some with his history (even though he’ll be trekking through Northern Maine, a far cry from the plains of the midwest followed by the Rocky Mountains). Denisa and I were asked at the last minute if we could participate, but I already had three days of work meetings scheduled that I couldn’t get out of. I think I’d like to go at some point, just so I can see what it’s like firsthand.

Have you or your children done trek? What was your/their experience like? Tomas will be back Friday. It’ll be interesting to hear what he has to say . . .


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