MARSHALL - Teenagers in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have an opportunity every four years to reenact the Mormon pioneer travel west, and a number of local youth took part in this year's journey.
The sojourn begins in the middle of June, south of Casper, Wyo., and takes place over four days. Teens wear pioneer clothing and divide into "families" with married couples and several other teenagers, as each family pushes a wooden handcart along the same trail original pioneers traveled in a journey called Trek.
Trek aids in bringing teens together emotionally and spiritually through their heritage. Stories, recreational activities and first-hand experiences bring them together on their journey through rocky hills and rivers.
The history of Trek begins in Iowa City with 10 handcart companies who traveled west between 1856 and 1860 to worship freely. All but two, the Willie and Martin companies, made the journey without serious problems. Those two had started out a month later than the rest and were unable to carry sufficient supplies. They ended up stuck in severe October blizzards in Wyoming, where one in four froze or starved to death.
Church members in Salt Lake City started a rescue mission when they heard this news, and set out to aid the two parties. Trek honors this rescue mission along with the sacrifice and hardships that the pioneers faced, as it connects teens to their heritage and to each other.
This year 131 teenagers, 14 married couples, and 18 other adults participated, all from eastern South Dakota and western Minnesota. Among them were Shayla Savage, 14, and Matthew Rich, 15, both of Marshall.
Though Trek is not nearly as risky a journey as their predecessors' each traveler faces challenges, gains new perspective and learns important life lessons.
Savage thought that Trek was a very spiritual and enjoyable experience.
"I learned a lot about what the pioneers went through, and a lot of people think that it's going to be boring because it seems like just walking, but it's really fun." she said. "I would tell others to go if you have the chance."
Since Savage is 14, she has the opportunity to go again in four years. "I wouldn't miss it," she said.
On the other hand, Rich is disappointed he is 15, because in four years he will be over the age limit. He thought the whole journey to be worthwhile.
"We all took away something different, but it's a good experience for everybody," Rich said. "I made some friendships, and it helped my idea of what my church really was."