PATERSON -- Dust hung in the air as the Mitchell family dug into the loose dirt to keep their handcart under control during a steep downhill stretch punctuated with deep ruts.
The three Mitchells in front of the handcart, Kaily Whitby, 14, of Mesa, Jonathan McCormick, 15, of Pasco, and Kylie Iverson, 17, of Pasco, were among the about 390 teens participating in a 20-mile, three-day trek near Paterson, a small town about 25 miles south of Prosser.
The event pays homage to their Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ancestors' journey west in the 19th century.
"One of our goals is for our young people to gain an appreciation of the sacrifices that the early pioneers made in trying to find a place where they could worship without persecution," said Pasco Stake President Robert Andelin.
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It's the largest such trek since the first one held in 2006.
The living history lesson is held on about 20 square miles of church-owned land unsuitable for farming alongside AgriNorthwest's potato and wheat fields near Paterson.
This summer, 12 groups will camp, walk, dance and play in ways that approximate pioneer days. That means no iPods and cellphones.
"We improvise," said McCormick. "We don't have music, so we sing."
Much of the music was faith-based, but "there was a little Carrie Underwood," said Nick Prasch, 18, of Pasco.
And while 12-year-old Alicia Stewart of Pasco missed her phone, "I'm not dying," she said. "By the time we even want to get on it, we're exhausted and want to go to bed."
Each trek family is made up to 10 participants with a "ma" and "pa" leading each of the 43 groups.
The teens, who came mostly from throughout Franklin County, were arranged in families with other pretend pioneers they didn't know beforehand to encourage new friendships throughout a growing Mormon population. Originally planned as a one-stake affair, the Pasco group split in two in February.
"That's pretty regular in the church," said Pasco North Stake President Ross Montierth, who was president of the original stake. "It just shows we're growing."
Andelin says the experience will help the young participants develop teamwork and problem-solving skills.
"Our challenges these days are different than those of the pioneers, but they're no less important," he said.
For the "Stormin' Mormons" family, sleep was the greatest challenge. "The heat, mosquitoes, snoring, hard ground," said Michael Hale, 17, of Pasco, before 13-year-old Carly Barrow of Pasco added "loud boys" to the list of nocturnal nuisances.
"But it's worth it," said Lynnette Pierce, 48, of Pasco. "It's really cool to think about the people who did this to survive -- to give us what we have."
By far, the most common trek challenges were blisters.
Tailen Rodriguez, 16, of Burbank, was one of a seemingly endless line of patients at the medical tent getting first aid for their feet.
"I think we have about the whole Tri-Cities' stock of moleskin," said Lared Whitby as he tended to Rodriguez, who said, "I'm sure that when I'm done, I'll be glad I did it, but right now, it's just hot and miserable."
Elsewhere, Christian Davidson, 15, of Eltopia, created a duct tape brace after rolling his ankle on the last leg.
"It's tough," he said of the trek. "It makes me appreciate the people who did it before. I have a deeper respect for my ancestors."
But for all the bumps along their journey, participants were quick to keep things in perspective.
"We still have it a lot easier than they did back then," said Susan Syrie, 37, of Connell, whose toe was run over by a cart Wednesday.
"We know where we're going to be tonight," said Montierth. "They didn't know where they were going to be."