The wind kicked up and the already dusty travelers got even dustier.
Thunder sounded and lightning struck, and they had to get down off a hillside, leaving their handcarts and supplies while they waited for the storm to pass.
And the blisters. Oh, the blisters.
“Right now, I’m doing this,” said Matthew Hall, 14, jumping from one foot to the other, giving each a few seconds of relief.
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But for Matthew and about 130 other teens from the Richland Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the wind, the dust and the other discomforts were nothing compared to the fun they had and the lessons they learned during a recent four-day trek near Plymouth.
The trek was meant to give them a window into what their Mormon ancestors experienced when they journeyed in the late 19th century from the Midwest to Utah — many of them pulling their belongings in handcarts — in search of a place to practice their faith.
Pioneer trek reenactments are a tradition in the church and are done throughout the country.
The Richland Stake group started its journey Monday on AgriNorthwest land outside Plymouth. By the time the crew wraps up Thursday, they’ll have walked and pulled their handcarts about 18 miles.
The teens wore traditional clothes, from vests and wide-brimmed hats for the boys to bloomers, aprons and bonnets for the girls. They camped out at night.
They “hunted” for game, using slingshots to hit cutouts instead of actual animals, and they “fished” for goldfish.
Each trekker got a bucket for his or her personal belongings, and they took turns on handcart duty.
It wasn’t all pure work. Several teens talked about the fun they had playing “stick pull,” a pioneer game.
They also deepened bonds with one another, gained perspective and learned more about themselves and their faith.
The teens were divided into “families,” each comprised of about eight youths and an adult “Ma” and “Pa.”
“You really bond with your ‘family,’” said Nyah Miller, 15.
Logan Powell, 15, said the experience “has been very humbling.”
Matthew, with the tired feet, nodded. “That’s a good word for it,” he said.
MaryLynn Haggard, 15, said it amazed her to think that “the pioneers were so tough, they pulled even farther than we pulled. And in harder conditions, too.”
The Richland crew did have to contend with Monday’s storm, although it mostly passed them by — kicking up wind and sending some showers, but not raining them out.
One of the most moving parts of the teens’ trek was the “women’s pull,” in which the girls had to maneuver the carts up a hill without the help of the boys. It signified that many pioneer women had to do just that, after — for example — their husbands or sons fell ill or died.
During the pull, the boys stood along the trail with their hats over their hearts and the girls shouted encouragement to one another, even running back down the hill to help later groups.
Dr. Byron Burrup, a leader in the Richland Stake, said he hopes the teens gain a better understanding of their ancestors’ sacrifices and take lessons of family, service and prayerfulness with them to high school.
That seems a pretty good bet.
Caden Dirks, 16, said the trek has given him “a newfound respect for the pioneers. They were really strong.”
For Jacob Ritchie, 18, the experience prompted some reflection. “The simple things we take for granted didn’t exist at all (back then),” he said. “It makes you feel grateful for what you have.”