It’s true. When I went on my pioneer trek as a fifteen-year-old girl, each group had to kill at least one chicken. This was done by chopping off their head. Thereafter, we had to pluck it, gut it, and clean it. Of course, we cooked it and ate it too. Don’t get me wrong—I could hardly watch as the brave ones in my group participated in the chicken-killing. But it happened. I survived. I could also hardly stand to eat chicken for at least a month after that.
Now let me rewind. As members of the LDS Church, we have a history of pioneers—people who trekked across the country to escape persecution and to seek Zion. To honor them and to be grateful of our current circumstances, many youth of the church from around the world participate in a modern-day pioneer treks.
Normally, this trek happens just once for each teenager. I know stakes (a church organization within a given area) that hold a trek every four years, so that everyone gets to go at least once.
A bunch of teenagers and their adult leaders dress up like pioneers and pull handcarts. The women wear dresses and bonnets and the men wear suspenders and caps. It can sound like a whimsical activity, but it is difficult and full of many different experiences that can teach you a lesson. For me this was learning how to survive outdoors, in a dress, killing and cooking your own food.
I am going to be fully honest with you. Trek was exciting, challenging, and a little bit crazy. Plus, my experience was quite a bit more extreme than most. But in the end, we accomplished our goal. For a few days, we were pioneers. We became close as friends and realized just how good we have it. We got some sense of how hard it must have been for the pioneers who had no port-a-potties or trucks full of emergency supplies if something went wrong.
Let me tell you some more about my experience. For some groups, when you arrive at trek you put your stuff on some trucks that will meet you at camp, and you pick up your fairly light handcart and hike along.
When I arrived at trek, the handcarts were in pieces. We had to assemble them. It wasn’t so bad, but it meant that every now and again while we were on the trail, our handcart would break down and need some fixing. We were no engineers after all. The large pile of stuff on the handcart did not help either.
After our handcart was set up that first morning, there was supposed to be an inspection. Since we were trying to be like the pioneers, we were not allowed to have certain things such as electronics, stashed-away food, and most importantly, deodorant. Instead, we brought tin plates and utensils, aprons, and a few other things. To keep our items safe, they were packed away in 5 gallon buckets. Somehow, my little group convinced our leaders to not go through our buckets. We told them that we had carefully packed things and did not want to fret over dumping it all out and putting it back in.
That worked in my favor because I brought one of the restricted items: deodorant.
The other crazy thing, for me at least, was that we were not fed. At least, not for the first day. We assembled our handcarts and off we went, working together to pull our stuff miles along to get to our camp. We had plenty of water all day long, and when you drank it, the handcart got just a little bit lighter. But there was no food given, and we were not allowed to bring our own food. So we were hot, tired, and hungry.
That lasted until after dark, perhaps around 11 at night.
Finally though, we got our food. We arrived at our camp after a long day’s journey and were given hot soup with bread. I wanted seconds, but we had to wait until everyone else had gotten their food. So I crawled into my sleeping bag, wishing that I had the time and energy to get more of that delicious porridge.
It was hard to sleep that night. There we all were, under the stars, exhausted and dirty. The stars were bright and some dogs were howling from what was probably a nearby farm. I tossed and turned.
Morning came. I don’t want to be too visual here, but at this point in time, we had no bathrooms, no port-a-potties. Just trees.
Anyways, we continued. I think we talked, maybe sang, and took breaks here and there as we pulled our handcarts.
When we eventually arrived at our main camp that day or the day after, it seemed like heaven. There they were, the beautiful, glistening port-a-potties. We even had a chance to wash our hair and feet.
This was the best part of trek, because it felt more like camping. We had food and dancing, even activities. It was quite fun.
This was also the part of trek where we had to kill chickens for our dinner. (It’s true that chickens can run with their heads chopped off.) On the bright side, though, there were extra chickens, so we kept one as a pet for the remainder of the trek. Every now and again, other groups would try to steal our chicken. We always found a way to get him back though. His name was Hubert.
We also had the opportunity to shoot black powder guns, and to make our own candy and candles.
We really learned to get creative. Overall, even with the chicken-killing, it was fun and enlightening.
When I got home from trek, I was a little thinner and tanned. (The tan ended up washing off as dirt.) I was happy to be home. But I also missed being outside with all of the people I had grown so close to. On trek, the groups you get split off into are your literal families for the time being. You have a ‘Ma’ and a ‘Pa’ who lead and guide you along they way. And it was spiritual. Not every part, but there were chances. When we slept on the ground with tarps and sleeping bags, it was hard to sleep. One of the things that made it hard to sleep was the fact that the stars were shining beautifully. And although I was exhausted and very much wanted to drift off into sleep, I was grateful to experience a beautiful sky.
And out in that crazy ‘living-off-of-the-land’ world, I did feel closer to God.
Moreover, living off of the land for a few days with a group of people really does make a family. You end up with a few more brothers and sisters than you started out with.
Trek wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t easy for the pioneers either.