Each year, Mormon youth groups around the world participate in several-day-long reenactments known as trek. During trek, these groups walk in the footsteps of the pioneers who traveled across the country from upstate New York to Utah. Young Mormons wear mostly authentic clothes and, along with a family group, pull handcarts across terrain reminiscent of important locations from the journey west. Latter-day Saint youth learn about the core values of the religion and visit places of religious significance. For Mormons, trek is a safe way to interact with the experiences of Mormon pioneers on their journey west. Trek is an immensely significant religious event that allows Mormons to inhabit sacred time and place in a carefully crafted and controlled environment.
The power of trek comes from its universality and accessibility since this allows Mormons from all over the world to tap into the spiritual well of power that trek represents. Although the premise of trek is simple, it is a meticulously constructed program that balances the necessities of reenactment with the harsher realities of the original expedition. The official trek manual provided by the Church suggests activities like pulling handcarts, devotionals, scripture study time, singing hymns, a women’s pull, reenactment of stories, and walking for a specific pioneer (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2015, 13-14). Most stakes (the standard church subdivision for an area that tends to run trek) offer some combination of these activities, each of which encourages young Mormons to reflect on their spirituality and their connections to the pioneers. There is much emphasis placed on the core gospel principles of sacrifice, faith, love, and perseverance. In this way trek is a tool of the church to guide young Mormons to leading virtuous lives according to Mormon principles.
Trek also gives Mormon youth the ability to draw clear connections between the hardships they face and those of the pioneers. Countless testimonials provided by recent trek participants illustrate the manner in which trek strengthens participants’ connection to the spiritual aspects of their past, including the land, which they refer to as Zion, and the people, with whom they forge a personal connection (Anonymous, 2:26). This connection allows the trek participants to relive the founding of the religion and experience the lives of the mythologized pioneers.
Trek is an instrumental part of Mormonism’s ability to maintain strict adherence to religious values. The modern equipment and favorable weather make the practice a flawed reenactment. However, it is tremendously successful as a way to force young Mormons to reflect on their place in the grand scheme of the religion. The widespread accessibility of trek across the globe is indicative of the success of Mormonism internationally. Trek is a way to prompt reflection upon the journey west and sacrifice of the first pioneers. It creates a way for young Mormons to not only connect to the pioneers as role models, but also to recognize personal hardships as instances of the early trials faced by the pioneers.
-Tucker Ward, November 2018
Suggestions for Further Reading:
Anonymous, Pioneer Journeys—More than a Trek. YouTube Video. Salt Lake City, UT: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 2016.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Handcart Trek Reenactment: Guidelines for Leaders. 2015.
Jones, Megan Sanborn. “(Re)Living the Pioneer Past: Mormon Youth Handcart Trek Re-Enactments.” Theatre Topics 16, no. 2 (2006): 113-130.