Trek the Movie

So a new Mormon film is coming out in April titled “Trek the Movie.” You can watch the trailer here

For my part, I’ve never been on a trek experience. When I was a youth it wasn’t (widely) a thing, or if it was our branch was too small to put something like that on, and my stake never did one when I happened to be Young Men’s President.

Your commentary on the trailer or your own trek experiences are on-topic for this post.

But my main purpose in posting is to share with you my notes from a presentation on the history of trek by Mel Bashore during the Mormon History Association conference in Calgary back in 2012. I found this background very interesting and I hope you will as well. (Sorry for the clipped sentences, these were my notes taken in real time.)

Mel Bashore on handcart treks. Such treks are done in far flung places, even in South America.

Novel attraction when originally used. During BY’s life talk about them suppressed; Willie and Martin still too fresh. After his death, seen in a positive light.

Handcart Veterans and Daughters of Handcart Veterans organized after turn of century. Boy Scout recreations became common and popular.

The caravans to SLC in cars with canvas tops to look like covered wagons. Similar to Civil War reenactments. Give Mormon youth a small taste of pioneer life.

Modern phenomenon can be traced to 1966. 11 homemade carts, traveled by bus and car from Arizona. Axels broke, bent; at evening camp would hammer out. In SL they attended conference sessions of YMMIA. An energetic YMP was spark behind the event. He talked to the guy. He just came up with the idea; just sounded like an adventuresome, fun thing to do, and at same time teach a little about church history. Nightly testimony meeting. Sacrament meeting, blessed water in a big jug.

Two years later, girls did same trip as boys had two years before. Girls made own pioneer clothing, made soap, cooked over a campfire. Physical fitness award, do a mile run, 25-mile hike, had to do two book reports, and pass a test on handcart history. (Leader had thought, “Gee, why can’t girls do this?” so they did.) College guys drove by and said “Hey, you’re late, they already settled the valley!”

Another ten years before another event; 10 companies, 10 per company. Lessons in teamwork. Discovered limitations. At campfire, first three mountain men told stories of life in wilderness. Fired muzzle loading rifles. Pulled one for one hour and exhausted, when great grandmother had pulled for three months.

Nine years later Emigration Stake organized another one. (So two in the 60s and three in 70s) Became a rite of passage.

One in England (he didn’t learn much about that one), and also one in Virginia. Dramatic attack on campsite by an angry mob. Next day they trekked; temperatures over 100 degrees.

In 1979 and a few years thereafter you could earn credit at Ricks by pushing a handcart 98 miles into Montana. A five day preparation period (jerked beef, survival skills, etc.) 3/4 of participants young women. Prim and proper at start, but learned how to rough it. Displayed spunk; not freaked out by leeches in pond. Horrified at having to cut a chicken’s head off, but then did it.

For about a decade up to 1992 BYU had a pioneer handcart trek course. Gave way to more popular programs like EFY.

Most not conducted on historic trails; an exception is Wyoming.


  1. LaJean Carruth says:

    Well, I am going on one in June – I’ll be 66. I have wanted to do this but never had the chance, so when our ward announced a ward trek, I immediately volunteered to be resident historian – the teller of history, not the recorder. I can walk the distance fine, I am a little concerned about the sun, I’ll get proper clothing. My daughter wants to come with her 5 children, oldest 6 1/2, youngest will be 2 months – I am just threading up my loom with a blanket for her. Any advice, anyone?

  2. Just one bit of advice for the sun: instead of (or in addition to) a pioneer bonnet which blocks the vision, see if Costco is selling their wide-brimmed women’s hats with the black trim. They look period appropriate, they’re not hot, they can survive just about anything you can throw at them, and they stay on. My sister and all the girls in her ward used them for Trek last year.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    Wow LaJean, that is adventurous of you! Every trek should ha e a teller of history…

  4. That trailer was really boring.

  5. I remember being intrigued by news a few years ago of a trek reenactment in Mongolia: Our stake has a trek Nazi in charge and the kids have an “authentic” (=arduous) experience–can’t bring chapstick and sunscreen, for instance, since the pioneers wouldn’t have had them (I say they would have loved them and used them if they could! They weren’t trying to be old-fashioned). I have very mixed feelings about whether to send my daughter on it next year after all the woes I’ve heard.

  6. lisamarie5733 says:

    Acw, your trek nazi is out of line. I’d encourage your stake leaders and fellow parents to familiarize themselves with the guidelines that the church has set forth to reel in the crazy/overboard and protect participants. Here’s the section about sunscreen: “Sunscreen and Insect Repellent All participants should have access to sunscreen and insect repellent. Participants should apply sunscreen to all exposed parts of the body before exposure to the sun—and then reapply it throughout the day. They should apply insect repellent to skin, clothing, shoes, and hats as needed.”

    Click to access PD10052956_000_Handcart_Trek_Booklet.pdf

  7. I’ve done two shortened versions in Nauvoo: one for a Laurel activity and another for Youth Conference. Both were very interesting experiences that took maybe a few hours and we didn’t even need to dress in pioneer clothes. I can’t imagine doing it for an extended period of time.

  8. never forget says:

    These came into vogue after I was out of the youth programs, my younger two siblings did them. My home stake now does it every 2 or 4 years, I can’t remember what. I did a lot of backpacking growing up, both in and out of Scouts, including 125 miles. Glad something like this didn’t ever take away from experiences.

    As to the trailer, I’ve had a pathological disdain for Mormon focused movies since going to BYU and having my apartment complex used for Singles Ward 2. They blocked our parking area for 3 days with our cars still in it and we couldn’t get them out. To outer darkness with the lot of them!

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    lisamarie, thanks for sharing the guidelines. There are a lot of crazy traditions that have proliferated among these things, and having some formal guidelines to be able to point leaders to is helpful.

  10. Treks are a terrible idea. You don’t see Jewish groups making their youth live in concentration camps to experience what their ancestors experienced. That time would be better spent in true service to others.

  11. Well, I think it would be a little more comparable for the Jewish kids to have a similar camping trip a la Exodus, or hey, how about setting up little booths with branches to live in for a day, like at Sukkot? Jewish groups have their own historical remembrance traditions. And, there are 365 days in the year to do service in; one hopes that each ward has their youth doing some more often than three days every third year.

  12. My ancestors were savvy enough to wait until the railroad was completed to move to Utah – does this mean my offspring are excused from Trek and given a ticket on Amtrack instead?

  13. Just 5% of Mormon pioneers traveled by handcart. Sounds like almost all Mormons–including those of us with pioneer ancestry–should be excused from trek.

  14. Joseph Stanford says:

    I went on our stake youth trek in August in Wyoming a few years ago as a physician and medical advisor. A sister who was a nurse also came and did a great job. I talked to the previous medical advisor and learned they had had several cases of dehydration requiring IV fluids, particularly of girls who didn’t want to pee in the bushes. So to prevent that, I set up a contest. Each “family” would keep track of how many times their members had peed over the 4 days of trek. Whoever had the most would win a prize at the end of trek. We didn’t have any cases of dehydration during trek. A few other medical emergencies, but no dehydration.

  15. I went on a trek as a ‘Pa’ about 11 years ago. My salient memories are: 1) Excessive meetings in preparation for the trek with an endless litany of stake leaders providing no information, but reiterating how the trek was going to be such a good experience. 2) The stake leaders opted to not give all the details of what was happening to the Ma & Pa leaders in an effort to make the three days more unpredictable and “authentic”, I guess. I was fine with this plan, but not ok with the part where I was left in the dark about what was going on, but all the kids knew, because their parents, who were stake leaders, were telling them everything they refused to tell us. 3) Some kids found a rattlesnake, killed it, cooked it and ate it. No one died. 4) There was no men’s pull. 5) We carried around a chicken for two days, and then were supposed to rip its head off and cook it. There is no reason do to this. 6) All the other leaders kept asking our family where our Ma & Pa were. My wife and I were right there. I even had a beard. Apparently we still looked like teenagers.

    I enjoyed the experience. I would do it again. It wasn’t perfect, but I had fun and most of the kids did, too. I don’t consider it some sort of amazing, life-changing event or anything, but on the other hand (literally) I still wear the cheap simple ring that says “faith” that they gave all of us.

  16. Geoff - Aus says:

    I live in Brisbane Australia. Our stake ordered 3 handcarts, which were beautifully made (by amish Was the rumour) . Imagine the cost of buying these in the US and shipping them here.
    There was one treck and not repeated. They all drove 500k west and trecked from nowhere to another nowhere, then drove back.

  17. Count me among the members who find the notion of Trek insane and misguided. Stories like those above (Geoff, that’s plain crazy), coupled with other stories about shooting guns, setting fires, scaring children, burying plastic babies, and other hair-brained ideas carried out by over-zealous “leaders” makes it unlikely I would ever send my children on this nonsense. There are so many reasons to object to this ideation of a small fraction of our history.

    I know many youth come back from Trek with good memories and boosts to their testimonies, but I cannot help wondering if there isn’t a better way to do this. The time and resources spent on a fake reenactment (never mind the bad history) would be so much better used on local service projects.

    I cannot overstate my lack of interests in the film. Maybe someday we’ll start making relevant art, but this is not the film.

  18. I also find the notion of trek misguided and out of line with the purpose of church activities. Extremely time consuming to plan, ridiculously expensive to pull off, most people who are put in charge of these go way overboard with what they expect from youth, families and ward members to pull these things off. Does not fit in with “simplify and reduce” and is a perfect example of an activity that involves magnifying your calling on the backs of other people. The fact that someone would make a movie glorifying this is a real downer.

  19. The written, footnoted version of Mel Bashore’s presentation is coming in the next issue of BYU Studies Quarterly, due out in a few weeks. He tells all those stories Kevin quoted above, with several more stories and some photos. It’s interesting to try to figure out how we got to the point where trek is almost a rite of passage for today’s LDS youth.

  20. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks for the head’s up, Jennifer!

  21. The even numbered Trek movies are the good ones. The odd numbered ones, not so much.

  22. I take it as a direct sign of God’s love for me that I have never had to do trek. Somehow I missed it when I was a youth (though my older sister did one) and I was pregnant when our stake did it while I was YW president. Honestly, if they asked me to be a ma, I’d probably say no. I already use most of my vacation time for my own sick children, I’m not going to waste the rest on manufactured trials.

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