Our Trek

I noticed on Facebook that members of the Stake we used to live in are once again headed to Wyoming for Trek.

Trek is a re-enactment of the Mormon Pioneer trail. For a period of three to five days large groups of mostly youth and the adult leaders head to Martin’s Cove, Wyoming to camp and walk the trail.

The place is sacred to Latter-day Saints. It was at Martin’s Cove where the Martin Handcart Company spent their critical hours.

I have to admit that I felt a bit envious of those I see this week dressed in pioneer clothing heading out for the trail.
And that is an astonishing statement only because I really had a miserable time.

Our first day of Trek began long before sunlight as we dressed and packed our allotted 17 pounds of gear. We met at the Church for a devotional, where prayers were said and blessings were given. I recall how serious our good Stake President was as he stood there – the only one in the chapel in a suit – and promised that we would have a spiritual experience.

For me that was a foregone conclusion.

In my calling for Trek I had spent months in preparation for my role. I was to be a storyteller and a witness and I was encouraged to tell the stories of my family if I had them.

For me those months in early 2013 were filled with spirit and revelation.

Understand that these people I was studying were not ancestors in need of my efforts in their behalf in the Temple.

These were people who had gained their own testimonies and had performed ordinance work for themselves.

I hardly knew anything about them or their trek before this experience began.

But I was determined to tell their stories on Trek – no matter what it would take. And it would take a lot — at least for me.

It began with a long bus ride – a long HOT bus ride as the vehicle we were in had no air conditioning. It was so hot that I’m convinced many on the bus were dehydrated before we set foot in Wyoming.

As we got off the bus, they handed us a bottle of water and told us to drink. We held a meeting where we were warned of the dangers of the area – snakes and critters and such.

But worst of all were the elements and unlike the pioneers, who were nowhere near Wyoming in late June, we were prone to sun burn, heat stroke and dehydration. Yes, we were told, people like us who came on Trek actually died because they simply were not hydrated enough.

With those cheery warnings in our ears we began putting our things into the handcarts and we pushed off onto the trail.

It was only a few miles but for this overweight, middle-aged, sedentary man it was a struggle.

My head pounded, I was short on breath, red in the head and everyone kept looking back on me as I fell further and further behind.

We stopped midway to our destination to rehydrate and use the restrooms and more than one concerned individual pulled me aside to ask how I was doing and whether or not I was physically up to the task at hand.

The answer was clearly no. I was not up to it.

But for as awful as I felt and for as worried as I was about what the next few days would be like for me I could not escape the thoughts of my ancestors who had done this for real.

In my studies I learned that we in our generation make far more of the ordeal across the plains than they did.
For many, it was four to six months out of their lives – a mere moment in time for lives that were spent facing so many grueling challenges.

Well, I’m not going to lie.

The next couple of days were completely beyond my physical abilities and I struggled through every step of it.

So why do I look with envy upon those headed out for that experience this week?

It is because Trek was so much more than those three days in the hot sun.

It was months of study and discovery. It was just a few important moments of storytelling and testifying. And it was a sobering period of pondering and reflection as I walked where they walked.

On the final day of our journey we went to Rocky Ridge, a place where the Willie Handcart Company spent a critical night.

For us, in June, there was beauty about the place. There was some green to it, even among all the rocks and boulders.

But for them it had to be awful. When they arrived at this place it was dark and freezing. The snow was ten inches deep.

It is simply a hard, miserable place.

As we walked to the gathering point – a small meadow with logs for benches – we passed a memorial put up by the First Presidency where the simple word REMEMBER stands out.

For me, it was already a special place because I knew the story of Grandma Sophie.

In all the books I read about the Willie Handcart Company I was always able to find the names of Sophie and her children. But never could I find her story. Luckily, I learned it from published accounts on Family Search.

Sophie’s story only grew more compelling after her trek was over but I was certain that within the pages of the journal of Albert Smith I might find some detail of what she endured.

But all he said was that she was a member of the Willie Handcart Company and had “passed through many hardships”.

So while I knew that Grandma Sophie was there and I knew how the rest of her story turned out I really hadn’t learned what a miracle her trek experience really was – until I pondered her situation while at Rocky Ridge.

As we sat in that devotional and sang some of the songs of Zion I never felt the wind there stop or diminish. The sun was beating down on us and it was hot – uncomfortably so.

But in my mind’s eye I could see how cold and harsh of a place Rocky Ridge is – and it has to be a hundred times more miserable in a winter’s storm. If there is an end to earth it is at Rocky Ridge.

There are no flat surfaces in that place – no place to pitch a tent. Obviously there is no food, no water, and none of comforts of natural things like trees or brush. There are no natural shelters and there is no protection from the wind.

As I sat there in this stark place – and tried to remember – I felt a rush of revelation fill my head.

I FELT the presence of Grandma Sophie, even though I had never met her.

It was a burning witness like none I have ever had in my life. And it told me that yes, she had indeed been there and that yes, I was her grandson.

As simple as that sounds it was a powerful, sobering moment for me.

It was a witness not that she was special because she was a pioneer who had survived but rather she was special because she acted on faith. She was there bearing witness to me that her faith was well founded – that for all she had endured it was the right choice, even though she ended up in that harsh place with her life on the line.

Sophie had endured so much. In 1853 she lost her husband, Peder, who was only 37 or so. Together they had brought 8 children into the world and within three years only 4 of them had survived to be with her in the terrible place of Rocky Ridge.

My thoughts there began by wondering what did Sophie think on the night she was in this place?

Did she wonder if she would live through the night? Did she wonder where life in Denmark had gone? Did she think Zion would ever happen for her?

As I thought all these terribly sad thoughts the rush of warmth came over me and I felt her there. And what came to my mind wasn’t the detail of how harsh this place is or how terrible the trial was that Sophie endured or how miserable my weak efforts had been for just a couple of days on Trek.

No, what came to me was that all of that was secondary to just one thing. And that thing was faith.

When they say that we cannot be saved without our dead I believe it is moments like these that make that true.

I believe I was given a witness that night from this beloved ancestor.

And that’s what makes me envious of those folks out on the trail tonight as I write this.

Of course, you don’t have to go on Trek to have these experiences.

But for me Trek introduced these experiences to me on many levels. And I have had other such experiences over the past four years.

It has been life changing for me.

Where I am now is not where I thought I would be four years ago. And where I am going in the years ahead was not even on my radar then.

We have over the course of four years created a lot of family history on our own. One child has married, two grandchildren have come, and now only two of my children remain at home. So very much has changed.

But what has not changed is truth. What has not changed is the nature of faith. What has not changed is our sacred relationship with our family past and with God himself.

I’m on a new Trek now. And in a little bit like Sophie, I’m not sure how this all ends up.

Well — in the long term.

But it makes me wonder if in some distant day I will be someone’s ancestor and I will have the chance to give a witness to a grandchild.

Something tells me yes, I will. It is part of our trek.

A Story of Trek

Ann Findley Westover is my fourth great grandmother, the wife of Edwin Ruthven Westover. In researching for her profile here on we wanted to learn more about her upbringing in Scotland and whether or not there was a story or two that survived of her trek in the Daniel D. McArthur Company, the 2nd handcart company overall that arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on 26 September 1856. Ann was 17 when she made the trek and she came with her parents, William and Lindsay. From what we can tell they joined the Church about ten years or more before they made the trek to Zion. While we could not find much specific to Ann about trek we did find her brother, also named William, who came to Zion before Ann and his parents arrived. While we are not directly descended from William Findley Jr. we will most certainly claim him. His story with that of his sister Ann are so very much connected. William and his wife Sarah moved to Mendon, Utah not too long after arriving in Salt Lake and it was his death that caused Ann to move there with her children. William was one of the first to be buried in the cemetery there in Mendon. His trek story bears repeating and it includes a neat tradition within the family of his descendants that is worthy of our attention. This is his story:

William Finley, Jr. was just a small boy when his family joined the Church. His family was one of the earliest convert families in Scotland in the mid-1830s. Just as he was coming of adult age he met and fell in love with his bride, Sarah.

Sarah was not a member of the Church but joined the Church just before she married William. Not long after they were married the call came to all the Saints living in Europe to “come to Zion”.

As they discussed leaving England William and Sarah disagreed. He wanted to heed the call to go to Zion but Sarah was afraid to go. Her family already disapproved of her joining the Church, though they loved William deeply. Sarah was concerned that she would never see her family again nor the land of her upbringing. Worse, she feared they would hate William for taking her away.

The issue divided them. At one point Sarah told her father she was leaning towards going to America with William and, as she feared, her father was not in favor. His rebuke broke her heart.
William prayed and determined that he was going – even if that meant leaving Sarah behind.

As he made his preparations he told her that he would leave money for her with the agent at the dock if she changed her mind. William left and did as he promised. Feeling a little lost and burdened by leaving his wife behind, William hesitated, opting to allow one ship to leave in favor for a ticket on another that was leaving a few days later. He hoped one final letter to his bride would convince her to come and would reach her on time so that she could make it to Liverpool to join him.

The letter did not make it on time. But it didn’t need to.

After much suffering and much prayer, Sarah determined that her place and her future was with her husband in Zion – even if that meant leaving her family behind. She packed her things, bid a tearful farewell to her family and went to Liverpool – hoping to get a ticket to America where she hoped to find William.

She arrived just in time and rejoiced to be able to make passage over with her husband.

When they arrived in America they took a train west to Chicago, as far as it went at the time, and then made way to Iowa City to find a wagon train west to join. They were able to do this but it would require them to pack light and walk a great deal. They had to get rid of many of their belongings because they were only allowed to bring a small amount that could fit in the wagon.

William had a cap that he would wear and being fastidious in his dress he liked to have it pressed, so that there would be no wrinkles in it. He liked the same for his shirts but his cap, since it was on his head, had to be perfect. It pained him to have to give up the small iron Sarah would use to press his cap, but it was weighty and could not make the trip. Together William and Sarah decided on which items would make the trek and which would not. The little iron was out.

This was on a trip before handcarts. They were joining a company headed west that had many families. Since William and Sarah did not have children and were adults, they were not allowed much room for their stuff. They were shocked to learn that for all the things they left behind they had to cull it down again because they still had too much.

Sarah did not want William to go without his ironed cap. So she strung the little iron – which weighed about 4 lbs – on a string and tied the string around her waist, under her skirt. The iron would make its way west, banging into Sarah’s legs now and then as she walked the 1300 miles to Salt Lake City.

The iron, though little used on the trip, was used all the years of their married life.

When William died suddenly in 1869, in Mendon, while still a relatively young man, Sarah used the iron on William’s burial clothes. By this time William and Sarah had a much larger iron, an appliance that would have made quicker work of the job. Their eldest daughter asked her mother why she was using such a little iron on her Daddy’s clothes. So Sarah told her the story of the iron.

This daughter recorded this family event in her journal and, years later when Sarah passed away as an old woman, told the story of the iron at her funeral.

For generations the iron has passed from mother to daughter in the Finley family, where it remains today. (The iron always remains with a descendant named “Lindsay”, after William’s mother).

As it passes to each generation the love story of William and Sarah is retold and the testimony of their sacrifices in coming to Zion are shared again and again.