Pioneer treks range in mileage, but be ready to walk. A lot. A common suggestion is to take lengthy hikes and even runs to get in shape, so you can better enjoy the experience. Some days of marching can last as long as 13 miles, all while pulling handcarts over rough terrain.
“We had kids—we laughed, but it was true—walking like ducks,” says Gretta Millett, who has participated as a leader in four different treks. “Mile after mile, you get chafed. When you are told what to do, you may think you’re too tough. But then you walk.”
One of the most physically difficult but also most impactful experiences for many trekkers is the “women’s pull,” Moench says. During that time, the men and boys are called away from the handcarts and taken by their leaders to the top of a hill, where they learn about their priesthood responsibilities toward the women in their lives. Meanwhile, the women are told about how any pioneer women lost their husbands along the way (or temporarily to the Mormon Battalion) and had to pull the handcarts to Zion by themselves.
Then the women pull the handcarts up the hill while the men stand silently along each side of the road.
“It is usually a very tender and emotional experience for all,” Moench says.
For Baird’s family, the physical burden was huge, but the inner strength and connection it provided was as well. Among the three girls in his group pulling their handcart (along with the ma), one had shin splints and another was 12 years old—two years younger than the typical minimum age for participating in a trek. Once the team reached the top of the hill they had to conquer, the girl with shin splints collapsed. Baird carried her to a resting place immediately.
“To this day, I am not quite sure how she even pulled that handcart up that hill,” Baird says. “I was amazed to see how they overcame that obstacle.”