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The path of the pioneers: Nearly 200 local youths live the pioneer experience
Nearly 200 local teenagers voluntarily put away from their cell phones for four days.
They walked away from their computers and not a single one of them downloaded, tweeted, texted or updated a status for almost 300 hours.
Completely off the grid and dressed in full pioneer attire — long dresses, aprons and bonnets for the ladies and loose-fitting shirts, suspenders, vests and traditional hats for the guys — the tech-free teens painstakingly reenacted the Atlantic Ocean crossing and exhausting frontier trek of America’s early pioneers.
“We want youth to recognize their own strengths as they better understand the commitment and strength of pioneers who left their homelands across Europe in search of a place to practice their religion in peace,” said event organizer and trek leader Shari Whyte.
The educational trek late last month was sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and involved nearly 200 young participants ranging in age from 14 to 18 as well as 100 adult volunteers from several faith-based groups across Kitsap County — including 42 teens and 22 adults from Bainbridge Island.
The pilgrimage began with a march through downtown Winslow on June 25 to the ferry terminal where the appropriately clad band of modern pioneers boarded the vessel to reenact the epic crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. Once they survived the treacherous journey and arrived alive on the other side (“America”), they began their march north along the Seattle waterfront to board buses bound for the dusty plains near Plymouth, Washington and Hermiston, Oregon for three days of trekking on foot, dragging handcarts of supplies through the harsh terrain.
The pioneers were allowed to take only basic hygiene items, including a bar of soap, towel and baking soda to brush their teeth. They had only the clothes on their backs to wear, and no money, watches or other modern items were permitted.
Historical accuracy was an important consideration throughout the event, said group spokeswoman Pamela Keyes.
“On the simulated Atlantic crossing, huddled on the upper ferry deck, stories from individual’s journals described conditions on the different ships, the storms encountered on the high seas and the preparation for death that some ship captains promoted during the treacherous crossings,” she said.
Groups of participants were grouped into teams, or “families,” and each carried a flag representing one of the 24 countries from which the pioneers departed from for America.
“One family event came from Bombay, India,” Whyte said.
To further personalize the experience, each teen and adult was given a wristband with the name of an actual pioneer. They had time to reflect on and consider the experiences of their historical predecessors throughout the trip.
Several exceptionally difficult uphill handcart pulls, day time heat and some unexpected rain further served to increase the trip’s rigors.
“It was really physically taxing,” said teenage pioneer Madi Uhl, of Bainbridge Island. “But it strengthened me physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. My motivation to be a good person and serve has been fortified.”
Fellow trekker Amber Powell commented that she felt fortunate to have experienced some semblance of the hardships of pioneer life.
“It was fun, a great learning experience and spiritual,” she said. “I am a different person in that I feel kinder, happier and I understand the pioneer experience.”
Considering these responses, Whyte said, the experience was a success.
“We wanted our youth to have a worthwhile activity that built on heritage,” she said. “We wanted them to experience things that give us purpose, ground us and internally strengthen us; things that will make the difference in our lives and add to skills that can make a significant difference in our communities.”