July 21, 1997
Location: Birch Springs, Utah - Between East Canyon State Park and This is the Place State Park.
Summary: The trek that went up a Big Mountain and then up a Little Mountain
Journal entry: We awoke this morning with eagerness and enthusiasm. We were finally at the hard climb. We have been told about Big and Little Mountains and today was the day. We were excited.
The handcarts left early at 6 AM. The trail off of the top of the hill was steep and off to the opposite direction that we had come. The walkers had little trouble getting down with our handcarts. It was steep, but we put more people on the carts and it was easier. Next we had about a six or seven mile trek along the side of the lake. It was paved road and was really easy. The morning was early, it was cool, we were fresh. We made good time to the bottom of the canyon and took a potty and water break before we started the ascent.
It was here that we heard about the events of the wagons. They were coming down the same hill we had come. Val Robinson's animals got away and came crashing down the hill. It was a terrible wreck. We heard that Val probably broke his arm and that a small girl was hurt. We all were very sorry and hoped that the injuries were minor. I worry about the wagon people when we are gone. We really have two separate companies...the wagons and the handcarts. But I know and love those wagon people a lot.
Our trek up Big Mountain began. We had the encouragement of Elders Pinnock and Christensen to push us on. They smiled and waved and touched our hands as we walked by. This was work time. We started up. We had heard the distance was six miles up and six miles down with steep, windy, curvy roads. The rumors were true. We had also had rumors that the world was watching and that the prayers and petitions to the Lord were numerous in our behalf. We kept walking and singing and talking and laughing and joking and walking. Occasionally we took breaks to eat and drink and then it was onward again.
I looked over the edge a few times and saw what was probably the original place for the trail. It was a terrible trail. Below was a mass of trees and bushes and occasionally the water was pooled by beaver dams. How did they ever get up this mountain on that trail? I don't know. It must have been one of the hardest parts of their journey. We walked up a beautiful paved road. They had to double team horses to wagons, chop away bushes and trees. It had to be a terrible journey for them.
Part way up the road I looked around at our group. We had a good sized group with us today. Probably 12 carts and 300 people. The handcart that came from the members of the church in Russia and the former republic of the Soviet Union joined us today. It has been crossing part of Asia, all of Europe and the United States. It has been on display in many places. I had wondered if it would even get here, but here it was. It was filled with dolls from members in the towns it had gone through. There was also a large notebook filled with the written testimonies of the members of the church written in their native languages. I considered for a few moments the love and hope displayed in this simple handcart. Beautiful hand-made dolls, a written letter from a fellow Saint in a far-away land. I picture my sister, sitting at a table in her humble home, thinking what she can write to the world. A testimony of belief. A testimony of faith and hope and love to a kind Heavenly Father for her blessings. Surely she could feel the joy of living in a renewed country that now allows her to openly worship the God of her choice. I have always felt a kinship with the Russian people. It is my hope to someday serve in their country on a mission.
We continued the upward climb. We felt the strain of pushing and pulling, but the way was easy. A few of our daywalkers got in the bus and vans, but many of us climbed, hardly out of breath. We came once or twice to places that at first appeared to be the top, but they were only joking.
Finally, Captain Mike turned and stopped us. He wanted us to all catch up so that we could round the top together. It was a glorious feeling. We were so pumped. The climb had been much easier than I thought it would be. We were singing our songs and laughing and talking, and there it was.... the top. Onward we went. The cameras were waiting. The ever-present media was there. Our spirits were high. As each cart rounded the top, a big cheer went out. We pulled each cart across the parking lot and looked down the other side, a very steep decline. Off in the distance we could see the valley of Salt Lake. What a sight. What a sight. We waited for all to arrive at the top and let out a big cheer. The kids did a dogpile on top of each other. It was zany celebration. And then each knee bent and touched the ground as we thanked our God for the blessings of this day. We all knew we had been blessed to reach the top so easily. We were all very grateful. The Spirit of our Heavenly Father was truly with us. We could not deny.
We heard the wagons were about four miles back. The animals were having a tough time up the hills. We said our silent prayers for them. After renewing our water bottles and getting some food, we started down the switchbacks on the other side. The trip was faster as we were going down, but the pavement was hot and it was difficult stopping and not going too fast. I'm sure we made great time, but my feet were burning. I was behind at the end of the group, as usual, and looked down over the edge at the walkers below. It was quite a sight.
We had no trouble getting the carts to roll. Now we had to hold on to ropes and brake to keep them from running away. The afternoon promised to be a scorcher and the shade from the overhanging trees was surely welcome as it cooled us down a lot. I couldn't help but think about the wagons and horses and mules behind us. They were always in my mind. The descent was relatively easy and we moved quickly on down the road. My feet were starting to feel really hot and I knew there were more blisters. I saw the water of Little Dell reservoir and knew the end was near. I was glad! My feet were really hurting. I saw the lake below us and wished I could take my shoes off and put them in the cool water. We moved on. We always move on. If our feet hurt, and our legs are cramping and our muscles ache, we still move on. We don't stop.
I looked around and saw more limps and knew I was not alone. I remembered the days back in Nebraska when our feet were blistered and so terribly painful. I thought the pain was terrible and for me it was. I had never experienced that kind of pain in my feet before and now it was just commonplace to have sore feet. Pam has had sore feet and blisters and infections in her feet for almost the entire trek. I have had blisters in the same spot at least four times. We are not alone nor unique in our sore feet. It is just part of the experience. I think the pioneers had pain the entire way across the continent. We have and we are not much different than they. Some of our group have had it easier when it comes to their feet. My Dallin has had two tiny little blisters on the ends of his toes. He has done very well. My daughters have had bad blisters. We have experienced different things.
Finally, we were at the bottom of Little Mountain. At the top we could see camp. It looked so near, yet the climb to get there looked so far. This would not be easy. I guess compared to Big Mountain, this is a little mountain. But this was not a little climb. As we moved down the road, there were people there cheering us on. What a nice group of well-wishers. I think the encouragement really helped. Encouragement always helps.
I thought back to the day we passed South Pass and we had that hill to climb into camp. The people stood at the top waving and cheering us to come, but we were exhausted. Then all of a sudden they were running down the hill towards us. They came and pushed us out of the carts and started pulling them up the hill. It was new blood. It was encouragement. But better than encouragement, it was help. We pulled together into camp, and we made it. We will always remember that they came to help us. They didn't just watch, they came and helped. They came on their own. We didn't have to ask them or send out invitations. They just saw us there and came. That was neat.
So, we pulled up Little Mountain. It was hard. It was hard. We put a lot of people in the vans and bus. Two little ladies had to be medically treated at camp for heat exhaustion. We had had a long, hard day and this was just a hard ending. One comment later was that so many people had prayed us up Big Mountain, we had forgotten about Little Mountain. Camp looked so good.
The Big Fish died again as we crested the summit at Little Mountain. Art, the shuttler, had prayed for weeks that it would live long enough to make it to the Valley. Because the parking situation at the top of the hill, at camp, was so limited, we were required to take our vehicles down Emigration Canyon and park them at This is The Place Park, our final destination. Art could not get it started and coasted the entire eight miles down the canyon and stopped in front of the Park. We had made it in the Big Fish to the valley. We towed it into the Park and there it sat....battery dead; unable to start. We looked at each other and laughed. It served us well.
So, how do members of the trek who are footloose with no wheels get around? If you ask BC, all you have to do is step out on the road and within five minutes, somebody comes by and offers you a ride. He has been incredibly lucky. He has met wonderful people and has ended up where he needed to be. Fortunately, most of us have transportation and have not had to hitch rides. This really is not a good way to get around.
The kids would not come into the Valley yet. That was my choice, too, but my ox was mired in the mud and I called on our family to help get us out. We spent the night at my sister, Kathleen's, house. She and I were now full circle: from Omaha where we walked together out of Winter Quarters to the Salt Lake Valley. It was a great reunion.
This day was the last of the tough days. We had gone 19 miles to the top of Emigration Canyon. We could see the end. I am glad and I am sad. Tomorrow is the last. It has been hard and fun and wonderful. It has been sad as we met thousands of new friends and then bid them farewell along the trail. It has been exhilarating and lonely and funny and depressing. It has been everything. It has been the adventure of a life- time. How do we get up in the morning tomorrow and bid all of this farewell? Just as we have gotten up every morning and faced another tough, new day....with the help of our Father in Heaven.
I want to tell you a little about another of our leaders on this trek: Russ Leger. My first experience with Russ was in Omaha. Someone brought me a copy of two of his poems and suggested they be printed on the Internet. I read them and felt that whoever this Russ Leger was, he was also a great poet. Those poems were put on this site back in Omaha on one of the first days of the trek.
Russ was the wagon master for the Ox Bow group of the Mormon Trail Wagon Train. This group of wagons and walkers left Council Bluffs a few days before the North group left Winter Quarters. Russ and his group traveled the Southern route. It was a longer distance than the north group and they covered many more miles each day than we did. Russ was in charge of mapping out the south trail. This had never been done before and took a great deal of time and effort on his behalf to find the original trail and get it mapped. He also arranged for campsites and celebrations and commemorations for the South Train. We met up in Kearney and traveled together the rest of the way in to Utah. The Ox Bow group had about eleven wagons and 36 people in their group.
Russ is from Plattesmouth, Nebraska. He rides as an outrider for the train and tries to keep wagons, horseriders and walkers in their places. It can be very dangerous to have horsepeople riding in the wrong places, or have large groups of walkers among the wagons and horses, and it is his responsibility to help keep order. He also has done a lot of traffic control.
Russ requested that if I printed his poems I also write and tell about the circumstances that these poems were written.
Russ said when he wrote the poem "To The Children" it was October 21. He was travelling across Nebraska, headed to Cheyenne, Wyoming, to attend a meeting for the organization of the wagon train. As he drove across the state he would think of a line and write it down. It was not all at once, but was rather a process of time and distance. He said that when he reached Cheyenne, he had the poem. This was the first poem he had ever written.
The poem about the spirit of the trail was written in anticipation of the wagon train. It was written in February of 1997. He said the first time he read the poem was in Henry, Nebraska, just before we entered Wyoming. Russ wrote a poem about the handcarts. I do not have a copy of that, but will write it when I do. He wrote about a little handcart and the service it performs. It has been set to music and is featured in one of the Legacy West videos. It has a very special message.
Russ has been a great inspiration to all of us on this trail. He is a very thoughtful, kind person. He stops along the way to visit with the people who have come to see the train. He has spent many hours in the saddle riding beside the handcart company: talking, visiting, helping and giving us all the feelings of the trail. We thank you, Russ, for being a part of us. We thank you for helping and keeping things safe and in order. We thank you for your inspiration and example. May the Lord bless you.
I asked Russ if he had any final words to say about this trek. He said that this was the single greatest event attempted and completed in this decade. Athletic events in our society will never rival what the people of America are witnessing today. Thanks, Russ!