Despite the obvious name, I never expected Rocky Ridge to be as rocky as it was. It sounds dumb, I know. But I thought that it would be more of a dirt trail with lots of rocks along the way. Instead, it was a large hill made of nothing but rock, with just a light dusting of dirt. And looking for a path was almost pointless. The sheets of stone made it nearly impossible to distinguish a path and had I been alone, I likely wouldn’t have realized a path existed.
As it was, the path was clear only because of the long line of teenagers pulling handcarts. Even with everyone else dressed like pioneers and struggling up the trail, it was easy to feel a bit weird about the situation. Like playing dress-up while hiking.
The rock wasn’t smooth. Exactly the opposite, actually. Long, jagged sheets of rock stacked unevenly on top of each other. And we were trying to pull carts with inflexible wooden wheels over that mess.
If it had been a normal hike – comfortable pants and a t-shirt, lightweight sneakers, a backpack to carry food and water in, a baseball cap, no handcart – the trail still would have had its challenges, but it would have seemed pretty doable overall. But climbing the trail with a handcart full of supplies, wearing a long skirt, button shirt, and having only apron pockets to tuck my water bottle into made it much more difficult.
That’s not to say I was miserable. Sure, it felt a bit weird and yes, it was tough, but there was such a positivity of feeling around me from the leaders and other teenagers that it was hard to be too negative over it. Plus, we weren’t just doing it for fun.
We were doing it to remember our heritage.
Pioneers Following Christ
In the mid-1800s, thousands of pioneers traveled across the United States with wagons and handcarts, walking every step of the way to reach the Rocky Mountains. Some of those pioneers continued all the way to the west coast in search of gold, but a large group settled in the Utah area.
This group didn’t come west for gold. They left their homes back east because of persecution and because they wanted to build a community of safety. They wanted to practice their religion without anyone destroying their homes, murdering them, or attempting to exterminate them, as had happened in the past. They weren’t willing to give up on their faith in Christ, so finding a safe place to live was essential for their survival.
On that trail, all suffered and struggled, and some died. As a teenager, I had heard the stories and learned their faith, but getting a firsthand taste of their trek helped me understand better what they went through.
But even that tiny firsthand experience can’t come close to what those pioneers went through. I climbed Rocky Ridge in the summer. It was hot and challenging, but there were plenty who climbed it in the winter. If the path was hard to find in the summer, it would have been impossible in the winter. And though all of us teenagers made it up Rocky Ridge just fine, for some of those pioneers, Rocky Ridge was the last place they walked.
Christ Walked With Them
The fact that so many pioneers did survive and established a new community in a place once deemed unlivable shows that Christ was with these people every step of their journey. They weren’t perfect people, and they faced exhausting struggles. But Christ walked with them.
Climbing Rocky Ridge and walking the following 18 or so miles after, you can feel it. You can feel that this is a place no one has walked alone. The spirit of the place – even in the dull, dusty parts of the trail – supports you even now. You can’t help thinking what it would take to do that every day for months on end.
In a world of cars, airplanes, and instant gratification, it’s hard to imagine doing something so physically draining for so long.
But the trek taught those pioneers how to fully rely on Christ. It taught them endurance and sacrifice. It changed them to make them more like Christ.
We don’t have to pull handcarts across the nation. In a modern world, our trails are different, and pioneers don’t forge the kind of trails they once did. But we do still have pioneers. And we can be pioneers ourselves, no matter where we live or what our lives look like.
Each of us has individual trails that we have to walk. Those trails are challenging, painful, and even scary at times. But we don’t walk them alone. And those trails shape us as much as Rocky ridge and the Oregon Trail shaped the pioneers of nearly two centuries ago.
But we also have trails we climb as a society. Right now, our world is full of contention and division, violence and hate. There’s good as well, but it is sometimes overshadowed by everything else. If we want to be pioneers today, then we need to be the ones leading out in compassion. Pioneers do new things, different things, and if the world is choosing darkness, then pioneers will choose light.
The best way we can succeed as pioneers of light and compassion is by relying on Christ. However different our trails may be, we can still learn from the pioneers of the past and their faith in Christ, determination, endurance, and hope. Those are eternal principles, and Christ is at the center of them all.
We need a new generation of pioneers – pioneers who rely on Christ as they build bridges of compassion and work toward a unified community. And we can’t sit back and expect that others will be those pioneers for us. If we step up, others will too, and Christ will carry us forward.