Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Mormon Trail + Addendum

The Mormon Trail

I have had the very good fortune to be treated as friend and neighbor by complete strangers on many occasions during my five cross-country walks. Episodes of kindness and generosity have come from the hands of a variety of folks. I am sure there is some commonality behind it all, but I have only gotten a few glimpses. Former hitchhikers, sometimes backpackers, occasional trekkers, and just plain friendly humans seem to make up a good share of the people who have helped me down the road.

I also have notice one particular recurring thread in my last years of walking. I have decided to call it the Mormon Trail. I seem more and more to run into and be helped along the way by Mormons, often called Latter Day Saints. In 2014, my travels criss-crossed the literal and historical Mormon Trail in Wyoming and Nebraska.

On other occasions, I have experienced a modern version of the Mormon Trail. In 2012, I received a lift up the road to Rexburg, Idaho, a tour of the city, and a night at the Super 8 thanks to Mayor of Rexburg, Richard Woodland. On the following day, I visited the Mayor at his City Hall, took pictures and was sent over to the Rexburg Standard for long and engaging newspaper interview.

Rexburg is the home of Brigham Young University - Idaho and overflows with Mormons and their churches and lives. But, Mormonism spreads out all over and especially in the western states. I received gifts - sometimes unknowingly, I suspect - from Mormons a number of times on the 2012-trip.

Near the end of the trek, I stopped in Rogerson, Idaho, before heading towards Jackpot, Nevada, and the real desert. Anita Robinson, who runs the convenience mart and restaurant - the only business in town, cooked me breakfast“on the house”and put me on the road with a remembrance of Captain Moroni (a figure from the Book of Mormon).

* Find the Trail of these stories at the blog called Photogobia.

In 2013, I was bailed out by Mormons in Coulson, Montana, when the front wheel of the Buggy I was pushing fell off. A Mormon woman, Joann Kofford, eventually took me under her wing, brought me to her home, made me part of her family, and got a young Mormon mechanic to repair my rig, which he did without charge. How lucky can a guy be?

One might wonder about getting stuck on the road? What luck is that? But then, people like Joann step up and lend a hand like we are all supposed to do. And, new opportunities develop.

Farther down the road short of Ashland, I got caught in a hailstorm. I was drying out a bit when I made the town, but was still pretty weathered. Another Mormon, Koyatu Jorden, took charge. She packed the buggy in the back of her van and drove me on to Broadus where I camped in the park for the night. She even left me with a blanket worrying about me keeping warm. Koyatu was heading off to do road construction in the morning.

* See blog Rescues & Rescuers.

It is interesting that the end of this trip in Nebraska found me being befriended in different ways by Seventh Day Adventists.

* See blog entitled Natural Healing.

In 2014 during my sojourn in Wyoming, I was befriended by a Mormon helper on the second day out. For a time, I had found myself stuck in the heat of the day in a ghost town named Moneta (although the highway map suggested a regular spot in the road). The one family, a couple, in “town” kept me out of the sun during the day. But by 5:00, I was heading east with a few hours of sunlight to spare.

Before long, a man with a small child in the back seat of his car stopped and invited me to ride to Casper. I was glad to accept as it was really a long way from nowhere. The Good Samaritan turned out to be a Mormon podiatrist who worked and lived up the road. Dr. Marshall evangelized me a bit during the road trip, but did not push too hard. He dropped me off in front of a McDonald's and tried to put money in my pocket. But, I refused and thanked him for his preceding generosity. I sent him a copy of one of my books later on.

I don't remember any more Mormons on the road that year, but suspect I had rides or offers or helps from others along the way. One of my favorite moments that year occurred when I got picked up by Kathryn Wempen and dropped off in Kearney, Nebraska. We had met a couple days earlier at the Methodist Church in Overton. I have told quite a bit about the Wempen story in other blogs. 

* This story still sits on the front page of The Portable School Website.

As for 2015, I should begin by telling that I lived most of this past year in Snowflake, Arizona. Snowflake is a Mormon pioneer town named for two men responsible for starting the small community of 5,000 people (10,000 counting adjoining Taylor). Mr. Snow and Mr. Flake put their heads and names together in 1876 to found Snowflake. It really could be called Noflakes because the snow is pretty sparse there even though the elevation is around 5500 feet.

On the other hand, there are lots of Mormons named Flake in the town. I met five of them during my stay, including Joseph who is a brother to US Senator, Jake Flake. I didn't meet any Snows.

In any case, I spent most of the year in real Mormon country. The Mormons were all around, but I mostly encountered them in the grocery store near the RV Park where I stayed. I had been settled for six months before I got a knock on the door from two female Mormon missionaries. The moment was a little surprising since I was unaware that young women could be missionaries and had to wonder why a Mormon pioneer town with a dozen Mormon wards might need missionaries.

I had already encountered a number of Jehovah Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists in the Trailer Park. Both of those sets of people were keen to interest me in their way.

I made but three good and potentially lasting friends in Snowflake. The first two were my landlord and landlady. I decided to call the Gibsons the Landbarons for a number of reasons. I don't believe Kevin and Debbie would mind.

My other friend is Jeff Hunt whom I met at the supermarket working one of his three jobs there. Jeff is descended from pioneer stock and invited me to his family picnic after the annual Pioneer Day Parade. Jeff did a large share of the cooking that day which featured chili and homemade bread. Jeff also did the honors in making 13 gallons of ice cream.

A few days after I had set a route and a starting date for my 2015 Walk to the Northland and Campaign Outing for Mr. Pooh, Jeff told me that he would look for us on his upcoming family trip through Salt Lake City into Idaho.

So, we kept in touch for a few days via text messages. When it happened that the family car was overheating and their trip was canceled, Jeff sent me a message wishing me luck on my travels and told me that he would pray that some of his Mormon kin would help me out along the road.

I tucked that notion in the back of my mind and continued on through Navajo Land. Pooh and I passed on by way of Utah and Wyoming. One morning as we had Montpelier, Idaho in our sites, a reddish late-model car (I don't know one from the other) made a U-turn on the highway and pulled up behind me. A woman approaching my age got out and asked me about our project and destination.

Before long, Pooh and I were ensconced in the backseat of the Mitchells' car. They were heading home to Boise and were quite interested to find out that we had started our journey in Snowflake, Arizona.

Carol Mitchell grew up in Snowflake, was born of Mormon stock, and knew the Hunt family quite well. How do you like those apples? 

Well, the Mitchells drove us 40-50 miles to Montpelier and headed onward for the rest of their journey home. So, did Jeff Hunt's prayer materialize? Or, how did that episode come about?

I had a couple other "Mormon experiences" on this recent trip in Idaho. Climbing a hill one morning in Potato Country, I was greeted by a group of young men up an incline on my side of the road. As I carried my flag, they were standing at attention and saluting. Well, I couldn't let that moment pass. So, I stopped. Walked up to where they were standing with eyes wide open. We had a short conversation and I took photos. I didn't ask, but knew quite surely that the boys were Mormons.

A day or two later in Chubbuck, I was sitting outside an ice cream shop having a treat. Some littler people appeared and asked about my adventure. They had seen me on the road earlier in the day. I had another conversation, campaign moment, and photo op.

On my last full day on the road, Terry and his daughter Raquel stopped to visit. Shortly thereafter, I got a motorcycle ride on the last mile or so into Rigby Idaho.

Some day, I will "figure" out the Mormon connection. When I do, I will relate the Rest of the Story.

Send comments or insights to theportableschool at gmail dot com.

Brief Addendum:

Two Mormon friends have recently suggested that because I have this affinity for Mormons, I should become one. My first response was 'not in this lifetime.'

After some thought I have come to the tentative conclusion that I must have traveled across the American continent with the Mormons in the 19th century - previous incarnation. That has got me thinking on another book with a title something like American Odyssey: From the Left Bank to the Golden Gate.

More later.

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