Online Exclusive: The Trek of a Lifetime

Danny Van Fleet was in Illinois a dozen years ago when he heard about the sesquicentennial pioneer wagon-train re-enactment heading from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City. He signed up immediately, intending to join the trek for a couple of days. Instead, he spent more than three months on the trail, riding all the way to Salt Lake City. h2. A Spiritual Journey "I wasn't a Mormon at the time," Danny recalls. "I was in it for the horses." But what Danny got out of the experience was much more than a nice horseback ride--he found the gospel. "Doing this wagon train with a group of Mormon people was a great experience," he says. "Learning about their ancestors and experiencing some of the hardships they encountered, it just made a believer out of me. I felt there had to be something about this religion and its ability to withstand so many trials. And I couldn't get over how strong the family ties were." Danny was baptized in January 1998, and he remains in close contact with many who were on the wagon train with him. h2. A Legacy of His Own Now, because of the life-changing experience Danny had on the sesquicentennial trek, he is organizing a wagon train of his own. "I want to give other people the chance to experience what we experienced," he says. "I hope this wagon train builds its own legacy and build bonds and lifelong friendships. It will be the birth of a new family of people wanting to experience the footsteps of our pioneering ancestors as they made their way to Zion in the 1800s." Over the next three summers, Danny will be leading a wagon train over 1,300 miles--leaving Nauvoo on May 31 of this year to cross Iowa and arrive at Winter Quarters in Omaha, Nebraska, on June 28; through Nebraska and westward in 2009; and on to Salt Lake City in the summer of 2010. He plans to stick within three to five miles of the original Mormon Trail. The wagon train will leave at about 8 a.m. each day, and stop about 4:30 p.m. after 15 to 20 miles of travel. Along the way, he'll share some pioneer history, and at some locations people can view cemeteries where members of the original trek are buried. "The wagon train is the greatest thing I've done in my lifetime," says Danny. "This is what I want to give back to the Church." Visit vanfleetwagontrain.com for more information. h2. If You Go So, are you ready to hit the trail for the trek of a lifetime? Here are some things you need to know: * This year the wagon train leaves May 31 from Nauvoo and will stop at Winter Quarters on June 28. People will ride 15 to 20 miles per day, mostly along secondary roads. * People can sign up for a day, a week, a month--whatever they would like. They can also ride for a few days, return home, and join the wagon train again farther down the trail. * The wagon train will not travel on Sundays. * Wagons can be rented to experienced teamsters, but Danny will need to know how many people will ride in the rented wagon. Other registered trail riders can ride in wagons driven by Danny's experienced teamsters. * People can walk along the trail or pull a handcart if they wish. * Horses are available for rent. Call Danny at (309) 337-1100 as soon as possible to make reservations. * If bringing your own wagon, both antique and modern type wagons are acceptable. * Feed for animals will be available for purchase. Water will be free. * Professional horsemen and an on-call veterinarian will be available to riders along the trail. * People will sleep in their own tents, campers or motor homes, or motel rooms if one is near the night's stop. Movers will be available to move vehicles during the day as people ride the trail, or they can bring participants back to their vehicles at the end of the day. * Electricity will be available at some campgrounds. * Shower facilities will be available at some campgrounds, but not all. * Portable restrooms will be available. * People can bring their own food or purchase food along the way. They also can buy a trail ride food package. * There will be entertainment at the camps on some nights. * There are family, group, and early sign-up discounts. Call for a quote. To make reservations, call Danny Van Fleet at (309) 337-1100. Visit vanfleetwagontrain.com to learn more.
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