More than 200 Mormon teenagers abandoned their iPods and baseball caps and pulled on suspenders or calico bonnets for a long walk into the history of their church.
Yesterday morning, the teenagers embarked on a three-day, 12-mile trek in a hilly Appalachian valley in Fauquier County designed to emulate the 19th century pilgrimage that took Mormons fleeing religious persecution in Nauvoo, Ill., west to the Great Salt Lake Valley.
More than 70,000 pioneers made the journey over two decades, with the first group reaching the valley July 24, 1847. The day is celebrated as a state holiday in Utah and is remembered among 12 million Mormons worldwide, including 50,000 in the Washington area.
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, across the country have organized many similar treks to pass on church history to its younger members.
Many of the Northern Virginians who set off yesterday said they had a family connection to the event as well.
"One of my great-great-grandmothers did this, so it's a family tradition," said David Wellington, 18, of Mount Vernon.
The teenagers were divided into "families" of 12 to 14 and assigned a "Ma and Pa," adult volunteers who would be their chaperones. Their first task was to assemble handcarts: Many pioneers had to push or pull their belongings more than 1,000 miles across the country in carts because they could not afford oxen and wagons.
"It's like we're following in their footsteps," said Crystal Fotheringham, 15, who was wearing a home-sewn skirt, bonnet -- even bloomers -- and eating a high-energy snack to prepare for the journey.
Kent Jamison, 37, a volunteer "Pa," carried a transcript of his family history in the form of a camp journal recorded by ancestor William Woodward, who was a member of one handcart group that headed west in 1856.
One of Woodward's responsibilities was to record the number of miles the company traveled each day -- seven to 20 or more, depending on weather and terrain -- as well as how many people died.
Jamison said the group left in late September and hit hard weather. Many froze to death in snowstorms and were buried along the trail.
The trek, which is based on a curriculum designed by Brigham Young University, is designed to give the teenagers a small taste of the pioneers' hardships. Most amenities, including toothpaste, books, pillows and even paper plates, were confiscated before the teenagers left base camp, and meals of mush and stew were waiting for them along the way.
Close clouds threatened rain, but spirits were high as the group set off at 11 a.m. A trail boss went ahead on a horse, and a line of 15 carts followed along, clumsily at first. The sound of laughter mingled with the sounds of cups clanging on the back of the wagons and the bumps of objects falling out of the wagons.
One wagon lost its entire back panel and had to stop for repairs.
"We fixed it the pioneer way: with duct tape," Keri Wheelwright, 14, of Bristow said proudly.
Her new family members hollered directions at each other as they climbed and descended their first hill, trying not to topple the wagon: Whoa! Pull back! Watch out for the horse poop!
As the young people struggled with the cart, the adults hung back, not wanting to interfere with any lessons they might learn.
The chaperones have organized an itinerary for the teenagers, including such activities as a hoedown and pioneer games. They have also planned some challenges: At one point, they will ask the women to pull the carts by themselves, reminding the young people that there was a time when men were called to fight in the Mexican War and women had to continue the trek alone.
But, for the moment, all the teenagers focused on just getting past the next hill, and then the next. Just like the pioneers.