"I know a thing or two about survival but Doc's journey takes survival to an entirely new level. The enthusiasm of Doc's passion is the beginning of his wisdom. This book is a must read"!
Dan Haggerty (Grizzly Adams)
"An amazing and unique read. The narrative crosses time and dimension. I was completely transported by this very touching story. A possible intriguing motion picture".
Marlin Sharp, Filmmaker
Thunder booms, shaking the air.
The entire sky lights up, and I am rocked from sleep by either the noise, the light, or the water running into my tent, I’m not sure which. The rain beats a heavy and constant rhythm on the canvas above, and I scoot around trying to tighten the ties on my tent flaps. A pointless activity, as the rain is determined to find any path in that it can. Water follows the path of least resistance, I tell myself, wondering why it is that I can’t seem to do the same. Not on this trek, and clearly, not in life. Another bolt lights the world, and a clap of thunder follows. Pulling out my Boy Scout trick, I count the seconds between the bolt and clap and get no further than one, two, leading me to shiver a little more violently than before. Man, I am close to this thing. I count my way through five more sets, eyes wide, brain scrambling from placating reassurances to dire death warnings and back.
The next flash and crack are closer to three seconds apart, and I relax a bit. It’s not my time. I’m not meant to go this way, struck by lightning in the proverbial Iowa cornfield. I continue counting seconds between flashes and crashing booms, and they remain at least three or four seconds apart, gradually stretching further and further from each other until I can barely manage connecting the sets. I roll over, ignoring the damp, and listen to my mind telling me that soon I’ll have to get up and pull my handcart through this stuff. I groan; the world lights up again. Bessie, my terrier, moves closer to me and her trembling body slowly calms. I’m lucky I have her, grateful for the company. Sarah slept out here, not alone either. She had six children snugged up against her, probably cowering underneath a canvas tent at times, listening to thunder rumble and smash just as I’m doing.
Barely six days into this trek, there’s not a part of me that doesn't ache. Did she ache? Was every muscle in her body tired and weary? Besides my throbbing muscles, my thinking parts seem terribly susceptible to fear and apprehension, and they plain old don’t like lightning storms. Was she fearful? How did she survive the aching body and treacherous mind? And how on this green earth will I survive another three months of this?
Sarah stays in my mind, feisty thing she must have been, and I think of her tenacity and fortitude as I readjust myself on the wet canvas floor. No sheep for me; I count rows of corn, I count wagon wheels, I count the years that separate Sarah’s life from mine, I count the traits she possessed that I hope to discover within the depths of my own being. Dawn will be here before long, and I’ll pack up and start walking again. The rain continues to pound the canvas surrounding me, and I finally will myself to sleep, which only partially works, and not for a long, long time.
Doc, June 15, 2009
"Faith Greater Than Pain offers a unique perspective on the handcart pioneer experience. Where prior works have theorized and waxed eloquent about what we think we understand about the pain, despondence, isolation, doubt, hunger, exhaustion, and overriding all-encompassing faith of the handcart pioneer,
Doc Cleland actually walks the reader through these experiences as the first person in modern times to pull a handcart and live an authentic pioneer life for all 1,400 miles of trail in an authentic 110 days. The depth of Doc's misery and his spiritual growth is lovingly juxtaposed with Sarah Goode Marshall's experiences in trials, faith, and triumph".
| Sample Chapter |
Monday August 4, 1856
It is just past dusk and shapes are melting into each other, the tree branches becoming fuzzy, the tree trunks, rocks, and river dense, the sky lighter, and everything in between taking on one of fifty different shades of twilight.
I have tucked the children in, their poor little bones protected from the bumpy ground by mere ounces of skin, muscle, and fabric. There cannot be even a pound of fat left on any of them. They continue to shrink, though it seemed three weeks ago that they had no more to give. We subsist on such little food, and work ourselves so hard each day it’s no wonder we’re shrinking. The real wonder is that we can continue to get up each morning and continue.
I’m sitting on a good-sized rock outside our tent, my arms wrapped round my skirted knees, and I stare into the darkening tableau in front of me. Evening prayers have been said, and the camp has quieted. Most are already in their tents, though a few remain in clusters, talking in low tones and finishing the evening’s tasks.
He’s so quiet that I don’t at first notice him by my side, then I jump a bit as I realize there’s a young man standing to my left.
“Pardon me,” his voice is hardly audible, and it cracks on the long vowel sound.
“Yes?” I respond, searching his face and not recognizing him as part of our company, though it is quite dark and I may be mistaken. Not many strangers have approached me during this journey, and none during a dark evening at camp.
“I wonder if you might, well, may I sit?” he nearly collapses beside me before I can answer.
“Are you all right?” I ask, a bit unnerved by his apparent weakness.
“I’m so hungry,” he says, hanging his head. “Would you have anything to eat that you could spare?”
“My goodness, when did you last eat?”
“I don’t rightly remember, ma’am, I don’t rightly know.”
I scramble up and move to my handcart where I’ve put away biscuits for the morning. I carefully unwrap the small cloth that holds them, and remove two. Lovinia and I will find a way to do without.
“Here,” I tell him, “eat these, and I will go get some water from the creek.”
“Thank you, thank you mightily,” his words are whispered, and I don’t know if he’s parched or just weak, or both.
When I return with a pot of water and offer him a cup, I see that he’s eaten just one of the biscuits. He drinks a small amount, then pauses, cup in hand.
“Where are you traveling?” I ask, sitting again on my rock.
“I left California, I don’t know, it’s been a while now. I’m heading back home, back to Illinois, but my horse disappeared one night, got stolen I guess. I’ve been walking ever since, and it’s not going so well.”
“You’re all by yourself?” I ask, trying to imagine how he could survive this untamed and barren country without help. “Please, eat, you must need more, and drink, too.”
He breaks off a piece of biscuit and moves it to his mouth, and I can see he is beyond exhaustion. I watch him chew, sip water, chew some more. He can’t be more than twenty-five years old, he could be my little brother. My maternal instincts pour forth, and I try to think of what else I can do for this poor young man.
“My tent is too full to offer you a place inside, but I can spare a small blanket for you if you’d like, and you could sleep over her where there’s a bit of grass,” I offer.
“Oh, I have my bedroll here I’ve been carrying, thank you, ma’am.” As he turns his face up to mine a little streak of moonlight catches his eyes and I see his appreciation for what little I’ve offered. “I’ll just spread out over here, if you don’t mind me being here, I’ll be fine. Used to sleeping under the stars.”
“No, I don’t mind at all,” I tell him, as I know this poor soul could do me no harm.
I help him spread his bedroll, and he lays his body down. He closes his eyes and I smooth his brow, whispering a small prayer over his worn body.
“Dearest Heavenly Father, watch over this precious soul and bless him as he sleeps tonight. Bless him and give him strength for his journey, dear Lord.”
The young man gives the slightest smile, his lip barely lifting up on just the right side.
“David, I’m David,” he whispers back to me.
“Bless you David, and sleep in peace,” I rest my hand lightly on his shoulder then gather myself up to return to my rock.
I sit there another minute or two, thanking God for letting me be of some small service to this tired, depleted soul. As I finally rise to put myself to bed I see the remainder of the second biscuit, which he’d eaten just a small part of. I carefully pick it up and wrap it again with the others in the handcart. Lovinia will have something to begin her day with after all. I crawl into the tent and say one more small prayer for David, for my family, for all of us out on this seemingly unending trail in the middle of nowhere.
Tuesday August 5, 1856
I awaken early, but not early enough to be the first to see David in his bedroll just a dozen feet from my tent. Brother Ash has been over to check him out already, and as I exit my tent to greet the day I see a solemn face approaching me.
“Do ya know who this be over here lying outside?”
“Yes, his name is David, he came to me last night begging for food. He was starving, says he’s been walking quite a while, that he’s heading to Illinois.”
Brother Ash shakes his head, “He not be heading anywhere no more, the poor lad’s no longer breathing. Must of given it up during the night sometime, I s’pose.”
Something hard strikes me in the chest, I am shocked. “Oh, tell me no, this cannot be.”
“It is, I’m surely sorry, Sister Marshall. He be gone.”
I sink to my rock, trying to collect myself. Oh, the poor boy. Oh, thank you Lord, thank you for letting me show David some small kindness on his final day here on Earth. Oh, I am just filled with sorrow. This land is so hard on us, so relentlessly unkind, so ruthless in what it takes from us.
Brother Ash moves on, surely to find others to come help deal with the body of what was once a young, vibrant soul. How will his family learn of his death? Who will ever know to mourn him? I pray, I fill my heart and mind with words that will hopefully rise to our Heavenly Father and help ease his journey, and those of all who know and love him. I will never forget this young man, and though sorrow surrounds me I also feel blessed to be one who will forever honor his spirit.
And then I collect my pot, and head down to the creek to fill it with water, for the day moves on regardless of our hopes, prayers, joy, or sorrow.