TAHLEQUAH, Okla. (KFOR) – A Cherokee Nation bike team will ride nearly 1,000 miles in remembrance of the Trail of Tears.
A team consisting of four cyclists and two mentor riders will ride an estimated 950 miles along the Trail of Tears’ northern route for the 2021 Remember the Removal Bike Ride this June, according to a Cherokee Nation news release.
The ride will start in Georgia and span Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma over a three-week period.
The team started their training regiment in December 2019 and were originally scheduled to make the ride last summer, but the ride was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The upcoming ride will have safety precautions so the riders can complete it safely, according to the news release.
“The Remember the Removal Bike Ride is such a tremendous opportunity for our Cherokee youth to learn the history and honor the legacy of their ancestors who endured some of the worst tragedy in the history of the Cherokee Nation,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “Canceling the ride in 2020 was disappointing, but we knew that it was absolutely the right decision to make to ensure no one’s safety was jeopardized in the midst of the worst public health crisis in generations. Our cyclists, our ride coordinators and the volunteers who will join them have all received the COVID-19 vaccine and will soon be ready to begin their journey. When they return home, I know that they will have forever been changed by their experience and will have a deeper understanding of our Cherokee history and of their own strength and perseverance.”
The following Cherokee Nation members will participate in the Remember the Removal Bike Ride:
- Shace Duncan, 18, Stilwell
- Whitney Roach, 22, Tahlequah
- Melanie Giang, 21, Claremore
- Kaylee Smith, 20, Tahlequah
- Ronnie Duncan, 48, Stilwell, mentor rider
- Tracie Asbill, 39, Tahlequah, mentor rider
They will average around 60 miles a day along the routes used by their Cherokee ancestors, who walked the same path on foot more than 180 years ago.
“Of the estimated 16,000 Cherokees who were forced to make the journey to Indian Territory in 1838 and 1839, about 4,000 died due to starvation, disease and exposure to the elements,” the news release states.
Cyclists were selected based on an essay, in-person interviews and a physical to ensure they are up for the grueling challenge.
Team members underwent rigorous physical training and cycling on various routes throughout the Cherokee Nation Reservation on weekends.
Giang said it is an emotionally profound experience to be chosen for the ride honoring the thousands of Cherokees who walked the Trail of Tears.
“To me it means that I have been given such an honorable position in that we not only have the chance to learn about our ancestors, but that we also get the chance to retrace the Trail and reflect on the hardships that our people endured so we can be better ambassadors for our people,” Giang said.
Roach, a former Miss Cherokee, feels immense pride.
“When I was chosen to be on the ride, I felt a sense of pride grow within me,” Roach said. “I not only get to represent myself and my family, but I get to represent my ancestors who were forced on the Removal. My ancestors are why I am here today and I have the opportunity to retrace their steps in remembrance of their strength and resilience.”
A professional genealogist mapped out the cyclists’ family tree, giving them insight into their ancestral past and connecting any family links they might share with one another.
The cyclists will visit several Cherokee gravesites and historic landmarks during their trek. Blythe Ferry in Tennessee, on the westernmost edge of the old Cherokee Nation, and Mantle Rock in Kentucky are among the sites they will visit. Those who walked the Trail of Tears spent several weeks at Mantle Rock during the harsh, frigid winter of 1838-1839, waiting for the Ohio River to thaw and become passable, according to the Cherokee Nation.
Three cyclists from the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians will join the Cherokee Nation cyclists in North Carolina.
“Together, they will start the ride in New Echota, Georgia, a former capital of the Cherokee Nation, on May 31,” the news release states.
All cyclists and staff accompanying the cyclists throughout the journey were vaccinated against COVID-19.
Riders will follow safety guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Cherokee health care experts during the ride. A trained medical staff will accompany them.
Visit www.facebook.com/removal.ride for more information on the Remember the Removal Bike Ride or to follow along during the journey.