Siblings help train ‘Remember the Removal’ cyclists
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Sarah and Layne Holcomb look like all the other cyclists airing up tires, filling water bottles and checking brakes as they prepare in the Cherokee Nation Tribal Complex parking lot for another day of training.
The sister and brother from Vian are not among the 12 cyclists who will retrace the Trail of Tears through Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas before returning to Oklahoma, but they are helping ensure the cyclists are ready for their June trip.
“Remember the Removal” ride coordinator Joseph Erb said the Holcombs are helping this year’s candidates learn to ride advanced bicycles, to ride in a group, to shift their bikes’ gears, road rules and to ride as a team.
“They are teaching the responsibility Cherokees have for each other. They show up and help make this a stronger program by their encouragement and Cherokee mindset. They bring a strong understanding of being Cherokee and believing in each other,” Erb said. “This program honors those we lost and those who where able to continue on and allow us the chance to continue as a people. Sarah and Layne got a lot from the “Remember the “Removal” program when they went (on the ride) and are giving that back to this group.”
Sarah, 26, uses the experience she gained from going on the nearly 1,000-mile trip five consecutive years to help train the new cyclists.
“I come out and try to help train the riders every year because I remember how hard it was for me. I only had maybe a couple weeks of training, and it was really tough that first year. So every year after that I’ve always tried to come out and help the trainers and tell them (new cyclists) what they have ahead of them. It just always helps to have an experienced rider there,” she said.
She said she tells each year’s cyclists the ride will be “tough,” but it will be nothing like what their ancestors went through to reach Indian Territory in 1838-39.
She said she emphasizes communication because the cyclists ride close together on the highway. For instance if one cyclist slows down and doesn’t communicate they are slowing down to the others, they could all run into each and wreck.
Along with communication, she encourages them look out for each other and work as a team to get home.
Cyclists will put their bodies to the test as they travel an average of 60 miles a day, mirroring in part the hardships of their Cherokee ancestors who made the same trek on foot. Of the estimated 16,000 Cherokees who were forced to make the journey to Indian Territory from eastern Tennessee and other sites in the old Cherokee Nation, 4,000 died from exposure, starvation and disease.
Layne watched his sister go the first four years, starting in 2009, and he was chosen to go with her during her fifth trip. Sarah said Layne also was inspired by their mother Sherry, who was part of the first “Remember the Removal” bicycle ride in 1984.
Layne, 19, said he enjoys the same camaraderie among the cyclists that he experienced when he rode two years ago. He said he tries to encourage the cyclists as they train and tells them it’s not as hard as they think and the obstacles they face “are all in their head.”
“Your body can do much more than you think it can do,” he said.
He said this year’s group gets along well, which should benefit them.
“I’m really glad they do get along,” he said. “Sometimes people argue, but that’s just inevitable because you’re tired and hungry and you just want to take a shower.”
Layne said he tries to help the cyclists with tips on how to work their bike’s gears efficiently.
Erb said CN marshal Chad McCarter, who participated in the “Remember the Removal” ride in 2009, is also taking time to help train this year’s cyclists.
“Getting in shape for this ride mentally and physically is a difficult task. The extreme miles that we cover and the places we see that had very unjust events that caused the death of so many of our people is very emotional,” Erb said. “Having past participants encourage this year’s group is very important as they train and become educated in this part of our history.”
Erb said the 12 cyclists and their trainers ride as a group on weekends and the trainees also make time to ride in groups during the week.
“I would just like to ask the local drivers to be looking out for them. Please be patient and share the road. These are exceptional young Cherokees, and we hope all the local drivers will give them room and be kind to them,” he said.
This year’s cyclists were chosen by a committee and must complete required trainings and history courses from February through May to go on the three-week trip in June. The cyclists’ names will be released later.
The CN group will leave on June 3 for Cherokee, North Carolina, where they will join up with seven cyclists from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The EBCI has been participating in the ride since 2011. The cyclists will begin making their way back on June 7 from New Echota, Georgia, along the Northern Route of the Trail of Tears and arrive on June 25 in Tahlequah.