TAHLEQUAH – Four cyclists and two mentor riders from the Cherokee Nation will participate in the 2021 “Remember the Removal” Bike Ride in June, retracing an estimated 950 miles along the northern route of the Trail of Tears by bicycle.
The ride spans from Georgia to Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma over nearly three weeks.
This year’s CN riders are Shace Duncan, 18, Stilwell; Whitney Roach, 22, Tahlequah; Melanie Giang, 21, Claremore; Kaylee Smith, 20, Tahlequah; Ronnie Duncan, 48, Stilwell, mentor rider; and Tracie Asbill, 39, Tahlequah, mentor rider.
The cyclists began training in December 2019 and were originally scheduled to participate in the ride during the summer of 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic caused the 2020 ride to be canceled. The program is now implementing a number of safety precautions this year to allow the participants to complete the journey.
“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,” said Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. “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 cyclists will average around 60 miles a day along the routes used by their Cherokee ancestors, who made the same trek by foot more than 180 years ago. Of the estimated 16,000 Cherokees who were forced to make the journey to Indian Territory in 1838-39, about 4,000 died from starvation, disease and exposure.
Participants were selected based on an essay, in-person interviews and a physical fitness. As part of the training, the group spends weekends undergoing rigorous physical training and cycling on various routes throughout the CN reservation.
Giang said being chosen for the ride was an emotional experience. “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.”
Roach, a former Miss Cherokee, said when she was chosen to ride she felt a sense of pride within her grow. “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.”
The cyclists had their family trees researched by a professional genealogist, providing them insight into their ancestral past as well as connecting any family links they might share with one another.
During the trek, the cyclists will visit Cherokee gravesites and historic landmarks. Among the sites are Blythe Ferry in Tennessee on the westernmost edge of the old CN and Mantle Rock in Kentucky, where during the winter of 1838-1839 Cherokees spent several weeks waiting for the Ohio River to thaw and become passable.
The CN cyclists will be joined by three riders from the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians in North Carolina. Together, they will start the ride on May 31 in New Echota, Georgia, a former CN capital of.
Cyclists and staff who will accompany the cyclists have all received COVID-19 vaccinations. Participants will be following COVID-19 safety guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Cherokee health care experts during the ride, and will be accompanied by trained medical staff.
For information about the ride or to follow the journey, visit www.facebook.com/removal.ride.