FARMINGTON – More than 20 Cherokee descendants made their way through southeast Missouri Tuesday during the 2019 Remember the Removal ride. They traveled from Trail of Tears State Park to Farmington after they enjoyed a much-needed day of rest in Cape Girardeau.
During Tuesday’s ride, the cyclists clocked 71.9 miles on their bikes. Ashley Hunnicutt and Joshua Chavez were the day’s leaders of the group.
This year’s ride marks 180 years since the Cherokee people reached Indian Territory following the Trail of Tears.
This annual ride allows young Cherokees to retrace the northern route of the Trail of Tears on bicycles. Their journey spans almost 1,000 miles from Georgia to Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma. This year is also the 35th anniversary of the inaugural Remember the Removal ride which took place in 1984.
The nine cyclists, ages 20-24, began training in December. The tribe also selected two Cherokee Nation citizens to be mentor riders: 55-year-old Marie Eubanks and 58-year-old Kevin Stretch.
“It is quite an honor to be one of the few chosen for this opportunity of a lifetime,” says Principal Chief Bill John Baker. “By the time these young men and women leave to begin their journey, they will have spent more than half a year training together and developing a bond that will last a lifetime. The lives of these Cherokees will be forever changed along this journey.”
The cyclists travel an average of 60 miles per day along the routes used by their Cherokee ancestors.
Cyclists were selected to participate in this experience based on essays, interviews and a physical to ensure they were up for the grueling challenge. As part of their training, the group spends weekends undergoing metabolic training and also cycling on a variety of routes in and around 14 counties of the Cherokee Nation. They also train on their own or in groups throughout the week in preparation for this challenging ride.
A genealogist puts together each rider’s family tree before the trip so they receive insights into their ancestral past and any family links the riders share are revealed.
During this journey, cyclists visit several Cherokee gravesites and historic landmarks including Blythe’s Ferry in Tennessee, the westernmost edge of the old Cherokee Nation, and Mantle Rock in Kentucky where many Cherokees huddled together for warmth under a hanging rock, the only shelter they found during devastating winter weather.
The Cherokee Nation cyclists are joined by 10 riders from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina. The group began riding together in New Echota, Ga., on June 2.
The group rides from Farmington to Steelville Wednesday. They travel to Waynesville on Thursday, followed by stops in Competition, Strafford, Republic and Cassville before arriving at Pea Ridge, Ark., on June 18. Then they travel to Fayetteville, Ark., to Stilwell, Okla., and then arrive at their final destination of Tahlequah, Okla., on June 20.
Follow the progress of the Remember the Removal Ride of 2019 on Facebook, Twitter at #RTR2019 or Instagram @TheCherokeeNation in honor of the inaugural ride’s 35th anniversary.