Eleven Cherokee bicyclists who were part of the 2022 Remember the Removal Bike Ride finalized their 950-mile journey with a homecoming ceremony in the capital city of the Cherokee Nation.
During the trek, cyclists from the Cherokee Nation and Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina retraced the northern route of the Trail of Tears in honor of their ancestors who were forcefully removed from their homelands in the southeast more than 180 years ago.
The cyclists began the memorial ride in New Echota, Georgia, on May 30 and pedaled through Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma before they were welcomed back at the Cherokee National Peace Pavilion in downtown Tahlequah.
During their journey over the last three weeks, the team of cyclists visited historical spots that are significant to Cherokee history. These locations were emotional – sites like Blythe Ferry in Tennessee, which is the last piece of Cherokee homeland Cherokee ancestors stood on before beginning their forced trek to Indian Territory. Other stops included Mantle Rock in Kentucky, where Cherokee ancestors sought shelter as they waited for the Ohio River to thaw during a bitterly cold winter.
The ride is not an easy one, testing both the physical and mental capabilities of the cyclists. The team traveled through rain, sunshine, heat and hilly terrain — sometimes pedaling almost 60 miles a day.
Cherokee Nation cyclists included Emily Christie, 24, of Stilwell; Kayce O’Field, 24, of Tahlequah; Jeanetta Leach, 23, of Rocky Mountain; Madison Whitekiller, 23, of Verdigris; and Desiree Matthews, 18, of Watts.
Eastern Band cyclists from North Carolina included Amy West, 25, of the Big Cove Community; Adrian “Bubba” Aguilera, 32, of the Painttown Community; Emra Arkansas, 39, of the Wolftown Community; Ethan Ledford, 56, of the Birdtown Community; Justin Lambert, 34, of the Birdtown Community; and Larry Blythe, 67, of the Birdtown Community.
The ride’s inaugural event was held in 1984 to illustrate the hardships that the Cherokee people faced. It’s estimated that 16,000 Cherokees were removed from Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina in the spring of 1838. Nearly 4,000 of them died during the roundup, incarceration and removal.
Cyclists were greeted in Tahlequah by hundreds of friends and family from the Cherokee Nation and Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.