Members of Ride for Missions set out from Tahlequah on their horses Monday morning on their trip along the Trail of Tears to Cherokee, North Carolina.
Ride for Missions is a series of endurance-style horse rides used to raise awareness and funds for mission work in various parts of the world.
"We're doing great," said Len Crow, a pastor from Orillia, Ontario, Canada. "By the end of Wednesday, we should be 50 miles outside Tahlequah."
This is Crow's eighth long-distance ride. His previous rides have been to benefit people in other countries, so Crow decided to raise awareness and funds for missions on two reservations.
The current two month, 900-plus-mile ride will benefit ministries with the White Mountain Apache in Arizona and the Crow Reservation in Montana. Crow hopes to raise $30,000 for each.
"I've ridden all across America, and every time I've been to an Indian reservation, they have accepted me and my horse and gave me good info," said Crow. "We want to help give back a little to the Native Americans. The people have a great need right now. We're not going to reinvent the wheel. We'll help support the missions already there."
According to a post on the Ride for Mission Facebook Page, the funds will be used to help young people get trade skills.
"These ministries are hampered with no funds to buy equipment such as welders, saws and tools. The group in Montana was given a house to renovate and use for dorms for the students. They need money to do those renovations," the post states.
Riding with Crow are Benny Hallwood, Navajo, and Lee Standingready, Lakota Sioux. Crow said Carl Chism of Tahlequah hopes to join them later.
"I'm so blessed to be on this ride," said Standingready in a Facebook Live video. "It's an amazing ride. This weather is beautiful."
The riders also have a support team, which includes family members and friends. They all have set up a base camp at Round Hollow Public Access Area, which they will leave Thursday night.
Having a base camp allows the group a guaranteed place to sleep, feed and take care of horses, and keep vehicles. Drivers take the riders and horses to their starting spot each day, and pick them up in the evening to go back to camp. Other team members stay at the camp during the day.
"We travel and ask local information as we go. It's hard to calculate how far we'll be at the end of the day," said Crow. "A big help is that local info. We're looking for routes. We try to avoid interstates."
The three horsemen were busy "texting and riding" when they left Tahlequah, and they missed the turn to U.S. Highway 62 and had to backtrack a couple of miles.
Crow and the crew have already raised money to support them along the way, but one thing the travelers need is hay delivered to their base camps.
"It's difficult to carry hay. We get four bales at a time. I don't mind paying, but it's difficult to pick it up," said Crow.
This isn't the first time Crow has been on the Trail of Tears. He and his wife, Nancy, drove the route last year.
And this is definitely not the longest trip the Crows have experienced. The pastor rode 7,000 miles from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to Guadalajara, Mexico, on a mission ride to raise funds for orphanages in Mexico, Cambodia, the Philippines, Guatemala, and India.
As for the people in the Tahlequah area, Crow said everyone has been generous and friendly.
"To the community, I want to say thank you for the kindness. While we were in town, we met a lot of different people," he said.
More information and links to donate are on the Ride for Missions Facebook Page. Those who wish to assist with hay, directions, lodging, etc. should contact the group through Facebook.