Nineteen Cherokee bicyclists were greeted at the end of their 950-mile journey with a thunder clap and cheers from well-wishers.
The 2014 Remember the Removal riders returned to Tahlequah Thursday afternoon, having re-traced the northern route of the Trail of Tears over the past three weeks.
Thirteen riders represented the Cherokee Nation, with the final six representing the Eastern Band of Cherokees. This is the 30th anniversary of the memorial ride and the 175th anniversary of the end of the Trail of Tears.
Riders were welcomed by family, friends and tribal dignitaries, including CN Chief of Staff Chuck Hoskin Sr.
“When I saw them come in, I asked myself, ‘Now that they’ve made it, what are we going to do?’” said Hoskin. “Then I wondered how many of our ancestors said something similar when they arrived here in Tahlequah 175 years ago.”
The group, ranging in age from 15-54, started in New Echota, Georgia, on June 1, and traveled across Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas.
“These people were asked along the way, ‘Why are you doing this?’” said Hoskin. “To remember the hardship and healing our ancestors felt, but to also remember and celebrate their strength and courage.”
Principal Chief Bill John Baker presented all the riders with medals and certificates.
“This is a glorious day in the Cherokee Nation,” said Baker. “Another class has taken the challenge, ridden those many, many miles, and retraced one of the routes of our ancestors from our homeland in the east to the present-day Cherokee Nation.”
Baker met up with the group in Kentucky, and followed them through Illinois.
“I watched the riders while they were in the hill country, where the roads mimic a roller-coaster,” said Baker. “Their emotions and physical strength followed that same coaster. I saw leadership; I saw family.”
Joseph Erb, Removal ride coordinator said the journey meant a lot to each person who made it.
“We made it,” said Erb. “But it’s not just a bike ride, it’s a memorial. They did our genealogy and we connected to our homes and our families, what we are tied to.”
Chance Randolph, 18, of Claremore, said the entire group exhibited teamwork and stamina.
“I’m proud of myself and everyone else for making it,” said Randolph. “We did this ride to honor our ancestors, retrace their steps and learn our history and the fact that our people had the strength to carry on. Just as they did, we’ve all pushed ourselves hard to get there.”
Cherokee Nation participants in this year’s ride included Adrianna Collins, Cassie Moore, Chance Rudolph, Charli Barnoskie, Elizabeth Burns, Jamekah Rios, Jacob Chavez, Jordan McLaren, Kassidy “Tye” Carnes, Keeley Godwin, Madison Taylor, Noah Collins and Zane Scullawl.
Easter Band of Cherokee Indians participating included Katrina Sneed, Kelsey Owle, Patricia Watkins, Richie Sneed, Russell Bigmeat and Ty Bushyhead Boyd.
To learn more about the Remember the Removal ride, visit, tahlequahTDP.com.