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(Many Paths)
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15 Bicyclists Begin Retracing Trail of Tears
by Will Chavez - Senior Reporter, The Cherokee Phoenix
credits: photos by Will Chavez - The Cherokee Phoenix

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Family members, friends as well as Cherokee Nation employees and leaders gathered May 30 at the Tribal Complex to send off the 15 local bicyclists participating in the 2013 Remember the Removal Bike Ride from New Echota, Ga., to Tahlequah.

The riders are expected to leave New Echota on June 3 and ride 950 miles through Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas before entering Oklahoma. This year's ride occurs on the 175th anniversary of the forced removal of approximately 16,000 Cherokee people from their homelands in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina in May 1838. It's estimated nearly 4,000 of them died during the roundup, incarceration and movement over land and river routes.

The 15 CN riders will join seven riders from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in Cherokee, N.C., before traveling as a group to New Echota. The 2013 CN riders are Benjamin Keener, Joseph Keener, Lillie Keener and Noah Collins of Claremore; Blake Henson of Fort Gibson; Marshall Smith of Hulbert; Haydn Comingdeer and Robert Ketcher of Stilwell; Hestin Lamons, Paige Carnes, Jon Ross and Latasha Atcity of Tahlequah; Carter Copeland of Tulsa; and Lane Holcomb and Sarah Holcomb of Vian.

The seven EBCI riders are Kate Cooper, Tighe Wachacha, Joeseph Owle, Marvel Welch, Elias Huskey, Yona Wade and Hillary Smith.

During the send-off ceremony, CN citizen David Comingdeer, who took part in the 2011 ride, told the riders that they would feel the ride's stress, the heat and the pain in their legs, hands and shoulders.

"It's a very awkward position to pedal a bike like that. It's not natural to stay in that position and push yourself for that many hours a day, every day across half of the United States," he said. So, you're going to learn to hurt and still perform. You all represent every one of us. Take pride in who you are because we're all behind you."

Principal Chief Bill John Baker said he knows the riders will return as "different people" with more confidence and motivation and will possess more knowledge about their ancestors. He said as a student of Cherokee history, he is envious of the three-week trip the riders would make.

"You are going to come so close to feeling what our ancestors felt on that terrible trip from our homelands," he said. "I honor each and every one of you for making this commitment. You'll be the leaders of this great nation someday because of the commitment you've given to this nation today."

Ride leader Taylor Alsenay said he's been working with the riders for the past two months to prepare them.

"We've had them riding the hills around here building up their endurance. I put them through hills, long flats, places where we faced head winds, that way they encountered what they are going to be experiencing," Alsenay, who led the group in 2012 and participated in the inaugural ride in 1984, said.

The riders averaged 10 to 12 miles when they began training, he said, and by the end of their training were averaging 31 miles in roughly 15 to 16 miles per hour.

Though he will be driving a support vehicle, Alsenay will also need endurance as he drives 5 to 15 miles per hour behind and in front of the riders for 950 miles. "I get to see everything at every yard sale...and road kill, you go by at 55 and it's gone, you go by at 10 miles an hour it lingers forever," he said.

The Remember the Removal Bike Ride was first done in 1984 so that Cherokee youth would never forget the hardships their ancestors who made the trek overland in 1838-39. The ride was reorganized in 2009 on the 25th anniversary of the 1984 trip and has been done since.

People may follow the riders' journey on

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