(L-R) Mentor rider Kevin Stretch, Shadow Hardbarger, Josh Chavez, Steven Shade, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker, Kayli Gonzales, Ashley Hunnicutt, Elizabeth Hummingbird, Sydnie Pierce, Brooke Bailey, Destiny Matthews and mentor rider Marie Eubanks.
MEET THE RIDERS
Nine cyclists and two mentor riders from the Cherokee Nation will participate in the 2019 Remember the Removal Bike Ride this June, marking 180 years since the Cherokee people reached Indian Territory following the Trail of Tears.
The annual ride allows young Cherokees to retrace the northern route of the Trail of Tears on bicycles. Their journey spans about 950 miles from Georgia to Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma. This year is also the 35th anniversary of the inaugural Remember the Removal Bike Ride that took place in 1984.
The nine cyclists, ages 20 to 24, started training in December. The tribe also selected two Cherokee Nation citizens to be mentor riders: 55-year-old Marie Eubanks, a teaching assistant at the Cherokee Immersion School, and 58-year-old Kevin Stretch, interim director of Cherokee Nation Community & Cultural Outreach.
“It is quite an honor to be one of the few chosen for this opportunity of a lifetime,” said Principal Chief Bill John Baker. “By the time these young men and young women leave to begin their journey on May 28, they will have spent more than half a year training together and developing a bond that will last a lifetime. As is true year after year, I am convinced the lives of these Cherokees will be forever changed along this journey. When they return home to the Cherokee Nation in June, having endured some 950 miles along the Trail of Tears, they will have gained a deeper understanding of Cherokee history and of their own heritage.”
Cyclists will travel an average of 60 miles each day along the routes used by their Cherokee ancestors, who made the same trek on foot more than 180 years ago. Of the estimated 16,000 Cherokees who were forced to make the journey to Indian Territory in 1838 and 1839, about 4,000 died from starvation, exposure to the elements and disease.
Cyclists were selected based on essays, interviews and a physical to ensure they are up for the grueling challenge. As part of their training, the group spends weekends undergoing metabolic training at the Cherokee Nation Male Seminary Recreation Center and cycling on a variety of routes in and around the 14 counties of the Cherokee Nation. They also train on their own or in groups throughout the week.
Cherokee Nation Businesses provides cyclists with state-of-the-art gear, including bicycles and electronics that help track cyclists’ physical performance during their training and throughout the summer ride.
Shadow Hardbarger, 24, is a native of Marble City in Sequoyah County and was encouraged to apply to the Remember the Removal Bike Ride program by friends who previously completed the memorable journey.
“They always would tell me what a journey it is and that it would be a really good experience for someone like me,” Hardbarger said. “I was so happy when I found out I had been selected. My fellow riders are so nice, so smart, and we’ve made really good friendships. They’ve given me a lot of support. When we’re training on the bikes, I might be the last one done, but the other riders are always there cheering for me. I’ve been able to learn so much from them, and together we’re learning about our Cherokee ancestors. I can’t imagine the feeling we’ll get when we are out on the trail together and see what our ancestors went through.”
Steven Shade, 24, lives in Briggs in Cherokee County and credits his grandfather with encouraging him to learn more about his Cherokee heritage.
“He implanted in me the idea that I should be appreciative of who I am, that I am more unique than what I know,” Shade said. “That got me thinking about joining the Remember the Removal Bike Ride. I was selected out of so many applicants, and that was unreal. It felt really special, and I feel more proud than I have ever been. I’m looking forward to being where our ancestors were and visiting historical sites that I visited when I was much, much younger, at a time when I didn’t fully appreciate what I was seeing and taking in.”
A genealogist will put together each rider’s family tree before the trip, providing the group with insights into their ancestral past and any family links they might share. During the trek, riders will 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 could find during devastating winter weather.
Cherokee Nation cyclists will be joined by 10 cyclists from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina. Together, they will start the ride in New Echota, Georgia, on June 2.
For more information on the Remember the Removal Bike Ride or to follow along during the journey, visit www.facebook.com/removal.ride and watch for the #RTR2019 and #RTR35 hashtags on the official Cherokee Nation Twitter (@CherokeeNation) and Instagram (@TheCherokeeNation) in honor of the inaugural ride’s 35th anniversary.
The 2019 Remember the Removal Bike Ride Cherokee Nation cyclists include the following:
Destiny Matthews, 20, Watts
Elizabeth Hummingbird, 21, Peavine
Marie Eubanks, 55, Rocky Mountain
Joshua Chavez, 24, Tahlequah
Brooke Bailey, 23, Lost City
Kayli Gonzales, 22, Welling
Ashley Hunnicutt, 24, Tahlequah
Steven Shade, 24, Briggs
Kevin Stretch, 58, Tahlequah
Sydnie Pierce, 23, Locust Grove
Shadow Hardbarger, 24, Marble City