Remember the Removal Ride: Riders Reflect6.10.2020
Thousands of Cherokee men, women, and children were forced by the US government and white settlers to leave their homes in the southeastern United States and move west to Oklahoma between 1838 and 1839 in a devastating event known as the Trail of Tears. Both a physical as well as a spiritual journey, the annual Remember the Removal Bike Ride (RTR) follows 950+ miles on the northern route of the Trail of Tears over a span of three weeks. For the riders, the event is a transformational experience.
Due to COVID-19, the 2020 ride has been cancelled. Learn more about previous rides.
Each individual who is selected for the ride only rides once as part of a RTR team. This year the team would have left on May 31st. As of now, the 2020 team is scheduled to ride to Oklahoma in 2021.
Tonya Carroll helps and supports the Remember the Removal bike riders each year. She participated as a rider in 2019.
Tonya says that participating in the Remember the Removal Ride in 2019 was a once in a lifetime experience.
“It was very humbling and also physically and mentally exhausting. Riding a bike from Georgia to Oklahoma is not an easy feat, especially when you are riding with 20 other people,” Tonya says. “There are so many moments that stood out. From accomplishing our toughest climb on the ride (Cumberland), to all of the nice people that fed us and talked to us along the way.”
In 2019, it took the riders two and a half weeks to complete the ride with only two days of rest. The most mileage they rode was over 70 miles in a single day.
For Tonya, it was a time of profound learning.
“We learned that our ancestors suffered and died because people refused to sell them supplies or they charged too much and they could not afford them. We learned that it was so cold at times that they had to camp for weeks because the ferries could not cross the rivers and there were many casualties,” Tonya says. “When we got to Blythe’s Ferry and rode the Ferry across with our bikes I remember thinking for thousands of Cherokee on the Removal this was the last time they saw Cherokee homeland.”
“We also learned and experienced how resilient and strong our ancestors were and that resilience and strength is in us. The ride was a way for me to learn more about the Removal, especially my own personal connection to it. It was also a way to educate others and keep the memory of our ancestors alive.”
The motto of the ride is “Never Forget.”
“I think that is the most important thing to get out of it,” Tonya says. “It’s also significant because the participants learn their genealogy and Cherokee history and culture. One of our teammates (Micah Swimmer) even taught us our calls in Cherokee language so it helps keep that alive as well. It also brings together the Cherokee Nation and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to work together and accomplish goals as a team. I think the whole process serves as a way for our communities to start healing from historic traumas.”
Solidarity and Unity
Laura Blythe is a part of the 2020 team. For Laura, the ride signifies solidarity and unity
between the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Cherokee Nation who at one point in history were all one tribe.
“It pays homage to our ancestors who were forced from our homeland and walked the Trail of Tears to Indian Territory in Oklahoma,” Laura says. “This ride is in remembrance of our Cherokee people who lost their lives and suffered along one of the multiple routes used to rid this area of our people. For us, the EBCI members, it is a way to also remember those who remained in Western North Carolina so that we may be here today.”
Picking Back up in 2021
We’ll share more details as they come together regarding the rescheduled ride for 2021. In the meantime, we wish all the Remember the Removal riders the best of health as they continue their training.