Eighteen-year-old Elias Huskey, of Cherokee, N.C., is getting a sense of the trials and tribulations his ancestors went through as he follows their path on the Trail of Tears.
Huskey is one of 22 cyclists who started in Calhoun, Ga., June 3 and will end their six-state trip this Friday, June 21, in Tahlequah, Okla., the capital of the Cherokee Nation, as part of the 2013 Remember the Removal bike ride.
The 2013 event is the fifth annual bicycle ride commemorating the forced removal of the Cherokee Nation from its homelands during the winter of 1838-39. This year also marks the 175th anniversary of the Cherokee Nation's Trail of Tears.
The group of cyclists stopped briefly in Rolla Friday, June 14, as they made their way from Steelville to St. Robert that day.
"I am being culturally emerged and now I can come back home a better person," Huskey told The Rolla Daily News.
Huskey said while he plays football back home, cycling is a lot different. "It's physically taxing," he said, adding that the ride has been exhilarating and fascinating.
Several riders in this year's group, like Huskey, are new to the ride. Also riding for the first time this year is Ben Keener, 20, of Claremore, Okla.
Ben Keener said his brother and sister went on the ride before and they influenced him to participate.
"I'm learning more about who we are," Ben Keener said of his heritage, adding that the other riders are like a new family to him.
If given the possibility, Ben Keener said he might take part in the Remember th Removal ride again.
This year marks the third time that his brother Joe Keener, 18, of Tahlequah, Okla., has taken part in the ride.
"Each stop puts you back in time," Joe Keener said. The toughest part of the ride for Joe Keener was the days in which it rained, which made the roads they traveled slick.
Marvel Welch, 53, of Cherokee, N.C., one of the older riders in the group, said, "These young kids have helped carry me through." This is also Welch's first time riding in the event and she called it challenging.
Once they reach the end point, Tahlequah, Okla., this Friday, the cyclists will have traveled 900-plus miles, retracing the northern route of the Trail of Tears through Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma.
In Missouri, the group's first stop was in Cape Girardeau. The cyclists spent a few days in the area and visited the Trail of Tears State Park near Jackson. The group then spent nights in Farmington, Steelville, St. Robert, Lebanon, Springfield and Cassville.
At Tahlequah, Okla., the riders will share their experiences with a large crowd expected to gather, said LeeAnn Dreadfulwater, editorial liaison with the Cherokee Nation, who traveled part of the way with the cyclists.
Page 2 of 2 - "All groups have bonded, but this in particular has bonded more than most," Dreadfulwater said. "They don't leave anyone behind and they are in tune with how each other is doing."