and Sarah Holcomb of Vian, Oklahoma, interact with "Remember
the Removal" cyclists preparing for a training ride on April
4 in Tahlequah. The brother and sister have been making time
to help train this year's cyclists to help ensure they are
ready for their nearly 1,000-mile trip in June.
Holcomb, right, consults with 2015 "Remember the Removal"
ride candidate Wrighter Weavel about his tire before an April
4 training ride that started in the parking lot of the main
Cherokee Nation Tribal complex in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Sarah
and her brother Layne have been volunteering to help train
this year's group of cyclists to prepare them for a nearly
1,000-mile ride through seven states in June.
TAHLEQUAH, OK Sarah and Layne Holcomb look like all the
other cyclists airing up tires, filling water bottles and checking
brakes as they prepare in the Cherokee Nation Tribal Complex parking
lot for another day of training.
The sister and brother from Vian are not among the 12 cyclists
who will retrace the Trail of Tears through Georgia, Tennessee,
Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas before returning to Oklahoma,
but they are helping ensure the cyclists are ready for their June
"Remember the Removal" ride coordinator Joseph Erb said the
Holcombs are helping this year's candidates learn to ride advanced
bicycles, to ride in a group, to shift their bikes' gears, road
rules and to ride as a team.
"They are teaching the responsibility Cherokees have for each
other. They show up and help make this a stronger program by their
encouragement and Cherokee mindset. They bring a strong understanding
of being Cherokee and believing in each other," Erb said. "This
program honors those we lost and those who where able to continue
on and allow us the chance to continue as a people. Sarah and Layne
got a lot from the "Remember the "Removal" program when they went
(on the ride) and are giving that back to this group."
Sarah, 26, uses the experience she gained from going on the
nearly 1,000-mile trip five consecutive years to help train the
"I come out and try to help train the riders every year because
I remember how hard it was for me. I only had maybe a couple weeks
of training, and it was really tough that first year. So every year
after that I've always tried to come out and help the trainers and
tell them (new cyclists) what they have ahead of them. It just always
helps to have an experienced rider there," she said.
She said she tells each year's cyclists the ride will be "tough,"
but it will be nothing like what their ancestors went through to
reach Indian Territory in 1838-39.
She said she emphasizes communication because the cyclists ride
close together on the highway. For instance if one cyclist slows
down and doesn't communicate they are slowing down to the others,
they could all run into each and wreck.
Along with communication, she encourages them look out for each
other and work as a team to get home.
Cyclists will put their bodies to the test as they travel an
average of 60 miles a day, mirroring in part the hardships of their
Cherokee ancestors who made the same trek on foot. Of the estimated
16,000 Cherokees who were forced to make the journey to Indian Territory
from eastern Tennessee and other sites in the old Cherokee Nation,
4,000 died from exposure, starvation and disease.
Layne watched his sister go the first four years, starting in
2009, and he was chosen to go with her during her fifth trip. Sarah
said Layne also was inspired by their mother Sherry, who was part
of the first "Remember the Removal" bicycle ride in 1984.
Layne, 19, said he enjoys the same camaraderie among the cyclists
that he experienced when he rode two years ago. He said he tries
to encourage the cyclists as they train and tells them it's not
as hard as they think and the obstacles they face "are all in their
"Your body can do much more than you think it can do," he said.
He said this year's group gets along well, which should benefit
"I'm really glad they do get along," he said. "Sometimes people
argue, but that's just inevitable because you're tired and hungry
and you just want to take a shower."
Layne said he tries to help the cyclists with tips on how to
work their bike's gears efficiently.
Erb said CN marshal Chad McCarter, who participated in the "Remember
the Removal" ride in 2009, is also taking time to help train this
"Getting in shape for this ride mentally and physically is a
difficult task. The extreme miles that we cover and the places we
see that had very unjust events that caused the death of so many
of our people is very emotional," Erb said. "Having past participants
encourage this year's group is very important as they train and
become educated in this part of our history."
Erb said the 12 cyclists and their trainers ride as a group
on weekends and the trainees also make time to ride in groups during
"I would just like to ask the local drivers to be looking out
for them. Please be patient and share the road. These are exceptional
young Cherokees, and we hope all the local drivers will give them
room and be kind to them," he said.
This year's cyclists were chosen by a committee and must complete
required trainings and history courses from February through May
to go on the three-week trip in June. The cyclists' names will be
The CN group will leave on June 3 for Cherokee, North Carolina,
where they will join up with seven cyclists from the Eastern Band
of Cherokee Indians. The EBCI has been participating in the ride
since 2011. The cyclists will begin making their way back on June
7 from New Echota, Georgia, along the Northern Route of the Trail
of Tears and arrive on June 25 in Tahlequah.