TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Fifteen Cherokee students said goodbye to family and friends, and left for Georgia where they will join seven Eastern Band of Cherokee bicycle riders to retrace the Trail of Tears.

The 2013 Remember the Removal Bike Ride commemorates the 175th anniversary of the Trail of Tears. Riders will spend the next three weeks retracing their ancestors’ footsteps along the northern route, which passes through seven states.

“These men and women will retrace our tribal nation’s route to Oklahoma – from our ancestral homelands in the east to our current capital city,” said Principal Chief Bill John Baker. “It will be a personal and life-changing journey for them. As a student of history, and specifically Cherokee history, I am envious of the journey they are undertaking and the understanding they will attain by travelling the route of removal.”

Students will ride more than 950 miles on bicycles, beginning in Calhoun, Ga., and follow the northern route of the Trail of Tears through Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas, ending June 21 in Oklahoma.

“If we don’t do events like the bike ride, we could eventually forget about the Trail of Tears and our heritage, and not know who we are as a people,” said 2013 rider Noah Collins, of Claremore. “The fact that we are commemorating the 175th anniversary shows that we were able to exist as a people when we weren’t expected to.”

The ride was started at the Cherokee Nation in 1984 so Cherokee youth would never forget the hardships of their Cherokee ancestors who made the same trek on foot. Of the estimated 16,000 Cherokees forced to make the journey to Indian Territory, approximately 4,000 died due to exposure, starvation and disease.

The 2013 Cherokee riders include the following: Benjamin Keener, of Claremore; Joseph Keener, of Claremore; Lillie Keener, of Claremore; Noah Collins, of Claremore; Blake Henson, of Fort Gibson; Marshall Smith, of Hulbert; Haydn Comingdeer, of Stilwell; Robert Ketcher, of Stilwell; Hestin Lamons, of Tahlequah; Paige Carnes, of Tahlequah; Jon Ross, of Tahlequah; Latasha Atcity, of Tahlequah; Carter Copeland, of Tulsa; Lane Holcomb, of Vian; and Sarah Holcomb, of Vian.

Follow the journey on https://www.facebook.com/removal.ride.