“It’s been crazy. It was really rough and rigorous, as we had to wait two years to complete the ride (due to COVID-19),” Bark said. “But being with my three riders from the Eastern Band and others from the Cherokee Nation … genuinely completed me.”
Through completing the ride, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation Chuck Hoskin Jr. said the riders are doing vital work to ensure the continued prosperity of the Cherokee.
“Along the way I have no doubt that the riders saw obstacles they thought they might not overcome,” Hoskin said. “But they were able to keep going and progressing as the Cherokee people have done and as their ancestors have done. (The riders) will inherit a Cherokee nation and future full of challenges, but the future will not be bigger than this generation of riders.”
The celebration of the riders’ accomplishments and remembrance of the Trail of Tears is part of what will help Cherokee culture, heritage and language thrive into the future, the chief said.
The riders were emotional as the journey neared its end, Bark said, and she “cried her eyes out” when she realized the ride would soon be over.
The mental and physical challenges the riders overcame will be with them for their entire lives, Smith said.
“As the distance grows between us and our ancestral land, so does our physical pain,” Smith said. “I’m speechless when people ask me about it. There’s really no words to talk about how mentally and physically exhausting this trip was, but it was so rewarding at the same time.”