BY: PETER CONWAY
This has been a momentous week. We have been in three states: Missouri, Illinois and now Kentucky. We have crossed two mighty rivers: the Mississippi and the Ohio. And we have continued to follow – in reverse – the infamous Trail of Tears from the Carolinas to Oklahoma. More on the trail in a bit.
The riding this week has continued to be arduous. Who knew that the Ozark Mountains don’t end at the Missouri border? After a respite due to the Mississippi River floodplain, the Ozarks creep into Illinois and even spill a bit over the Ohio River into Kentucky. We have been routinely climbing up and down hills with ascents of 3000 – 4000 feet in each of the last three days.
There are not many bridges across the Mississippi River in the regions we are traversing. We wound our way from Farmington, Missouri and crossed a bridge to Chester Illinois. Chester is known as the place where Lewis and Clark crossed the Mississippi on their way to explore the west. It is also the home of Popeye the Sailor Man. Once in Illinois, we travelled along the levees for about 30 miles. We stopped for lunch along the River. Scotty, Jess and Dave took a plunge in the Big Muddy, until a local turned up in his truck to tell us that undertows routinely carry off swimmers. Indeed they were still looking for the bodies of two swimmers who had disappeared the night before about 20 miles downstream. That squelched our enthusiasm.
On Tuesday we rode up and down numerous Illinois hills, ending at the banks of the Ohio River at a place called Golconda. We stayed in two brick homes which were formerly Lock Keepers’ homes for those tending Lock #51 on the Ohio River. In 1980 the Army Corps of Engineers demolished the lock and abandoned the 4 homes. After 20 years of neglect, the town of Golconda took over the houses and restored them as guest accommodations. They are really unusual and sit right on the river.
The Trail of Tears is another historic pathway we have been encountering ever since Oklahoma. Oklahoma was the dumping ground for displaced tribes of the Southeast.
Due to pressure from white settlers, the Federal Government during Andrew Jackson’s tenure passed the Indian Removal Act, which called for the forceable relocation of the Cherokee, Muskogee, Seminole, Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes. The removals were carried out between 1830 and 1850. The roads which eventually became Route 66 and make up the TransAmerica bike trail are the same paths trod by the Indians and their soldier guards. Of the 16,000 Indians removed to Oklahoma, it is estimated that up to 6000 died along the way of exposure, malnutrition and disease. It is shameful to contemplate such heartlessness on the part of our government. It is also disheartening to see that the world has not outgrown the practice of ethnic cleansing and forced removals. As Pete Seeger put it in Where Have All The Flowers Gone?, “When will they ever learn, when will they (we) ever learn?”