Exclusive Interview: Lisa Christiansen, United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians Citizen, Rides the 960 miles from New Echota, Georgia to Tahlequah Oklahoma On The Trail Of Tears Ride


If you were to ask me how you could see the Trail Of Tears on two wheels, I would tell you to check out the National Park Service to plan your route before you did anything else. The National Park Service Geographic Resources Program hosts an interactive trails map viewer. A trip singled out as noteworthy by National Geographic Adventure. Biking along the Trail Of Tears from the vantage point of two wheels. I’ve known about the Trail Of Tears for years but only met Lisa Christiansen – cyclist, author, and Keetoowah Nation citizen a couple of months ago at the Adventure Travel Trade Association Summit meeting in Whistler BC. Christiansen is a fireball of energy, a passionate leader who gives fresh meaning to the term “enthusiasm.” So I decided to speak with her at length about the origins of the Trail Of Tears.

Where are you right now?

Right now I am riding my bicycle through Hopkinsville, Kentucky on my way to Metropolis, Illinois, approximately 100 miles. It is 1:pm, and everyone else is eating lunch. Over the years, life with my daddy, Mack Vann, has been my world, I have loved seeing the world through his eyes because he had not traveled like we did together and every experience was more meaningful to me because of his wisdom and ability to teach me something new everyday, I have continued to learn to search for new ways to inspire others and today I am fulfilling his request to ride the northern Trail Of Tears route as promised in honor of my daddy while representing the Keetoowah Nation in hopes of changing just one persons ability to dream so big it scares you right into it with the knowledge that you can do anything you set your mind to with the right motivation. I lead the pack of one, just me, pedaling my way to Tahlequah, Oklahoma cutting new paths in hopes of setting new standards to aspire to for future generations of Cherokee people. It’s a tough job but I am honored to ride for those who can’t. When I am not riding bike tours, I love planning the next fun event because I love a great adventure.

Where have you just returned from?

Well, I began this ride in New, Echota Ga. I visited the New Echota State Historic Site and continued on to Chief Vann’s Home another historic site in New Echota. From there I rode to Cleveland, Tennessee and on to Dayton, Tennessee where Blythe Ferry connect the two cities. Upon leaving Dayton I continued on to Pikeville, Woodbury, and finally took a break in Murfreesboro, Tn. From Murfreesboro I rode to Joelton and visited the Stone River National Battlefield before continuing on to Hopkinsville, Ky to visit the Cherokee Trail Of Tears Commemorative Park. Today I will also continue this journey to Metropolis, Illinois. I have many cities and towns before finding my way to Tahlequah, Oklahoma where I will complete my ride at the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma.

Tell us about the origins of the Trail of Tears.

In 1830, a group of Indians collectively referred to as the Five Civilized Tribes (the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee, and Seminole tribes) were living as autonomous nations in what would be later called the American Deep South. The process of cultural transformation from their traditional way of life towards a Western way of life as proposed by George Washington and Henry Knox, was gaining momentum, especially among the Cherokee and Choctaw.

American settlers had been pressuring the federal government to remove Indians from the Southeast; many settlers were encroaching on Indian lands, while others wanted more land made available to European settlers. Although the effort was vehemently opposed by some, including U.S. Congressman Davy Crockett of Tennessee, President Andrew Jackson was able to gain Congressional passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which authorized the government to extinguish Indian title to lands in the Southeast.

The latter forced relocations have sometimes been referred to as “death marches”, in particular with reference to the Cherokee march across the Midwest in 1838, which occurred on a predominantly land route.

Native Americans who had the means initially provided for their own removal. Contingents that were led by conductors from the U.S. Army included those led by Edward Deas, who was claimed to be a sympathizer for the Cherokee plight. The largest death toll from the Cherokee forced relocation comes from the period after the May 23, 1838 deadline. This was at the point when the remaining Cherokee were rounded into camps and pressed into oversized detachments, often over 700 in size (larger than the populations of Little Rock or Memphis at that time). Communicable diseases spread quickly through these closely quartered groups, killing many. These contingents were among the last to move, but following the same routes the others had taken; the areas they were going through had been depleted of supplies due to the vast numbers that had gone before them. The marchers were subject to extortion and violence along the route. In addition, these final contingents were forced to set out during the hottest and coldest months of the year, killing many. Exposure to the elements, disease and starvation, harassment by local frontiersmen, and insufficient rations

How did you get into biking?

Well, I never had a bicycle as a child unless you count the one I had for less than 12 hours before it was run over by a car; we couldn’t afford another one. I believe everything happens for a reason. In 2001 I was diagnosed with a hereditary condition called sinus tachycardia and from that I allowed fear to take over and had challenges with the thought of even driving from one city to another or something as simple as driving from Lawton, Oklahoma to Medicine Park (our most beautiful wildlife refuge) which is a mere 20 minutes away.

I found myself experiencing cardiac awareness which would cause mild panic attacks in the form of PVC’S (premature ventricular contractions) and I was my own worst enemy which is more disappointing as I am a doctor of exercise and nutritional sciences. I have always lived a healthy lifestyle never smoked, drank, nor have I ever done drugs of any kind, I was doing good to take an aspirin so you can imagine my confusion. Two short years later my daughter was diagnosed with supra-ventricular tachycardia and has had to have her heart restarted with adenosine and for extra fun she would have heart rates up to 260 BPM. As a mother this is very painful to watch knowing you can do nothing, well, not this mother! I started her on a live food diet, proper exercise against her physician’s wishes and she did show remarkable progress although she did not enjoy the exercise options I made available to her.

In May of 2008 I bought my first bicycle (trek) 2 weeks later I decided I enjoyed the sport enough that I bought a trek Madone Project One with the Icarus artwork portraying the most beautiful angel wings with the stem ring that reads PHOENIX made by TREK for Rhonda Hoyt of Richardson’s Bike Mart where Lance Armstrong refers to Jim (Rhonda’s Husband) as Dad. Trek made this bike in memory of her son who was killed by a driver while cycling in 2006; Phoenix was her rising above her tragedy and now this bicycle and the sport of cycling has done the same for me as in August of 2008 my daughter and I completed the 100 miles in the Hotter’N Hell and I ride a minimum of 53 miles every other day through the wildlife refuge that I once could not drive through.

I continue climb all the way to the top of Mt. Scott all 3.6 miles of an 8% grade that finishes with a 13% grade in the Wichita mountains wildlife refuge which as you know is one of the 50 toughest climbs in the nation, I truly live my life passionately, I embrace life and find my deepest conversations with God on the bicycle!

I don’t just live, my bicycle and I are one and I have experienced more in these last few years than in my entire lifetime. I live free, more than ever before and I do this as an example to my daughter as she has followed this example and found her passion in her bicycle and has not been to the emergency room in years, her heart is stronger than ever and she is my hero!

We have both grown stronger physically, mentally, and emotionally, but most of all spiritually. We live in gratitude and forgiveness; our gifts are faith and contribution which is where we also live!

I have been called obsessed, I heard it said best by another cyclist… it is love!

When you are on the bike there comes my best ideas, thoughts, creativity, appreciation, and genuine honesty not just for others; honesty with myself that is where I find humble. My most intimate conversations with God take place on my bicycle…

You also ventured to other countries, such as Italy and France. Which was your favorite?

WOW! I absolutely love Italy because I love my Italian family. For cycling so far Paris, specifically the Tour De France riding the Avenue des Champs-Élysées because there is something special in knowing you are riding, breathing the same crisp fresh air, spinning your wheels on the same cobbles of the greatest athletes of all time, there is something magical, It’s the magic of risking everything for a dream that nobody sees but you.I want to remind you of a few powerful, yet easily forgotten truths that will help you choose wisely and grow stronger even through the hardest times… allow your mind to become inspired with creative juices bringing your greatest success to fruition through your humble appreciation.

You want to know how to become a champion? It’s easy. Turn your dream into your goal. Plant it deep in your heart, then eat, sleep, breathe, laugh, and cry without ever taking your eye off your goal. Not even for a second because an obstacle is what you see when you take your eye off of your goal. Focus with a laser like precision and your brain will become a servo mechanism to achieve your outcome.

Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other. Remember, if you do not make yourself a priority how can anyone else? When you’ve thought about everything and that good idea shows up write it down and run with it, take up one idea. Make that one idea your life, think of it, dream of it, and live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, and every part of your body, be full of that idea, and leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success.

Let us in on a secret, what’s a little known part of your cycling and cultural habits or superstitions?

I definitely have several quirks, some might even say I’m a little bit OCD. I absolutely will not ride my bicycle without my road ID, I will actually drive as far as 100 miles back to the house to grab it if I forget it. I pack my heart rate monitor in my shoes so that I am reasonably guaranteed to not forget it because I love to be able to track my ride an I get a little bit weird when I can’t see all of my stats on Strava. I would say those kind of fall into the superstitious arena, I do have a few things that fall more into tradition or culture. About a month before my dad passed away he had given me two necklaces that are beaded with traditional glass beads, turquoise, coral, brass, copper, Sterling silver, Buffalo bone, and deer antler. When he gave me these necklaces he told me to make sure that I always wear them when I ride my bicycle because he had blessed them and prayed over them for safety and protection. Even though you may not be able to see that I am wearing these necklaces when I am kitted up I do always have them on, you just can’t see them because my Jersey is zipped. On a hot summer day when I pull my zipper down a little you can see the necklaces. In many ways I feel like my dad is with me on each and every ride as I wear these necklaces and carry with me hand made items that he had given me over the years for my bicycle ride.

What do you like about travel?

I love the pure serendipity of travel. I love how it simplifies your life, stimulates your thinking and inspires personal growth. I love leaving all my stuff at home and living out of one bag. Travel embraces the present moment and inspires me to respond creatively to my surroundings allowing my curiosity to lead the way. I love taking new turns, following tiny roads until they end at the very top of tiny village, meeting new people and learning about their lives. I love looking at a map and imagining what the road may look like and who I may meet, the fantasy of travel yet to come. Travel connects me to the bigger picture of life, to my place in the world. I crave new roads, views and beautiful landscapes, it is my fuel and my inspiration. I love the way the eyes of others embodies to see and experience the world in a very playful and amazingly spontaneous way through my travels. I love the way others who don’t have the opportunity to travel can live happily, vicariously through mine. It feeds my soul.

How many bikes do you have and what do you especially like to ride?

I have a house full of about 13 bikes. I have a bike or two for nearly every purpose and I love them all. I have bikes I commute with, bikes I take on all events, I have go-to bikes, and show bikes. I have gravel and mountain bikes. I love collecting bicycles, anything bicycle. I talk about cycling around the world or at least across the country.

Any new trips in the works for Lisa Christiansen?

Yes. Many, I am always planning my next grand adventure! So far I am looking forward to 2021 Redbud, Hincapie Gran Fondo Ft. Worth, Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, Hotter’N Hell, Hincapie South Carolina, and Freewheel Oklahoma!

Where are you off to next?

Well, I will let you know as soon as I get through this ride. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the many sponsors, supporters and friends of the Trail Of Tears Ride:

Richardson Bike Mart (Richardson, Texas)

Cycle One Bikes (Lawton, Oklahoma)



Rudy Project

Hincapie Sportwear

Voler Apparel

Velo Guide

Garmin Int.

Sidi Sports



USA Cycling

Angela Schertle – Farmers Insurance

Brent Ritz – Uber

“Thank you Bobby, Cole, and David at the New Echota Historic Site For hosting me and giving me a beautiful send off full of celebration! You are The Best” said Lisa Christiansen