Yet Cooper has chosen to mark a piece of Cherokee history, starting near Calhoun.
Jan. 17 will be the first day of an 835-mile journey through five states on the National Historic Trail of Tears, beginning in Charleston, Tenn. and ending in eastern Oklahoma. His estimated travel time: nine weeks.
Most of all, with this journey, he said he hopes to raise awareness of Native American heritage for people of all tribes.
“I want all of us to realize how far we’ve come since the reservation days,” he explained. “Our ancestors have done a lot to get us where we are today … we survived, and I think we need to key on the gains as opposed to the losses.”
The Cherokees differed sharply from the Comanche in that they opted to “take the white man’s road,” Cooper said. “They were so different from my tribe.”
Despite the differences between the two peoples, Cooper said both tribes’ fights for their lands were ultimately the same.
The two peoples, he explained, “went two totally different ways” in the struggle to keep their lands, but they both put up a fight to hold on to the land that was traditionally theirs.
The Comanche “fought theirs on the battlefield … the Cherokee fought theirs in the U.S. Supreme Court,” he said.
The National Historic Trail of Tears actually has two components: a land route and a water route. Cooper will be traveling the northern land route, and his wife, Kristal, plans to be nearby with the couple’s RV in case anything goes wrong.
The route will include “a lot of road walking,” Ron said. The official trail, established by U.S. Congress in 1987, is rather pieced together, he said. The stretch between Murfreesboro and Nashville, Tenn., particularly worries him, he said, due to the high traffic volume.
Ron plans to meet up with Kristal every three or four days in order to restock his supplies, but he stressed that he does want to walk the entire trail.
“I do want to get a feel for the trail … before I come in,” he said.
About seven years ago, he changed his lifestyle by losing a significant amount of weight, and it was then that he became a hiker. However, he hasn’t stayed out on the trail for more than three days at a time.
“This is going to be pretty extreme for me,” he admitted.
At home outdoors
Ron and Kristal met in Tuscan Ariz., where they were Blackjack dealers at a casino. The dark, windowless atmosphere became depressing, Kristal said, so about three years ago, they decided to take national park jobs in the Grand Canyon.
The outdoor life agreed with them, it seems, and since that time, they’ve worked at several national parks in the summertime, including the Grand Canyon, Big Bend, Texas, and Mesa Verde, Colo. The past two years, they’ve spent winters working at Amazon.com.
This is the third year in a row, Kristal said, that they’ve taken the first three or four months of the year off, hence the decision for Ron to make his hike at this time of year.
Twelve degrees Fahrenheit is his cutoff for staying outside, Ron said, laughing. That’s when Kristal’s insistence on following in the RV will be most welcomed.
“I’m not going to stay outside in zero degree weather,” Ron said.
The Coopers have been staying at the KOA campgrounds in Calhoun for the past week or so. During that time, they’ve visited nearby historic Native American landmarks like New Echota Historic Site, the Vann House, Chieftains Museum and Major Ridge Home.
New Echota “was awesome,” Ron said, noting the Cherokees’ advancements, especially the development of a written language.
If this walk goes well, Ron said he may take on the Navajo Long Walk, a Navajo removal situation that took place in the mid-1800s from present-day Arizona to eastern New Mexico.
An avid reader of other hikers’ stories, he said he might pen a few books himself: one about this walk and one about his grandfather, a Comanche holy man.
Look for updates on Ron’s journey in his blog at Ronhikestrailoftears.com.
To learn more about Ron Cooper’s journey on the National Historic Trail of Tears, or to donate to the effort, visit Ronhikestrailoftears.com, or view his Facebook page at facebook.com.