Where the Rubber Meets the Road
Native youth group bikes 200 miles on the Trail of the Ancients
By Elise Kaplan
Circles are everywhere. In nature. In art. On bikes.
That's how Jake Foreman sees it. Cycles of Life is a nonprofit he created to help Native American teens learn about their heritage.
“The thing that connects it all together is cycles,” he says. “That’s the way everything is, from planting seeds to being on a bicycle—which is turning a wheel.”
Ten pairs of wheels began turning on July 28 when he and his sister, Lisa, led teenagers along the Trail of the Ancients. Their 12-day journey covered 200 miles from the Zuni Pueblo to Taos Pueblo.
The Trail of Ancients, an indigenous byway linking Southwest communities, was also used by Spanish conquistador Francisco Vásquez de Coronado in his search for the Cities of Gold. Foreman, a member of the Absentee Shawnee tribe of Oklahoma, says riding along the path is a step toward healing historical traumas.
“We’re retracing that route on bicycle and learning from spiritual leaders at every stop,” he says. Students from Albuquerque’s Native American Community Academy made the trek under the blazing New Mexico sun, breaking for two hours each day for lunch. The group met with a medicine man, the governor of the Zuni Pueblo and war chiefs in Laguna. After one grueling 50-mile ride, the group rolled into Albuquerque to a chorus of cheers from friends and family. The night ended with a celebratory potluck and a drum circle. Next stop: Santo Domingo Pueblo for Feast Day.
Cycles of Life is a program with Trips for Kids, a national organization that promotes cycling for disadvantaged and troubled youth. Foreman is pursuing a master's in community and regional planning at UNM with a focus on indigenous communities and the local food movement. He says the students at NACA battle generations of poverty and oppression, and they lack the tools to pursue exercise and healthy diets.
He traces the poverty of indigenous people to a lack of resources, transportation and proper nutrition. His own interest in cycling was sparked by his father’s death, which he says could have been prevented by a healthier lifestyle.
“The solution is growing and planting our own food again,” he says. “And there’s the health aspect of course. When it comes to Native Americans, we have high rates of diabetes and diet-related diseases.”
Cycles of Life incorporates biking, gardening and artwork into improving the physical and spiritual health of indigenous communities. Since early June, students trained at local gyms for long days of riding. They learned how to build and fix their own bikes. The program also teaches the art of stenciling, graffiti-style murals and mandalas. Bicycles are the giver of movement, Foreman says, and gardens improve physical health, while art benefits the spirit.
A driver followed the riders in MCGIVER, the Mobile Community Garden Installation Vehicle and Energy Recycler. The brightly painted trailer is equipped with camping gear, a Mayan calendar and everything needed to start a garden. The second half of the Cycle of Life trip included teaching horticulture techniques and planting gardens in northern New Mexico.
All the equipment was donated by individuals or through partnerships with local organizations. Molina Healthcare donated the trailer that became MCGIVER.
“This is indigenous education. This is experiential education,” Foreman says. “This was a community-building exercise and a way to get people involved. It's just about incorporating your passion, sharing it with youth and doing good in the community.”
Forming alliances and networks is the only way to survive the environmental and social challenges Foreman sees looming on the horizon. He says he hopes that by returning to the indigenous lifestyle of local diets and non-monetary based currencies, communities can strengthen the bonds needed to thrive.
“This is us not waiting to see what’ll happen. It’s us being proactive about it and saying, Yes, this is the path that we’re choosing. We’re connecting back to the land. We’re connecting back to each other.”
Donations can be made through tripsforkidsriogrande.org or by emailing Jake Foreman at email@example.com.
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