NEAR MILFORD -- David Fikar hasn’t had to face the tornadoes and flooded rivers and creeks the Poncas faced on their forced march south to Indian Territory in Oklahoma in 1877.
But the Lincoln man has faced a few challenges of his own as he’s traveled by bicycle along a rough version of the route the Ponca people took 138 years ago -- like blistering summer heat, rain and aching pains in his 57-year-old muscles and joints.
He took one night off the trail to stay in a motel in Neligh after the first leg of the trip demonstrated how out of shape he was.
But one of the most difficult challenges he has faced is finding usable roads to ride near the route the Poncas traveled.
“I’m trying to stay as true to the trail as I understand it,” he said near Milford on Wednesday. “It has been rough.”
Fikar, a retired registered nurse, began his journey Sept. 7 in Niobrara at the Ponca Community Building. Except for a weeklong break in early September, he has been riding his steel-frame Trek mountain bike south ever since.
He had planned to continue his ride south into Kansas on a leg of the Homestead Trail between Beatrice and the Kansas border that now belongs to the Ponca Tribe, but that section of the trail likely won’t be completed until next spring. So Fikar said he'll ride to Beatrice before taking the winter off and then resume in the spring.
An award given to Fikar in 2009 started him on the ride. That year, the Lincoln Commission on Human Rights gave him a Chief Standing Bear medallion in honor of his work as a commission member.
He said the medallion inspired him to learn more about Standing Bear, a Ponca chief who led his people on their march to Oklahoma. Later, Standing Bear returned to Nebraska with some members of his tribe but was captured by the Army.
His trial in 1879 led to him becoming the first Native to be legally recognized as a person.
“Two of my passions in life are civil rights and baseball,” Fikar said. “The idea that Native Americans were not considered human beings just kind of blows my mind.”
Fikar retired in 2013, but he got bored before long and decided this year was the right time for him to take yet another journey across America.
In 1982, he walked the entire width of the country from Washington to Florida. Before that, he spent two summers hiking the 2,500-mile Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail from Washington to Mexico.
In 1984, Fikar, three friends and a donkey hiked the Santa Fe Trail from central Missouri to New Mexico.
By comparison, a 460-mile ride from Nebraska to Oklahoma seemed easy, he said. It didn't take long for him to realize he was wrong.
With nearly 45 pounds of equipment on the back of his bike, he struggled to climb the hills near Niobrara in heavy wind. And he has spent most nights sleeping in his tent with a sleeping pad and bag.
“The ground seems a lot harder than it did in 1984,” Fikar said.
But he has met plenty of nice people along the way, including a motel manager in Neligh and an inspector who found him sleeping under a bridge Tuesday morning.
“I surprised him, and he surprised me,” Fikar said, laughing.
He said he hopes to raise awareness of a national effort to get the route the Poncas took to Oklahoma in 1877 designated as a national historic trail. More information on that effort can be found at Chiefstandingbear.org.
Fikar wants to remind people about America’s grim history with Native people.
“These things did happen,” he said.
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