“Lael Rides Alaska” 2021 Femme-Trans-Women’s Scholarship Winners!


“Lael Rides Alaska” 2021 Femme-Trans-Women’s Scholarship Winners!

Please see Part 01 here: Top 11 finalist for the 2021 “Lael Rides Alaska” Femme-Trans-Women’s Scholarship: Part 01
and Part 02 here: Top 11 finalist for the 2021 “Lael Rides Alaska” Femme-Trans-Women’s Scholarship: Part 02
and part 03 here: Top 11 finalist for the 2021 “Lael Rides Alaska” Femme-Trans-Women’s Scholarship: Part 03

Design a 1,000-mile route in Alaska, tell me your plan, about yourself and what you need to make it happen. We’ll supply the bike, gear and a travel stipend and then you get to go do it this summer.

I am blown away by the honesty and ambition of this year’s applicants. They told true, sometimes hard, stories and hopes for the future. This has been a difficult year for everyone and I am deeply inspired by all who applied and shared openly about their experiences and their drive for adventure and challenge.

With the help of Cari Carmean, Natsuko Hirose, Kailey Kornhauser and Abigale Wilson, we narrowed the 126 applicants down to 11 finalists. I am beyond excited to announce that Dorothy O’Donnell and Olivia Juarez are the two recipients of the 2021 “Lael Rides Alaska” Femme-Trans-Women’s Scholarship…

I took a long time thinking this over and it was really hard to decide. I had phone calls with each of the top 11 and it was wonderful to get to know them better. Ultimately, what struck me was that both Dorothy and Olivia are driven from the heart, in very different ways. With deep roots in Alaska, Dorothy is using the bicycle as a way to connect culture and land to honor where she’s from and where she’s going.

Qanusimik nigiliuqpita? While the snow sparkles this winter, I will reach out to traditional gatherers for guidance in learning how to acquire not-so-long forgotten nourishment. When the buds start emerging this spring, I will implement their teachings of where to look, what to collect, how to preserve and why respect is fundamental throughout the process. While the flowers blossom this summer, I will continue harvesting enough subsistence food to fulfil the majority of my diet for the duration of the trip. I aim to include dried caribou and salmon strips, dehydrated and fermented meals of gathered greens and fungi, and berry baked goods. When the hills burst with beauty this fall, I will embark on the cycle to communities around the state to deliver a portion of the harvested bounty as a token of my gratitude to those who shared their plant knowledge. I will bike throughout August, averaging 40 miles a day.

After the ride, I intend to commence my master’s degree in Arctic and Northern Studies, concentrating on the ethnobotany of Alaskan cultures. The themes in my academic pursuits and this ride are symbiotic in my dedication to taking part in revitalizing traditional ecological knowledge as a means of improving community mental, physical and spiritual health. I would like to present this experience to grade school students, sharing the collected bouquet of sun, nutrients and water to empower Indigenous girls to flourish. I look forward to the opportunity this scholarship could provide in nurturing my evolving identity as a modern Iñupiaq woman.

— Dorothy O’Donnell

Read Dorothy’s full application here. The writing is beautiful!

In contrast, the second winner, Olivia, is leaving their home in Utah to face their fears and follow their heart. And Olivia is bringing their best childhood friend, Helani, along for the adventure.

For me, getting this scholarship and making this journey is about bicycling past the trauma I have inherited from the violent assaults that my family members have survived, and riding into joy, self-confidence, and validation that my body has the right to adventure and connect with nature anywhere on this planet. This scholarship will provide me with the resources that I wouldn’t have otherwise to physically make the ride and to tell my story afterwards.

This story is about the persistent dichotomy in my life: my mom, the original enabler of my adventurous nature and my most vocal opposition. I know she is proud of my passion for protecting the planet. She knows how highly I prioritize experiencing joy in the wild as I work to defend nature. Yet, she deeply fears for me. In many ways, she’s right. Mujeres of my ethnicity are murdered every day in the land where half of my roots are. I’ve realized that I am holding trauma from ongoing femicide in México—I’ve never been empowered to visit my abuelita where she lives in Chihuahua. Indigenous women go missing and murdered every day & never get justice. This bike tour is about changing that narrative. I want to create dialogue about safety as women & femme adventurers, highlighting intersections with race and climate. I want my story to tell of a femme presenting cyclist in Alaska who tours, learns about their self, makes friends, and has fun.

I have a friend to stay safe with on this 1300-mile tour—my childhood friend Helani Krstyen. We met 15 years ago on our soccer team, and have been best friends ever since. We have the best set of first-time experiences together including backpacking, canoeing, rock climbing and whitewater rafting. Bikepacking will be our next great first. Helani comes from a family of cyclists and has won sprint triathlons. Helani is a Conservation and Restoration Ecology major at Utah State University. She’s excited to meet summer wildlife throughout the Seward Peninsula and Alaska’s interior as she endeavors into a career doing research that contributes to protecting ecosystems.

Foremost, I’m excited to learn things about myself that I don’t yet know I’m capable of. The first time I was warned how to protect myself from sexual violence, I was 6 years old. These messages throughout my life have made me believe that I am not capable of venturing by myself. Now, 20 years later, I’m discovering that I am capable. Riding in Alaska is that ultimate affirmation.

I want to create a children’s picture book about our story of riding in Alaska. I’m an artist at heart—I love oil painting and writing. Throughout the trip, I will keep a journal of the magical kinds of thoughts that seem to only emerge when bicycling, and a daily trip log. This special

journal will be the foundation of my narrative to inspire other children to adventure and care for the people and planet along the way.
— Olivia Juarez

Read Olivia’s full application here for a great story of courage.

A huge congratulations to Dorothy O’Donnell and Olivia Juarez! We are so excited for your Alaska bike adventures this summer!

With so many strong candidates, it was really hard to choose just two winners.

During my individual phone calls with the top 11, I asked if even if they didn’t receive all of the gear, would some travel money help make their adventures happen. They said yes! Their stories and dreams are personal and inspiring. The fact that we can provide a second scholarship this year has been made possible by an individual named Bill DeLoach. He read about the scholarship on the Rene Herse Journal and asked what it would take to get another scholarship out there. I said I could probably get the gear donated by sponsors, but we’d need another $1,500 travel stipend. Bill offered to cover the cost and I’m really grateful to be able to secure funding for Olivia’s trip.

On a recent ride with Maghalie Rochette, the 3 times Pan American and Canadian cyclocross champion, I was telling stories from the scholarship applications and how hard it is to decide on winners when they’re all so different and how much I want these riders to get out on their adventures. Maghalie asked what it would take and offered to cover the $1,100 travel expenses for the sisters from Anchorage, Vanessa Farley & Meredith Duhrsen.

“In the past few years, with our CX Fever fund, we’ve been helping young cyclocross athletes in their development and donated around $15,000 to help them get to races in Europe. However, Lael recently talked to us about her Alaska Scholarship program and I thought it was really cool. Lael shared a story of two sisters (Meredith and Vanessa) who wanted to ride through Alaska together and it really inspired me, so we decided we could use a part of our CX Fever Fund to support them through her scholarship. I also have an older sister and one day, I really want to tackle an adventure like that with her…something fun, but challenging, that would bring us closer together. We are super happy to be able to support Meredith and Vanessa’s trip, and can’t wait to hear more about their ride and which Whitney Houston song will get them going this time!”

— Maghalie Rochette

We are thrilled to get Dorothy, Olivia & Helani, Vanessa & Meredith, and Ana Jager (the honorable mention) out on their Alaska adventures this summer.

There are more opportunities to help others from the top 11 to follow their dreams.

Shadow lives on their bike and shared with me that they recently built up a Specialized AWOL for world travel. Some funding and high-quality gear would definitely get them out for many miles on their way to riding around the world.

Sierra wants to visit farms and teach her students about food culture and shared that her “commuter bike (an older trek mountain bike) and tent would totally work for the ride I planned. I think I just need some bags and some extra funds to make it happen.”

Tara has a gravel bike that fits her perfectly– some additional funding would help her to get out on her adventure either to Alaska or to see her mother in Eastern Canada (if the border doesn’t open) showing that you can move beyond abuse and be a role model for her children and other survivors of intimate partner violence.

Darlene has awesome scavenger hunts designed in Alaska and California to show that you can “re-cultivate the childhood seeds of curiosity and wonder through adventure storytelling.”

Zoraya is dedicating this summer to adventure.

“After five years in my current job working around the globe in international development and one year in city politics as a Progressive (left of Democrats) City Councilor, and of course a pandemic, I feel like I am in a fog with weekly emergencies and an unrelenting fight for environmental and economic justice. This summer, I am taking a three-month unpaid sabbatical and want to spend it hiking and biking to get grounded again and remember what exactly it is that I am fighting for.”

Bunny and Kika want to ride through New Mexico and Colorado with their dog. Their “story of exploration would take you on a wild ride and frame the world of dirtbag adventuring through the eyes of two rad, queer women. Anything can happen when you’re a road dog, and we want to show the world what the nomadic, adventure life is all about.”

Kelly is motivated to organize a cycling group in Seattle to provide support for military sexual trauma survivors. Her “goal is to ride the rail to trails network from WA to Washington DC and literally bring MST issues in veterans directly to the steps of the capital. The rail-to-trail network is slowly in its 30 years of life coming to a completion. What better way to bring a story across the country, but through the heart of America where culture needs to evolve.”

Angel and Wen are kicking ass in everything they do– adventure, graduate school, photography, storytelling and so much more. They can’t travel to Alaska this summer because the Canadian border is closed, but they’ve made contingency plans to ride in either California or Arizona together in the fall and share their unique stories of friendship, taking on challenges and connecting with land and culture.

In honor of Colleen Welch, I’m giving Ana Jager $2,000 to ride all over the state from her parents’ home in Anchorage. After reading about her background and work to establish POWER Bellingham, an individual that I’ve never met named Brian Mulford, offered to give her $300 towards her trip.

If these folks or their stories inspire you and you want to help fund their adventures, please write to me at laelridesalaska@gmail.com within the next week. I’ll first check-in with the applicants to make sure it’s okay and then put you directly in contact with them to work out the details. Imagine if we got all of the top 11 pursuing their projects and riding adventures in Alaska this summer. Imagine all of the stories they’d have to tell and what they might think of next. Imagine yourself riding through that wildland where the sun hardly sets with your loved ones or alone with your thoughts and dreams. These stories are deeply encouraging to me and I’m so excited to see where this all leads. Please help if you can. If you’re within the bicycle industry and want to help with gear or funding, that would be awesome too!

I’ll write an update to share how this all unfolds.

The winners will receive either a complete Specialized Diverge with Easton carbon wheels or an adventure bike built up by SRAMRevelate Designs bikepacking bags, Big Agnes camping equipment, PEARL iZUMi apparel, a premium subscription to Komoot, a Wahoo ELEMNT ROAM GPS, a $300 gift card for Competitive CyclistRene Herse tires, an Ergon saddle, a year subscription to Bicycle QuarterlyTrail ButterHydro Flask hydration, and a $1,500 travel stipend provided by Easton, and the Radavist will also kick in a $500 travel stipend for Tiffany St. Bunny & Kika Thalen.

Many, many thanks to all of the entrants in this scholarship and thanks to the readership for following along!