Top 11 finalist for the 2021 “Lael Rides Alaska” Femme-Trans-Women’s Scholarship: Part 02

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

Angel Chen & Wen Zeng
Age: 25
Angel’s Hometown: Saskatoon, SK Wen’s Hometown: Pasadena, CA

Angel: In 2018, I came across Lael’s Alaska scholarship a few months after I moved away from home for the first time to start graduate school in a new province. I passionately wrote out my application, outlining my cycling experience, my personal interest in the Arctic, and explaining how I had just begun my Master’s degree studying Arctic ecology in Canada’s Northwest Territories and that I was going to make this trip about documenting and communicate climate change (and particularly, fire) in Alaska.
Three years, one Master’s degree, many bike rides, and a global pandemic later, thinking about this trip still excites me, so I have returned with a new and improved application for 2021 to test my luck again. This time, I brought someone with me.

Wen: Three years ago, Angel asked me if I wanted to do a bike trip through Alaska. I didn’t, but I would do anything for Angel, so I got an $100 bicycle and started riding every day. I didn’t expect to love it so much, but Angel and I have the same taste in hobbies (we have both, at various times in our lives, been interested in fountain pens, longboarding, film photography, woodworking, mechanical keyboards, etc) Through the pandemic, cycling has become my primary way of interacting with and observing the world around me. During the incredibly stressful year of 2020, I have only found peace on my bike, with a camera in my bag. Mostly, I am interested in this scholarship because I haven’t seen Angel in two years, and excessive outdoor adventures are the only opportunities we have to connect in person.

Angel: In late summer in 2019 I had just finished my last season of tundra fieldwork for my Master’s research and I was meeting up with my dad to drive home to Saskatchewan for the first time since I had moved to the west coast for graduate school. My dad had flown to British Columbia with his bike and fish gear and would accompany me on my drive home, emulating the summer road trips we used to take together in Saskatchewan when I was a kid. The first night of our trip, we stayed in a state campground in central Washington, where most sites were occupied by a group of American teenagers and a few adult chaperones and instructors of a cross-country skiing summer training camp. We pulled my car between theirs in the only remaining parking spot before unloading our gear onto our walk-in site.

The following morning, as we were packing up camp, one of their instructors approached us, asking if we were with their group. My Canadian license plate and car full of bike gear obviously stated that we weren’t. Already knowing this, and without giving me a chance to answer, she immediately began berating my very confused dad and me for inconveniently parking our car in THEIR camp. Any attempts I tried to make to explain that this parking area was for the entire campground were dismissed with snark and hostility.

Later, when I was trying to drive away, she tracked my car. It was clear that sometime between the yelling and now, someone had explained to her that we were also allowed park there. She started her apology with “please don’t think this has anything to do with who you are.” And so, at 7 AM on this random Wednesday morning, while I was just trying to enjoy the outdoors with my dad, I listened to this white woman sloppily explain why her entitlement and microaggressions were not products of racism, too exhausted to even begin trying to explain how something she could only talk about abstractly, is the lived experience of myself, my dad, and nearly every other person-of-color trying to navigate the whiteness of outdoor recreation.

We met online in 2012 when Angel randomly came across a photo that Wen had taken of her notebooks and fountain pen on Tumblr. We were kindred spirits – instantly bonding over our shared interests hobbies like fountain pens, analog cameras, and Murakami novels. While most teenagers drift apart from their friends as they transition towards adulthood, we grew closer. Despite living thousands of miles apart and growing up with different people and different environments, we continued to independently stumble upon the same, very specific interests: mechanical keyboards, woodworking, and maker spaces.

As we bonded over our shared taste in hobbies, music, books, and podcasts, we also discovered other aspects of our lives were similar: we’re the same height (the statistical odds of two Asian women both being 5’10 seem infinitesimally small…), both of our fathers studied engineering, both our families nearly moved to Singapore. It’s spooky, and at this point, we have accepted that perhaps the universe has destined us as soulmates.

We kept in contact on social media over the years, liking each other’s Facebook and Instagram posts. In 2017, both of us were finishing our respective university degrees, Wen in engineering, and Angel in natural resource management. We both had free time and so finally, after five years of Internet friendship, we made plans to meet up in person. We spent a week in early June camping and hiking together in the Canadian Rockies, where #PainIsLife and #Wengel were born. We are eager to meet up again and we hope to continue sharing adventures under these hashtags as part of this scholarship ride.

How do you want to share your story?

To be quite transparent, we are probably better prepared for the storytelling part of this trip than the cycling part. As two women of colour, we are excited to take on this adventure and apply for this scholarship in part because we’ve seen very few inspirational stories from people of our background. A 2011 meta-analysis on cycling in London found that in a city where one-third of the general population are BIPOC, 86% of male cyclists and 94% of female cyclists are white and that the main barriers of entry for women are: inexperience with repairs, lack of confidence in navigational safety, and fear of slowing down others.

Our story will be a three-movement concerto on resilience:

Resilience amidst a global pandemic: Tourism is Alaska’s second-largest private economic sector, bringing millions of visitors annually to the state, many by cruise ships. In 2020, this industry was largely shut down because of COVID-19. We are interested in capturing the stories and images of Alaskan communities and how they have responded or adapted to these changes and to capture the experience of everyday folks and businesses. We hope that by sharing these experiences and also these businesses on social media, we can capture the rippling effects of COVID-19 and the resilience of communities and individuals that have been hit hard by them.

Resilience amidst climate uncertainty:

Alaska was the center of attention for two major environmental topics this past summer: Pebble Bay Mine and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. While both these projects have seemingly been halted, the future that is destined for the world’s largest salmon run and one of the largest caribou herds, along with countless other fauna, flora, and human communities remains uncertain under a changing climate. While our ride will not take us to either of these specific locations, we hope to capture images, have discussions, and share stories of climate change and response to climate change along our ride. Alaska is one of the epicenters of both outdoor recreation and resource extraction and development, and these industries are often at opposing ends. As participants in both systems, we want to capture these tensions, while also respecting local economies and local interests. Both of us have related academic experience in environmental studies and anthropology and hope to use our experiences and knowledge to discuss these topics effectively through our social media platforms throughout this trip and to generate discussions on the role and/or responsibility of cyclists.

Resilience amidst a very long bike ride:

We’re both decent cyclists and moderately healthy people, but this is a difficult ride and a logistical challenge (Bears! Mosquitoes! Thousands of feet of elevation gain per day!). Without even starting, we can already sense physical and mental suffering awaiting us on this trip. Wen’s photography focuses on wide-angle, candid photography, and will be a perfect medium to capture the highs and lows of the ride. Through more casual vlogs (Instagram stories or reels) we also want to address the barriers that may prevent women from cycling. We want to dismantle the notion that cycling is only for rich, Lycra-wearing white men. We will wear everyday clothes and shoes (to be honest, clipless scares us and Angel has taken a few too many accidental stumbles onto the sidewalk), share our daily struggles, and try to make this as accessible as possible to audiences following our trip. To do so, we will also be documenting our repairs and talking about our safety precautions regarding wildlife and vehicles daily, as well as recording and sharing our entire ride via Strava and/or komoot. During our drive to begin this trip, we will also make posts and share information about route planning, trip planning, and how we mentally and physically prepared.
Despite both being avid photographers, the two of us have yet to get a good photo together. We’re hoping this trip can help us change that.

Since the COVID situation has been escalating in British Columbia, and the vaccine schedule for first rounds in Canada does not include the general population of individuals under the age of 45 until June at the earliest, we have planned two contingency routes which would be more accessible to us. Similar to our initial proposal, we would still aim to limit air travel and hopefully drive or get shuttled, and camp on public lands or in designated parks. One route is along the coast from Oregon to California, and one is around Arizona. While our Alaska route is something that we’ve really enjoyed working on and looked forward to, we planned these alternatives given the likelihood that increasing public health concerns in Canada overall and variant spread in BC will make traveling across the border this summer both logistically difficult (if not impossible) and not safety-conscious. Both of our alternative routes were designed for more flexibility in timing and be rideable some time between fall 2021 and spring 2022, allowing us and the communities we will travel through to be fully vaccinated, and also hopefully for domestic travel to be more safe.

Ultimately, we are happy to ride anywhere and grateful to have the privilege and access to resources to enjoy outdoor recreation during this unprecedented time. If we are selected as recipients of the scholarship, regardless of where and when we end up riding, we would still structure the objectives of our ride similarly to our initial plan – focusing on sharing our experiences as Asian women, documenting resiliency of nature and society amidst recent sociopolitical and environmental change, and sharing resources and information to equip and empower new cyclists, particularly other women (or non-binary folks) and BIPOC.

Darlene Usi
Age: 31
Hometown: Las Vegas, NV Current city: San Diego, CA

I want to re-cultivate the childhood seeds of curiosity and wonder through adventure storytelling, along this 1,000 mile bikepacking trip through Alaska. I will hand-write a recollection of each day’s adventures in a journal to share with the world, create blog entries, and send out “Last Known Location” postcards illustrating highlight/lowlight of each major leg of the journey. The story of this adventure will be told in first person, through the lens of a giant scavenger hunt. The main character is me, Dar The Bikexplorer (fig.1), – taking maps and bikepacks and setting outacrossAlaskabyachievingspecificmilestones, playingwildlifebingo,completingside quests, and describing shenanigans in order to win the 1,000 mile ride of a lifetime!

The goals and rules of the scavenger hunt:
1) Complete 1,000 miles by bike
2) Visit two National Parks as major milestones (obtain National Parks pins for home map.) 3) Play a bingo game of nature points scored by spotting various wildlife for each leg
4) Achieve side quests in each major leg.
5) No injuries or being eaten by bears
6) Appreciate and share nature’s beauty with the world
7) Face all the challenges headstrong that accompany this trip

I draw inspiration and cherish life’s moments from all surroundings – may it be the cerebral challenge of mountain biking on new trails, a simple laugh shared with friends, making my mom smile with a silly joke, when a lab experiment proceeds flawlessly with concrete results, or even the fresh smell of ponderosa pine trees – all those small things increase my gratitude for the life I have and want to give back and inspire others to relish in those small moments.

2. Inspire other women (like myself) who have little to no training/experience at planning something grand, to just go for it. The excitement of a new challenge to push the body and soul brings a new motivation to embrace in the full journey and a delayed gratification of reaching the destination. I desire to utilize my story as a springboard to inspire other women who have been told they cannot do something, to go beyond the unknown and grow individually, professionally and increase the breadth of their passions/hobbies.
Not only do I find inspiration in the strong-willed women in my life, but I also take those unpleasant moments in which my dreams have been suppressed and use them to fuel my determination to achieve results. My career path in biochemistry has maneuvered through various obstacles in which individuals have put down my achievements as a growing young scientist.Atfirst,itwarpedmyperspectiveof careergrowth,butthroughcountlessbikeridesof contemplative thoughts and the freedom to breathe fresh air, I’ve learned to use that discouragement as fuel by turning it into a productive energy of career advancement. The scientific community needs more women to push the boundaries and demonstrate that even against all odds, women can become strong contributors in the science world.

Measuring in at a whopping 5 foot 1 3⁄4 inch, my athletic abilities are often underestimated. Strangers feel inclined to interject their wisdom by letting me know that I will be unable to tackle a particular climbing route: “That’s going to be too reachy for you, try something else” I remain humble, tackle the climb and often surprise those who assume I cannot perform. I apply those learnings in my everyday life – both on a personal and professional level.

3. Self-discovery of my true authentic self by riding for the sake of riding. Through countless solo bike rides and being surrounded by a support system that encouraged me to encompass fearlessness and bravery, I fully embraced who I am by coming out in my adulthood to myself and my small chosen family in San Diego.

Kelly Ann Stancel
Age: 45 years young
Hometown: Jolliet, Illinois

I am applying for this scholarship because I have been logistically planning to create a biking program which will focus on recovery from trauma. I am a female US Army veteran and have found cycling helps me cope with PTSD as a result of MST, military sexual trauma. One in ten men and one in three women will undergo this horrific trauma while serving their country. I not only want to assist veterans with trauma but anyone who may be suffering silently, to use cycling as a means to a normal life. Applying for and accomplishing this Alaska ride will enhance my riding skills as well as my leadership skills. There is a lack of organizations who serve those who have had severe trauma and even more of a gap in recreation for those individuals. Endurance riding is very beneficial for those who have undergone trauma. I have only had the opportunity to locally tour around my home in Washington state. Each time I ride and return, I feel better. I want others to be able to experience life again with less worry and anxiety. Cycling has helped me immensely and I want to share cycling with others. Riding 1,000 miles would truly be a challenge and I am excited to apply for the opportunity.

Design a 1,000 mile route in Alaska and share this route with us. Go big or go home. Let’s do this. Deadhorse to Homer.

Life events sculpt and shape each and every one of us differently. Life started sculpting me at a young age in Joliet, Illinois. As an adult now, I am able to look upon my upbringing and understand why I am a bit different. I am an adult survivor of childhood abuse and I really did not understand the abuse until I became an adult. As soon as I was 18, I basically ran away to culinary school. I attended Johnson & Wales University in Providence, RI. It is one of the few universities started by women in the early 20th century and just that fact alone really inspired me to attend. Although, the school was started by women, the school was ego male dominated by 1994. Kitchens are a brutal environment and if you are anything other than ‘normal’ you get bullied. I was different. I was bullied. I was happy in kitchens just not around bad attitudes and such.

So, my next move was hopefully a place where rules would be followed, the US Army. I left working the fancy mansions of Rhode Island to head off to be a chef in the army. Some might think, the army serves crappy food. Yes. Yes, it does. I, however, worked diligently and became a General’s Chef. My first duty assignment was the 2nd Infantry Division, Commanding General’s Mess. I had the honor of preparing meals for tons of dignitaries, to include former President Clinton and Kim Jong-il. Sounds spectacular; however, during my time in Korea I would experience military sexual trauma by some of the commanding staff and my peers. I applied for leadership school at Fort Lewis and soon was leaving the unit. These instances of trauma happen too often in our military ranks and only until recently have survivors been able to come forward about their past traumas. I often had to find military schools to apply to in order to move away from abuse.

One of the last schools I would attend was the University of Washington. I applied for a full scholarship through the Army and was awarded a 4-year ROTC scholarship. In 2002, I was going to transition from being a sergeant to becoming an officer. I was serving silently as a lesbian and this was during Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. All of my beatings were because I am gay and there is no hiding it. I thought if I became an officer through this scholarship, I could show those who could not accept difference to accept it. I failed. I received the beating of a lifetime by UW ROTC instructors bellowing orders at other cadets to piss on me and shit on me. No gays allowed. Their words hurt and the kicks to the body and the defecation is a nightmare I live with. Living with those nightmares and having no idea how to get help, I soon lost my job.

What do you do when you lose everything? Pack up and go fish in Alaska! Sounds great. Get there, learn to fish, and then the captain’s wife was diagnosed with cancer and he had to stop fishing and go to the hospital for the emergency. Long story short, my fishing trip was over in about three weeks. I came back to the Seattle area and struggled with PTSD and employment. I found working in the middle of the night instead of sleeping was the best solution. I could not sleep well due to the nightmares and having the day free to look for a better job seemed reasonable. I looked high and low for any decent job, yet was unable to find employment. What I did find unexpectedly was my soul mate. She worked the closing shift and I worked the oncoming first shift. As she moved into management, we could not work at the same store anymore, so I quit.

I am currently the CEO of HOME Incorporated. I report directly to the CFO, Drea. That is my business-like way of saying I stay at home and she goes to work. It is very much a full-time job with meal prep and house chores. I am also in the midst of completing a VA Claim for MST.

The VA is now acknowledging these instances and awarding disability. It is a trying task to recount years of past trauma and fill out forms. A main reason why cycling is so important in my mental health and healing process. Cycling is a means of unwinding to me after getting all wound up remembering things I just want to forget. Once I discovered how I felt during and after cycling I wanted to share it more and more with others who are going through the same things. Hence, I want to start a cycling program for veterans and their families to participate in together.

Applying for this application has been an adventure in itself. Thank you for creating such a creative application process. Creating a route and planning logistically has been a useful exercise as I plan a cross country trip in the future. As I was planning, it dawned upon me, I was being selfish. Why should I go and do something epic and leave my soulmate at home? The more I delved into the application process the more I did not want to finish or submit. In my heart, I did not want to spend time away from her, knowing we really have not been anywhere together. Eight years of love and dedication and we are not married and have been financially struggling so have never been away on a get-away. I do not want to use the word relaxing vacation because riding 1,000 miles is far from relaxing sunny beach vacation as most think. It is more of a type-2 fun, “look at us riding uphill into the wind with mosquitoes the size of B-52s chasing us… isn’t this great?!?!” (laughing manically)

My partner and I have lovingly argued over this application all throughout January. Am I being selfish? She won the argument and I completed the application. If awarded the scholarship, I will figure out a way to bring her along in some capacity. Thank you for all your time in reading. And I will leave you with the words heard over the radio which inspired me to dream big: “keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.” Casey Kasem

Meredith Duhrsen and Vanessa Farley

We are applying together for the following reasons:

What is better than one sister biking across her home state alone? Two sisters biking across their home state together!

We are two sisters from Anchorage, Alaska. We are Meredith Duhrsen (15) and Vanessa Farley (20), and we are applying for this scholarship because we want to spend some quality sister time together doing a tough, fun bike adventure! We are applying as a duo because we already have a lot of the gear (including bikes) that we will need for the trip, so we are only asking for $1100 for the cost of a ferry ticket and food.

Meredith: Vanessa and I never spent a lot of time together when we were younger because we have a brother between us and didn’t have a lot of activities we could do together due to our age gap. By the time I realized how cool my older sister was, she was already off at college! Since then, our best memories have been made outdoors.

This summer, we biked Resurrection Pass in a day together. It was one of the first hard outdoor adventures we have taken together. Throughout the course of the trip, we were hungry, tired, lost, and frustrated with broken bikes, but it was made better because we were together. We want to do another even bigger bike adventure together.
Vanessa: I have done some road bikepacking in Alaska (the Fireweed 200) and at school in California, but I’ve never been able to find another girl partner for the adventures. We think that if people see us out doing a fun hard bike adventure together, or hear our story, then more women and girls our age will feel comfortable doing these things too.

Plus, who could be a better partner than my younger sister? I have been at home since the pandemic started. My favorite part about being home is that I get to spend more time with Meredith. Being her older sister and a role model for her has always been really important and special to me; especially now that she is older, I want to give her the tools to confidently pursue hard, fun things (especially outdoors!).

We have designed our route so that we can see some places in Alaska that we really want to visit but have never been (Denali, McCarthy, and Valdez), and if we do it on bikes then it will be carbon-neutral and won’t hurt the place we care a lot about.

Vanessa: I am currently a junior at Stanford studying Mechanical Engineering and Native American studies. I love working on mechanical problems and spend my free time volunteering with the Stanford Bike Project, fixing up bikes to give to low-income students or teaching fellow students how to repair their own bikes. My sister and I are both Native (Chippewa-Cree) and I am active in the campus Native community. I love outdoor adventure sports and I’m proud of being Native, but there isn’t always much representation of Natives doing the sports I love. I would love to bring an awareness of Native representation in the story-sharing that comes out of this bike ride, ultimately making bikepacking more accessible for more people.


We’d like to thank everyone for their submissions and to the companies supporting this endeavor. To gain perspective on what riding in Alaska is like, check out the Related section below. Thanks to Rue for providing some inspirational imagery in this gallery.

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 one of the finalists.