Top 11 finalist for the 2021 “Lael Rides Alaska” Femme-Trans-Women’s Scholarship: Part 03

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

Olivia Juarez
Age: 27
Hometown: Tooele, UT

“Riding solo for a month in Alaska is senseless,” was my first thought preceding planning a 32 day tour in Alaska. My culture and stories from the women who raised me have taught me that in this world being a femme is dangerous. My interest in this scholarship is best described by telling you about what I found when imagining where I would go if I was awarded this scholarship. When researching about Nome, I found the cover story on that was published just a day earlier, “Seeking Protection, Wanting Justice: Disparities in Sexual Assault Crimes in Nome.” The article investigates how the community is dealing with issues of assault case mismanagement and stories from assault survivors, and the heightened impact on Alaska Native women. That article fit a puzzle piece into the space I held when asking myself why I am interested in this scholarship. I am not a tribe member nor am I a sexual assault survivor; yet where I choose to explore public land, how I do it, and who I am with is majorly affected by assault experiences of my family members.

Whether going on a jog, or planning an overnight camping trip, my biggest safety question has always been, “what will I do if a man is creating an unsafe situation,” even more than, “what will I do if I get injured?”. 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.
My earliest mother-daughter memory is mom teaching me how to write my name; the next one is mom coaching me to ride on two wheels—she easily graduated me from a trike to a small unicorn-colored bike, skipping the training wheels. Once as a child I claimed to be bored. Mom asserted that I was capable of entertaining myself outside, “I used to bike all over my neighborhood by myself, having fun! You can do that too.” In the truest sense of the word, my mom unabashedly encouraged me.

Time wore on and she changed. The woman who inspired me to be outside all the time became fixated on tragedy & trauma that happens afuera. As I grew older, I noticed that she clung onto tragic local news; she’d often vocalize horror about news reporting on women who were assaulted while exercising on the Jordan River parkway in Salt Lake. By the time I was out of the nest and exploring the rest of my beautiful state, it became common place to be on the receiving end of my mom’s horror-stories about violence against women in nature. There’s not a trip I go on without hearing her concerns about my safety as a femme while hiking, jogging, and bicycling. This is a concern of hers that has persisted, as I am Latinx Community Organizer for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), where my job is 100% centered on land and people.

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.

Joy and desire in my life is centered in being outside. Bicycling is my release because the climbs can be difficult. The mountains above and faultline beneath me are the closest thing to therapy that I’ve encountered. The climbs have been part of the best and worst moments of my adult life, from literally riding away from a situation of domestic abuse when I was 19, to riding home from unforgettable concerts. I’ve ridden up and down the same hills toward my B.A. in Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Utah (the same roads I ride to get to and from work). I never get sick of it. Because of my home’s steep slopes, I have a great love for ski touring, hiking, and jogging east (uphill). It may be an aversion to speed, but I smile more during the uphill push more than going back downhill. I’m an avid adventurer, organizer, and activist. I use they/them pronouns although I accept she/her for cultural reasons. I’m exactly the person my mom raised me to be, a person who rides their bike and has fun even if I’m doing it by myself sometimes.

Luckily, 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.

My life’s goal is to serve the planet and ensure healthy futures for everyone. I work to grow Latino/a/x joy and leadership in the movement to designate 9 million acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wilderness in Utah. In my four years organizing wilderness activism, Alaska’s public lands have loomed as a vast mystic place in my conservation-goals imagination. Due to the work of the Alaska Wilderness League, Utah and Alaska are often put in the same camp as the only states with national campaigns to designate BLM wilderness in the state. I’m thrilled to schedule an interview with Anahma Shannon, the Kawerak Inc. Environmental Program Director. When reading about the hot spring in their community, I learned about a recent awful decision made by the BLM to allow mining upon millions of acres throughout the Seward Peninsula. The Corporation along with others protested the decision at two stages of public comment, but the BLM did not relent. I’m looking forward to hearing about how another community relates to the BLM.

Still, I am most excited about the destinations set in my trip plan. I’m very excited to bike to the healing hot springs of Nome. I’m thrilled to camp on BLM land along the Denali Highway. 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.

Shadow Auri
Age: 29
Hometown: Joplin, MO

Hello, there. My name is Shadow and I’m trans/nonbinary. I use they/them pronouns. At first, I almost didn’t apply. I’ve been all over America and a lot of WTF initiatives and groups don’t seem to represent or include me. In fact, it’s only in weird little corners of Instagram and alternative traveler forums I find myself among queer/nonbinary/trans cyclists. Often people like me have to do things for each other, because we aren’t actually included in the hype, sponsorships, or live outside the privilege it takes to go to events. It seems these initiatives are improving with amazing groups like the Radical Adventure Riders, Psycho OVAS, and the work of CyclistaZine. I would really like to see someone similar to me win a grant like this. People with identities that defy gender binaries and those surviving below the poverty line deserve these sponsorships/ adventures as well.

At this point, I’ve cycled 10k miles around the so-called United States over the last two years. Seems every year the distances get further. My confidence and ability to budget also grows. This year I really started taking seriously the idea of cycling the world, but naturally it was a dream kind of deflated and postponed indefinitely due to covid19/ ethical concerns about traveling in unvaccinated countries. I’ve decided this just means I should keep having adventures in this country until traveling is safer. This hasn’t been easy and sometimes I wonder how the heck I got into doing these bicycle things when I was never athletic in my life. My tours have been extremely low-budget. My touring rig is an old steel mtb I found on Craigslist for $100 and was only able to afford to build by talking a Tacoma co-op called 2nd Cycle into sponsoring me.

My first open ended tour was with a budget of $200, a food stamps allotment, and knowledge to dumpster dive. I did the California Coast/ first two states on Route 66 as an interim between living at an Occupy ICE protest in Portland and taking a writing residency in Missouri. The second was after being made homeless amid this global pandemic. See, I think of bike touring these last couple of years as my default home and how I survive. Not just financially, but psychologically in a neurotypical world that has a hard time accepting people that are different. Adventure cycling has improved my health, finances, and my overall lifestyle. I got sober for bike touring. I haven’t been able to afford housing my whole adult life, but with the right equipment the entire country has become my home for cheaper than any apartment or van lifestyle.

I’ve been houseless off and on most of my life since I was 15, bike touring somehow became a way to make it more enjoyable and string opportunities together while escaping some ills of capitalism daily. This recent trip included parts of the Underground Railroad, Great Rivers South, Katy Trail, North Lakes, Northern Tier, Olympic Peninsula, Oregon Coast, and the Western Express routes. It was a pretty epic life-changing experience filled with a lot of strange kindness. The trip really drilled ideas of doing this bigger and better into my head. I’ve realized I’ll probably never be a racer or a brand owner, so my growing take is creating content to share the journeys with people like me. My entire last trip was well-documented in my Instagram stories and journaled on Facebook. My next season of riding will hopefully see the growth of a TikTok and Youtube account.

Sierra Flynn
Age: 32
Hometown: Coarsegold, CA

In 2018, I read an article portraying the difficulty of finding fresh food during the Alaskan winters. Since then I have had a fascination with Alaska and its food culture. Each place has a unique relationship to food as determined by its geography, climate, indigenous cultures, ingenuity of settlers (colonizers), and role in global commerce. Alaska, being so remote and separate from the contiguous United States, imports 95% of groceries. Such a reliance on imports makes Alaska’s food system vulnerable, especially in light of a global pandemic and the startling effects of global climate change. Many of the impacts of climate change are indeed detrimental to Alaska’s food security, with harsher storms disrupting supply chains being one example. What particularly fascinates me, however, is that the effects of climate change are simultaneously increasing the ability to farm in Alaska, potentially contributing to Alaska’s food sovereignty. If I have the honor of being the 2021 Femme-Trans-Women (FTW) scholar, I will embark on a cycling adventure to explore Alaska’s food system and the ways it is evolving.

I taught high school biology in Oakland, California from August 2015 to Spring of 2020. After 4 years of working at a large public school, I decided I needed to take a year off from teaching due to burnout. Repeatedly teaching 155 students every day, grading their work, planning lessons, and attending meetings became exhausting. The exhaustion only slightly overshadowed my favorite part of teaching: relationship building. I welcomed getting to know each student a little better every day – sharing in their successes and supporting them during their challenges.

Throughout my teaching experience, the relationships I built with my students led me to feel that I was teaching the wrong thing – focusing on microbiological processes rather than preparing my students to take care of themselves, emotionally and physically. My students shared that they desired to learn how to cook, how to apply for jobs, and how to build healthy relationships. I strongly believe that scientific literacy is a beneficial life skill – yet I found myself wondering why the school system prioritizes teaching photosynthesis over self care – especially when students continually request it. Last spring, when I said my goodbyes, I left wondering what my next step would be.

Distance from teaching, coupled with reflection (hello covid-19 restrictions) led me to realize that I miss many aspects of teaching – the laughter, the sharing of knowledge between student and teacher, and the sense of being a part of a big community. I now understand that I want to recreate the joys of teaching through a lens that is lacking in public school and that my students so clearly wanted – food, nutrition, and food cultivation. My new teaching goal, in whatever platform I have (a classroom, a zoom room, the unending internet), is to teach people and continue teaching myself about food and the relationships it creates between people, the land, and our bodies.
To explore Alaska’s evolving food system, I created a route connecting farms and food establishments from Fairbanks to Homer, avoiding heavily trafficked roads as much as possible. See the table below for a comprehensive list of the farms along the route. The route connects farm incubator projects, vegetable and meat farms, and the Anchorage Food Bank. In addition, the route visits Denali and Kenai Fjords National Parks, places that have been on my bucket list for many years.

Honorable Mention

Ana Jager
Age: 24
Hometown: Anchorage, AK

I first heard from Ana Jager in the fall of 2016. She applied for the Baja Divide women’s scholarship. She was 19 years old and the youngest applicant. She didn’t get the scholarship, but she came for the group start in San Diego and rode the entire 1700 mile route, self-supported. I’ve never seen her break a sweat, but I’ve definitely seen her ride hard, fast and far.

After the trip, Ana went back to school at Western Washington University. While in school, she started POWER Bellingham:

“POWER (an acronym for Pedaling Ourselves With Energy & Resolve) grew from a school project focusing on my own love for bike mobility along with my desire to provide middle schoolers with the independence of a bicycle. It was a long process to get support and connections to get it rolling, but POWER had its first season in fall 2019 with about 12 girl, trans, and non-binary students from Whatcom Middle School. Within POWER, each student received a bike, helmet, lock, and lights to use in the program and keep as their own.

I ran it with the help of my friends and community members as volunteers. We all met twice a week after school to ride around town and practice how to use bikes as tools for mobility. Getting to know goofy middle schoolers and share bike commuting with them was a huge highlight during my time at college in Bellingham. I was amazed how excited students were about learning and riding together, and how motivated they were to become independent in bike commuting! COVID disrupted the trajectory I’d imagined for POWER, but I’m still really amped on connecting biking with middle schoolers. Creating a program for WTF students to learn and build bike community through POWER is easily the most fun I’ve ever had in any kind of project. Bike riding holds so much potential for community, self learning, and mobility. In a world where oppression and inequality are omnipresent features, I love that biking allows all people, regardless of their background, to experience freedom and agency of their life.”

Ana gets it done. Without extra help, she’s making her own trips happen and organizing a cycling program for 12 & 13 year old girls.

We had 96 people at the group start for the Baja Divide in January 2017. Another rider was Colleen Welch. She rode the full length of the peninsula, smiling and kicking ass. At the end of the ride we reconnected in San Jose del Cabo. I was stressed to tears– trying to organize my first season of Anchorage GRIT, preparing for an FKT attempt of the full route and flat broke. Colleen told me that the six week tour was less expensive than she had expected. She wanted to help me out. She offered to give me $2,000 to help me make ends meet and that made all the difference for what I was able to do for the next couple of months. Colleen has a huge heart and she goes for it and I’m absolutely inspired.

It’s not the same, but I’d like to give Ana Jager $2,000 to make her Alaska trip happen this summer. Ana will start and end her trip from her parents’ house in East Anchorage and pedal to places she’s never seen, but has always been curious about.

Let’s get some more women, non-binary and trans riders out there! Let’s organize more girls cycling programs! Let’s keep doing our best.


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.