There were 158 applications for the Lael Rides Alaska Women’s Scholarship. Rita Jett, Cait Rodriguez, Holly Hill, Kellie Nelson and I read all of the applications. We had a conference call last Monday and came up with a list of seven finalists together. This week, I called each of the finalists to get to know them better. I’ve included a couple more applications in this post because I want to share their stories and give some insight into this process. Reading and re-reading this applications, I’m still having a hard time making a final decision. Here are some of the finalists, introducing themselves in their own words. I will announce the recipient of the scholarship tomorrow and she will come ride her 1,000 mile adventure route in Alaska this summer.
Hometown: Toronto/ Mexico City
“It would be a privilege to continue to demonstrate to the girls around me, that biking is an empowering tool. Being a strong woman is beautiful, and that anyone can truly hop on a bike and allow their legs to take them places. My one and only bike trip from Canada to Mexico City genuinely changed my life. This is a message I love spreading around!
My first encounter with hostility was in two different bike shops in Victoria, BC. The men working in these shops laughed at me when I mentioned I wanted to bike the Pacific Coast. One man rolled his eyes and said I was too ambitious. How can a girl with no previous bike experience think she can just go alone? My tree planting friends whom encouraged my bike tour, did not foresee that I would struggle this much to get my trip started.
After looking into more bike shops in Victoria, I found acceptance in a bike co-op called Recyclistas. I knew this was the right place, because of the excited reaction I received from telling the shop owners I was going to go all the way to Mexico City! When I shyly mentioned using buckets as panniers, they cheered me on with a loud “Fuck ya bucket panniers rule!”. They never once thought that being a girl was a disadvantage. I love that shop.
A comment that I often received was “A girl? Alone? To Mexico?” It was incredible that despite telling these people that I was originally from Mexico, they still felt the need to tell me that they knew more about the place than me. Often asking if my dad was okay with it, and if my mother gave me permission.
I plan on riding in Alaska in early July, right after my tree planting work contract finishes. The trip will take between 8-10 weeks.
Currently I am riding solo. But I have two tree planting girlfriends that are prepared to join me!
ALSO, I would be so happy if Grande (Lael’s friend) would ride with us for as long as she can. I began following her on Instagram; I see her as a role model. Prior to her, I had no other Hispanic women to look up to in the cycling community. Representation matters.”
Hometown: Westland, MI
“Biking is not something that has ever come easy to me. As a kid, I was one of the last on the block to take my training wheels off, and I was shrouded in embarrassment about it. The fear of falling gripped me to the point that I didn’t even want to try. And although it finally happened for me, it has never been second nature.
I grew up a Midwestern girl in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan, with zero experience in the outdoors. I had dreams of living in downtown Detroit and becoming an English teacher, which is what I attended Michigan State University for; I received a degree in English education, and specialized in urban education, hoping to make a big change in the lives of students through books. After a summer spent in the mountains of Colorado working as an Americorps member in environmental conservation, I knew I no longer belonged in the heart of a city. I saw that there was a way to both teach and learn in the outdoors, and my sense of “classroom” began to shift.
From being a conservation corps leader, to leading young children on outdoor, educational adventures, I found my place on the Colorado Plateau. It was here that I learned to climb, canyoneer, ski, mountain bike, and solo backpack. One of the most prominent and defining experiences I have had is hiking the Colorado Trail solo with my dog Sprocket in the summer of 2016. I think the Colorado Trail is a great precursor for planning bigger solo trips, such as the proposed bike scholarship trip, and this 500 mile stretch of trail gave me more confidence and awareness of self than anything I had ever done before. It allowed me to flex my decision-making skills, battle loneliness, and learn to enjoy being by myself.
I now work for a company in Mancos, CO called Alpacka Raft. We handmake packrafts here at our shop, and I run the customer service side of the company. The company is run almost entirely by strong, willful women, and that has been a huge change from most of my experience working in the outdoor industry. But working with Alpacka has also shown me there is still a huge disparity in the number of women who use bikes and boats for their own trips in relation to men, and it has spurred me to become more of a voice for inclusion. I want to see more women planning and executing big trips, and if I could be even just a little part of that through this scholarship, I would feel honored to lend my experiences to others.”
Approximately 1149 miles of travel by bike and packraft:
Fly into Fairbanks, AK
Packraft with bike to Nenana via Chena River (approx. 55 miles of paddling). Resupply
Bike south to Cantwell via Hwy. 3 (approx. 94 miles riding) Resupply
Turn east onto Denali Hwy 8 and ride to Paxson (approx. 134 miles riding) No resupply until Copper Valley IGA
Turn south onto Hwy 4 to McCarthy (approx. 189 miles riding) Resupply
Return from McCarthy north and continue on Hwy 1 to Tok (approx. 257 miles riding) Resupply
Tok to Hwy 5 to Eagle/ Eagle (approx. 165 miles riding) Resupply
Packraft with bike from Eagle to Circle via Yukon River (100 miles of paddling) Resupply drop at Post Office
Bike Hwy 6 from Circle to Fairbanks- with a stop at Circle Hot Springs! (approx. 155 miles)
Return flight from Fairbanks, AK
Hometown: Sitka, AK
Age: 76 (!)
“As an experienced ultra-marathon cyclist, now living in an island town with only 50 miles of road, I feel the need to continue distance riding, experience more riding in Alaska and share my adventures with others. I am also a board member of the Sitka Conservation Society and would like learn more about the areas that are being environmentally threatened.
Although I am now older and do not ride the long distance days, I still have the skill and endurance to do a 75 mile day. Most recently, last May, I did a 80KM. mountain bike race in Bhutan. Although I was by far the oldest and came in dead last, I completed it.
I can change tires efficiently and do most minor bike repairs. I have ridden the Iditasport 100 and do ride fat tire or studded tire bikes in the winter. I own several bikes and would donate scholarship bicycle to GRIT or some other young woman after ride.”
Concetta Leialoha Sousa-Sommo (just call me Lei)
Hometown: Cuba, MO / Anchorage, AK
“I was biking more than I ever had, and yet my skill seemed to plateau. My moral was low – I felt angry when I rode rather than filled with sunshine. I was so intimate with the feelings I held dear while cycling that the change was one of the first signs that something was amiss.
After a series of Dr. appointments, scans, surgeries, pokes and prods, I was diagnosed with classic nodular Stage II Bulky Unfavorable Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Cancer. Fuck.
What followed was the most challenging and substantial year of my life. 2017 was a year of fighting to survive, while redefining life itself after my world had been turned upside down. Life was a daze. Meetings with doctors and nurses explaining what was happening, and what was to come. My left lung was being impeded by tumor 4” in diameter over my heart and lung. There was fluid around my heart. Tumors all along the lymph node bands in my neck, chest, and armpits. Chemotherapy would take my hair, my eyelashes, my immune system, my ability to have children.
For a time I could only fantasize about hopping on my bike. When the dizzy stopped being a constant, I put my helmet back on and ventured out into our great world to escape reality on bike. It may have only been a spin around the block or to the creek just across the way but to me it was just as satisfying as a century.
I stayed in Sacramento to await radiation therapy at one of the country’s top comprehensive cancer facilities, which just so happened to be 5 miles from my long-lost half sister’s house, easily navigated by greenway. What a better way to power through daily run-ins with radiation than building a relationship with a sibling I had only met a handful of times over my entire life and pounding out 10 miles of commuting via the American River Pathway?
The women’s waiting room at the cancer center became a daily hang. Thinking of the raw emotion clouds that sometimes hung in the room as ladies came and went from diagnosis or treatment still makes tears well. I never imagined a women’s only waiting room would hold so much meaning, or the power that could be drawn from women comforting women. Beautiful stuff.
Sometimes I felt guilty walking in with my helmet, aglow with gaining strength and the sun. That feeling was all on me though because the ladies, who ranged in age from peer to late 80’s, let me know that I was an inspiration. Insane but inspiring. I shrugged them off saying the route had no elevation gain, but that never quenched their consternation.
August 12, 2017 is a day that will be with my always. It was the day I found out I was officially cancer free, and the best day of biking I’ve ever had.
All my first pivotal moments as a cyclist took place in Alaska.
A Prince of Wales (POW) adventure has been on my bikepacking radar for many years now. I’ve carried this dream with me since my first arrival in Alaska when I fell in love with the coastal fjord communities, when I walked the beaches of Lake Superior and when I fantasized about lushes coastal rainforests while bikepacking Eastern Oregon’s high desert. Dozens of hours have been spent analyzing the island from Google Earth, street view, satellite, USGS quadrangles, USFS motor vehicle use maps and magazines.
Over the last year, however, my vision of bikepacking POW has been evolving. As I watch routes like the Baja Divide and Oregon Timber Trail explode onto the cycling scene and hear rumors of efforts such as turning the Alaskan Pipeline maintenance corridor into the Trans-Alaska Trail, I’m struck by a much more ambitious collective question:
What if you could cycle the entire west ‘coast’ of North America on nothing but mostly singletrack and rugged USFS gravel roads?”
Brooke Larsen & Kailey Kornhauser
Hometown: Salt Lake City, Utah
Age: Both 25
“As you will notice, there are two of us applying for this application. You might ask, why are two people applying for a single scholarship? First, we want to make it clear that while two of us are proposing this ride, we do not expect two scholarships! Between the two of us and one scholarship, we have enough gear and supplies to support a collaborative trip. We are proposing a big project and ride that we believe requires two women to carry out. To summarize, we are applying together for the following reasons:
1. The only thing cooler than one woman riding across Alaska by herself is two best friends riding across Alaska together!
2. This past summer Brooke rode her bike 1,500 miles around the Colorado Plateau collecting stories from locals about the impacts of climate change and environmental injustices on their lives. Kailey came for 500 miles, and it was definitely the most fun 500 miles.
3. We are proposing a ride that combines bike packing and story-listening. On Brooke’s last bike tour, she interviewed 28 people. On our ride through Alaska, we hope to listen to around 20 stories about climate change, land rights, and environmental injustice in Alaska and share the stories through writing, videos, and photos to inspire people to take action, both through riding their bike and acting for climate justice. The work required to reach out to locals and keep up with the logistics of a bike tour is really a two person job.
4. We want to make bike touring/packing seem more accessible! In the past we have recorded videos and written stories in an attempt to shed light on biking as a sport for all types of people. Kailey does this by writing and recording funny videos about the experience of being fat while riding fatish bikes. We both hope to continue this type of work on every tour we take.”
Alana Rose Parent
Age: 14 years old
“I have seven brothers (I’m the only girl). I share a room with two of my brothers. I have good grades in school and I like to help in my community. I enjoy biking and dancing very much.
I really enjoy biking outside of town. I’ve done some bike packing but not a bunch so it would be good to learn more and get better at it. Also it would help me with my biking skills and I’m always up for an adventure. I get to explore new places in the state I have grown up in for pretty much my whole life. The trip sounds like it would be lots of hard work and fun to. It will help me grow as a biker and a human being.
I really have not explored passed Willow that much. I went to Fairbanks once when I was younger but that was it. I would love to explore more of Alaska and biking opens up your eyes to more. I say this because you are going slower so you can see and hear more around you.
I will be starting in Cantwell Alaska and then I will bike to Coldfoot. From Coldfoot I will bike to Anchorage. Anchorage will be the end of my trip. That will get my About 1,029 miles.
For transportation I am only asking for $400 that will pay for gas for my ride to Cantwell (which my father will give me a ride). The rest of the money will go for his gas on the trip.”
Hometown: Chicago, IL
“My family emigrated from Mexico and landed in Chicago. My parents both worked multiple jobs so my siblings and I spent a lot of time on our own. This definitely contributed to my resourcefulness and fierce independence. Eventually I ended up in foster care. I was in my early teens when this happened so it was a pretty turbulent time. It would be an understatement to say that I come from humble beginnings. I am also deaf and my deafness was due to the severe abuse I suffered as kid. I would not change a thing. All of this has allowed me to be a more compassionate and humble human. It has given me the kind of grit needed to pursue solo cross country bike trips. I rode the Trans American Bike Race last year. I did not finish because I ran our of funds in Montana, but I hope to return better prepared for 2020. I just have a lust for life. For me keeping a child-like wonder about everything is what keeps it all in perspective. You have to remain curious and in awe of all that is around us. A couple years ago I was homesteading with a friend. We bought 10 acres of land in Northern Arizona, just west of Flagstaff in the juniper woods area near the Mojave desert. We were in the middle of nowhere and it was great! There was one bumpy 45 minute ride in and out. The nearest town had one gas station and a diner where we had the best breakfast sandwiches and burritos. When we got there was nothing there. We camped for an entire year while we built a tiny 14×14 sqft house by watching Youtube videos. We did everything ourselves as we learned along the way: installing windows, doors, siding. The roof was the most challenging part of our build. The first year we did not have enough power from our tiny generator to operate power tools so we did all the work by hand. It was a slow process, but the end result was amazing. I’m still in awe that I made a house by hand!”
Hometown: Clear Lake Shores, TX
“I can’t imagine why anyone would see this opportunity and not jump on it. My friend sent me the link one day, thinking I might be interested and he wasn’t wrong. 1,000 mile on the roads of Alaska?! Summer plans, canceled. Alaska I’m coming! I see Alaska as the frontier, a land untouched and calling out to be uncovered. Bikepacking across Alaska would be a notch on my belt to remind me of what I am capable of. This scholarship gives me the chance to put my grit to the test, face fears and shake hands with the northernmost parts of America.
I also have two things I need to fulfill this year and this decade. Instead of picking a resolution for the New Year I choose a theme; this year is “fearless”. I chose this theme because I knew I would be stepping into a new season of life and I would need to approach it with unbridled moxie. Taking on Alaska by bike requires a certain level courage, nerve or cojones. Call it what you will but I need some more of it. On top of that, my theme for the coming decade is “low-key badassery”.
This scholarship would cultivate more of that in me. I never want to lose sight of the excitement the world offers day after day. I always want to be pushing myself to try something new and take on new endeavors as I grow older. I can promise you this won’t be the last dream I need to fulfill but it sure will check off one of biggest on my list. It’s my dream to get to Alaska to be challenged, humbled and witness the beauty it has to offer. I will no doubt make it to Alaska someday, but I prefer that “someday” be August 1st, 2018.”
Hometown: New Zealand & the United States
“I’m keen to see more active representation of older women of all sizes and backgrounds in long distance cycling touring and outdoor pursuits. It’s much needed! I believe adventure knows no age or limits and cycling is a great way to make new connections and discoveries.
I’m the only woman in my generation in my family. Growing up I seldom saw women in non-traditional roles so after looking for many years I finally decided to go for it and create my own.
I believe strongly in the value of connecting across lines and colors, spaces and places. My professional interests lie in the intersection of nature connection and human relationship, re-membering our true self and reaching out to build community.
This year I’m keen to cycle the length of Alaska from Deadhorse to Homer to create One Minute Stories, an interactive community project utilising storytelling to envision a future of hope.
On the back of the bike I’ll carry a sign saying ‘Tell me a story about hope and kindness’. I’ll ask friends here in New Zealand to help make some messages to get the ball rolling and put them in a handmade crocheted bag. The idea is for a new friends I’ll meet on the journey to take a message for themselves and then take a few moments to write or draw a new one to be passed along to another person farther on down the road, weaving a web of hope in challenging times.”
Malay “Taco” Rexford Khamsyvoravong
Hometown: Oakland, CA
“On my first day working at YBike, a collection of youth bike initiatives of the Presidio YMCA in San Francisco, I saw a colleague’s photo of his bike taped on the wall. The bike was in a patch of sunlight, resting casually against a tree next to a tiny tent. As I struggled to lift my rusty orange Huffy onto a wall hook, I thought, ‘These people must be a special kind of crazy.’
A year earlier, I had bought a bike to beat an unpredictable bus system in Oakland, to get to work on time, and to return home safely at night. In the beginning of bike ownership, I would only bike the first mile and walk the last two to work, terrified of cars. The distances I dared to undertake expanded once I moved further from the center of town. The hills in between my house and frankly, anywhere else, spurred me to use my gears (improperly) and to develop a daily ritual of fixing my dropped chain. While not the most natural rider, I began to enjoy the challenge of navigating traffic and trying to get up hills without my bike falling apart.
At YBike, I found myself surrounded by folks with an incredible wealth of knowledge about a world I had barely known existed. My colleagues were former bike messengers, mountain bike enthusiasts, road warriors, professional mechanics, unicyclists. They were gracious and generous in sharing their stories and expertise with me. They demonstrated levels of patience that I later realized was uncommon in many bike spaces.
When I started teaching, my younger students displayed a sense of wonder and confidence that I hadn’t anticipated. One of my first students I taught to ride blurted out, “I feel like I’m flying! It’s FREEDOM!” On the streets, their easy acceptance of riding in traffic began to shift my mindset: the streets are everyone’s space, and everyone has a right to feel safe and enjoy them.
I wanted to increase opportunities for young folks to engage with bikes from multiple entry points. Banking on the expertise of our multi-talented staff, I shifted our physical education program from being a strictly traffic safety-focused curriculum to include elements of bike polo, mountain biking, and maintenance. I helped usher in a cycle track racing program for high schoolers, led by a local female professional cyclist with an inspiring vision of expanding the sport.
In the summer of 2015, I started a girls bike program and camp “…with the purpose of getting more girls riding and exploring the great world of bikes.” Our girls program embraces being loud or quiet, silly or serious, and daring in the ways they individually choose to define it. We engage with bikes from as many angles as we can think of- bikes as our loyal steeds on scavenger hunts, bike parties, mountain biking, crafts, mechanics, and the list goes on. I view biking as a radical tool for engagement, and I want to stoke the flames of excitement from wherever folks are at.”