How to be an Alaskan Gold Miner with Emily Riedel - HAP #36

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This week on The Homer Alaska Podcast we sit down with Emily Riedel - gold miner, star of "Bering Sea Gold" tv show, opera singer, and outdoor enthusiast. We talk to her about dredging for gold, growing up in Homer, what life is really like in Nome, the case for opera music, and the pros and cons of being a reality television star.

We also talk to Ashley Brasfield from South Peninsula Hospital Rehab clinic about tips for when to bring children in to see a speech language pathologist.

(1:11) Intro

(9:10) SPH Rehab w Ashley Brasfield

(13:18) Emily Riedel

IG @AlaskaShow @AlexanderTrokey

Interview Notes

The name “Riedel” is German. Pronounced “r-eye-dell.”

Opera singer, ice/rock climber, gold miner.

Currently in Nome shooting a special season ice mining for Bering Sea Gold. The ice freezes in February and they can drill into the ice and dive under the ice. The craziest miners will take their equipment out onto the pack ice and dredge for gold underneath.

A dredge is a boat that has a diesel or gasoline pump motor. Emily’s is diesel. Nome is tough to get equipment, things break down easily in a marine environment and you can’t just stroll into a huge hardware store. Supplies are limited. You have to wait a few days to get specialized stuff from Anchorage. It’s always a logistical challenge.

Emily runs the Eroica - it’s not called the Erotica. Eroica is a symphony that Beethoven wrote to commemorate Napoleon before he was an emperor/dictator. Many people mix it up.

Emily thinks in retrospect it probably wasn’t a great idea to go for the lofty, classical boat name. But she doesn’t want to change the name because she’s a little superstitious and it’s bad luck.

For her ice operation she called her boat the “Job.” This ice season has had a lot of breakdowns and malfunctions and chaos. She’s been reading a book on the philosophy of faith and prayer and Job was the relationship between man and God.

So right now they’re filming and diving under the ice. Because of climate change the ice there is really unstable and they have to be really careful with their equipment. In past years the ice is really thick and strong, but recently the ice has gone out quickly. There are leads that are opening up. They have to bring equipment in from storms.

The Iditarod is there right now and people are worried about Coronavirus.

Emily’s brother Paul is one of her closest friends. She has a sister named Liz who lives in Homer. She also has another brother in Seattle.

Emily’s dad was on the show and he did mining for a bit. Her mom lives on the east coast right now and teaches music.Growing up in Homer, Emily was partly homeschooled and grew up on the beach on Kachemak Drive. She spent her childhood on the beach. She would play pretend and build rafts and float around Kachemak Bay and build driftwood forts.

Emily moved out at 16 to live with other families in Homer until she graduated. Her parents separated when she was 12 and her mom had a string of not great relationships and the last one was bad enough for her to leave. Then she went to college to pursue music.

Homer vs. Nome. Emily is 31 and has been mining there for 10 years - working seasonally for a third of her life. Homer has tons of natural beauty and art and interesting characters in the community. There’s a wide spread of educated people and great thinkers and slightly insane people. The variety of people combined with natural beauty makes it very special.

In Nome it’s easy to feel a sense of desolation. It’s pretty flat with low rolling hills and the ocean. The lack of trees and greenery in the landscape is a bit of a feeling of being on the moon especially in wintertime. It’s very isolated and lonely. It has a tiny population, mostly Alaska Natives. But the more you’re there the more you see its special beauty. It kind of looks like Ireland in the summertime. It has an incredible history of the gold rush as well.

Nome has an interesting history - it was established by gold miners for gold miners. It has a sense of palpable desperation, almost like their spirits are left behind. The modern gold miners can feel it. There’s a mental shock when you get there - a lot of people fall apart in Nome. They start to drink or can’t focus or give into mental health issues. Compared to Homer it’s much harder.

Studied opera at University of North Carolina School of the Arts. She spent most of her life up to age 17 in Homer with very few trips out. She was pretty cut off from the rest of the world. They didn’t have cable television or anything. The rest of the world was very confusing to her. When she experienced suburbia and big box stores and connectivity she didn’t understand a lot.

School was demanding. Only 4 of the original 35 singing students graduated. She thinks being Alaskan helped her persevere through the program. Alaskans avoid being classified - people are here because they’re individuals and have a sense of independence.

Alaskans do a lot of objectively miserable activities like endurance sports.

Emily got into gold mining by accident. She got her vocal performance degree and wanted to study in Vienna, Austria to study german language and music there and she needed money for her masters.

She had a friend mining in Nome and her and her dad and friends discussed going up and diving for gold.

She wasn’t connected to the fishermen in Homer. She was poor, her dad worked on the slope, and her mom was a teacher. Her friend was looking for kin up in Nome, because it was isolating. Her and her dad got up to Nome and heard Discovery channel was there scouting talent.

They were working and diving and Discovery found them and started filming with them. Getting the show was random and serendipitous. She signed a contract with Discovery her second year. It was a multi-season. She did her first year in Nome then went to Austria to live and she ran out of money. Discovery called and asked her to do a special and flew her back. She literally had no money. That was the start of it. Then she signed a contract with them.

She has an agent now and worked with them in the past. She does her job to the best of her ability - meaning being a gold miner. Discovery is there on an observational business. They try to keep things organic and they’re a fly on the wall. She doesn’t personally watch the show, not since season 1, because she doesn’t want to watch their version of reality on Bering Sea Gold.

Emily’s advice is don’t read what people say. She has people say very kind things and people say horrible things. She tries not to engage with either. If people say they love her or they say they hate her - they are wrong either way. People aren’t interested in the truth, they’re interested in the power of their feelings. She has no ill will towards people who criticize her.

It’s been a struggle to shelf her opera singing career. Filming the second season Emily had some near-death diving experiences and someone took their own life. She came back after that and everyone in Nome thought she was useless and stupid and she couldn’t get a job.

She bought a boat then to be an owner and a manager rather than being diver.

Opera vs pop music. Opera is like a poem. It’s a richer form of music than pop.

Emily is interested in staying involved in media if there’s a great story to tell but has no interest in becoming an internet influencer for profit. She has a few sponsors like Arctic Cat and Lincoln Welder which help her stay in good equipment.

Advice to anyone in entertainment - don’t let it define you.

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