Fans of Discovery’s Friday-night gold-mining show “Bering Sea Gold” have watched the personal and professional ups and downs of Nome, Alaska, natives Zeke Tenhoff and Emily Riedel, as they try — formerly together and now separately — to find success dredging gold from the floor of the Bering Sea off Nome.
Currently on the show, Riedel is working aboard the Eroica, which was called the Edge when Tenhoff was running it (and Riedel’s purchase of the dredge from Tenhoff has been a financial and personal bone of contention between the two).
Tenhoff tried dredging with a bunch of his buddies, but the lingering emotional turmoil caused by the suicide last year of his childhood friend John Bunce caused him to go into a downward spiral of depression and substance abuse.
But things are looking up for Tenhoff on the show, and Zap2it shot him a few questions about his new outlook, his new love — New Orleans artist Sarah Dunn — and his new business venture, in which the schoolbus formerly owned by Riedel’s father, Steve Riedel, is being transformed from living quarters into a rolling Southern-food eatery.
Zap2it: What made you think of converting Steve’s old school bus?
Zeke Tenhoff: The bus has been around Nome forever. I bought it so I’d have a place for my brothers to stay. It’s a classy bus! Converting it into a food truck was my girlfriend Sarah’s idea, and it’s definitely her show. I help where I can. Sarah’s got a pizzazz for business; she wanted to bring something positive and new into town and create a job for herself during her time here.
Opening a restaurant takes a lot of effort and planning, but in the long term it’s going to pay off as a stable, reliable source of income when times are hard. Dredging is boom or bust, all or nothing. I make good money sometimes but usually lose it all in the next big mining gamble. And hey, if I break my legs or something and can’t dredge, I can always go to work for my girlfriend!
Zap2it: How did you talk Sarah into going to Nome?
Zeke Tenhoff: After ice dredging last year, I lost my way a little and found myself in New Orleans, where I met Sarah. I fell in love with her right away. You can’t control when that happens. I pretty much refused to leave New Orleans unless she came with me, and finally she agreed to come visit for a couple weeks — and liked it enough to stay!
I also think, for whatever reason, she wanted to help me get back on track, find my way again, and she has. I was in pretty rough shape when she met me.
Zap2it: Do you think you’ll ever return to full-time ice dredging?
Zeke Tenhoff: I took some time off to find my center. I did, and I’m back to work. It’s the dead of winter here in Nome, and we are working every day to get the ice dredge ready. It’s all about balance; you have to work hard to succeed in dredging, and you also have to take care of yourself in any way possible. I forgot to take care of myself and fell on my face.
To simply be a successful dredger, to make money, was my goal when I started off, and it still is, but I found that when I reached that goal, began having success, I looked at my life and didn’t like what I saw. I have come to realize that my goals are less important than the way I am functioning toward them.
I learned that if you have to mess yourself up in the head by living an unbalanced, unhealthy lifestyle in pursuit of money, then your messed-up head will waste that money as soon as you get it, and you’ll be back where you started. I needed to make steps toward becoming a stronger, better person, and another good clean-up in the sluice box wasn’t going to do that.
Zap2it: What’s the future look like for your friendship with Emily?
Zeke Tenhoff: Emily looked me in the eye and lied. That’s not acceptable. I have an awesome girlfriend that helps me with life and makes me happy. I’ve got 99 problems, and Emily is not one of them.
Here’s a clip of the work in progress: