Year in Review: 2015

It’s been a crazy busy year — and it’s finally summarized!


Much like a lot of this past year, I’ve procrastinated a lot in writing this year-end blog post. I’ve been thinking a lot about it, I promise, but time has just gotten away from me. Hopefully, 2016 will be a different story, but let’s end the year on a strong note here on my little corner of the internet filled to the brim with ramblings. 2015 was a great year, and here’s some pictures to prove it. Stay with us.



For the second time, I rang in the new year with my Spirit Family. When I arrived on New Years Eve, I wasn’t exactly sure what my summer would consist of, but when I flew back to Chicago a few days later, I knew that I wanted nothing more than to return to my family in baby blue.


The rest of January was filled with job-hunting and trying to earn some extra cash to pay for that incredible pending summer, and the hard work was “rewarded” towards the end of my J-term. At the end of 2014, I applied for an internship with the Chicago Area Runners Association, but after finding out that it would not be a paid position, I had to turn down the offer. But, after one of my first few shifts at Dunkin’ Donuts, I received an email that they wanted to offer me the position again — but paid this time. I gladly accepted, and turned in my two weeks notice to Dunkin’ the next shift I was in. That email and being at CARA has been such a defining thing of this year for me, and I still can’t believed how well it all worked out. Happy to say I’m still there today!


My first race of the year came the weekend after my first week at CARA, the 15-mile Polar Dash. I had done more training runs in December than January, but I had yet to run in the conditions that were presented on race-day morning. -30 degrees (F) at the starting line with windchill, and it climbed to -25 by the time I finished the run. It took so incredibly long, and it was one of the most difficult races I’ve ever done, but I’m glad I followed through and finished it up. A very satisfying way to finish the winter break.



The cold running continued through February, and some interesting conditions presented themselves on the Lakefront. I was amazed at some of the things I was able to push through, but after starting to have some knee pains, I figured it was time to back off from adding miles, and start to scrutinize what I was eating more. I started doing meal prep in February to accommodate my hectic schedule (I was taking 19 credits at school, and working full-time between my handful of jobs at the time). Besides that, February was pretty uneventful.




March finally brought the show announcement for Spirit of Atlanta, and early in the month I first saw the four words that would define my summer more than anything else, and it was our 2015 production title: Out of the Ashes. You’ll be hearing a lot more about this soon.

I also finally got to travel outside of the Illinois state line for a weekend, and grabbed a flight for the March edition of the Great Northern Radio Show in Brooklyn Park, our trip to the “big city” — which was actually a trip to the suburbs of Minneapolis — was the last show that I would serve as Associate Producer/Stage Manager for now.



The weekend following GNRS in Brooklyn Park, I ran the half marathon that started it all for the second time — Chicago’s Get Lucky! Half. I didn’t PR, but that was okay, because I had been in Physical Therapy since February, and I was happy to just be cleared enough to run the race. My roommate Sam came and met me at the finish line, providing a lot of “congrats” and we went out to brunch to celebrate.


Another cool thing that happened in March — one of my friends from the Radio Department scored some tickets to the Book of Mormon while it was playing in Chicago, and brought me with. It was hilarious and lived up to my expectations after listening to the soundtrack all winter. If you ever get the chance to see it, snatch it. Great present-day musical.


As I briefly mentioned above, I spent my Spring in Physical Therapy for Runner’s Knee (Patellafemoral pain syndrome) in both my left and right knees, and some nerve damage in my right hamstring from limping for so long. March is when it really started to pick up, and I had a gait analysis done. Even though it wasn’t a fantastic part of the year, it was a big thing that happened, so I figured I’d include it.



But, luckily, I didn’t have to take too much time off from running! The photo above is the first 10-miler I was able to do after the Get Lucky half, and the weather was wonderful for it (considering it was Spring in Chicago!)

April also brought an onslaught of planning for the Urban Arts Festival that Columbia hosts at the end of every year — Manifest. I was serving on the External Committee, and it was our job to put the SGA (Student Government Association) table together. Below is a snap of one of those many meetings.



Although April was insanely busy with school and work, I still found myself surrounded by love and friendship at home with my roommates. These two ladies have come to be family, and even though Sam was talking about and applying for NYU at this time (she got in, by the way, and transferred there this fall), the bond between us hasn’t wavered at all. Beyond grateful every day that Columbia paired the three of us together in a room at the UC our Freshman year.

April also brought a little bit more traveling towards the end! First, I was one of the student representatives for SGA and the Columbia student body at the Student Lobby Day held in Springfield, IL in late April. Basically, we traveled to the capital (and Capitol) of Illinois and chased down Illinois Representatives and discussed why they should vote in favor of keeping the MAP (Monetary Awards Program) Grant available for Illinois residents that attend college in the state. This little spur-of-the-moment trip was probably one of the highlights of serving on SGA last year, and prior to the trip, I was elected the Vice President of Communications for the 2015-16 school year.



The weekend following Lobby Day, I finally got to travel for some band! Another flight down to Atlanta, and I found myself with some of the people I would spend my summer with. Again, more on this later. But after that camp, I knew I was in for a ride with Spirit of Atlanta for the coming Summer.

But in order to pay for that summer, I kept chugging along. The 19 credit hours and 45-hour workweeks were starting to wear me down, but my coworkers never failed to make it seem possible to keep pushing through.



Now here’s where the year starts to get exciting.


I continued to keep running, of course. I was drawing near the end of Physical Therapy and closer to my second summer of world class drum corps. Not only did I want to get my miles in, but I wanted to be as fit as I could be when I moved in with the corps.



The semester started to draw to a close, and I think the award I got at the end of my year on Senate with SGA accurately describes just… everything. (Above).

Sam got accepted into NYU, and made the decision to transfer. We sure milked the last couple weeks we had left together as roommates, and that included a trip up to DePaul on a Friday night to spend time with some… interesting folks. I think it’s safe to say the highlight of that evening was that we had a train car on the red line to ourselves for a few stops.



The end of the 2014-15 academic semester also brought in the ringing in of the new e-board. More on this later, but as I was going through pictures this year I had to include this gem.

And the end of the year brought the big celebration — Manifest! I was involved at a few different levels this past spring, both with SGA and with the Radio Department. I served my time in the big lot helping set up the SGA booth, and I finished up the afternoon by helping manage “Audio Campfire,” a live storytelling show put on with some of my best friends in the department. It was actually a pretty good time.



The last act of the 2014-15 school year was packing up our on-campus apartment and going our separate ways for the summer. And for Sam, it meant moving to New York City. The last night I had with both of these wonderful people as roommates was absolutely perfect for us. Dinner with Sam and my dad at Native, a walk on the lakefront, and we ended the night reminiscing and watching Superbad (and I fell asleep while we were watching it, of course). I never officially said good-bye to Sam or Jessie that time, but to be honest, it was probably for the better. I don’t handle goodbyes very well.


With the goodbyes ALSO came hellos — and this one was huge. Less than a week after I bid my adieus to Sam and Jessie, I found myself on a football field with 149 other band-geekin kids for the 2015 season with Spirit of Atlanta, and the inaugural season of the Spirit of Atlanta Whistling Club! (Above).



Lots and lots and lots of band (and my 20th birthday). I’ll skip talking about the end of all-days, and skip to tour.


Our first stop was in Louisville, KY, but we didn’t end up performing our first show that night. After we had an equipment truck trailing a few states behind us, our admin staff thought it would be best to just get to our next housing site and grab a few extra hours of sleep. But you better believe the color guard sat through our show make-up class first. Obviously I loved the whole thing.


But, instead of talking about every teeny tiny thing that happened on tour, I’d much rather talk about the people I met and tell a few things along the way. The two wonderful people in the photo above are my box five baes, Courtney and Elle. We became friends primarily over twitter, and I’m so glad that both of them are friendships that are still alive and thriving today. Courtney deals with me in all states, and she’s in every Spirit-related group chat that I find myself in as well. If I’m not talking to Courtney, it’s probably because my phone is dead. Elle is also one of the realest, most honest, outgoing people I know. She isn’t afraid to be who she is or do what she wants. She’ll listen to you complain about boys being dumb and then split a cosmic brownie with you at 1am (even if you both just stuffed your face with McDonalds at the last buy stop). I’m so glad I got to sit across the aisle on the bus from Elle, even though I’m certain we’d still be friends even if we sat across the bus, I wouldn’t have as many pictures with her. And that’s what gets ya through the offseason. I can’t remember exactly where this picture was taken, but I know it was Ohio. I think.

Another very important person throughout tour and throughout the rest of my life is Katie. I have a lot of unbelievably incredible, amazing friends, but we usually vary somewhere down the line. Maybe it’s music taste, or food taste, or a point of view here or there… but Katie and I see eye-to-eye on almost everything. I couldn’t even tell you how many times last summer one of us would slap the other’s leg or hip or something and say, “Oh my GOD Katie/Erika, we are the SAME person.” Who would’ve thunk that Train, Prince, chips, sports bras, dried fruit, and a selfie stick could give me a best friend in the blink of an eye? Katie is another one of those people that if I’m not talking to her, it’s because one of us doesn’t have service. There’s ALWAYS something I need to talk to KT about. Always. The photo below is Katie brushing her teeth on the way to rehearsal. Only doing it because I forced her to, because morning breath is gross, and another photo from whereever-it-is, Ohio.



Something that meant a lot to me on tour this year especially was having my dad volunteer for two weeks. It was so cool to have him show up at ensemble sometimes, or see him after a show and get to talk about drum corps, the activity I love more than almost anything else, with my dad, and he understood what I was talking about (for the most part). Definitely, definitely one of the highlights of tour this year.



Rehearsals, shows, and more rehearsals this month. Above is a picture from July 3rd, aka, “America hype day.” Together; we made red, white, and blue!

We also had our first free time on the 4th of July in both Glen Ellyn, IL and Chicago. It was pretty cool to get to share my city with some of the Spirit fam.


Above is a picture from our free time in Glen Ellyn, waiting for the Metra to show up, and being locked out of the [closed] running store. Megan is another person that helped me get through the summer — whether it was standing in the back of block messing around during spin club, or sharing knowing glances when someone was out of their drill set (sometimes she’d yell at me for being out of my drill, but maybe it was better off her than our staff), or talking and laughing and blowing off stress from rehearsal. Somehow we ended up having so much of our dots next to each other, as well as our bus seats. I don’t know if I ever thanked you, Megan, but thanks for making me laugh almost every rehearsal block. I think the only one we missed was Kansas.

Fast-forward through a lot of different high school football fields and gyms, countless hours of rehearsal, and a million hours on the bus at night, and we finally hit the western portion of our tour. One of my favorite stadiums we performed in (in the regular season) was in Wyoming. Even though the huge stadium made our already-small crowd look even smaller, it was pretty neat to perform on such a huge stage. I stole this shot off of one of our tech’s snapchat, but he explained it pretty well in the caption.



Following Wyoming was Denver. I hadn’t been to Colorado before, but it was definitely worth the wait. Above is the shot I grabbed on our run to safety from the field. Pretty crazy weather; on one side of the 50 was beautiful skies and the sunset, but as we continued to get our reps in, we watched a thunderstorm roll in. The rest of the night was spent stretching and talking about the season with the color guard. I think the reason I enjoyed Denver so much was not only that it’s a really neat city, but this is when we all started to come together more in our section, and a little bit more as a corps. Together, we all learned the Russian version of our corps song. Definitely a tradition I look forward to carrying on this coming summer. Denver was also really neat, because I got to see one of my best friends from high school, Nikki!




With July comes July drum corps, which means… Texas. Above is a shot of my seat partner after a really long ensemble rehearsal when we decided to share some pop tarts. Ava is another person I need to talk about a little bit. I don’t think I was exactly the easiest person to share a bus seat with all summer — I’d stay up late on my phone texting my roommates or friends in other corps, maybe scrolling twitter/tumblr, or catching up on my podcasts while playing solitaire. And immediately before they would call for lights to actually be out, I faithfully wrote in my tour journal every night. It’s not that I wanted to be doing those things instead of trying to sleep sometimes, it’s just that I can’t seem to fall asleep until after I brush my teeth. And sometimes, I wouldn’t get to brush my teeth until 1 or 2am. If I did ever get to fall asleep before I was able to brush my teeth, every time, Ava would say something about how surprised she was  that I actually fell asleep before my teeth were cleaned. She never said anything about my obnoxious phone/reading light usage, and for that, I’m forever grateful. I’m not sure I ever said thank you to you either, Ava, but thanks for being there to complain about situational problems with and for dealing with my crazy “need to brush my teeth to sleep” antics. I’m so glad you got ahold of that bag of starbursts and threw it at me one day during move-ins. And thanks for being a wonderful show two, too.

The nice part of Texas is our first dome show in the Alamodome in San Antonio. Taking the field with this edition of Spirit of Atlanta was indescribable. It was our second show (maybe third?) with the new closer, and the audience seemed to love it. I’ll never forget how high I felt like I was flying following this show, and how great it felt to really leave everything on the field that afternoon.



At the end of the month, our home show, the Atlanta regional takes place. The crowd in Atlanta started cheering before we even took the field, well before Brandt Crocker could utter a word, and again, it felt absolutely incredible to leave everything on the field. Atlanta was also the first show that I was able to field Kayla’s delta, and I think it cast a magic spell to be incredible. I did that show for all the people who wouldn’t be able to do our show, Out of the Ashes, because I felt so bad for everyone that wasn’t the 150 of us. Performing that thing was something else entirely, I can’t even properly articulate it into words. Absolutely incredible.



Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, including the drum corps season. Saying goodbye to all of these wonderful friends I made over the summer was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, and adjusting to not having them by my side all the time was another difficult thing that came with transitioning back into the real world. Spirit felt like home before, but after this summer, it is without a doubt the place that I’ll always turn to when I don’t know how to handle things. I’ve made the best friends I’ve ever had that I talk to every day and have helped me through an endless amount of things. I don’t know where I’d be now if it wasn’t for Spirit 2015, and the incredible group I got the chance to perform with all summer.



Immediately after tour, I spent a few days moving into our new apartment in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago with Jessie, and then it was time for a two-week stay back in the home state of Minnesota. I got to teach one of my favorite groups of kids — the Grand Rapids Color guard — for a little while, see some friends, and go on a couple more adventures. But mostly, I started to get my running legs back on and ate some home-cooked meals with my family.



Then it was back to Chicago to go back to work and start the school year. Sam visited us for a few days on her way back to New York, and it was the perfect way to kick off what was sure to be an insanely busy Fall semester. I also started teaching at Downers Grove South for their color guard in the fall, after a realization at how incredibly small the marching arts world is.



One big part of the semester was my position with the radio department. Since I put in 10+ hours/week in the office for SGA, I didn’t find myself in the office or hanging around studio time as much. Instead, I was working with one of our faculty members, and three other students, as a TA (Teaching Assistant) for the beta-testing class of Podcasting Chicago, a freshman seminar/experience course. I’d try to explain the whole thing, but you might as well just listen to what the final product was, and you can do that here.

Since I was so busy going to and from the suburbs on the weekends, I didn’t get out as much as I would have liked. But on one of the first weekends off early in the month, I was able to catch one of my favorite artists in the most hipster setting I’ll ever find myself in. Jeremy Messersmith went on what he called a “Supper Club” tour this fall. Basically, this meant he found fans willing to host a potluck and a show in their backyard, and that’s exactly what happened on a fall evening. I wrote a review of the show, and you can find that here.



Between weeks of business classes for my second major and doing a plethora of things with CARA, I looked forward to weekends with DGS the most. Getting to escape the city for a day or two and teaching one of the things I love the most with some people who make me laugh for hours on end truly helped me get through this semester. How things work out sometimes blows my mind, and I’m glad this ended up being another one of the crazy stories of “how I got the job.”

Another surprise of September happened on our last weekend off before the end of the marching season, and it was all provided by CARA. I somehow scored a free entry into the Chicago Half Marathon, and even though I was training for a race that took place at the end of October, I had been doing 12-milers every other weekend. I knew I could finish, and it looked like a fun race, so I grabbed the entry and ran. I PR’ed by one second, even with some unfavorable bowel movements.



October also brought lot more band, and one of those weekends was a trip out to Dayton, OH so the kids could compete in a BOA (Bands Of America) show. It’s safe to say we have a lot of fun as staff, sometimes I wonder if we have more fun than the kids do…

I passed a few running milestones in October, but the first was breaking 3,000 total miles since I first started running in March 2014. It’s crazy how fast all these 8 mile runs add up.


As the school year progressed, so did our Executive Board. We spent a lot of time this fall working on the nitty-gritty internal things for SGA, but we also spent a lot of time trying to bond as a senate and executive cabinet. I think it all paid off, because I love all of these dedicated, talented individuals I get the pleasure of working with to represent the student voice at Columbia.



The fall marching season drew to a close on a cold Saturday spent at Illinois State University, and it was absolutely wonderful to get to watch the kids kill it on the field. Seeing how far they came in the two months I was there was so incredible, and a new kind of proud I haven’t experienced before. Thankfully, the end of this season wasn’t goodbye, and I’m still at DGS helping out with the winterguard when I can.


One of the bigger events of October was completing my 6th half-marathon, and PRing by about seven minutes. I was sick with a cold, it was raining pretty hard, and the rest of the conditions were less than favorable, which is why I was so proud of myself for not only dragging my butt out of bed that morning, but for doing the best I could, and having all of the ass-kicking training I put myself through pay off.




Another busy month with some traveling sprinkled in, and lots of SGA events! We had our Senate luncheon at our President’s house and a forum called “Build Your Student Center” to encourage students to come speak with the architects designing the new Columbia student center that should be open in the Fall of 2017.

I still kept running, too, of course. Chicago was actually pretty lucky with beautiful weather up until a couple days ago, so I had a lot more runs in shorts than I was expecting to. And a lot of really, really pretty morning sunrises.



I also got back to Minnesota for a weekend with the Great Northern Radio Show in McGregor, MN. It was extra-special, because it’s the town that my grandparents live in, so not only did I get to see them for a little bit, but my grandma also got to come see the show. It was an awesome weekend filled with catching up with friends and family, and of course, radio.

I had a lot to be thankful for around Thanksgiving, and one of the big things I’m insanely thankful for is the Spirit family. It couldn’t have been more fitting to spend Thanksgiving weekend with the organization I love most, and I’m still so thankful that one of our alum and board of director members was willing to let me carpool down with her. Seeing the people I love so incredibly much was the best way to spend the Holiday weekend, and it made me so much more excited for the coming summer, and our 40th anniversary season.





The end of the semester, and a lot of my band friends passed through Chicago! Megan was around for a couple days, and we got to spend an afternoon together. As you might have read above, Megan is one of my closest friends from the summer, but we don’t get to chat all that often. I felt like a grown-up adult catching up while running errands.

Katie also came for a few days, and stayed with us in Pilsen. She got to meet both Jessie and Sam (who also came to stay with us for a few days).




Spending a few days in the city after finishing up finals with some of the people who mean the most to me in the world was absolutely the best Christmas gift I could have asked for. I’ve spent a lot of time glued to my phone and computer since getting off tour in August, and it’s because these people all live so far away, but I couldn’t bear going a day without communicating with them and staying in touch. I think that’s what happens when you have incredibly talented friends.


After Katie started to head back towards her home state of South Carolina, we got some quality time to reminisce on the last two years, and really dig deep into catching up. Sam and Jessie are the two people who have stuck with me through all of my running, traveling, working, and band craziness. How I got so lucky to have these two with me in it from the real world I’ll never know, but again, I can’t praise the Columbia pairing service thing enough to putting the three of us together.



Topping off the year with even more travel: spending a week for Christmas at home in Minnesota, and getting to see some more friends and family. The amazing thing this year was that our Keeshound, Sasha made it to Christmas. She was diagnosed with stomach cancer in July, and the prognosis wasn’t hopeful that she would make it through the Holidays. But, she did. The little barking ball of fur made it longer than she was supposed to, and that was another incredible gift our family got for Christmas. Forever thankful I got a proper good-bye with this one.

And the last few memories of 2015 are as stressful as the rest of the year was with the winter storm system that’s finally passed through. I was scheduled to fly out of Duluth to Chicago on Monday morning, then the flight got canceled, so I rebooked for Monday afternoon. Canceled again. They rebooked me for a morning flight to Minneapolis and a late-morning flight from MSP to ORD. That flight was canceled too. I was rebooked first for a flight from Minneapolis to Detroit then to O’Hare; and THEN for a direct flight a little later in the day, but ultimately getting me back to Chicago a little earlier. I did finally make it, but my checked bag didn’t. Thankfully, it was recovered the next morning, and I got it back before I had to be packed up to head to Atlanta!


Right now, I’m sitting on the futon in one of my friend’s living rooms in the outskirts of Atlanta, about to get ready to hit the road again for Tennessee to ring in the new year with some members and alumni of Spirit. I’m so glad it’s become our “thing” to do every year now, and since this will be my third time ringing in the year with this crazy little family, I think it’s safe to say it’s practically a tradition.

Here’s to a happy, healthy, productive, busy, and fun 2016! There’s sure to be some traveling blogs coming up: in case you haven’t heard, I’ll be going to Dublin, Ireland and London, England to do some reporting, producing, and teaching some drum corps! It’s everything I could ever ask for, and I’m so beyond ready to tell you all about the adventures that are sure to come in the next 365 days. Be ready. Stay with us. And have a happy, safe new year! 

Author: erikabunk

Raised in Northern Minnesota. BA in Radio/Business & Entrepreneurship. Painfully average marathoner. Spends too much time on Spotify, in search of the best record store in the world, and dreams of returning to Reykjavík.

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