"Women Who Dare" - Kerry Gross
Kerry wanted to be inspired. She knew there were badass women out there, with stories to share, and she was ready to seek them out. And what better way to seek out epic females, than to travel this country by bicycle? So in the summer of 2017, Kerry Gross embarked alone on her first-ever bicycle tour across the United States, armed with a jar of peanut butter and a long list of badass ladies to interview. Her life mantra? “Do the things that scare me.”
"I resolved to do what I could to make women's stories more accessible."
Kerry is the producer and host of “Women Who Dare”, an adventure and interview podcast chronicling her 5-month, 5,700 mile bike trip to meet remarkable women. We now turn the tables, and interview the interviewer:
Kerry, how did you fall in love with bicycling?
I grew up in Camden, Maine. I was mountain biking a bit, and bought my first road bike after college. But, my real biking love didn't start until I moved to Bloomington, Indiana for graduate school. While there, I started adventure racing.
Hold up... What’s adventure racing?
Adventure racing is multi-sport orienteering. Basically, you show up on race day with a compass and your biking, trekking, and paddling gear. Then, you get a topographic map of the area, plotted with race check points. After the starting gun sounds, you have a set amount of time (8, 12, 24, or more hours) to use your map and compass to collect as many check points as you can. The person or team with the most, wins.
I was interested in becoming a top adventure racer, so I started in on an extensive training plan. It required a lot of biking. Though I'd biked some before, I started racking up 50 mile days, and quickly realized that I loved seeing new places at biking speed. So, as a training treat, I'd make sure that all of my long rides took me on new roads. I was hooked! It didn't matter what kind of a day I was having, an hour of riding would bring me home smiling.
"I quickly realized that I loved seeing new places at biking speed."
What inspired you to begin interviewing “Women Who Dare”?
Before coming up with the Women Who Dare project, I was in graduate school at Indiana University, living in Bloomington, Indiana, and training for adventure races. It was the path I thought I was supposed to be on, but I was frustrated. I felt like I didn't quite fit the mold. So, one day before a workout, I happened to read the packaging on the back of a Clif Bar before heading into the gym for a swim. And, as I walked into the pool, I kept thinking, with a healthy dose of sarcasm, "Well, isn't that so great? It's so easy to find stories of men and their adventures, that they're on major packaged goods."
As I swam along, I resolved to do what I could to make women's stories more accessible. That's where the idea for interviewing remarkable women came from.
Also, at the same time, I was loving all the cycling I was doing, especially riding through new places. And, the idea of crossing the country by bike was at the back of my mind all the time; but I knew I needed something more than just biking to keep me going day in and day out. So, combining biking across the country with my resolution to share the stories of remarkable women seemed like a natural fit.
"Each of their stories offers a different spark of inspiration and perspective."
How did you find all these amazing women to interview?
When I was planning the Women Who Dare project, I put out a call for recommendations of women who had been personally inspiring to the recommender. In the end, I received more than 100 recommendations. These women are diverse in their professions---ranging from CEOs of tech companies, to tradeswomen, to artists---but are united in their engagement with the world and passionate pursuit of life. There is no one pattern of "daring" among these women, each of their stories offers a different spark of inspiration and perspective on making one's own life.
Tell us about your bicycle tour from California to Maine last summer.
This was my first tour! As with many things in my life, I figured I'd just jump in on the deep end and figure it all out. In actuality, I biked 5 routes that were each about 1,000 miles, and linked them with Amtrak train service. Which was a wonderful way to see more of the country and to meet as many of the recommended women as I could. The routes I rode are little tricky to describe, so here's a map with the route, the trains, and the women I interviewed all mapped out.
"This was my first tour! As with many things in my life, I figured I'd just jump in on the deep end and figure it all out."
What were some of your biggest challenges on that bike tour?
For me, initially, coming from an intense training mindset, it was hard to relax and think of biking as travel. I pushed really hard physically and emotionally on the first leg of the trip. Eventually, I calmed down and let myself flow more with how I was feeling and what the road was providing. But, that switch was difficult.
What was your juiciest reward?
Spending enough time by myself to start enjoying who I am.
"Initially, coming from an intense training mindset, it was hard to relax and think of biking as travel."
What did you learn about America?
People across this country are kind, generous, and trying to make life the best way they can. They laugh, cry, and share just like all of us.
Riding a bike is a more exposed, vulnerable form of transportation than driving a car. What are the pros and cons of this vulnerability?
Biking is amazing! You can see everything! You can feel the wind in your hair and the sun (or rain) on your face! And, everyone talks to you!
Many people along the way mentioned feeling scared for me or scared at the idea of doing what I was doing. But, in all honesty, all the interactions I had were good ones. On the road, fully loaded with panniers, I've found that cars are more respectful than they are to average road riders. In general, I got lots of road space. And then, off the road, I found people to be kind, generous, and totally curious about bike travel. When I'm stopped at a gas station or a grocery store, I often get to talk to locals in a way that I never would traveling by car.
I think, also, as a woman, I've been well-trained to keep my eye out for potentially sketchy situations. And, I always just followed my gut---if I felt uncomfortable (which was very, very rare), I just kept moving along.
"Each interview speaks to someone, and the bike travel narrative holds the whole thing together. I can't wait to keep sharing!"
How did recording the podcast affect your trip?
I can't imagine a better way to have crossed the country than by interviewing remarkable women along the way. I had good advice about picking lightweight audio recorders, so weight wasn't an issue. And, every week or so I had the privilege to meet and talk with another remarkable women. As I rode along (with plenty of solo thinking time), I could mull over their stories and ideas and learn from them in a way I never could if I was driving or recording the interviews remotely.
What’s been the public’s response to “Women Who Dare”?
I'm so thrilled that people have been finding their way to the podcast! From what I've heard, each interview speaks to someone, and the bike travel narrative holds the whole thing together. So, I can't wait to keep sharing!
What’s your favorite touring snack?
Peanut butter. All of the peanut butter. We're talking about a jar every two days. It's especially good on carrots. But, by the end, I was pretty much eating anything and everything. A whole tub of rice pudding while sitting outside a grocery store? You got it!
Anything else you’d like to tell the world about yourself?
One life mantra: Do the things that scare me.
One thing I'm striving for, but not always achieving: Remembering that people have my back, and asking them for help when I need it.
Kerry grew up in Camden, Maine, had a brief career in market research, tried on academia, and is still searching for the thing that keeps her engaged. At the moment, she spends her time sharing the stories of inspirational women and wondering where life might take her next.