INTERVIEW: Kerry Gross, the Cross-Country Biker Sharing Daring Women's Stories
Adventure is out there, and Kerry Gross is there to find it.
Kerry is currently on a cross-country bike ride across the U.S., collecting interviews from daring women along the way. The project, Women Who Dare, will eventually publish the interviews to a podcast that, “aspires to offer more, accessible examples of amazing women.”
Kerry’s adventurous life took her from a career in market research, to a Ph.D. program and now a cross-country bike ride. Even though her project aims to share the stories of daring women, we wanted to hear from her on her own experiences as a daring woman:
Q: What have you learned from some of the inspiring women you have interviewed? Do you think you have inspired any of them?
Kerry: I have learned so many important things from these women. First, from spending time listening to such an assortment of wonderful, strong women, I have learned how to speak my own truths with greater fluency and conviction of self. These women are unapologetic about their experiences, passionate about what they do, and unafraid to correct misconceptions. These skills have been infectious, and I hope that listeners to the podcast will also catch the bug.
Beyond their ways of being in the world, I've also picked up some important pieces of advice. In just a few paragraphs, I can't do these ideas justice, but here are some highlights:
1) Do what you know is right.
2) Learn how to say no.
3) Build a team of cheerleaders (and don't be afraid to lose people who bring you down).
4) Ask for help.
I'm not sure if I've inspired any of the women. At a minimum, I hope I've reminded them that their stories are important and people want to listen.
Q: Have you had a single place so far on your journey that was a standout? Somewhere you're looking forward to?
Kerry: Recently, I really enjoyed riding through Iowa. The people I met (mostly) had no concept of cross-country touring, but they wanted to help me in any way they could. The spirit of generosity has been amazing all across the country, but Iowa was especially great.
In terms of landscape, the California coast was so much more distinct and remote than I expected. Riding on Route 1 North, the cliffs drop away to your left and all you can see to the western horizon is a great blue expanse. To your right is a beautiful, wooded ridge line. And the road is fun to ride because it just twists and turns.
Looking forward, I'm excited to see New England through the lens of a bike tourer. So far, I've only been traveling in places which are unfamiliar. I'm curious to see what places I'm familiar with are like when they're seen at bike touring pace.
Q: Once your journey is complete and the podcast is released what can listeners expect to take away from the interviews?
Kerry: The goal with the podcast, first and foremost, is to share a range of women's stories. From every interview, listeners should expect to hear one woman's take on making her own path in the world. Some of these women are entrepreneurs, some are athletes, some are activists, some don't fit in convenient boxes, but all have advice and a story to share.
Q: Describe the time when you realized women were treated differently than men… how old were you… what was the situation? What happened?
Kerry: Having grown up in a generation of women who were told they could be anything they wanted to be, in a household that talked of firefighters and police officers rather than firemen and policemen, I'm a little late to the 'women get treated differently from men' party. To be honest, this is a party to which I wish I'd never been invited, let alone attended. But now I have, and these are two events from 2016 which taught me how to put a name to the feeling of sexism:
Two years ago, I moved to Indiana for graduate school. As a way to keep involved with the ski racing community, I found a little hill that was looking for ski instructors. When they found out I was a certified race coach, they set me up to help out with their existing program coach. Despite my being a fully grown adult and having extensive knowledge in the sport, he insisted on calling me 'kiddo' and tapped me on the ass to thank me for 'helping out.' After that happened, I talked to some other instructors about my experience. They explained I had to, "understand that the mountain is run by an old boys network, and they aren't used to capable young women."
A month or two after this exchange, I went to an adventure race orienteering clinic* in western Illinois. Before heading to the clinic, I knew my land navigation was quite strong; but I also knew I needed more compass skills. After the clinic, I approached the husband (of the husband-and-wife duo who led the training) for some tips. He was jazzed to learn that I wanted to be a navigator. Even though his wife is the navigator in their duo, he told me the traditional make up for an adventure race team was still, "a guy who can navigate, a strong guy, and a girl. Any girl."
Having realized that my actions are also evaluated along the standards for a 'good woman,' I look back at my corporate career with a different lens. While there are many subtle instances of being treated differently, the words which were used in my performance reviews stand out most vividly. Even though my work was praised, I was recommended to be 'less intimidating' and less like a 'know-it-all' if I wanted to keep progressing in my career. My (female) bosses left me these nuggets as 'helpful advice.' Present me wishes past me had asked if I would be getting the same feedback if I was a guy.
*Adventure races are multi-sport orienteering races which last anywhere from 6 hours to 10 days. Usually, races include paddling, biking and on-foot sections and are raced in teams comprised of 1 to 4 people.
Q: When do you feel you are most powerful?
Kerry: When I'm at the gym, lifting heavy things. That's a very literal take on power, but getting a workout in every morning reminds me that I am, this day, still strong and powerful.
Q: Were all about daring at HERdacity. What is the most daring thing you’ve ever done?
Kerry: Deciding to leave a PhD program after a very successful masters in order to pursue a project like Women Who Dare is definitely the most daring thing I've done. It wasn't easy to say no to traditional forms of success in order to pursue a project based on my belief that it's what I can best contribute to the world. Plus, in addition to being the most daring decision I've made, jumping into Women Who Dare with complete focus and passion has also been the most life-changing. I am so honored to talk, face-to-face, with women who live truthful, engaged, and inspiring lives; whose experiences help me to be a stronger and more compassionate person in my own right.
Q: Do you have a mantra?
Two current mantras:
1) Learn how to stand still in your own discomfort, so you don't pass it on to others. (Paraphrased from Lindsay Hill's Sea of Hooks; a mantra that has come to embody the personal growth of this bike trip.)
2) I am strong, stronger than yesterday, and tomorrow I will be even stronger. (A mantra we yelled at the start of a training class I took while growing up in Camden, ME. Now it's my tough uphill refrain.)
Q: What do you carry in your purse or bag with you every day?
Kerry: Food. I get hangry, so rather than stress about when or where or what my next meal will be, I always pack something to eat.
Q: What are 3 things left on your bucket list?
Kerry: I'm not really a bucket list kind of person, I usually just make plans to do the things I want to do.
But some things still on the still-to-complete adventure list are:
- Swim the Peaks to Portland Race
- Spend another winter somewhere I can take an avalanche class or two, so I can start backcountry skiing.
Q: What are your go-to indulgences or guilty pleasures?
Kerry: Spending all day lying on the floor, reading a book from cover to cover.
Q: You can pick one superpower… what would you choose?