A 23-year old woman, originally from Camden, is on a quest to meet more than 100 "women who dare," to interview them, and to inspire girls and women through their stories.

Kerry Gross embarked on her bike tour from San Francisco April 24, and plans to zig-zag across the country, covering 4,600 miles on bicycle and another 700 miles by train.

The schedule, covering 16 weeks and a little more than 300 miles a week, will provide "plenty of time for quality interviews and sightseeing," according to Gross.

The tour evolved out of her love of the outdoors and athletics, her studies and professional work in research and statistics, and a persistent desire for change and challenge.

Gross' divergent interests have led her to train and condition, to compete in triathlons and take on adventure racing, on foot, bikes, in paddle craft and swimming. On another track, her interests have led to academic studies in sociology and statistics, and professional work in market research.

Along the way, Gross has found herself involved in male-dominated sports and study, leading her to ask the question, "Where are the women?"

To answer this question, Gross created "Women Who Dare," a project that brings together her varied interests and abilities.

"The goal is to spread inspiration and to show the world that there are women doing things that might be overlooked," Gross said. "And to tell the stories of awesome women who might be role models for other women in the future, whose stories may not be told otherwise."

From January through March, Gross set up a website to encourage others to think about women they find inspirational, and to submit recommendations of women for her to meet on her bike tour. She publicized her project through traditional and social media, and with the help of friends and associates in adventure racing and academia. She raised funds for her trip on indiegogo.com, with a plan to supplement what she fundraised with savings.

By the end of March, Gross had received 151 recommendations for Women Who Dare. She plotted a course from the West Coast to the east, where  inspiring women all around the United States are the destination points. By mid-April, she was planning to begin her tour in San Francisco, where she would "spend the first few days talking to amazing women in the Bay Area."

From the end of April through the end of May, she plans to travel from San Francisco up the coast of California through Oregon by way of Ashland, Bend, Eugene and Portland, heading to Seattle. In June, she intends to travel from Spokane, Wash, to Denver, through Wyoming, including Yellowstone National Park, and Idaho. The tour continues through the Midwest and upper Midwest, including the cities of Minneapolis and Chicago. Next she plans to head south to Indiana and Kentucky, and then to the East Coast, traveling through Washington, D.C., New York City and Boston. She will tour New England, and arrive back in Maine some time around the end of September.

In Maine, Gross plans to create a podcast to share the stories of her travels and the women she has met.

Her involvement with the outdoors and physical conditioning goes back to Gross' childhood growing up in Camden. There were lots of family camping trips and a fair amount of hiking, Gross said. She started lifting weights at age 12 at the YMCA in Camden and was involved in ski racing, soccer, tennis and rugby. While studying for her undergraduate degree at Bates College, she played rugby and began cross-fit training. After graduating from Bates in 2012, she entered a career in market research and played women's rugby in Portland.

After suffering a hip injury while playing rugby, she switched to endurance training and sprint triathlons. Training for a sprint triathlon, which is half the distance of an Olympic triathlon, involved hours of running, swimming and biking each week.

Gross worked in market research for several companies before heading to Indiana University to pursue an advanced degree in sociology. There, she focused on statistics, and delved into scholarly research on the relationship between place, space and social networks.

In 2015, while immersed in her studies, Gross changed her athletic focus again, this time from triathlons to the new challenge of adventure racing. In an adventure race, teams compete in outdoor settings, such as a mountainous area, to locate a series of checkpoints using map and compass, or sometimes GPS, while trail running, mountain biking and paddling.

To prepare for an adventure race in 2016, she transitioned to a modified iron man workout, which emphasizes endurance. “You never really move faster than slow jogs, but you bike ride for two to five hours, run for one hour, swim one to one and a half hours," she said.

Gross talked about the change in a post-race interview with WRDW-TV 12, following the 2016 Adventure Racing National Championship in Georgia.

“I used to be a triathlete and I got super bored of the straight course, who can grind it out fastest and I like to use my brain," Gross said. "Adventure racing is pretty much a triathlon meets a scavenger hunt.”

In 2016, her ongoing training for these races led to the inspiration to shift direction again, this time to integrate her studies with her sports.

Gross writes about this inspiration on her website. In August 2016, she was studying for a Ph.D. at Indiana University. While on a long training ride, she realized that she wanted to be learning while biking around the country, rather than sitting in a classroom. Knowing that her ride would need a focus to be personally sustainable, she spent the next few weeks considering a central focus for her adventure.

One day, after reading on the wrapper of a Clif Bar about how its creators came up with the idea to make a better-tasting energy bar while on a 175-mile bike ride, Gross took a long swim. During that swim, the spark to create Women Who Dare was ignited.

Women Who Dare

For her tour, Gross chose a steel-frame bike, because it "is a little more forgiving on a long tour," with drop handles for all sorts of hand positions, and aims to keep the weight she carries to less than 50 pounds.

"Bike touring is really simple," Gross said. "Anyone who can ride a bike can do it."

Along the way, she will rely on public libraries to produce her trip updates, and will find hosts for overnight stays through an organization called Warm Showers, a worldwide hospitality exchange for touring cyclists.

Updates on the trip will be posted on the Women Who Dare website.

Those who are interested in "joining the ride for a bit," can view the routes, "start thinking about when or where you’d like to ride," and get in touch with Gross via Women Who Dare. The bike tour route along with a detailed description of the tour, and more information about Gross, can be viewed online at kerrygross.com.

Courier Publications reporter Susan Mustapich can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at smustapich@villagesoup.com.