Kerry Gross completes cross-country bike tour

21-week, 5,700-mile trek to meet 'women who dare'
By Susan Mustapich | Oct 13, 2017
Photo by: Susan Mustapich Kerry Gross was back in Camden for a visit recently, after touring the country on her bicycle from California to the East Coast over the past five months.

She had been on the road since April, when she departed from San Francisco, and biked north on Highway 1 along the Pacific Coast, to Washington State. Twenty-one weeks and 5,700 miles later, she recently ended her ride on the Atlantic Coast with a loop around New England.

Kerry Gross, on 'Fear.' Early in her trip, Gross was commonly asked: Where are you going/coming from, and, are you lonely? On June 1, she posted to her website: "There’s also a third question, which I think deserves its own thread: Are you scared? And the answer is always, emphatically, 'No.' Because, no. I’m not scared. And I refuse to be scared by the prospect of traveling alone as a woman. Now, before you get all, “this might not be because you’re a woman” on me, let me fill you in on some follow up comments from the (mostly older, seemingly well-intentioned) men who ask me this question: “Do you have MACE?" "I have a law enforcement background and some men can be creeps.” “I would never let my daughter do what you’re doing in a million years.” “Do you at least have pepper spray?” “You’re a brave, brave girl.” Now, from these many interactions I’ve come to feel that these people think I SHOULD be scared. That somehow it’s not right or not proper for me to be venturing into the unknown without nagging worry. Or perhaps, that I should be so fearful as to not embark on this adventure at all. To which I say, no. No, I will not be scared to adventure alone as a woman. No, I will not let your fear-driven view of the world keep me from meeting the other citizens of this planet. Instead, just as every adventurer I admire, I will minimize the risks I can foresee, use my good judgement in unforeseen circumstances, and let go of all the things I cannot control. That is all I can do. That is all any of us can do. And also, if something scares you, it’s probably worth doing.

The bike tour was inspired by Gross' beliefs that the 20s are an important time to explore, travel and seek out new experiences, and that career development is not a straight line. Her goal is "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."

To share this inspiration, Gross will work this fall to create podcasts of interviews with about 20 of the women she met and talked to on her journey, and post them on her website, kerrygross.com. She is also updating the site with photos and posts from her trip.

Over tea at Zoot Cafe, she talked about a couple of inspiring women she met, a challenging section of the trip, and great places to ride.

In the state of Washington, Gross met up with Carol Hasse, owner of Port Townsend Sails. Hasse runs a sailmaking shop entirely staffed by female employees. She has been making sails since the 1970s, when people would come into her shop, and if she had a man working for her, would walk up to him, thinking he was the owner. Sailmaking is a male-dominated world, and Hasse wanted to give other women entree to the business, Gross explained.

"She was powerful to talk to," Gross said. Hasse told her that coming out of high school, she intended to become a medical doctor. But after "sailing on her first boat in her late teens, she fell in love with it, and realized that when she looked at people who were older than her who had sparks in their eyes, it was people who were doing things outdoors. She decided that was the life she wanted to have."

In Portland, Ore., Gross met Crystal Rutland, an innovator in market research and product design who formerly worked at Intel and then started her own company. Rutland created a user-design testing model, that improved the process for delivering a product to market. The way Gross explains it, engineers would come up with a product, and "they would just throw that product out to market in the way they thought it was going to target people." But user-design research involves asking customers what they like about the product and what can be tweaked to make it better.

Rutland told her a story about a company she advised that had designed a product targeted for women "that they thought was going to be perfect," Gross said. While Rutland would not say what the product was, "it was pink and glittery, and everyone in the user-design office knew it was going to flop." Rutland's company ran the product through user testing, and confirmed that engineers' vision of what was going to be perfect for women flopped in testing. The researchers were able to help the engineers see that their product packaging needed to be redesigned in order to be successful in the marketplace.

While riding cross-country, Gross faced some challenges. One was posed by the desolation of the high plains in Wyoming and Montana. The route she choose crossed the Continental Divide numerous times, traversed high mountain passes, and was remote, empty and vast. Her practice of "stealth camping" overnight in treed areas was not going to work in a place where the only trees were "planted and cultivated by people." Places to stop for water could be as far as 200 miles apart, and high altitudes made cycling more taxing. The challenges of crossing a vast, empty area were compounded by distance: the route a vehicle can drive in an hour takes a day of riding on a touring bike.

In a July 13 update on her website, she wrote about the mental stress: "So, for three weeks, my mind was dominated by managing 'what if' scenarios. Upon reaching the new Colorado landscape, I realized what a toll these thoughts had taken on my mind and body."

In October, looking back on that time, she said, "It's hard to imagine, growing up in New England, that there are places where there aren't any trees. It's just plains and the big mountains. The plains might have ranch land on it, or nothing. It's just high desert nothingness with sagebrush and plateaus."

"It was the hardest mentally and emotionally, and I was more stressed. Which is good. You have to have periods of testing yourself or you're never going to know your strengths," Gross said

Another section of the trip posed a challenge due to the number of miles she had to ride each day.

"I had another stretch where in 15 days, I had to ride 1,500 miles from Columbus, Ohio, to Washington, D.C., and that was physically pretty hard," she said.

Between the challenge of crossing Montana and Wyoming, and the miles she had to clock daily from Ohio to D.C., Gross did not have as much time as she had imagined she would, to post updates to her website.

She had good experiences riding in congested, urban areas, including Pittsburgh , Chicago and Denver.

"When you ride with panniers, you're really wide, and people give you berth. There's a lot of communication that goes on between you and drivers," she said. "If I'm going to pull out into a lane, I make sure I turn and make eye contact with the driver, and I point and I tell them where I'm going. So, I get one person on the road who knows that I'm there, and they are going to drive like they know I'm there, and they are going to piss everyone else off, but I know that's going to keep me safe."

"Plus biking through congested and urban areas, you can really get a vibe of the place," Gross said. "Biking is the right speed to see what people are doing, and the interaction with each other. You're going to get a feel for the area and you're going to cover lots of ground, too."

She gives the Northeast corridor from New York City to Midcoast Maine a lower rating. She describes this sector as "narrow roads, cut for horse-and-buggy travel," packed with single-minded drivers, focused on where they are going, and not too concerned about whatever is between them and their destination.

Among the best places to ride, Gross lists Des Moines, Iowa.

"The city had great bike trails and a biking community, and Iowans are unbelievably kind. All they want to do is help you, even if they don't get what you're doing," she said.

In Minnesota, St. Paul and Minneapolis are also on the list of great places to ride.

On the east coast, Gross said, "Washington, D.C., is fairly excellent to ride around. There's a really awesome trail, the C&O Canal tow path, alongside the Potomac River."

The 185-mile tow path connects Washington, D.C., with Cumberland, Md., and from there, a 150-mile "rail trail" connects to Pittsburgh.

"You can ride for 300 miles and never have to ride on a paved road," Gross said, adding that there are campsites along the way. Bikers who want to travel the trail one way can take a train from D.C. to Pittsburgh with their bike on the train.

"The other place that is lovely to tour, and everyone should ride it north to south, is the California coast, which is beautiful," Gross said. "Coming from Maine, where we're used to seeing islands and small populated coastal towns, it's surprisingly remote. There are towns with 250 people, and road, cliff, water and ridge line, for hundreds of miles."

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

Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Oct 13, 2017 16:11

Wonderful experience for you to share and I felt your enthusiasm for your adventure through your writing. Thanks!



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