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The creative process of photography is a lot like riding gravel. In my photo studio, I often approach projects with a loosely held concept and direction, and I find that the hands-on process of ideation and exploration is often what opens up the strongest paths of creativity that I wouldn’t have planned for otherwise. Similarly, when I get on a gravel bike, I’m free to explore any path my heart desires. I could start the ride on tarmac, but pivot to lush single track if presented with a winding path through the trees that is too tempting to pass up. Run into a “pavement ends” sign? Even better. Starting a ride with a route is cool and all, but have you ever just followed your nose? A capable gravel bike, like the Ventum GS1, is the right tool for the job when I may not be sure if I’ll need speed on the road, grip on loose gravel, or take a cushy ride over washboard roads. A gravel bike means I can explore the world in the way I want in the moment. I can race it on dirt Saturday and ride a bike path to a cafe on Sunday. A gravel bike shape-shifts to fit to its environment. A gravel bike is freedom.
Cycling has brought a discipline and freedom to my life that allows my mind to simultaneously turn off and turn on at the same time. I’m granted a break from the mental focus of the creative project I’m working on to let my subconscious work on some of the details, while my body focuses on keeping the pedals moving and not hitting rattlesnakes crossing the path. When the back tire starts losing its grip and begins to dance under you, it’s important to be a good dance partner and do the gravel tango right back. A panicked brake lockup will only make things worse; just move to the rhythm.
And so it also goes in photography. Sometimes plans work out just as you hoped they would, but that’s certainly not guaranteed. As Mike Tyson famously said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Staying calm in the times where nothing is going right, and no ideas are panning out how you thought they would, affords the clear vision needed to navigate out of the metaphorical loose sand in the corner of creativity. Exploring new techniques can be daunting and frustrating, but keeping a cool head through frustration can help clarity and new ideas emerge. Sometimes it feels like both riding and creating beautiful images can be type-2 fun—that’s the kind that can feel brutally uncomfortable in the moment, but you look back on feeling glad you did it.
I’ve been a cyclist to one degree or another my whole life, although things got more serious for me in 2019. The first few years of the pandemic were fraught with uncertainty in so many ways, and cycling became a strong force in keeping my body and brain working smoothly. A capable-yet-fast gravel bike, like the GS1, is the perfect fit when I want to be able to follow my intuition on a ride, especially when I’ve been hyper-focused on something and I need to shift my brain chemistry. Traversing Austin, Texas, on a gravel bike means seeing the city I’ve lived in for over a decade through fresh eyes. This intimate knowledge of the city’s details also helps build a map of great photo locations for when I need to come up with just the right spot for a project, which is an added bonus and an incentive to explore new routes.
I try to find most of my creative inspiration through things outside of photography. On every bike ride, I see something new, even on routes I’ve ridden dozens of times; the way the light reflects off a building, a pocket of light raking across the road, a perfect gradient rising from the horizon as the sun sets. Those vignettes get logged into my brain, often semi-subconsciously, and help keep my eye sharp.
In 2021 I signed up for my first gravel race. In 2022 I was lucky enough to race at Gravel Locos in Hico, TX, Unbound Gravel in Emporia, KA, and SBT GRVL in Steamboat Springs, CO, although the reality of my life is that my gravel bike spends 99.9% of its miles not racing. As a decidedly average race participant—I typically finish somewhere in the dead middle of my age group—let me be clear that I don’t sign up with hopes of reaching the podium.
Doing hard things by choice reminds me that I’m capable of doing hard things when I have no choice. Learning to dig deep is a muscle that needs exercise to be able to flex it when you need it. So when the only way out is through, practicing the “through” makes hard situations feel less daunting, on the bike or off. As a professional creative, as much as I’d like the great ideas to flow constantly and without fail, sometimes the pipes are frozen, and it’s my job to find ways to unfreeze them using knowledge, expertise, and dedication to finding the flow again, whether it comes easily or not.
They say people need a “third place,” a place that is not work or home, that can help give them meaning and belonging outside of their primary responsibilities. I’ve come to realize that the saddle is my third place. There I find peace, community, adventure, creativity, solitude, stress-relief, and challenge. It can adapt to what I need it to be at any given moment. The freedom I find on the bike is like the freedom I want as an artist, with the ability to act on options when I see them and build the best outcome that I can. For me, a gravel bike is the ability to race a few times a year and also rip around on urban single track. It’s the ability to get out of town on a country gravel road or kick around town for a casual spin. It does not limit me to a set of predefined rules for what I can do.

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