Hope is a Function of Struggle: Sarah Swallow, AWRR, and the Swift Industries Holiday ’21 Dovetail Collection

Riding 100 miles in the rain with a fully loaded bike from the San Juan Islands to Seattle, pushing a 50-pound touring rig up a mountain in Montana for 6 hours and 6,000 ft, getting stuck in Dallas after the last leg of my flight was canceled at midnight (more on that later)… as a cyclist, I’m no stranger to struggle. And according to Brene Brown, hope is a function of struggle.

When we encounter struggle, we face the moment when we don’t think we can make it and sometimes finding resolve within to not only survive but to triumph. The next time life offers a seemingly uncrossable water crossing, muscle memory kicks in, and we think, I’ve been here before, I can do this! That, Brown says, is how one becomes a person of hope.

Hope in Uncertain Times

Recently, I had the honor of collaborating with two women who exemplify hope in both their cycling and life: Martina Brimmer the cofounder and head honcho of Swift Industries, and Sarah Swallow, an all-around badass adventure athlete. Martina and I have been friends for about 10 years. We’ve bike camped in the San Juan Islands, the Hill Country of Central Texas, and for the last few years, we’ve met up in the grasslands of southeastern Arizona. She called me in September and we got to do our – how did you survive Covid? – catch up.

The last time we spoke on the phone, it was early Covid in April, and she had let almost all of her staff go. She didn’t know if Swift would survive. It was a surreal experience to be with a friend in such a daunting moment. I remember the dazed look of shock and grief on her face that day. Martina faced her uncrossable water crossing, took her shoes and socks off and waded through that unchartered water, and made it to the other side with her company on her back. A year and a half later, Swift is thriving. I could see the glimmer of hope in her eyes that came with joy and courage in her voice.

After our check-in, she invited me to photograph their Swift Industries Holiday ’21 Dovetail Collection. This limited offering draws a connection from cycling to the activities it enables, in this case, the wonder of birding. What? Shoot a cycling collaboration between an artist (Wyatt Hersey), binocular company (Nocs), and all-around lovely human and athlete (Sarah Swallow) in one of my favorite places to ride a bike (Appleton Whittell Research Ranch AWRR)? Count me in.

Art and Arizona Sun

A few weeks later, I found myself driving in the dark from Tucson’s International Airport heading southeast to Appleton Whittell Research Ranch. Most cyclists know about AWRR because of Sarah Swallow. Back in 2017 when she was scouting and creating the Sky Island Odyssey route, she hit a literal and proverbial bump in the road. An important connector route was on private land, with zero detour options. Sarah took a leap, called the number posted on the gate, and the stars aligned when Cristina Francois picked up the phone. Not only did she permit access to the property, but the following collaboration between Sarah and Cristina has brought over $15k via upwards of 600 cyclists and much-deserved awareness to AWRR’s work.

The morning after arriving at the base camp, it felt like waking up in a scene from Terrence Malick’s, Days of Heaven— the glow of the flowing golden grass offers a warm hue onto everything. It’s like a really nice Instagram filter that you can’t turn off: everything and everyone looks just a bit healthier. As I hiked a mile from the casita to the headquarters, I could feel the exhaustion from my travels dissipate with each step, bringing me back into my body and the earth. A golf cart appeared in the distance, and I recognized Cristina’s smile from 1000 feet away. “Welcome back to AWRR!” she yelled.

Sarah eventually rode up to the headquarters to count chairs for Ruta del Jefe. We spent the rest of the day riding around the ranch, talking about life, therapy, covid, how much we love the ranch, and her experience having just finished the Tour Divide. Three days before the start of the race, after training for months, her bike flew off her truck going 60 miles an hour down the highway. Talk about a seemingly uncrossable water crossing! Over the next three days, the universe came together via a few phone calls and a carbon repair angel.

As she was telling me the story, the Arizona sun was setting, the sky a magical magenta backdrop to the native grasses, waving congratulatory applause to the sun for another beautiful day. As the sky turned from golden to blue, I imagined being in her position three days before such a big race and having my steed broken. I would have curled up in the fetal position, cried, and called it. But as I looked up, I saw that glimmer of joy and courage in Sarah’s eyes while she finished the story. “Yeah, and honestly the Tour Divide wasn’t as daunting as I imagined it to be. I think I faced my biggest obstacle before the race.” I knew that look, it was the same look in Martina’s eyes. I think it’s what hope looks like.

Full Circle

The next day, I was excited to finally be home after being on the road for the previous three weeks. I drove the hour back to Tucson’s airport to find out my layover in Dallas was experiencing 60 MPH winds. High on joy and courage, I breezed through the five-hour delay, all the way to boarding time at midnight. As we buckled into our seats the pilot announced they had exceeded their work hour quota, we de-boarded the plane and found out the flight was canceled. The struggle mounted. I found a hotel nearby, braved the long line, and reached the counter only to be told, “Sir, we don’t see you in our system and the hotel is completely full.”

I looked down at my watch. It was 1:15 am. Struggle won, my knees buckled and I instinctively laid down on the ground. As I considered weeping, I thought about the hope and courage in the eyes of Sarah and Martina, and thought to myself, one day, Gideon, hopefully, one day.