Ashley Gruber is from Louisiana, which is where her parents and grandfather still live. However after spending almost 5 years on the road, if you asked her where home is, she would answer Athens, Georgia where she spends only 2 months a year. She has always been a photographer, and even before she finished University, Jered, her soon to be husband and Ashley had started taking pictures together and she even took her final exams early so that she could go and shoot the Tour of California and this was the start of their adventure as cycling photographers. Their voice is loud within the cycling world not just with images but also though their own blog and also collaborating with Strava, but we wanted to hear a little more of the personal details that led Ashley to lead this extraordinary life with her husband.
Have you always cycled?
I’ve always ridden a bike, but when I was a kid, it was a necessity of getting around. I’m starting to realize more and more that I was a ‘free-range’ kid, and a bike was a huge part of that. Jered gave me my first road bike in 2008 when we moved to Austria for my year abroad. It took me a while to get going – 40km rides were a BIG DEAL for a year or two, but it slowly picked up, and things are always more fun when you get better at them.
Have you always taken photos?
I’ve always been interested in photos and artsy things, but I never felt like I was any good at them for a long, long time. I still don’t feel good at it, really. I use the expression “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut” pretty regularly, but I do know that I’m improving, and that’s a good feeling. Jered’s interest in the camera (and the bike) is definitely the reason we do what we do. I spurred it on with my desire to take fun trips in the beginning, but he has definitely been my teacher in both of those avenues, and I love/hate that, depending on the day.
How did you and Jered meet?, and how did your relationship grow?
Jered and I met completely by chance: I was walking home from school, and he was riding his bike with friends. We literally crossed paths. He was supposed to be doing a specific training workout, but he was really tired. As is customary still, when we are tired, we ride around the university (in Athens, Georgia) and people watch. On that day, Jered became more than an observer, he said hi. He said it was the first time he had ever approached anyone like that, and knowing Jered as I do, I believe him. At first, I was annoyed: “Who is this random guy, and what does he want?” He asked: “What’s your story?” I told him I was in Athens as part of a guest semester studying genetics and Chinese, and that in May, I would be going to China to complete the research, and after the summer I was moving to Austria. I was hoping my answer would be both impressive, but also tell him what I was trying to say: I’m not interested. He didn’t pick up on that at all, and said: AUSTRIA! My family is from Austria. I love Austria. And, something about him got me to open up. We started talking (while I was still walking home), and after ten or so minutes his friends reappeared, and one asked, “So, did you get her number yet?” I gave it to him, and we drank tea and talked until two in the morning that night. We both consider that we’ve been together since that day. Later that summer, Jered sold everything he owned to move to Austria with me, and because of that time abroad, we are doing what we do now.
At what point did you both decide you were going to make the open road your home?
It was never really something we decided. We left the US in September of 2010, bought a car, and thought we’d go on a honeymoon for a few months with the money we had gotten in lieu of gifts for our wedding. At the time, we were doing a lot of work with Peloton Magazine, which was and still is, a fantastic outlet for our work. They’ve helped us out a lot and gave us a lot of opportunities – really provided us the diving board for us to take a huge jump, then leap off into the deep end. It was during that time when we thought: I think we should keep doing this. We wanted more time after we got back to the US that December. So, we went back the next year for seven months. It just kept growing. We were happy, and in love, and nothing was getting in our way.
What were your concerns? Where we were going to sleep.
Have your feelings towards it changed?
It’s not as exciting just existing anymore. At first, it was all A BIG DEAL, just because it was happening in Europe. It was all new, all fresh. It’s not to say we are jaded, but we don’t document every time we get gelato, or every time we walk in an old city anymore. We just try to appreciate it.
Have you ever wanted to pack it all in and just go home?
100%, but there are so many better reasons to keep going. I would LOVE to have a place to call my own, a garden, pets, my own bathtub, working wifi. Little things. I would love to be done with work at 5pm, go home, and not worry about it. That would be such a dream…but like I said, there are so many reasons to keep going. This is a special opportunity – I love what we’re doing, and I’m not complaining (ok, maybe a little bit…sometimes)
And what made you stick it out?
I don’t want to base what we are doing on STUFF and stuff that we have or don’t have. For sure, all of those things would be great, but our lifestyle is a huge reward in itself. We have met so many wonderful people, and had so many unbelievable days. It’s not always easy to remember that in a tough moment. I don’t think this can last forever, and I want to enjoy it as much as possible while I get the chance.
What’s your average day like? (if there is such a thing)
It all depends on the time of year, but if we aren’t out shooting, my average day is to cook breakfast, work on my computer for the morning, sneak out for a ride in the early afternoon, shower, cook dinner, and have a second session of work in the evening from around 7-11. We try to wrap up everything around 11, and then sleep by 12. A Grand Tour day? Wake up at 7, work a couple of hours, shoot the race, get stressed out, drive like crazy people, hopefully get some cool shots, get back to the hotel around 7, work until after midnight, sleep until 7, rinse, repeat…It’s a hard way to spend three weeks.
What do you look forward to most throughout the year?
My favorite time of the year is always the fall. The super stressful work is mostly behind us, we have a little more down time, and the weather and light are spectacular. It’s usually the time where we get to visit a new place or do something with friends. One of the hardest things about living on the road is that we do most everything by ourselves, and it’s really nice to get to share that with our friends when we get the chance.
Do you like being in front or behind the camera?
Definitely behind the camera. I love getting people to come out of their shell while I’m shooting them, but I have a hard time myself. I’m sure I’m not unique in this, but I always seem to FEEL my flaws when the camera is on me. Sad, but true.
What countries do you normally divide your time between throughout the year?
Mostly Belgium, Italy, and France. We will mix in a few other places during the year to keep things interesting, but most of our work is in these three countries. We spend the winter in the US.
Where is your favourite place to cycle/work/live?
It may seem strange, but Athens, Georgia is the place I feel happiest. The community there is amazing, the roads are perfect for big, long rides, and we get in a really good rhythm there. Second to that, Fonzaso, Italy is another of my favorite places. Early on in our career, Castelli was kind enough to let us use their company apartment when we were homeless and in between jobs. We got the chance to really learn (and fall in love with) that area. There are TONS of roads that were built during WW1 as access points to the strategic mountains. Now they are quiet, and have very little traffic, which means they are perfect for riding. A little farther south, Lecchi in Chianti has become our Tuscan home thanks to our friends at inGamba Tours. Lecchi is the place that feels the closest to home to us at this point in Europe. We know most everyone, they know us, everyone says hi, smiles, laughs – it’s an oasis of familiarity, of comfort, of easy living. It’s special.
Which country have you found the most challenging?
Without a doubt, France. It just feels like they don’t care at all if you have issues. I’m about to backpedal: I have met some incredibly nice and lovely French people, but as a whole it’s frustrating to exist there as a foreigner. Not speaking French in no small way affects that, too. I hope to improve my French soon, because it is a beautiful country, and we’d love to spend more time there.
What is your favourite race/place/person to photograph?
Tro-Bro Leon and the Strade Bianche are probably my two favorite races, followed by the Giro. In terms of places, I love shooting in the UK. The landscapes are gorgeous, the roads are fantastic, and the the weather is constantly changing, which can be rough, but it makes for great pictures! I like shooting anyone, really. I can’t say I have a favorite. Some of my favorite pictures of people are from shooting people on the side of the road who don’t realize I’m shooting them. The minute people see your camera, they change. I don’t like that.
Obviously you photograph the Tour de France, would you like to see La Course become a full tour eventually?
Of course I would. It would be amazing – absolutely incredible. With that said, I worry about the conditions the women would have to put up with. If you think about all the budget and infrastructure that goes into the men’s event, and all the stories that you hear about woes along the way from the men’s Tour de France, imagine how much harder it would be for the women when they have a FRACTION of the budget. From a photographic side, though, all of that would make for some pretty compelling photos.
When you photograph men and women does your approach change at all?
I’m more nervous to shoot the female racers than the men, but I think that’s because I’m not used to it. We did a little work with the Velocio-SRAM team earlier, and the girls were SO approachable, so friendly. We ate with them at their table for lunch and dinner. Maybe that doesn’t sound like such a big deal, but that would never happen with some of the men’s teams we have been around. The riders eat separately, and the staff and directors eat at another table. It feels like you’re approaching royalty if you go up to their table. They are all friendly, of course, but it’s a different feeling.
What do you think your life will look like in 5 years?
Oh how I wish I knew the answer to this question. I hope that we are still on the road, still shooting, but you never know what will come your way…
Some geek talk:
What bike do you like to ride the most and what camera do you like to shoot with?
I just got a new Colnago C60, and I’m REALLY excited about it. For work, I use a Nikon D4 and a D810, for fun, I use a Fuji X100T.
How many miles do you think you ride in an average year?
Around 7,000 miles – this year I hope to do more!
How many photos do you take in a year?
Oooh, that’s tough. My D4 takes 10 frames a second, so does Jered’s, we have four cameras, we both have heavy index fingers, and we are on the road over 250 days a year taking pictures. Maybe 500k?
Any other fun facts?
I love birds. A lot.
Follow Ashley & Jered’s blog at www.yarak.cc
Check out their photos at www.gruberimages.pro
And their Strava Stories at blog.strava.com/gruber-x/