Crystal Haggard / All the sunrises

In conversation with Crystal Haggard, I’m tempted to wonder when (or if) she ever sleeps. With a year home schooling her son Forest and a senior position at Zwift that became seriously intense as the world took to riding indoors, Crystal’s ever lengthening to-do list is bookended with regular rides and wild camping trips to the national parks that ring the family’s California home.

‘To the End of the Universe’ sees all these connecting threads beautifully interwoven in a perceptive and heartwarming film that explores Crystal’s relationship with Forest through the window of their adventures together. A theme that continues here, as Crystal talks candidly about managing the pressures of parenting and how the family use their bikes to find balance and a sense of togetherness in a changing world.

cyclespeak
I was wondering whether you’re still working from home? 

Crystal
We probably won’t be returning until September. The schools are still not fully back in session so I think until childcare returns to normal, they won’t require people to go back into the office. 

cyclespeak
How do you feel about this new normal? Will you miss any aspects of the social restrictions? 

Crystal
Previously to COVID, depending on traffic it took me 45 minutes to two hours one way to drive to work. But even though it’s been nice to reclaim these hours, when life returns to normal I’m excited to get out of the house and work in a different environment a couple of days a week. There have been challenges with working remotely and there are things that I’m just way better at in person.

cyclespeak
Such as?

Crystal
I’m responsible for developing all of our soft goods and accessories at Zwift. So if I get a sample of a sweatshirt, then I have to mail it all around the country rather than simply walking it over to someone’s desk. A process that used to take 20 minutes can now take weeks [laughs].

cyclespeak
I saw from some of your posts that you were home schooling. 

Crystal
We spent about 14 months doing virtual school from home and I think we did a good job of turning it into a positive situation. With my son Forest remote learning over Zoom, we could just go somewhere for a week and do everything online.

cyclespeak
I do wonder whether there’s a capacity in human behaviour to adapt and make the most of a situation? 

Crystal
One of my colleagues hates change, loves consistency. So they’ve really struggled. But I’m like, where’s the weirdest place that I can work? 

cyclespeak
And where was that? 

Crystal
I did a lot of work in the car using a hotspot while we were travelling to places and there were a couple of campsites where I called in for stuff using a Zoom background. Not that anybody cared but I just didn’t want it to be a distraction that I wasn’t at my desk [laughs]. 

cyclespeak
There’s some scenes from these camping trips in your recent film ‘To the End of the Universe’. Was the project filmed and edited by your husband Jordan? 

Crystal
Yes. That’s right. 

cyclespeak
So a family affair? 

Crystal
It was a really hard project emotionally for both of us. For me, it’s a lot easier to tell other people’s stories than your own. 

cyclespeak
It’s beautifully filmed and you can’t watch it and not see the joy in yourself and Forest as you’re pictured cycling together through the landscape. And I was wondering whether the narrative came first or the imagery? 

Crystal
The filming came first but I was taking notes the whole time. Jotting down little moments or feelings. But I actually wrote the narrative two days before the film was due when I ended up in the Emergency Room with an allergic reaction. That was the first time I’d been by myself – properly alone – in a very long time. Over the course of the past year, there were many moments when I really struggled as a parent. Being together 100% of the time, keeping on top of a demanding work schedule, guiding Forest through remote learning—we never had a break. We lost all of our balance and both Jordan and I were emotionally and physically exhausted. So that moment in hospital – just by myself – allowed me the time and space to think about the way I actually feel as a parent.

cyclespeak
I’ll admit that I was relieved my own sons were too old for home schooling. 

Crystal
Oh my gosh, it was so hard! Forest is in 2nd Grade so luckily, unlike younger children, he can read. At least that gave him some form of autonomy. 

cyclespeak
Even so, it must’ve been difficult for him to stay focused? 

Crystal
Forest thinks he prefers remote learning because all his toys are within arm’s reach. And I’m glad he’ll look back at this time with good memories and without feeling traumatised. But now that he’s back in school, we’re all so much happier [laughs].

cyclespeak
In the film, you describe Forest as a bender of time. Can you talk me through what this means to you? 

Crystal
Before I had a kid, life felt very linear. And people always tell you that having a child gives you the longest days and the shortest years—which is so true. So I was kind of borrowing from that idea and looking back to the decade before he was born when it seemed to go on forever. And then we had Forest and you blink and almost another decade has passed. And I really don’t know where it’s gone [smiles]. 

cyclespeak
I was scrolling through your Instagram feed and ever since Forest was very small, he’s joined you on rides. In a bike seat, sitting behind Jordan on a cargo bike, riding with you on his tag-along. Was this always the plan to include him? Was it ever a question that he wouldn’t? 

Crystal
There’s a couple of answers to that question—one influenced by my own childhood. Before my parents had kids they were pretty adventurous. They were both big skiers, hikers and cyclists. My Mom went into labour with me – two months early – on a motorcycle ride in the middle of Death Valley and had to be medivaced out. But after they had kids, they stopped a lot of these activities. So I didn’t really know this side of them. Shortly after we moved out of the house, they started doing all that cool stuff again. And that’s when I found out just how much they both loved the outdoors. 

cyclespeak
Do you feel you kind of missed out? 

Crystal
I didn’t start exploring or camping until I was in high school and my photo teacher took a core group of students on some pretty amazing camping trips in some desolate corners of California. It unlocked something inside of me and made me fall in love with having new experiences and finding beauty in overlooked places. It made me wonder why my parents stopped doing the activities that brought them joy?

cyclespeak
And you feel this has informed your own view on raising Forest?

Crystal
I knew as a parent that I wanted to share the things that bring me joy. I also think my generation is having kids later so your identity is a lot further developed by the time you start a family. So I was always very nervous about losing that side of me. And we don’t have family that lives super close so there isn’t anyone around the corner that we can just drop the kid off for a day or two. Jordan also travels for work so much that if I don’t bring Forest with me, I’d be missing out on a lot of these experiences.

cyclespeak
Which makes you unhappy? 

Crystal
I’m not good at sitting down and doing nothing. Or just hanging out in the house. So there’s definitely a want and a need that Forest is included. 

cyclespeak
There’s another quote from the film that resonates: ‘Being a Mom is my greatest adventure but unlike others, this adventure came without a guide.’ And I wanted to ask whether you’d choose to have a guidebook if one was available? 

Crystal
I’ve read so many books on parenting and none of them totally resonate with me. But maybe that’s a good thing? That parenting shouldn’t be too prescriptive? For me, going on some of my crazier adventures before having Forest, prepared me for the fact that you can’t prepare for everything. And things going wrong often leads to things going right in a better way than planned. 

cyclespeak
Have you an example of this? 

Crystal
I once rode my bike across the States from New York to Los Angeles. This was before bar-mounted GPS units so we’d print out our itinerary each day. And there were often times when the roads you were expecting didn’t exist or you’d miss a turn and you’d end up relying on help from strangers to find your way. There’s a loss of control – a sense of vulnerability – that can feel very liberating. And rather than a sense of confrontation, it taught me to understand that strangers can care about you and that most people are inherently good and interested in what you’re doing. 

cyclespeak
Did these experiences impact on you as a parent? 

Crystal
It helped me to realise that you can’t be in control all the time and things don’t always go to plan. That it’s okay to rely on other people or go with the flow. And oftentimes these are the memories that I look back on most fondly.

cyclespeak
And that we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves? 

Crystal
From my own experience, Forest is a notoriously terrible sleeper and I literally saw every sunrise for the first two and a half years of his life because he always woke up before 4:30am. I remember reading through all these sleep books and trying everything to get him to sleep longer or through the night and nothing worked because we travelled too much and couldn’t keep to the strict routines suggested. I felt like I was failing until I read a piece by a doctor that ultimately said it’s okay to be flexible and do whatever works best for your family.  We’re all different with different needs and having someone in a position of authority say this – to give us the permission we needed to stop being so hard on ourselves and embrace our situation – that really opened up our world. 

cyclespeak
Maybe it’s a case of the expectations we place on ourselves? 

Crystal
I think, especially with young kids, we have all these milestones. How much your kid should weigh, what they’re eating, are they sleeping. And I remember someone telling me their kid was sleeping through at six months. And there’s me, thinking that at six months my kid slept two hours and I was thrilled [laughs]. So I can only offer empathy when it comes to sleep but I do believe there’s advice I could offer on camping with a family or how to start riding with your kid. Which trailer or bike seat and why. Little bits of my own experience that I would be happy to share. 

cyclespeak
There’s a societal compulsion to compare ourselves but I think you’re safe with camping advice. 

Crystal
With the story in the film, I really didn’t want to put anything out there that people would feel they had to live up to—or give families unrealistic expectations of what parenting is. We simply wanted to share a true look into something we often do as a family.

cyclespeak
I found the film to be a very honest portrayal of parenting. You don’t shy away from the fact that it can be incredibly hard work. And I also feel it’s good to see a parent and child sharing time outside together and having fun. At its simplest level, that for me is very inspirational. 

Crystal
I’m glad to hear that [laughing]. 

cyclespeak
Has your relationship with cycling changed in terms of all these pressures on your time? 

Crystal
Before having a kid I could go out on a ride and just empty my tank before coming home and crashing out on the couch. Now, I have to pace myself knowing that the moment I walk through the door I’ll have to start building Lego and it will be three hours before I get to shower. So I do miss that feeling of having no other responsibilities.

cyclespeak
Time’s behaving very strangely at the moment with people saying last year but actually referring to the year before. But I saw on Instagram that you moved house not too long ago… 

Crystal
It was nearly a year ago. 

cyclespeak
There you go. It feels a lot more recent. 

Crystal
And it was terrifying to buy our first home right as lockdown hit [laughs]. 

cyclespeak
Can I ask how you define your concept of home? 

Crystal
In my adult life – before we had Forest – I’d never lived anywhere for much more than a year. I loved moving, loved change and almost felt like I was my own home. I guess I’m not very attached to physical things. I think the necessity of a home has now changed with having a family, but, to me, it’s essentially a place to store the toys that we use when we’re out there [pointing to the window]. I suppose you could say home for us is a base camp and we do most of our best living outside of this physical space. Our house is small – which I like – but in a perfect world we’d still have the same small home but with twice the garage space [laughs].

cyclespeak
With your bikes all lined up. 

Crystal
All the things that unlock the world we love. 

cyclespeak
Being based in Los Angeles, how easy is it to ride? 

Crystal
Part of the reason I live so far from work is our house is situated in a corner of LA right on the edge of city limits. Probably not even 10km to the base of the Angeles National Forest. My thinking was that either I have to get in a car and commute to work or commute to ride. And work may change—that isn’t a constant. But riding and getting out in nature is always going to be a priority. 

cyclespeak
How do you balance all the different pulls on your time? 

Crystal
To some extent, the busier I get, the better I manage everything. If I have a lot on my plate, then I make time to schedule it all in. If things are a little more relaxed, I have a tendency to procrastinate. And I like experiencing as much as possible. That makes me feel like I’m actually living life. I don’t want a year to go by with me looking back and not knowing what I’ve done.

cyclespeak
It’s important to have those memories? 

Crystal
That’s one thing I love about Instagram. I can look back at what was this COVID year and think, wow, we actually did a lot of really cool stuff. We did good, we had fun. 

cyclespeak
Last year – that we kind of assume was a little lost – was my biggest on Strava for quite a while. 

Crystal
It was by far my lowest [laughs]. Between facilitating home schooling and my own work and never having a break from either, my days were really full and I was struggling to focus or find the time to do much else. Most nights I was working late into the evening after Forest went to bed. My job at Zwift got really busy because everyone wanted to ride virtually during the lockdowns and we were burning the candle at both ends securing enough inventory and solving supply chain issues. But Forest went back to school a couple of weeks ago and both Jordan and I have ridden every day so far [laughs]. It’s starting to feel like we’re finding balance again. 

cyclespeak
You describe Forest as your inspiration, your ultimate challenge and your biggest adventure. What are you looking forward to as your story together unfolds and what do you think you’ll miss as your relationship inevitably changes and evolves? 

Crystal
When he was an infant, he was really colicky and the only time he didn’t cry was when he was in a carrier and we were walking. I actually lost my job right after he was born so I was unemployed and had the time to really get into hiking as a solution for both of us. We’d disappear off into the Angeles National Forest and even though Forest wasn’t aware what was happening, he was comfortable and we were both happy. And maybe it kind of primed him for what was to come [laughs].

cyclespeak
They sound like special times. 

Crystal
When he grew out of that baby carrier, I felt so sad—the only physical thing that I mourned giving away to the next person. And I was left with the question of what next? But that was around the six month mark so we were able to start riding as he had enough head stability to go in the trailer. And then when he was too big for the trailer, we put the bike seat on the back and then we got the tag-along and we now do 40 mile rides at our pace and effort but with him right there with us. And what’s cool is that, over time, I’ve realised that there is always something to look forward to. That every single time Forest has grown out of something, there’s an opportunity to try something that’s even more fun. 

cyclespeak
An attitude which I think is beautifully portrayed in your film. And I was wondering if working on this project helped you to understand when you’re happiest? 

Crystal
One of the things that makes me happy is when my preconceptions turn out to be wrong. When it’s better than I imagined. I’m learning not to limit my expectations on what we’re going to experience. And that was one aspect of last year’s lockdown that was surprising – this sense of the unexpected – when we were forced to stay local and explore our neighbourhood and we found so many cool little dirt roads that we never knew existed. We’d switch the Wahoo to map mode on Forest’s tag-along and he’d just shout out the turns he wanted us to make. And it made me fall in love with the city in a way that I didn’t expect. Just one of the things that brought me a sense of joy.

Crystal Haggard

Photography and video by Jordan Clark Haggard

Wahoo / Zwift