Today, the 25th day of the month of June, marks our eighth day on our cycling excursion and it just so happens to be my 24th birthday. Our rambling group of brave cyclists peddled roughly forty miles through the shadows of roving cotton candy cumulus clouds from the small tight knit community of Roundup to the even smaller town of Ryegate. I could not possibly think of a better way to spend the anniversary of my coming into this crazy beautiful world.
So far along our two wheeled journey westward across the plains of central Montana we have have encountered a multitude of learning methods. The most basic is the traditional, which is our reading and writing curriculum and “classroom discussions.” The next level, so to speak, is the interactive. This includes our interactions with each other as peers and colleagues, to our discussions with Montanans with diverse backgrounds who are, in some way or another, closely tied to the pressing issues of a changing climate and energy paradigm. The next level is the experiential, which to me, reinforces the other levels of learning. For example, we can read all day about the potential for wind and solar energy, but you don’t really understand its potential until you pedal a bike loaded with gear directly into a fifteen mile per hour wind. Add the scorching sun directly beaming onto our scantily clad biker-short legs into the equation and you realize the sun might have some potential energy to offer.
Of all the uncertainty and questions that arise when learning about a changing climate and energy system, I can say one thing for certain; Montana has an abundance of a clean and infinitely renewable resource: hospitality! The entire community of Roundup basically opened their doors for us. The Roundup Knights of Columbus hosted a dinner for our weary group of student cyclists. Pat Perrella, a Roundup local, showed us some good ol’ small town hospitality of the genuine sort. As we mingled with the locals everyone was legitimately interested in us and what we were doing. The issues we are learning about run deep in this town. The backbone of the local economy is based off of coal and ranching. Impacts from catastrophic climate change could really impact these good people if it hasn’t already. Roundup experienced a severe flood in 2011. However whether or not that was a direct consequence of climate change is uncertain, but scientific consensus suggests that extreme weather events that occur every so often could be more of the norm rather than the exception. On the flip side, over reactive carbon regulations could have severe economic impacts with hundreds of workers out of their jobs. This is where the three levels of learning I mentioned before come into play; we read about these issues in articles, we hear about it from the experts, then we get to see where the rubber meets the road.
Our traverse through the rolling hills of hay from Roundup to Ryegate was brilliantly concluded when we arrived at the log cabin style house of Patti and Dave Bruner. Patti is the mayor of the town of Ryegate. We were greeted with a copious amount of spaghetti, garlic bread, and salad. Opening their house to our, let’s just say, sub-par hygienic condition, they showed us some more of that hospitality Montana is saturated with. Patti was even able to get me a cake, complete with candles, for my birthday celebration. I have to say, when it comes to the issues of climate change and energy, I can get pretty pessimistic, however my experience with these truly astounding people has changed my perspective. No matter how strong the headwind blows, no matter how intractable our problems may seem, we always have each other.