Alma Arteaga: Climate change as a threat to freedom

There is something profoundly liberating, even magical, about traveling on a bicycle, and in many ways, my experience bike touring in Montana gave me ultimate mobility and an exceptional sense of independence that is so essential to the American spirit, to my spirit.

Alma Arteaga at Logan Pass in Glacier National Park

Alma Arteaga at Logan Pass in Glacier National Park

While I’m sure most fifteen-year-olds would argue that independence is a drivers license and a car, they have yet to grow tired of paying for fuel, oil changes, insurance, parking and parking tickets, and the hassle of dead batteries. At 23, I still see the value in driving a car to travel long distances and quickly get from place to place, but that sense of independence has long since diminished — along with the balance of my bank account. It starts to feel a lot less like independence when I think about the hours I need to work to cover all those expenses, and the recurring episodes of panic when I’ve been running on empty for 15 miles and the nearest gas station is another 25 miles down the road in the wrong direction.

On our long ride into Augusta, we stopped for water at a property with a sign in the yard that read, “Stay the f*ck out.” But the signage was misleading, and a man who lives there happily greeted we weary, thirsty bikers and led us to a water pump where we refilled our bottles.  As we were getting back on the road, a couple pulled up to us in a shiny white sedan. Desperation in their voices, they asked where they could find the closest gas station. We were in the middle of nowhere, and there simply wasn’t a place to refuel. That was surely a stressful afternoon for those two, but I have to admit, we smiled (perhaps a bit too righteously) as we rolled away on our fossil-fuel-free vehicles. Continue reading

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Hannah Plowright: Trexler’s prehistoric perspective on climate change

When I was a kid, I wanted to grow up to be a paleontologist. It seemed so unfathomable that creatures so alien once ruled the earth. Something about the ferocity silenced by even more violence holds my fascination more than any mystery thriller ever will. Now imagine my excitement when I found out that our group was going to be visiting the Two Medicine Dinosaur Center to talk about climate change. Two of my favorite topics in one — fossils and fossil fuels.

Two Medicine Dinosaur Center

Two Medicine Dinosaur Center

The ride that day was beautiful and quiet. Rolling hills covered in mustard, wheat, and alfalfa fields and roaming herds of cows. I need to tell you that passing cow pastures is so much fun because bicyclists seem to have a unique effect on them. We aren’t cars, which they are used to by now, but strange creatures out to get them. When the first in our group starts to pass they look surprised, then fearful. Then the mooing starts and by the last person, we’ve started a stampede. Poor things. Horses and antelope, on the other hand, have a very different response to bicyclists, which seem to inspire them to run, not away, but with us. Continue reading

Hannah Plowright: A journalist’s poetic objectivity

We rolled into Augusta beaten by a day of steep hills and fierce, unrelenting headwinds. I was the last person to arrive and I found the crew sprawled on the corner of Main Street and Highway 287. I joined them dejectedly. I’d later describe the depths of my exhaustion as wanting to “punch God in the face.” The self-proclaimed “wildest one-day rodeo” also happened to be in town that weekend. Cowboys and cowgirls rode their horses up and down the street, decked out in boots and bedazzled jeans, drunk with excitement for the festivities. And here we were, grimy bikers here to talk about energy issues, probably the last thing on their minds. But not Hal Herring’s.

Hal pulled up in a Subaru like a knight on a white horse. “Are you the biking group. Do you have a place to crash?” Matt had just come back from where we’d been planning to camp, at an RV park, which, like everything else in town, was inundated with rodeo revelers. Hal graciously offered up his backyard, and for the next two days, in-depth discussions ensued about multifaceted energy issues, globally and on the Rocky Mountain Front. Continue reading

Alma Arteaga: Dispatch from Wolf Creek to Augusta

A tough ride against a strong headwind and a relentless series of menacing inclines; we crawled to each summit with the hope the landscape would have mercy on our worn-out, trembling legs only to find steeper hills around the bend and more devilish winds mocking us, moving with such a haste they took no notice of the six riders struggling in their path east.Foolishly, I had taken 45 miles to mean “a breeze” compared to the 60- and 70-mile rides we had already completed. By midday, it was obvious that that number was irrelevant — even the steep downhills required us to pedal just to keep from getting sent back to Wolf Creek. Imagine dragging a parachute behind and clenching the brakes as you make your way up a hill to get a sense of what our ride was like.

Alma Arteaga pedaling along the Rocky Mountain Front

Alma Arteaga pedaling along the Rocky Mountain Front

 
For most of us, the way we heat our homes and light our offices is not unlike actually biking uphill with a parachute dragging behind, fingers clenched on the brake levers: it’s inefficient, and frankly, just plain dumb. Upgrading our building stock to run more efficiently makes good economic sense for households and businesses, and in addition to saving us money, it happens to create jobs that can’t be exported and it’s the cheapest way to reduce energy consumption and the externalities associated with mining and burning fossil fuels.
 
To my surprise and relief — even for an casual cyclist like me — scaling mountains and cycling 70 miles in a day is actually quite feasible with a mix of simple and affordable technology, good fuel (leftovers from a rancher’s wedding and almond butter do wonders), and mindfulness of a few very basic cycling rules. The same ideas apply to how we power our homes, schools and businesses. While it’s very exciting to see the price of solar PVs plummet — like our fully loaded bikes coming down the Big Belt Mountains — energy efficiency continues to hold the most cost savings. Period.

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Kaya Juda-Nelson: Our bowls brimming

I have reached a point where I always want to eat. My whole life I have taken great pleasure in culinary pursuits, but this is something new: an insatiable animal need to replenish the thousands of calories we burn daily.

Pass the cheese

Pass the cheese

I had heard stories of the obscene amounts of food consumed on bike tours, but to experience it is something completely different. To be ready for a snack mere minutes after wolfing down five tacos, to come to the realization you’ve just eaten four bowls of baked beans, and are ready for another. Or to look at the calorie content of an energy bar and decide you will require at least six for the next day’s ride. We laugh about the amount of food we eat, and know that each bite of Snickers will carry ourselves and our loaded bikes up that next brutal hill.

Food has been, with good reason, a central focus of our days, and through this focus, we have made some incredible connections. As bike tourists, you sometimes feel that everyone you meet mothers you on some level — making sure you’re staying somewhere adequate, making sure you watch out for trucks on the road, but most importantly, making sure you’re eating enough. At the town campsite in Harlowton, we met Mama Ester, a very sweet woman who insisted we call her such, and bustled about in and out of her camper setting up for a family picnic. We quietly hunched in our corner of the pavilion, making a humble salad and lentils. Several times (at least five) Mama Ester and her family invited us to join their meal, and each time we politely declined, until Mama Ester sauntered over and insisted we eat her baked beans. I teased her that she obviously wouldn’t take no for an answer. She said she would take no for an answer, but smiled and went off to heat up the beans anyway. Later that evening she pulled me into a warm hug and told us all to be careful out there. Continue reading

Kaya Juda-Nelson: A land of contrasts and commonalities

We had just left the beautiful ranch where Steve Charter, chair of the Northern Plains Resource Counci, lives and practices intensive, rotational grazing and continues his decades-long fight against the mining of coal from beneath his land. Steve’s father, Boyd, began ranching there decades ago, and refused to sell the property when coal companies came knocking. And now Steve’s children work to sustain and steward the land and fend off more coal development. We sit in the living room of Steve’s ultra-efficient home as he conveys his experience battling mining companies and the BLM as they have pushed for more extraction. His tan, leathery hands reveal a lifetime of days spent in the windy grasslands, and his voice is thick and shaky with emotion as he tell us that the land he loves, where he grazes his cattle in the winter, is no longer silent, drowned out by the relentless whine of a coal shaft fan.

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