May 8, 2020
WRFI alumna Ruth Crystal reflects on her hesitations when she initially considered enrolling in a Cycle the Rockies course. Like most students, she was nervous before embarking on her first WRFI adventure, and she had a lot of questions. In an effort to ease similar worries in prospective students, she offers the following advice in the form of her five biggest concerns before her course.

5 Concerns about Cycle the Rockies, Demystified

By Ruth Crystal

Are you interested in learning about climate change science, networking with real-world professionals, and observing firsthand how energy systems impact natural and human communities in Montana? If so, this is definitely the course for you. As a Cycle the Rockies alum, I can attest to the fact that it’s a one-of-a-kind learning experience that will stick with you for life. I can also attest to the fact that I was initially hesitant to sign up, in large part because of the “cycle” in Cycle the Rockies.

If this sounds like you (Yay energy systems! Not so much yay biking across Montana!), just know that you are not alone! In fact, almost every CtR alum I’ve spoken to was also intimidated at the prospect of cycling across Montana. More importantly, we’re all extremely grateful that we did it anyway.

To help ease the decision-making process for anyone experiencing similar misgivings, I’ve decided to share the biggest concerns I had before doing Cycle the Rockies:

1. I’m not a “biker.” Before my CtR course, I had only ever used a bicycle for running errands around town. I didn’t know how to change a tire. I didn’t know what a pannier was. I didn’t even own a road bike. Luckily for anyone else in a similar position, WRFI instructors are lovely, experienced people who will show you how to change a tire and pack a pannier. You know what else? WRFI has an entire fleet of brand new Trek bikes and touring gear available for students to use. Seriously. Next.

2. The route is really far. As someone who had only biked to commute before my course, I couldn’t fathom riding more than ten or twenty miles in a day, even without any touring weight. However, our Cycle the Rockies route began with low daily mileage and frequent breaks so that students didn’t feel overwhelmed at the start. Throughout the course, our days were broken up into manageable chunks, and we always stopped to make sure everyone was hydrated and feeling healthy. The gradual start helped us gain physical strength and endurance, and it didn’t take long for our daily mileage to feel like a normal routine.

3. A month is a long time. As with any WRFI course, it takes some planning to be able to take this amount of time away from your normal life. However, any alum will tell you that it is very much possible (and very much worth it), and the WRFI team is full of helpful tips to make planning easier. It’s important to remember that the course is NOT trying to physically destroy you by making you bike 100 miles per day for a whole month. On the contrary, the main purpose of the course is to learn, to see Montana up close, to meet amazing people, and to demonstrate that we are all much more capable of sustainable transportation than we realize. A month in the field will pass incredibly quickly once you’re out there, immersed in such a rich learning environment.

4. There’s no way I can keep up. Once again, the WRFI team came to my rescue when they reminded me that “it’s not a race. It’s an educational course, and you will not get left behind.” It’s not a sprint. If anything, it’s an opportunity to slow down, to be immersed in a landscape with enough time to ask questions and see what you can learn from the place. Finishing the route as quickly as possible would defeat that purpose.

5. What if my tire pops? What if I have a rough day? What if everyone else is a better biker than I am? What if…? We all go through a “what if” stage before trying something new, but don’t let the “what ifs” hold you back from signing up for this course. Popped tires and rough days will happen, but the thing is, you’ll never be alone. At any given moment, you’ll have your team nearby to help when the going gets tough. Cycle the Rockies is not a competition; quite honestly, it’s one of the most supportive learning teams I’ve ever been a part of. This is coming from someone who got six—SIX—flat tires during my course, which was demoralizing at first, but I was soon able to change a tire in a matter of minutes with the support of my CtR companions.

This course gave me the most influential—and most applicable—set of credits I’ve ever received, from both my undergraduate and graduate degrees. I cannot overstate how valuable this experience was for my education and my life as an engaged, informed citizen. Do you have similar concerns? It’s only natural that you should. The real question is, are they excuses for missing out on the trip of a lifetime? I sure hope not.



Ruth Crystal was a student on WRFI’s 2013 Cycle the Rockies course, and she returned as an intern on the 2014 course. She received both her BA in Environmental Studies and MBA from the University of Montana, and now works for Missoula-based nonprofit Garden City Harvest.