I decided while on the Cycle the Rockies Course to try to quit coffee cold turkey despite being strongly dependent on the magic roasted beans each morning. Even though I just finished inhaling my second caramel late as I write this, I can at least say that I was successful in my goal for the first half of the course. I suffered through groggy mornings, shaky and light headed as I sipped on lukewarm, flavored water. Tea doesn’t provide the same creamy comfort as a foamy latte, but it did have little quotes on the tea bags as some consolation. It would say things like “friendship is like a shaded tree” or “be great, feel great, and act great.” These quotes proved to be a little underwhelming as Morgan whipped open her wrinkled brown bag of ground up coffee goodness right next to me. I watched out of the side of my eyes as the steaming water soaked the grounds and filtered into her mug a rich nutty brown color. Her drowsy eyes perked as she drank life back into her sleepy bones. Morgan glided around camp packing up her gear and leaving trails of coffee scent wafting in her path. I rolled my eyes at the pithy aphorism on the tea bag and hangrily marched around camp, waking up more delayed than everyone else.

One morning I dropped my ginger lemon tea bag into the steaming water and watched the pale brown leaves spread their faint flavor. A swirling mixture oozed out of the bag as I flipped the little paper over in my fingers. I squinted my bloodshot eyes and strained my heavy eyelids to take in my inspirational quote of the day. To my surprise, this one was a little more thought provoking. It read, “Never try to impress others, only try to impress yourself.” An idea not widely or openly encouraged within the demands and expectations of a University education. The pressure to achieve a distinguished kind of success is overwhelming; and it’s limiting.

My definition of success has morphed on this course. It’s easy to depend on the reassurance of others to feel confident in my decisions. As I’ve pedaled myself across the state this past month with some of my new favorite people along side me, I realized that this isn’t an experience I would have been open to in previous years. The only reassurance I got when I initially expressed interest in this course was from Bethany Applegate, the Outreach Manager at WRFI, who may or may not be a little biased. I enrolled because I listened to my instincts, and I have found myself overwhelmed by the feeling of a different kind of success. It’s not informed by the disapproving looks we’ve gotten along the way from people who don’t see the fun in hauling yourself and your gear alongside semi trucks and against headwinds for 700 plus miles on a vulnerable two-wheeled steel machine. And it hasn’t been informed by those who have expressed their concerns for the safety of our all female student group as they question our abilities. Instead, my sense of success has been informed by the satisfaction I feel from gaining competency in the outdoors, and from the feeling of gaining a more honest understanding of the world. I do my own bike maintenance, I push myself over mountain passes, I navigate my way through the world with the gratification that comes with knowledge and execution. Cycle the Rockies helped show me that there are many ways to be a student of the world. Exploring the state of Montana through the vulnerability and exposure of a bicycle demanded my entire presence, and sparked a new drive to understand my surroundings in a way that didn’t impress everyone. Thanks to Yogi Lemon Ginger tea, to my instructors, and my classmates for the encouragement to pursue and explore in a way that leaves room for self-growth and self-fulfillment.