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The walk of life

FemaelstromAlison OsiusGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

FemaelstromAlison OsiusGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

Hiking behind Mike, a lifelong hunter who always thrilled to sound or movement in the woods, I thought of a funny trick. I would chuck a rock into the woods, causing his head and stance to whip alertly in that direction. I wound up, threw the rock, and smacked him square in the back of the head.It had been at least 10 years since I last hiked the Ute Trail when I found myself in Aspen on Thanksgiving weekend with some time, and suddenly turned up onto that very switchback. I still laugh, sometimes uncontrollably, every time I remember the shock, and half-smile of pure disbelief, on Mike’s face as he turned slowly around, clutching the back of his skull. I throw like a girl; I throw horribly. My inability to throw a softball the required length kept me off the President’s Physical Fitness Team in junior high, though I climbed the rope four times, and did all the extra sit-ups they wanted. I couldn’t have hit Mike in the head on purpose if I tried all day.The Ute Trail isn’t so impressive – it’s practically urban – nor does it take terribly long. But it provides about 800 feet of “vert,” and the logic of a clear destination: a rock promontory with a valley-wide view.

And for a time in my life, as I remembered while crunching up the pleasantly grainy snow flecked with gold pine needles, it marked many milestones in my life. The Ute Trail was one of my first outings when I arrived in Aspen in 1988, having driven solo from Boston. My friends took me up the Ute while I still couldn’t breathe. I also wasn’t sleeping, and each night furiously blamed waiters I thought had given me caf instead of decaf. This was apparently a time in my life when I actually went out to dinner. I also suffered ringing ears, and in alarm concluded that my loud music on the drive had permanently damaged my hearing; I later found that sleeplessness and tinnitus are common effects of altitude. One of my first impressions of Aspen was of the stalwart (or exhibitionist) who used to run up the populated Ute Trail carrying a log high over his head. Living in a funky cabin, shared by four or five, up at Difficult Circle, I hiked the Ute Trail often, and often with one of my roommates, Katie. The owner of our coveted rental had deemed that we maintain his saltwater fish tank, but the eel died, and so did the trigger fish, and so did the others, though in a panic we kept hurrying to the fish store to try to sub in new ones. Later that year Katie was hit by rockfall, her leg nearly severed, when a group of us were rock climbing in Ouray. Her partner, Ric, carried her down the scree as she held her leg on. Katie endured dozens of surgeries, but has gone on to gain her degree as a physician’s assistant. She married an old boyfriend (recycling!) and had a healthy pregnancy and a beautiful daughter.



I hiked that trail the day I finished writing my first – also my only – book, and with my visiting friend Emily the day before Mike and I got married. By chance I was in Aspen the day I found out I was pregnant with my first, and hiked it then as well.Katie and our other housemates have scattered, and I followed a not terribly original Aspen trajectory by proceeding downvalley. Today I have different joys and worries than in those heady Aspen days, and a different regular trail, Mushroom Rock, on which to watch the seasons change, exercise and ruminate even when I don’t have a lot of time. These trails may not be long, but for that reason they give us something that we can feasibly do, and it composes life. Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at aosius@hotmail.com.


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