Aspen on the Hill: Zombie people of the Rio Grande Trail |

Aspen on the Hill: Zombie people of the Rio Grande Trail

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times

People-watching is a time-honored tradition in Aspen, where man furs and high-heel hikers are seasonal species. But a mystery presented itself to me in recent months, as I found myself people-watching at sun-up on the Rio Grande Trail.

This summer I got in the habit of going for a dawn run. I’d wake up at 6 a.m. and brew coffee and quite literally run out the door of my Centennial apartment to jog the Hunter Creek Loop, or wheeze up and down Smuggler or do a few miles out and back on the Rio Grande Trail. Basically, I’m aiming to get outside and squeeze in something I can do in about 45 minutes — getting me back home before my baby daughter wakes up and in time to have breakfast with her and my wife.

While Hunter Creek and Smuggler at this ungodly hour are populated sparsely with the usual crowd of dogs and humans and the spandex-clad, the upper stretch of the Rio Grande — in addition to the usual trail-pounders — is a weird wasteland filled with the dead-eyed, dragging themselves through this aspen-lined trail at dawn.

Just about every morning I’d see bleary-eyed couples in pajamas, yawning and pushing astoundingly perky toddlers in strollers. Many mornings, I’d pass weary packs of men and women in suits or buttoned-up business casual dress. And every morning, I’d spend my run wondering what they were doing out there and how this bizarre high-country version of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video came to be. So tired, so defeated, why go for an amble down Aspen’s most popular and easily accessible trail?

Eventually, I put together that these folks are sort of time zone refugees. In town from the East Coast and finding themselves unintentionally awake, they’re just strolling along the Roaring Fork River until the rest of town rises. The dressed-up folks, I figure, are attending Aspen Institute conferences and doing semi-productive early morning walk-and-talks connecting to the Rio Grande from the Meadows Trail. Those sleepy stroller-pushers, I’ve deduced, found themselves in hotel rooms with toddlers still on Eastern Standard Time — wide-eyed at 5 a.m. and jostling their parents from bed.

I feel their pain. But after the mind’s fog clears and as the first sun rays splash on Bell Mountain, it is a hell of a place to find yourself waking up.