On the trail: Chaff on Aspen’s Ute Trail
July 8, 2009
ASPEN – It’s been awhile since I’ve kicked butt on Aspen’s Ute Trail. Conversely, it’s been awhile since the trail kicked mine.
I figured it would be no contest last weekend, though, when I struck out to conquer the brutal series of switchbacks climbing the east side of Aspen Mountain for the first time in, geez, years. I hit the narrow dirt path just in time to share the trail with about three dozen other people. Veritable gangs of water-bottling toting tourists were arriving en masse, ensuring what I figured would be a slow ascent.
Passing on the Ute is a little bit like passing on Independence Pass – you’re pretty much at the mercy of the slowpoke in front of you. When they move over, you can hit the gas. But, I began drafting off a woman who charged upward like a veteran, remaining close on her heels as she parted the sea of traffic, repeating “excuse me, excuse me” to panting flatlanders who were only to glad to pull over and breathe.
Yeah, the Ute certainly separates the wheat from the chaff, I thought to myself, proving once again that there’s no snob like a fitness snob, and there’s no fitness snob like an Aspen fitness snob.
Then I joined the chaff.
I’m not sure I was even half way to Ute Rock, the usual turnaround point for humbled hikers, when I hit the wall. Drenched in sweat, gasping and doubled over in the way that newbies on a high school cross country team are on the first day of practice, I looked like I’d just stepped out of my old life as a Wisconsin bratwurst connoisseur.
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I’m not sure how many times I stopped to catch my breath before I reached the rock, but when I glanced down at my watch, I was shocked. I made it in what I considered a respectable 34 minutes.
It was my original intent keep on going, hiking to the summit of the mountain and riding the gondola down – ideally before the skies unleashed the day’s deluge – but I contemplated wussing out after the grueling climb to the rock. I bucked up and proceeded to trudge the rest of the way.
The skies darkened as I grew closer to my destination. The chairs of the Gent’s Ridge lift dangled lifelessly above, which is to say, they were moving about as fast as they ever do. Apparently, so was I.
I crawled up to the Sundeck door in a bit less than two hours – 8 minutes less, to be exact – surprised to discover that I’d finished the hike at my “normal” pace.
I’d kicked butt, and so had the trail.