Andersen: Randy’s last walk
Randy loved the “Winds,” a vast range where he could walk through the wilderness of his thoughts, climb forbidding peaks, fish for golden trout. This was where he died on a trail, his pack on his back, alone, in the wilderness, taking it all in, walking.
The discovery of his body ended a huge search that would have mortified Randy not just because of distraught friends and family but for the carbon footprint of airplanes and choppers. The media attention would have really floored him, he who sought controlled anonymity.
Unlike Willie, another Carbondale man, who disappeared on East Creek in the fall of 2010, Randy was found where he died, probably in mid-stride, planting his walking pole, his size 13s treading the earth he loved. “Let the feet inform the soul,” wrote Ed Abbey, which Randy did at every opportunity.
Three years ago, Randy wrote a prophetic essay in The Aspen Times about Willie: “He parked his truck at a trailhead and vanished. Nobody knows whether he had an accident, suffered a heart attack, was attacked by a cougar or took his own life.”
Randy’s disappearance two weeks ago prompted similar speculations: a treacherous river crossing, a grizzly bear, a moose, a rock slide. My son, Tait, who knew Randy well, cautioned that any suppositions over a wilderness disappearance are most likely wrong. Still, we wandered those labyrinthine paths.
Randy had high cholesterol, a genetic curse he mostly ignored. He had a bum hip, which he also ignored. He took his risks and hobbled through the mountains and canyons looking decrepit but feeling vital. He squinted into the sun, smiling under the brim of his cap, clattering along with walking sticks. He was still hard to keep up with.
I followed his footsteps and ski tracks for years trying to match my gait to his: 11/2 steps for each of his giant strides. A friend and I called him “Big Foot.” Years ago, we gave him a talisman — a single bear claw on a leather thong — to ward off avalanches because Randy would never carry an avy beacon. He believed that route-finding was the key to backcountry survival.
Randy was uncanny in his map reading and topographical orientation. He had a built-in compass from his Outward Bound years and usually got to where we were going before me. There he’d be, waiting, wearing a smirk, as I rounded a canyon bend or summited a ridge. “Where the hell have you been, Andersen?!”
Randy and I lived in Crested Butte in the ’70s, where we had a nodding acquaintance. It wasn’t until we moved to this side of the Elk Range, ensconced in homes and families, that we became close friends. Here we shared our struggles as fathers and husbands, roles in which we were not always well-suited.
Our laments over personal failures and character flaws devolved from self-abasement into comic satire. Many were the hilarious ripostes exchanged around campfires, desert springs, corniced ridges, ski huts, river rapids or under the hoods of our Jettas. These cars were yet another of our bonds, marked with greasy fingernails, bruised knuckles and mechanical triumphs.
When we weren’t out in the wilds trading jabs of brutal honesty, we were firing off biting emails of literary merit — Randy writing from his man cave on Prince Creek and I from my cluttered office up the Fryingpan. Privately we laughed out loud as each parry and thrust touched the nerves of our self-delusion.
In lulls of ridicule we watched dumbstruck as the world gyrated beyond our sensibilities. We bolstered each other in times of doom and gloom over the condition of man and nature with head-shaking wonder. We shared our sorrows with commiseration and cynicism. We found our solace outdoors, on foot, often together.
There are many places I will walk and ski to remember Randy, and I don’t need to go far to conjure his spirit. I will find him anywhere the land is wild, beautiful and challenging.
“We’re lucky to live in these mountains,” concluded Randy in his essay about Willie, “and some of us to die here, too.”
Paul Andersen’s column appears Mondays. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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