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Paul Andersen: Fair Game

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Over the course of only a few days in March, the sun crests the ridge across the Fryingpan Valley from us and warms our home with three more hours of direct sun. This is my spring, a time to indulge in whatever fancy comes with sun, warmth and light.

The air comes alive with the songs of blackbirds, warblers and robins. Bluebirds appear as if by magic. Green grass follows the shrinking snowpack in my yard. Catkins form on aspens and cottonwoods. A glaze of ice hardens the snow every night. The changes are many, often imperceptible, but collectively they make a welcome shift for all living creatures.

This starts my friend Graeme and me plotting our annual spring bicycle tour, a rite of seasonal passage that we’ve done for 25 years. Our peregrinations through the desert Southwest allow us to revel in wild, unpopulated landscapes and whatever adventures come our way.



Our wives shrug with grudging acceptance as we wave goodbye, usually over Mother’s Day. They have learned that these trips are key to maintaining our psychic equilibrium, our good humor and especially our dedication to home and family all other weeks of the year.

Even our personal physicians endorse these mountain-bike expeditions as essential to our health and longevity. So who is to argue with the findings of medical science, especially when they coincide with one’s deepest needs and pleasures?




We unfold maps and spread them across dinner tables. With a magnifying glass, we search the folds of the arid Southwest for meaningful escapes and promising features – all within a relatively short drive. We’re grateful for landscapes that beckon with the taste of the personal freedom we crave. Gazing at maps is almost as gratifying as being there; we can smell the pinyon-wood campfire on a canyon rim.

Spring quickens the pulse and softens the winter calcifications that have left me feeling brittle and stiff after a long, cold winter like this year. Spinning the pedals across desert mesas engenders a meditative quality of mind that allows thoughts to spin, ideas to percolate.

Finding water is the constant challenge, driving us into remote canyons toward that lone green cottonwood where a seep wets the sandstone and drips into a small but sufficient pool for our meager needs. Water loads down our bikes with vital weight in anticipation of dry camps, where each sip is measured and appreciated. And when we find that gushing spring of ice water issuing from a canyon wall, burbling up through a pipe into a hollow log or splashing happily into a cattle tank, we drink as if it were the finest wine.

The spring bike tour doesn’t mean the end of skiing. May is when the backcountry becomes more navigable and safer. This year’s snowpack has been so rotten that just breaking trail is an exhaustive trial, not to mention skiing any aspect with enough pitch to make a turn or two.

On spring snow we can get up high, into the brilliance of the sun, where the sky is so blue it’s nearly black, where snow adorns peaks with a pure white frosting. Up in the thin air we can track across high ridges and through vast basins on spring crust, descending through glades and meadows creamy with kernels of corn snow.

These pictures flood my mind as I step outdoors on a sunny day and sniff the sap of the dwarf forest behind my house, hear the cackle of ravens, feel the sun on my face, notice the shortening shadows. I celebrate it all with a sense of promise for what lies ahead – spring! Season of rebirth.

Such is the advantage of living in a seasonal climate where the orbit of the Earth adjusts sun, moon and stars in a celestial pattern that foments expectations that are new and fresh with life. Seasons awaken a sense of discovery even though I’ve lived through them before.

Every spring is new, and so is each year and each cycle. My fancy turns to the renewal of life – within me and without me.

Paul Andersen’s column appears Mondays in The Aspen Times. He can be reached at andersen@rof.net.


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