Paul Andersen: Here’s to life’s serendipitous journey

Paul Andersen
Fair Game

Appreciating the journey of life makes sense when you consider that our destination is ultimately the grave. As such, we might as well make the most of the bumpy roads leading there.

For me, there is no better example of a serendipitous journey than a mountain bike tour years ago with a couple of chums.

We were circumnavigating the Flattops, and fate put Valerie’s cabin directly in our path. The Forest Service map we were using was dated 1965, and the old roads and boundaries had evidently been redrawn.

We found ourselves at a gate marking Valerie’s property. Our tiptoeing through the woods with fully loaded bikes didn’t pass unnoticed. “Well, hello there!” came a friendly greeting.

Valerie, an attractive blonde, beamed at us while leaning provocatively over the railing of her elevated deck wearing a bathrobe. “You boys just missed catching me in the outdoor shower,” she said with a coquettish smile. “If you like cookies, come on in.”

Did she say cookies? Valerie disappeared into her cabin and the three of us traded shrugs and raised eyebrows. We made bee-lines to the door where, Three Stooges-like, we jammed against each other trying to get in.

In what we later titled “Odyssey by Bicycle,” the Flattops tour gained Homeric proportions as this comely Circe beckoned us into her cave to dole out savory and tantalizing treats. This tour not only challenged our bodies, minds and souls, it tested us against almost irresistible temptations.

Despite Valerie’s accommodating manner, I convinced my buddies to decline her invitation for outdoor showers, a savory seafood dinner and more treats. Saying reluctant goodbyes, we rolled on at dusk — only to encounter The Siren.

Our makeshift camp aligned with a midnight drunk trying to coax his girlfriend, Roanne, into his car as she stormed down the road in the aftermath of an apparent lover’s spat. “Roaaaaanne!” wailed the dimwit behind the wheel. His pathetic wail went on for hours until stubborn Roanne finally relented. We had traded Valerie’s paradise for this? My bros were not amused.

Getting lost with our antiquated map provided a series of misadventures. As we pushed our fully loaded bikes overland in one route-finding fiasco, we stumbled upon an incomparable flush of chanterelles. Now we were in the land of the Lotus Eaters.

We sauteed the mushrooms that night at “Cow Head Camp,” a convenient circle of cottonwoods that offered the perfect grove for camping except that every cottonwood was affixed with a cow head in varying stages of decay. Skin hanging grotesquely, eyeballs dripping out of sockets, blackened tongues lolling at us …we were haunted all night by these macabre specters.

“It’s the journey,” I reminded my damp, cold compatriots two days later as we weathered an early October blizzard at Elk Lakes in the Flattops. The snow was wet and heavy, and it pressed our tents down upon us with claustrophobic effect.

The last morning of our odyssey commenced with 6 inches of snow over a muddy gumbo road that became a slip-n-slide down the Transfer Trail amid a barrage of hail, snow and rain. It was one of the wettest days of my life.

Everything got soaked, from the insoles of my shoes to the chamois of my bike shorts which, when wet, was not pleasant to sit on for six hours of beater downhill through water bar ponds that had us skimming over the surface until momentum slowed and we sank into pools of deep muck.

Three forlorn creatures, our mud-crusted bikes more organic than metallic, finally wobbled into Glenwood Springs for a therapeutic soak in the Hot Springs Pool. My wife, who met us with dry clothes, stood gaping at worn and weary Creatures from the Black Lagoon.

“Life is all about the journey,” I reminded my bedraggled friends as we eased into the soothing hot waters of the steaming springs and felt the tingles of feeling return to our hands, our feet and other important parts.

“F— you and your f—ing journey,” they chimed. “Life is all about this warm and sulfurous destination!”

“No,” I objected. “This is just another stop along the way. Now, on our next tour …”

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at


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