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Time to Hit the Trail

By Chris Rourke

Some are snowy and silent. Others are rough and rocky. Still, some lead users on a narrow strip through a field of wildflowers billowing in the summer breeze. Trails are all shapes and sizes and have many uses. And we “users” are as varied as the trails we find under our feet or wheels.

There is the avid mountain biker, looking to blow off steam after work. And trail runners? They are out to decrease their times before the next epic competition. Nordic skiers weather cold winters by getting out in the sun and quietly swooshing across newly groomed corduroy. Wanderers look to spend their Sunday afternoon getting a little exercise and letting nature whisper soft messages to them within. I, myself, like to have a four-legged companion with me, riding my horse for a couple of hours, or taking a walk with my dog. The cat, however, is not a fan.

While trail users differ in how they enjoy the trail, there’s at least one thing we share—the need to overcome that which would often keep us from getting out. Sometimes it’s work, or perhaps fatigue or an injury. Other responsibilities can loom as greater priorities. But those who really love the trail find a way to persevere and prioritize. After all, who are we if we can’t merge with the mountains that surround us more than just once in a while?

A co-worker passed me in the hallway the other day. He and I are partners on many projects critical to the organization for which we work. We updated each other briefly on some time sensitive tasks and the pressure we both felt to get them done. I sighed, as we paused in our conversation.

“But hey!” he exclaimed, with his face lit with joy. “Hartman Rocks opens today!”

Hartman Rocks Recreation Area is vast area of trails in Gunnison County that includes 14,000 acres managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management. The area is operated in partnership with the city of Gunnison which owns 160 acres at its base. Hartman’s is home to 45 miles of single-track trail that are used for mountain biking, dirt biking, hiking and trail running. Another 45 miles of roads can be used for ATVs and other vehicles. In winter, trails and roadways are groomed for cross country skiing and fat biking.

My co-worker was celebrating the spring opening for summer use, and while I don’t share his fervor for mountain biking, I do appreciate his passion to put the pressure of life aside for a glorious sunset ride on the trail. All too often I’ve allowed work to keep me cooped up. As I was still on my lunch hour, I went back to the quiet of my office and searched for trails to visit that weekend. We all know this—there’s no better way to refocus after a week of hard work than getting outside. Sometimes a little push is all we need.

Photo by Chris Rourke

Fatigue and injury of course are the enemy of trail time. I’ll be honest—as I have aged, my knees have betrayed me a time or two. That’s why companions play a vital role in getting me moving. When I don’t feel like hiking, I have a Quarter Horse mare that has carried me to parts that are little known. The crunch of leaves under her feet in fall, or the slosh of mud during the first ride of spring are music to my ears. Then, there’s the necessity of walking the dog morning, noon and night which also gets me out on quick jaunts. Sometimes the two conspire to get me out on longer adventures.

And when simply weary from juggling responsibilities, that’s when a two-legged friend can help. My friend, Delaney, has often dragged me out when I just wanted to be a couch potato on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Our hikes are more than just putting one foot in front of the other. We talk. And talk. And solve all the world’s problems, if not our own. And the laughter rolls as a jackhammer to concrete stress.

“We ought to record our conversations for a podcast,” she said one time. “We are hilarious.”

The trail gives us a quiet place to think. It helps us blow off steam, stay in shape and even burn off a Saturday night of tacos. Through it we see metaphors in life—”When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” as Yogi Berra once said. Our minds unwind as our bodies move out.

A Divine plan must be in play each time we hit the trail. Fresh air, beautiful landscapes and the ability to move one’s body all have health benefits both physically and mentally. So much tries to distract us from getting there—a beep on the phone, an email from work, a last minute event to attend. And yet, when we push through and make it our priority, we always come back satisfied and promise to be better at getting out.

I would share more, but the dog has to go out. Time to hit the trail.

Chris Rourke is a recovering journalist living in Gunnison, on the Western Slope. When not slaying dragons, she likes to spend time with her children—two humans named Shaughn and Abby, a horse named Charm, a dog named Nala and a cat named Max.