When packing for my annual trips to Colorado, I always bring a pair of jeans that were purchased years ago at a Walmart in Salida, Co.
With their sand khaki coloring and design, the pants look like something a laborer would wear. They are standard attire whenever I tackle a more difficult mountain hike or whenever the weather is sketchy.
This pair is distinguished by a tear in the right seat. The damage was done by me butt-sliding down the homestretch portion of Longs Peak, a 14,255-foot monolith that stands watch over Colorado’s portion of the Rocky Mountains’ front range. The steepness of the mountain’s aforementioned section forced me to improvise my way down it.
Reaching Longs’ summit was a big accomplishment, pun intended. I obsessed over that challenging mountain for several years, reading literature and watching videos. It was like I had become Ahab and Longs was my white whale.
The tear serves as a reminder that I made it there and back, doing whatever it took. I told my friend in Denver that somebody will have to tear those pants off me before I stop wearing them.
The past two years, I’ve changed my routine and visited Colorado in late September rather than the summer. In doing so, the pants’ primary purpose has become warding off the chill of frosty mornings.
There’s still a degree of difficulty to some of my treks. I’ve scrambled on all fours a time or two since the homestretch. But I haven’t slid on butt since then. Instead, I’m more inclined to simply plop down on the pants tear and admire the scenery surrounding me.
The transition is owed in part to the change in my travel schedule. Visiting Colorado in the fall has coincided with its changing colors, which has broadened my perspective. Standing in the middle of a bright yellow stand of aspens and looking up into a cobalt-blue sky is as intoxicating as a mountain vista.
The most likely difference, though, has involved me. Longs was 11 years ago. I’m now carrying a Medicare card with me on these treks. If I’m hiking in remote areas, I’m less inclined to be bold. I was alone deep in a valley last week when I decided to stop searching for a route to a summit ridge. I sat down on a rock, turned my face to the morning sun and tuned my ears to a mountain stream that was rushing by me toward the valley floor below.
A few days earlier, I was hiking in a gale above Berthoud Pass near Winter Park. The wind whistled across my face, forcing me to squint one eye shut. The wind also was hissing across my boot tops as it passed through the short grass. I had never noticed the hissing sound before.
My seasons are changing, too. Gung-ho is giving way to getting older. Is it time to retire the pants? Maybe. It won’t change my reverence for any of these experiences.
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Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who covered University of Tennessee athletics from 1988-2019. He is a 2022 inductee to the Tennessee Sportswriters Hall of Fame. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.