Dan Fleser in 1998
My visits to Colorado have had their share of come-full-circle moments. During the past four decades, I’ve retraced my boot prints over many miles and scrambled back to some of the most stunning vantage points imaginable.
I never actually chronicled one of these déjà vu instances until last month.
A return to Mount Yale afforded an irresistible opportunity. The mountain, which is nine miles west of Buena Vista, rises to 14,200 feet. It’s one of the state’s highest peaks. There are 58 reaching above 14,000 feet that are known collectively as “the fourteeners.”
I first visited Yale’s summit in the summer of 1998. Well, I think it was ’98. I have Yale bracketed in my memory with Mount Princeton. I know I was on Princeton that particular year. How do I know? Tennessee football, that’s how.
On Princeton, I ran into two hikers from Nebraska. When they learned I was from Knoxville, they showered me with the verbal equivalent of pedals and palms as we recalled Nebraska’s 42-17 thrashing of the Vols in the Orange Bowl that January.
We received several letters to the editor at the Knoxville News Sentinel from Nebraska fans that year, expressing a similar sentiment regarding Vol fans. We concluded that what they all really wanted to say was thank you to UT’s football team for rolling over and playing dead for their beloved Cornhuskers. The rout enabled Nebraska to finish No. 1 in the coaches’ poll and share the national championship with Michigan.
There were no Nebraska fans on Yale that year. But there was a kind soul who snapped a photo of me near the summit. The photo adorned my office cubicle for decades. I thought of it shortly before the return visit and planned for an updated image.
Since you’re rarely alone on a fourteener, a father and son summitted together with me. When I asked for their assistance in recreating the same photo in roughly the same place, they loved the idea and were eager accomplices. Lucas, the son, indulged me as I fished my old do-rag – looks more like a snot rag these days – out of my backpack and put it on. He snapped eight images.
In this case, late September looked more like late October. The higher elevations had been dusted by snow the previous night. From a distance, the top of nearby Princeton resembled Nebraska in January.
The summer-fall contrast in the photos was more than just seasonal. It also reflected the passage of time in my life. In ’98, I was just hitting my stride in those mountains. Twenty-five years later, I’m a cancer survivor and managing the elevated possibility of a future heart attack. Maybe that’s why I took a wider stance in the follow-up photo. It looks like I’m bracing myself, digging in to hold my ground.
While time has not stood still for me, it hasn’t yet moved me off my spot in the Rockies either. For the time being, I’ll take that and be happy whenever I’m in one of my happiest places on this earth.
Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since 1988. He is a 2022 inductee to the Tennessee Sportswriters Hall of Fame. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dan Fleser in 2023