Recalling Randy Udall: inspiration, 
friend, ‘the happiest hiker on the trail’

This was the message I’d hoped to get last week while fearfully waiting to learn the fate of Randy Udall, then missing on a solo hike in Wyoming:

“Dude, fire up that old Land Cruiser and burn some dinosaurs, carbon footprint be damned. I’m stuck up here in the Winds and need a ride from Pinedale.”

But the report on my iPhone screen and the messages from a couple of mutual friends in the Roaring Fork Valley on the evening of July 3 were much different.

“Ah, Jim, I’m so sorry …” one wrote. “They found his body today. He died on the way in, pack on his shoulders, hiking poles in hand. The way he would want, and quick.”

Suddenly, the celebratory gathering of family and friends on the eve of Independence Day didn’t seem like the place to be. So I hiked home, something that seemed appropriate, while remembering my friend of a dozen or so years.

I first met James “Randy” Udall when his larger-than-life frame filled the view in a Carbondale restaurant where I’d asked him to meet with me and a client representing Shell and its Mahogany oil shale project. After several years of my urging, Rich Hansen had finally convinced corporate powers to reach out to the Western Slope environmental community. “Which group will we meet with first,” he asked? 

“None of them,” I said. “First, we’ll talk to Randy Udall. The minute I ask for a meeting with any of these groups, their next call will be to Randy.”

That was Randy’s calling — father confessor, confidant, an inspirational figure wicked smart about energy issues and life in general. And not just from an environmental perspective. 

He and I finally agreed to stop sitting together when meeting with our green friends since we often offered critical advice they sometimes weren’t happy to hear. 

Randy was as likely to be found writing and speaking about energy issues to industry folks, academics and elected officials as to environmental groups — alternately inspiring and challenging all of them.

Here’s an example of what they heard.

“People talk about climate change being an environmental problem. That’s the least of it. It’s a prosperity problem.”

And another.

“Pretending that the (energy) future is going to be just like the past is a recipe for failure.”

Randy walked his talk.

He helped found, and for a time directed, the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, using fees from high-end (and high-energy-using) construction to fund Pitkin County conservation and alternative energy efforts. His own home reflected his passion and he good-naturedly pointed out his offset for the heavier carbon footprint of my 40-year-old Land Cruiser that he enjoyed riding in.

Ignoring the stance of some of his friends in the environmental community, he helped broker the deal that finds waste methane from North Fork coal mines providing electricity purchased by the Aspen Skiing Company.

While eschewing the “family business,” Randy defined in the best of terms the difference between politics and policy while always being, as one friend said, “the happiest hiker on the trail.”

The sender of one of those sorrowful messages last Wednesday evening, Auden Schendler from Aspen Skiing Company, used a favorite quote in his own poignant remembrance of our friend. 

“Be as I am ... a reluctant enthusiast, a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic.” Edward Abbey said. “Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure.”

Here’s another one I saved years ago that now seems an apt summary of the life of Randy Udall.

“This is what we are about.  We plant the seeds that will one day grow.  We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.  We lay foundations that will need further development.  We provide yeast that produces efforts far beyond our capabilities ... We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.” — Attributed to Oscar Anulfo Romero, Archbishop of El Salvador.

Jim Spehar couldn’t imagine 45-years ago, while covering Arizona congressman Mo Udall as a young reporter, that he’d one day be mourning the death of his friend and Mo’s son. Your thoughts are welcome at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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