World Traveler, Donkey Lover: TfA's John Anderson

Interviews come in all shapes and sized. The worst interviews are with people who drop the curtain and close up as though they were being grilled by the FBI.

The best interviews are with personable people whose lives are an open book. “Ask me… ask me anything.”

Speaking with John Anderson, Trails for All Board member, is a lot like walking with the wind at your back. Ask a question, and he is off and running.

One of the delights of living in Custer County is hearing every newcomer’s backstory when asked, “Where are you from, and why did you choose Westcliffe?”

A third question of interest to Trails for All members would be “What urged you to volunteer with Trails for All?”

Listening to John talk of his youth in rural England, it is clear where the seeds were sown.

Born in Devon England, “wet, muddy, and overcast,” Anderson was no stranger to a lifestyle that included horses and cows.

In his youth he was both a cathedral chorister and beginning with Pony Club (where at 10-years of age he met his wife, Annabel) Anderson moved on to horses – dressage, Cross-country, jumping and fox hunting.

Not that his boyhood was all that jolly: recounting his youth, Anderson spoke driving a sledge loaded with cow hay through snow that was trapped between the hedges.

Following graduation from high school, Anderson and three classmates took a Gap Year in northern India where they volunteered in a leprosy colony sponsored by the international charity, Lepra. (Should you want to get up-close-and-personal with Lepra, read Rebecca Root’s post.)

Anderson is alight with passion recalling his multiple visits to India/Nepal. “The variety of languages - maybe as many as five in a village the size of Westcliffe - the number of religions… the smells… the food… the social structure…” ( Anderson takes a breath to savor his memories) “It is a society that has not been destroyed.”

Following his university studies, Anderson and Annabel, both joined Reuters and eventually made their way to the United States where they lived along the Hudson River before moving to Oregon, California, and Idaho.

Always an athlete, Anderson (who was a keen on ocean kayaking, running, swimming and shooting) discovered the world of donkeys at Rent-a-Donkey in Fairplay.

From there it was just a short jump to finding his own donkey at the Longhopes Donkey Shelter in Bennett, CO.

With their long ears and their braying call, a donkey is no match for an Arabian horse in a beauty contest, but on the plus side, donkeys are loyal, one-person animals.

And as they say, “The rest is history.” The donkeys have led Anderson to The Triple Crown of burro/donkey racing in Fairplay, Leadville, and Buena Vista.

In addition to Colorado’s triple Crown, Anderson fondly recalls his exploration of the Grand Canyon’s northern plateau which called for riding 50 miles a day for five days.

A well-known hike by locals is traversing the Comanche/Venable loop with its death-defying Phantom Terrace. It is scary for hikers on foot, but Anderson visibly chills telling of his donkey, widened with panniers, on the narrow shelf his donkey’s left leg off the overhang.

As someone who spends a lot of time in the Sangres, Anderson is enthusiastic about Trails for All, the grassroots non-profit currently under the leadership of Paul Parsons.

“It’s a good thing to do. Paul is very open and inclusive. It is exciting to be part of something from the ground up - removing deadfall, maintaining trails, and following best practices.”

“And it’s good to get people out. The trick will be to build the program and keep the volunteers energized year after year.”

John Anderson – a mover and a shaker, and just one member of TfA who is passionate about the outdoors and supporting the USDA forest service.

~ Contributed by Doris Dembosky

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