Rita Leydon has accomplished many things in her life.
The goal of hiking the 485-mile Colorado Trail, however, was not something she had in mind when moving from Lahaska, Pa., to Salida in 2010.
At 64 Leydon began nibbling away at the Colorado Trail, aiming to tackle it in seven five-day segments, one section per year, beginning in 2014.
“I hike with Colorado Mountain Expeditions, a supported trekking organization under the umbrella of the Colorado Trail Foundation. I’m often the oldest person in the group, but I keep up,” she said.
Each segment is limited to 12 hikers.
“We don’t have to stay together, which is good because I enjoy hiking solo. It’s my happy time. There was a time when I was nervous to be in the woods seemingly alone, which is no longer the case.
“I have grown very fond of hiking the Colorado Trail, this wonderful footpath right in my backyard that goes all the way from Denver to Durango.
“Regrettably, I was unable to complete my segment this past summer due to illness, but hope to come back in 2019.”
The Colorado Trail averages 10,300 feet in elevation and tops out at 13,271 feet, passing through eight mountain ranges.
Her introduction to hiking came through her son Krispin, who worked at the time for Disney Animation Studios in Burbank, Calif.
“He was tired of his desk job which he found too sedentary. Considering his options, he stumbled on the idea of hiking the Appalachian Trail and decided to go for it,” Leydon said.
“He quit his job and asked me to prepare his trail food, which involved research on packing calories and dehydrating a variety of nutritious meals and snacks. Every two weeks or so I shipped a bulging food box to his next resupply point.”
It took him five months to hike the 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine.
“I became interested in hiking because of Krispin’s adventure. We had recently moved to Salida and built our home, which was almost done, when a friend, Ruth Runge-Barnes, introduced me to the Colorado Trail,” Leydon said.
At first Leydon hiked with small groups. She enjoyed meeting new people, the fresh mountain air and the exercise.
“Living in Pennsylvania, I was always an indoor person,” Leydon said, “and I decided to try something new.”
She began training on smaller local hikes and took the big step of doing the first segment of the Colorado Trail in summer 2014.
“Young people seem to have no problem with the elevation,” she said. “I’m originally from Sweden and I notice the change in altitude when I go back there or back to Pennsylvania and then return to Salida. It takes a few days to re-acclimate.”
On the Colorado Trail, the leaders cook a hot breakfast and dinner for the hikers, and while dinner is cooking, they lay out the fixings for lunch, along with energy snacks.
“The meals are delicious,” Leydon said. “The organizers transport tents and everyone’s gear to the next campsite. On the trail, leaders are equipped with radios for communication in case of an emergency.”
After five days on the trail, Leydon is ready to rejoin her husband, Christopher, back home in the shadows of Mount Shavano where her studio awaits.
Christopher is well known in the international auto world for his restorations of Bugattis and other pre-World War II sports and racing cars. In fact they discovered Salida when they drove various vehicles, which he had restored, on the Colorado Grand, an annual charity tour for 1960 and earlier sports and race cars of distinction.
“More often than not we had lunch stops in Salida and loved the community,” she said. “We motored all over the state eight or nine times with the Colorado Grand, and Salida was a place that really resonated with us.”
Christopher and Rita are both involved with Swedish music. Both play the nyckelharpa, a Swedish stringed instrument that dates back to Viking times. Christopher teaches the instrument and has introduced Swedish music to many musicians in the area.
Over the years Rita has made it her mission to document the music and playing styles of Swedish elderly tradition bearers on primarily the nyckelharpa.
She has produced 13 DVDs, most of which are available on Amazon. She has also produced a series of DVDs on how to build a nyckelharpa and how to play it. Her efforts have facilitated the spread of the instrument all over the world.
Another lifelong passion for Leydon is weaving.
“My weaving is inspired by my native Sweden,” she said. “My yarns are from Sweden, where they have a rich heritage in weaving. My mother and both grandmothers were skilled weavers.”
Her mother, Gun-Britt Flodén, wove primarily pictorial tapestries, and two of the pieces in Leydon’s home commemorate her mother. One was completed by her mother. The other was done by Leydon.
“My mother wasn’t able to find exactly the colors she wanted for that weaving,” Leydon said, “so she split colors and remixed the yarns to get what she wanted. She was ready to begin this weaving when she died in April 1997; I finished the weaving for her.”
Leydon’s book, “My Mothers Hands,” details that last 17-day “journey” with her mother.
Aviation is another important building block in Leydon’s life.
“Both my parents were glider pilots and they got engaged in a glider over Stockholm,” Leydon said.
Leydon has raced Bugattis, flown gliders, raised sheep as well as two sons and danced in Swedish dance competitions.
Since early childhood, art, design and tactile crafts have been Leydon’s focus. She has a bachelor of fine arts degree in illustration and worked as a freelance illustrator and graphic designer all her life. Now she is focusing on the fiber arts and is an active member of The Heart of Colorado Fiber Arts Guild.