DATELINE: 8th July 2018
Shadow Mountain Lake, Great Lakes, CO.
The Trail Ridge Road is the highway that allows visitors into the Rocky Mountain National Park. Carved out of virgin land between 1928 and 1932, it is the highest continuous motorway in the United States, taking brave travelers on a twisting trail up to 12,200ft above sea level.
It’s not the M4, Readership.
Needless to say, Hawkeye was vibrating with the urge to try it. He is a true petrolhead, never happier than behind the wheel of a high-powered automobile. The White Buffalo has grunt to spare. She should be able to romp up those mountains with ease.
We started gently. You kind of have to. The road has more twists than a Gillian Flynn novel, and can be as exhausting to navigate. Frequent stops are a must. There are a multitude of pull-ins and viewing platforms, and it’s difficult not to stop at every one and fill your camera with stunning vistas that will absolutely not do the real thing justice.
That won’t stop us trying, though.
Close to the start of the trail, the Holzwirth Historic Site is a collection of homesteads and huts that made up one of the first tourist destinations in the park. Abandoned since the late 70s, they’re still worth a look, and the easy half-mile walk from the road to the site can offer surprises. We spotted a moose and baby grazing quietly on the outskirts of the site. We kept our distance. A female moose is over six feet tall at the shoulder, weighs up to 1600 pounds and can come at you at 35mph if she thinks you’re a threat to her calf.
We left the Historic Site behind, and rode the snake up into the mountains. The temperature began to drop. Gradually, we rose above the tree line, the spears of pines massed at the bases of the mountains now stabbing up at us rather than the gods in the blue Colorado sky.
At over 11,000 feet, the landscape changes. It becomes arctic tundra, a fragile ecosystem of lichens and tiny flowers. During the construction of the road immense care was taken to unsure that the delicate balance of life on the edge of a death-zone was preserved. Excavated rocks were carefully replaced lichen-side up, to give the minute yet desperately tenacious organisms clinging there every chance of survival.
Nothing else can live up at the top of the Trail Ridge Road. Scouring winds, little to no water and brutal extremes of temperature lock together to form a killer triptych of hostility to most forms of life. At Rock Cut, the highest stop-off, you’re at 12, 135 feet above sea level. A little over two miles high. And believe me, you feel it.
It’s cold up there. Twenty degrees cooler than back down at the lakes, where we started. And the air is much, much thinner. We took a little walk from Rock Cut up the Alpine Communities Trail, a half-mile amble, much the same distance as the one we’d taken to see the homesteads at Holzwirth. It was like walking through treacle. My head was spinning, and it got harder and harder to catch my breath.
We didn’t quite make the top of the trail. We stopped at a ring of rocks on a high ridge, a rough church of dark stone. One last pause to catch our breath, at something over 12, 200ft, the highest I had ever been without the benefit of a hurtling winged death-tube.
Then we called it quits. The skies were quickly clouding over, cloud-stacks taller than the mountains looming overhead, thick with rain. We stumbled down the hill, where The White Buffalo waited to bring us back down to earth.
Hawkeye wasn’t done. He wanted to spin back to one of the pull-ins and look for wildlife. Dude had a long lens with him, and he was busting to use it. Me, I was done. I was happy to stay put in our little shack by the Colorado River and cook up some ribs.
I also had another sort of trip in mind.
Back in Denver, we’d popped into River Run Cannabis, a modest little place in a strip mall two minutes from our Kalamath Avenue digs. A friendly and helpful young man answered all our questions and cheerfully sold us a selection of edibles to enjoy–gummies, fruit drops endorsed by Snoop Dogg and a tasty looking slab of white chocolate.
Recreational cannabis use is legal in Colorado, which had absolutely no bearing on our decision to visit the state, honest, guv. Legalization has brought a huge boost to income, and businesses are sprouting up everywhere. It seems like every town we’ve travelled through has a dispensary. Even sleepy, historic Georgetown had a place where we could drop in and pick up some CBD balm for Lady Red’s cricky neck (the excellently-named Sergeant Greenleaf). Although you still can’t buy with a credit card, every place we visited was smart and bright, and staff were almost evangelical in their eagerness to inform us.
More like this, please, and congratulations to Canada for seeing sense.
Meanwhile, back in the shack, with a huge rack of ribs mumbling into deliciousness in the oven and a bottle of God’s own nectar, AW Root Beer to hand, I popped a gummie. It tasted… awful. Synthetic, with a harsh, bitter edge. Chemical. Medicinal. There was no way of fooling myself that this was just a sweetie. I chewed, swallowed, and chased the dank aftertaste down with a swig of AW.
For the first half-hour, I was fine. Mellow, with a little hint of a buzz. I felt clean, focussed, happy. There was a Willie Nelson playlist pumping out on Spotify. This was good. This was working.
Fifteen minutes later, I tried standing up to tend to the ribs and found the process to be much more logistically challenging than normal. My brain was doing the backstroke in my skull, and I felt as if I was standing on the deck of a schooner at full sail in the teeth of a storm. I curled my toes to catch purchase on the rough jute carpet of the kitchen, and bit back a Bill-and-Ted-level ‘WOAH’.
Zero to zonked in under an hour. Impressive.
Did I keep it together? Readership, I did. I managed to cook dinner for five, engaged in reasonable conversation and kept the insane giggling fits down to an absolute minimum. Wrestling the slab of ribs out of the oven took more concentration than I’d normally expect, but it stayed off the floor, which was, under the circumstances, a pretty major achievement.
Sleep that night was punctuated with some very strange dreams. But I woke refreshed, and filled with a glow of enormous well-being and happiness.
More experimentation needed, obviously. And maybe sort out a Deliveroo next time.
(Addendum. Lady Red tried the treats on the evening before, and with her usual gung-ho attitude ate two sweets. A 20mg dose, four times the amount recommended for beginners.