I love my backpacking friends, but they drive me crazy sometimes. We’ve been doing this for 25 years, after all.
During a weeklong trip every year, we hit the trail to some of North America’s most beautiful wilderness areas. It’s fun, but it’s intense. We’ve listened to each other’s disgusting bodily functions far too often, and know each other’s eccentricities as well as married couples do.
My eccentricity? I’m a worrier. I worry we have too much food, too little food, not the right kind of food. I worry about the difficulty of the trip, that we’ll have bad weather, that we’ll have a horrible time. But mostly, I worry about Ken.
Ken is our neediest group member.
He can’t eat anything with garlic, he says, because it makes him sick. He won’t eat oatmeal, he says, because it’s disgusting. He gets overheated easily. He has chronically sore feet. And an aching back. And shoulders prone to dislocation. I want to be empathic, but it’s hard not to roll your eyes when you hear about one of Ken’s new afflictions.
“You really are a delicate little flower,” I told him during a 2004 hike in the Goat Rocks Wilderness of Washington state. Every year since, I’ve said it again—not always in the kindest way. Which brings us to this year.
This year marks our 25th year of hiking together. We’ve been to the Olympics, the Canadian Rockies, the Sawtooths, the Beartooths, the Sierras, the Appalachian Trail. And for this year, we decided on something special: To visit Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.
To go along with this special trip, I decided it was high time for an experiment … in getting high.
I’ve long thought that cannabis makes me more easygoing, so why not get stoned while backpacking? Why not see if being stoned takes away my trail angst and made me be more accepting of Ken (and of all my hiking partners)?
Of course, the experiment carried the added benefit of being high in one of America’s most beautiful national parks. Who wouldn’t jump at that chance?
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My plan was to bring edible cannabis products. Of course, pot is not legal in national parks, but I was betting that the rangers in Colorado had better things to do than bust a 60-year-old backpacker. Edible products, I reasoned, were an under-the-radar way of getting high anyway, so there was little chance of running afoul of the law.
Our group needed some time to acclimate to Colorado’s elevation before starting our backpacking trip, so I opted to drive from Seattle and set up a base camp at Glacier Basin, on the eastern side of the park, while the others would fly into Denver. We would spend two nights at the car campground before backpacking from west to east across the park along the Continental Divide Scenic Trail.
I had the chicken cooking on the campfire and the beer on ice when my four friends pulled up, fresh off the airplane. Ken looked at me sadly, shaking his head.
“No carbonation,” he said when I offered him a beer. “I’m having trouble burping.”
I thought, “Here we go again.”
Luckily, I had been preparing for the group’s arrival by sipping on a Rainier cherry-flavored Legal Soda from Mirth Provisions, which contained a 10-milligram dose of THC. It was just starting to kick in. While Ken described a disturbing new problem with his back, I nodded sympathetically, said, “That’s too bad, buddy,” and served dinner.
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A day later, it was off to the west side of the park via picturesque Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous highway in the US, to the Onahu Trailhead to begin our backpacking adventure. In contrast to its crowded car campgrounds, Rocky Mountain National Park’s backcountry trails are gorgeous and marvelously empty. We arrived at our secluded campsite beside an exquisite waterfall in high spirits. All of us, that is, except Ken, who dragged far behind. He labored into camp, took off his pack and collapsed into his tent.
I popped three 5-milligram doses of Swifts sour drops and as the afternoon turned to evening, the cannabis took effect and I felt increasingly happy about being deep in wilderness, away from the crowds. I was so happy, I checked on Ken.
“I feel sick,” he said weakly from inside the tent. I patiently coaxed him to eat dinner and hoped for better things the next day. But in the morning, all was quiet in Ken’s tent. The rest of us had already eaten breakfast when he finally emerged.
“I have to quit,” Ken said dramatically. “I’m not having any fun. And I feel like I’m holding you guys up.” He looked pale and said he hadn’t slept at all during the night. After a little debate, it was agreed, but it felt odd. Ken had been on every trip for 25 years, and this was the first time he was dropping out. “I’m sorry, Kenny,” I told him as he left. “Feel better.”
Onward Across the Divide
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For the next three days, we hiked along the Continental Divide Scenic Trail, with gorgeous views of the western slope of the Rockies gradually cresting at more than 12,000 feet. Each evening, I had 10-milligram THC doses of Illuminations hard candies from Verdelux. At one campsite, near a beautiful meadow, a moose rambled past our tents. At another campsite in a high basin, the setting sun turned the snowscape pink as a meltwater-filled stream rushed nearby. Several times a day, I found myself saying, “I wonder how Ken is?” Or, “I wish Kenny could see this!” Through it all, I stayed angst-free and Rocky Mountain high.
So yes, the experiment was a success. I managed to let go of my worrying ways, drop any petty irritations, and stay in the moment, enjoying Colorado’s incomparable beauty in a happy new way.
On our last day, as we crossed the Continental Divide, we briefly had cellphone reception. I quickly called Ken to see how he was doing. He had recovered nicely, he said.
“That’s great, Kenny,” I said with a mellow smile. “Can’t wait to see you again.”