Jerry Garcia had once said in a Rolling Stone interview that following the Grateful Dead on the road is “one of the last adventures in America.” The Dead’s fans, the Deadheads, are the purveyors and seekers of this adventure. To busk for money, to travel to cities unknown, to go to places that perhaps you would have never visited before; is truly an adventure. Few experiences offer such a nomadic romance anymore. Hitting the road and simply traveling to wherever the band goes is an experience all within itself.
Growing up, the Grateful Dead never came into my life until my college years, where I would find myself blowing glass to some upbeat ‘77 shows, or busting out papers and reports to Brent’s belting and powerful vocals in the late 80’s. Listening to these shows, I often would think how this wondrous experience of living on the road was long gone. How that, never again in my life, would I be able to travel city to city, with the simple goal of getting into the next concert. I would even base a whole project for my graphic design class, mapping out the routes from city to city in summer of 1989, all the while envisioning a nostalgic experience that I never had, and never would. But winter came in 2016, and Dead & Company announced a summer tour, spanning the United States coast to coast, sea to shining sea. How quickly a summer can change with some tour dates being announced is unbelievable.
That’s how I found myself in the middle of Kansas, on a seemingly endless road, guzzling down my fourth coffee that day, and losing track of how many cigarettes have already perished through my lungs. Along with my road companion, Erich, we had left Cleveland early at nine in the morning that day, with the goal of reaching Denver in two days. With caffeine and nicotine, and the occasional dose of cannabis surging through us, we thought: fuck it, we can make it in one day. Each sip of coffee was met with a grimace as the taste grew more and more morbid with each sip, only offset by the taste of tobacco. Erich laid sleeping as I pushed through the seemingly never changing landscape of the state.
We blew through Columbus, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Kansas city without even giving as much as a blink or a passing thought to the hopes and dreams and the lives of the people living in these cities. Only the road ahead, with several hundred miles still to Denver, mattered. The slow tick of the odometer, the singing of the engine, the wind brushing over and under provided the soundtrack. The intermittent conversation was had, but less and less as we grew more and more slumberous, as the road and our thoughts narrowed towards our destination.
Sirius XM provided another soundtrack, that of the Grateful Dead, to be my other faithful companion. It provided a soundtrack, the inspiration, the drive for this journey that we had embarked on. The darkness was eventually beat back by the force of light, as a mosaic of purple and grey began to paint the skies around me. A lonely ‘Terrapin Station’ hummed through the car as I had lit another cigarette, with our vehicle seemingly being the only one in the state as I continued to gas towards Denver. Exhale after exhale, and the of the continuing road ahead beat back the concept of the minute and hour hand as I saw something that gave me a rare feeling of ecstasy and adrenaline on a lone drive; a sign reading ‘Welcome to Colorado.’
The rolling hills were draped with color, a masterpiece that only nature could paint. Swathes of purple and pink rolled on towards a grey sky, with the clouds in the distance hiding the outlines of mountains. Lush fields, empty save for the occasional fence, were quickly being drawn on both sides of us. The morning dew had painted a vibrant and breathing landscape that was fleeting from us.
We finally arrived that morning at a small iHop, feeling like death was nearly upon us. We walked in, looking dirty, battered, beat, and smelling like cigarettes and joints. We quickly rejected an order of coffee, ordered pancakes, ate, and left. Few words can explain how sometimes how pancake batter made in a skillet had changed our entire moods. The race was on. It was only nine in the morning, with the alien thought that Ohio was a mere yesterday. Unfortunately, the sleep card was not in our favor that day, as we agreed we didn’t want to sleep all day and be awake all night. So we got right to it and headed to a dispensary.
With a quick seventy-five dollars, we had bought some high power cannabis, along with soda’s, powerful edibles, and a vape pen. Our luck and attitude had now changed from a sleep deprived one, to one filled with excitement as we were making our way towards the mountains. As we were driving that way, I took a couple hits of the vape pen and started questioning slowly if I should be driving, so I laid it off and gave it to Erich. On the whole way up to the park, a near two hours, Erich was steady puffing on the pen. He huffed and he huffed, and continued to inhale the sweet sativa that was giving him initial excitement but slowly putting him to sleep. He proceeded to lay shut his eyes and slept for the last twenty minutes.
The mountains were stunning, with the snowfall of the past winter still clinging on like a white jacket. The snow only parted its way for man’s interruption of snow plows and roads, and large rolling clouds poured down from the mountains. It was raw power and sheer humbling quiet. The dead of the winter snow provided no soundtrack of the harping of birds or the whistle of tree’s as we had just listened too; only raw noise. Uncut, dead, unfiltered silence.
A hike followed shortly, only a simple one due to our lack of snow boots and any gear really for the snow apart from our jackets. Packed trails lined the various crags and hills, and we hiked nearly a mile to reach the trail’s waterfall. A step off the trail plummeted you to snow up to your waist, with occasional stumbles here and there, paired with the anxious feeling of vertigo as Earth makes every attempt to swallow you. Erich was slowly slugging it in the back, dragging his feet, and looking with dumbfounded awe at the whitewashed landscape. The pen had taken my friend, as his sentences became slow, and breaks being taken every few minutes so Erich could catch up.
Following the hike, we drove a few minutes down the road o a restaurant that was nearby (Erich napped those short few minutes that we had) and ate a quick meal to freshen ourselves for the drive back. I drove once more, taking a hold of the wheel while Erich busted out another quick nap. We eventually found ourselves in Denver, with a room booked at a grimy Howard Johnson hotel for a cool fifty, oddly connected with a Chinese Restaurant that was inside of it. No sooner than had we left the desk did we pass out. We smoked a quick bowl, and went to bed, knowing that more was to come, as we had only begun our adventure a short day ago. Welcome to Colorado, indeed.