It was in the hills of the beautiful Colorado Rockies that we once again woke up. A flatland laid before us, as we had spent the night before at the foot of boulders and stone. Each one of us had spent the night in a hammock, in odd spots due to the sparse trees. I looked over at Erich’s, and the two thin trees he managed to find were both bending inwards upon him. I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, did my business in some bushes nearby, and rustled the others awake.
The air was brisk this morning, with a nip of cold that slowly got warmer as the sun slowly began to climb from it’s nest behind the mountains. On a small rock, I set up the stove, and we all proceeded to break down packets of oatmeal and eat ravenously a quick breakfast. The neighbors, a few sparse cars and RV’s, were oddly quiet, with seemingly no souls on this planet but our own here in the mountains. The only sounds were the breaking of branches as we stepped on them, and the sweet, beautiful sound of the wind curving through the mountains and trees to our ears.
Once again, the car was stuffed with all sorts of our odds and ends that we had taken out, in that careful, perfect way where everything fit just perfectly, without anything having to slide around and crush the unfortunate soul that had to squeeze in the back with all the bits and pieces of our temporary home. That odd smell of feet, dirt, and high-power cannabis lifted from the car as Hayden took the wheel, and sent us careening around the small dirt loop before coming onto the pavement and familiar hum of the rubber on the blacktop of civilization.
The road up to our campsite was seated deep in the rockies, as we nearly had to drive forty five minutes before seeing a resemblance of a town, and this was merely just by the highway. But the road was short of anything of boring. The brown hills rolled on by, majestic turrets of rock, stone and time before us. Each curve sat easily upon the precipice of a deadly drop, with the luscious curves long enough to tackle at uneasy speed that gave the driver an ecstasy of nirvana and feeling. Abandoned coal mines and the facades of times past rolled on by, their windows long abandoned and the doors long shuttered. The cabins of those wealthy enough to live in the hills sat tucked away beyond long pavement paths, with signs yelling “NO TRESPASSING” for all those attempting to see what laid beyond the curve that only one man was permitted to see, and the rest not. There is truly anything unlike the small state roads of the Rockies, something absolutely serene, peaceful, and dangerous all at once, laid in the plush hills and jagged canyons and rocks of Colorado. A feast for the soul. A celebration for the eyes. A treat for man and woman alike, waiting endlessly for those lucky souls to tread upon its beat blacktop paths.
Erich, Hayden and I were on a rendezvous today with an old friend of Hayden’s, Joe. We met up with this cat down on the side of the road in the curves and twists of the outer Rockies. He came out of his beat up Chevy Trailblazer, a bed in the back propped up, with some paddleboards laying on top of it. Warm smiles greeted us, his curly black hairs twisting this way and that, long flowing black hair reaching on down to his chest, and dark shades obscuring the eyes behind them, but not the stretching smile of a man that lived with little means, but was happy with them.
He took us on down some red, dusty dirt roads to a boat launching dock where we spent a little time pumping up the paddleboards and shooting the wind and smoking a joint and smiling in the beauty of the sun that caressed not only our skin, but our absolute soul. Hayden sat back and snapped some pictures of all of us just getting down and enjoying the moment. Joe smiled on. I did too.
We left our car parked at another boat launch down the river, before driving back to our one, and getting the paddle boards in the water. Footing was hard at first. What had looked so easy to the eye now became challenging, as I practiced with some feet positionings here and there before relying on the long-time skateboard approach I had been using for many years. Erich spent some time on his knees before getting back on his feet, and soon enough, we all began to paddle down this stretch of the Colorado river. The current was a slow, meandering one, dancing occasionally, and even pirrouting in mad dances occasionally. Though the rapids were certainly nothing absolutely horrendous, they were a challenge nonetheless. The first set of rapids I saw shook me, and I got down on my knees and rode down the thing so I would not dip into the water. Erich and Hayden followed suit.
However, for the next set, we decided to embolden ourselves a little bit. I once again assumed my skateboarding stance, with both my feet facing outwards to the right, and took the rapid head on. I put a slight bend in my knee, and attempted to ford the thing. Little time was spent as the the shake and the tumble of the waves had me sputtering out water in a split second. I did not hit any rocks as I fell, but the cold Colorado water shook me awake. I eventually became used to the water over time, but that first foray into the water really took my breath away. Hayden attempted the thing on his feet as well, and cruised on down easily with a big smile on his face and hoots and hollers from me, Erich, and Joe.
All was well underneath that smiling sun. We spent the next four hours cruising down that stretch of sweet, sweet water. The rapids continued to bounce and bounce, and eventually I learned to ‘jump’ and bend my feet with the rapids instead of just balancing with my bent knees. It was an odd dance, but one that got easier with each rapid. I continued to fall into the water here and there, but now enjoying the cool current as it washed over my body, and carried me down the rest of the rapids before I got back on and tried again down the next current.
We stopped for a second on a river bank to smoke a joint. Joe pulled out the pre roll from a tube, and looked at me for a lighter, as I pulled it from my soaked pants to the frowns of everyone around me. Blasted! We shook and and shook the thing, trying to shake the water out of it. We blew on the top, hoping to blow it out. Nevertheless, nothing would work. Upon this riverbank, finding solace in the shade, I came upon the idea to use Erich’s glasses to try and light the thing. The sun was absolutely blazing that day, casting caustic waves of heat to those not under a tree, nor baptized in the cool current of water. We sat huddled around for five minutes, trying to adjust the sun to hit the tip of the joint, before calling it a day. As we walked back to the paddleboards on the bank in defeat, I tried the light a few more times. It sputtered and flickered, and eventually a flame was met. I called Joe over, and awash with glee and light, he lit the thing, and we passed it around, engrossing ourselves in the warm feeling that only cannabis can deliver.
So we got back on the paddleboards, and continued down what was almost Marlboro country. Plateaus of red, dusty rock with spots of vegetation were around us, with the twist of a railroad track passing by with some freight on it next to us. It was quiet for the most part. We continued on down the rapids, and during a particularly boring section of water, we met up with some kind folks on a large pontoon boat. They offered us a drink, we offered them some pot, they offered us some pot in return, and all was good. We smoked on the thing for a bit before getting on our paddleboards and continuing down the bends and curves of the world. We passed by humble hunters, fishing for something in the water in their plat jackets and grey vests, with small, genuine smiles passed our way as we cruised on by. We passed by a lady with her bulldog standing purposefully between her legs, braving the rapids without a care in the world. We passed by all sorts of smiles, faces, and places. It was a blur, these quick four hours. I wish I had another four.
Joe was saying something earlier about how there is monsoon weather in the hills of this place. Sure enough, he was not doubted, as black clouds began climbing down the valley. Bits and pieces of white thundered down the valley as we watched with wide eyes. We came upon a boat launch, where we deflated the paddleboards, and Joe and Hayden left to get the other car. Erich and I waited there in the dust of the beach, watching the monsoon come closer and closer to us. Out of nowhere, an absolutely powerful wind ripped through the air, and kicked up immense clouds of sand and dust that stung the skin. I was in some brush that managed to buffer some of the stinging sand, and I looked over at Erich, knelt over in the dust of the beach, with sand whipping all around him in a haze of brown and yellow. Painful as it looked, he still managed to look up at me with this maddening smile of “Is this really happening right now?”. It was as if a tornado was about to lift us into the sky I called over for him to come up to where I was, and we both hunkered down in the brush, still getting pelted with bits of sand here and there, but much less painful as it was on the beach. We sat there for a few more minutes before the wind died down, exchanged some words about the madness of what just happened, laughed, smiled, and walked briskly back down to the boat launch. Now the rain came coming down. It was cool, and not bothering us, but Erich and I regardless found the shelter of a nearby bathroom, standing under the awning of it as we watched the rains dance through the air and lay upon the hills and gullies of the place.
Hayden and Joe eventually came back, down the patchwork of road made out of the bits of rocks. Joe once more, with his burly smile, thanked us for coming along with him down a nice little easy piece of river. We thanked him once more for letting us join him. Hugs all around. Laughs. Smiles. The usual course. We hoped one day to come across his path, and likewise. We once more got back in the car, and went on down the highways and roads of America that we had been living on, and grown accustomed to. Once more, at home, on the blacktops and the dust, and the gravel, and the concrete, of Rocky America.