The Mountain that Told Me to Buzz Off | by Warren Goldie
First Person Essay
Mountains do not like people.
That sounds extreme, I know. But hear me out before you make up your mind.
I lived in Boulder, Colorado from 2004 through 2009. Though Colorado is one of the most beautiful of U.S. states, the alpine experience didn’t fully agree with me. That said, I wouldn’t trade what happened there there for anything in the world. In particular, I’m referring to little known yet notably curious oddities concerning mountains. They are not at all what you think.
The Rocky Mountains draw legions of very physically fit humans — such as the hikers who wear T-shirts bearing the slogan, “Sea level is for Sissies” — who will claim, or assume, to have a relationship with the mountains. But the fact is, they simply don’t hear very well. Otherwise they’d know better. It is not their fault. They are not equipped to receive the kinds of messages the mountains send out.
To them, the Rockies are beautiful and awe inspiring locales in which to sport. But to those of us who truly know what’s going on, it is another story. A dark and sinister one.
The mountains, if the truth be told, are narcissistic. They are haughty and self-congratulatory. A mountain is like a striking and unattainable woman who refuses to give of herself simply because she will never run out of options. And, I can assure you, each and every one of the fifty-five 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado is rude. One day I sensed Long’s Peak, a devastatingly gorgeous forteener, telling me to fuck off. And I was not even standing on it.
The problem is, we have been admiring them too long. They know this. Which is why they take for granted their beauty and have little understanding of the way it affects others.
As I said, I lived in Boulder, in the shadow of the Rockies. Boulder, as a town, is ideally suited for two kinds of people: 1) well-to-do young couples with children, and 2) a certain kind of athlete including skiers, cyclists, hikers, climbers and runners. I have envied the physiology of the latter type on many occasions. These seemingly wholesome folks, few people realize, spend their exercise-laden days as high as crack addicts, gorging on one endorphin tidal wave after another.
Not fitting into either category, I sometimes didn’t know what to do with myself in Boulder. So when my buddy Tom offered to loan me his Suzuki 350 dual sport road and dirt motorcycle, I rushed out and got a license for it.
I rode the purple-and-white fun machine two glorious summers, motoring up into the canyons and backroads and endless dirt capillaries that snake through the Rockies. I sped along the Peak to Peak highway from Nederland to Estes Park with the sun at my back, jaw-dropping views at every angle and the wind sandblasting my face, creating a hair phenomenon that was truly frightening. I was a white Don King.
I traveled as many roads and trails as I could find. Bumping or speeding along, forgetting for a spell my life down at 5,430 feet, I let my mind mingle with the terrain. Often I would pull over and cut the engine and sit or stand in the total quiet. Sometimes I’d spot an interesting trail and veer onto it and ride as far as I could, or dared, go.
I saw the beauty. I felt the majesty. Secretly I listened to their spare exchanges. But even as I began to open up to them, I had the impression they were lying in wait.
One afternoon they hit me with a torrential downpour and I rode grimacing in the knife-pelts of rain until I could take it no longer. I pulled over, dropped the bike and crouched under a friendly tree until I was able to ride back down, sopping wet and freezing cold.
Their consciousness, of course, is far different than ours. It operates at a wavelength that is difficult to find, like a radio station that isn’t, say, 87.5 or 91.1 but more like 85.2234. But find it I did.
On the Peak to Peak, there were always other riders. There is a hand signal bikers give to one another, in some ways not unlike the subtle, unspoken acknowledgement that New Yorkers or Parisians exchange, that here we are, together in this, the greatest place on planet Earth. The wave goes like this: You lower your left hand down and point your index and middle fingers toward the road surface. Very casual.
You must only do this to riders of bikes similar to your own. A smaller 350 cc bike rider like me, for instance, would never sign to a passing Harley. Personally, I believe that the message in the sign is this: The mountain hasn’t gotten me, either.
But my body didn’t fancy the thin air of Colorado. In Boulder and Denver, at about a mile above sea level, the air contains 17 percent less oxygen than the sissyfied air at sea level. I liked that extra bit of O2.
So, in August 2009, I decided it was time to head out, or rather, down, the mountain. I drove my heavy and listing Altima west out of Boulder, down Rt. 93, up Rt. 70, and into the Rockies toward Utah.
Listening to the Counting Crows belt out roadworthy tunes, I mentally asked the peaks for permission to leave. I am not kidding. As I passed Silverthorne and Vail and Glenwood Canyon, I complimented them on their majestic sights — true indeed. And I drove very, very carefully.
Rocketing down the western slope, I realized that I’d become jaded. One gorgeous alpine village had started to look like the next. The moment I passed the Welcome to Utah sign, I pulled over, got out and silently thanked the terrain. Then, turning away, I couldn’t resist a little fist pump. Not rubbing it in, mind you; just an acknowledgement of making it.
* * *
There exists on this puzzling globe of ours myriad varieties of the human animal. One can wonder if we don’t derive from wholly different inter-dimensional origins. When I think about those folk pedaling their bicycles along the Boulder creek path or ascending the trails of the fourteeners, I sense that they are fundamentally different from me.
There is no judgment in this. It is like considering the difference between yourself and a person from another culture. It’s all good and maybe even what this place is really about. Perhaps we are all at the Mos Eisley cantina of the first Star Wars movie, enjoying cocktails with every kind of creature imaginable, discussing business, lamenting woes, or just hanging out. Maybe the point is to be okay with that. Or revel in it.
I lived among the Coloradans in their unique terrain. I learned from them. I wish them all good things in a place that is at once gorgeous and forbidding, home to strange and unmoving beings, and definitely like no other.