A Day in Boulder and Denver

After a couple hours on the high plains, it was pitch dark when my girlfriend and I made it into Denver. We slinked our way through the quiet, unfamiliar streets to our friend’s house. The air felt thin – I could feel the elevation getting to me. It felt a bit better when we were out of the car, but a sense of lightheadedness remained. Our friends went to sleep (they were on a baby-schedule) and I took a short walk around the block. My brain felt scrambled from the day’s trip between Des Moines and Denver, reeling from my introduction the wide and landlocked plains. It is hard to put into words exactly how different it feels to be sandwiched in the middle of the huge continent than to hug the coasts as I had done my whole life living in New Jersey, and with visits by plane to family in Seattle. It was a sense that I had used the ocean as my compass most of my life, on either coast. Now in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains and the continental divide, my internal compass was now missing its true north. I could feel the vast distance between the ocean and I. 

It was difficult to sleep that night. The plan was to go cannabis shopping in the morning, and after a lifetime of living under prohibition, I was ready. I spent some time googling stores, looking at menus, desperate for some way to know ahead of time what I would be getting. In the end, any ideas I had that night were scrapped in favor of convenience, in the name of something else wonderful Colorado has to offer: food. Pretty much the entirety of the trip from upstate New York to Denver had been not worth mentioning in this department. It had mostly been a matter of surviving road food. Aside from a couple disappointing bar food experiences in Illinois and Ohio, we had basically been living off of fast food and packaged rest stop food. While like many, I have a soft spot for certain fast food once in a blue moon at two in the morning, this was not that kind of fast food experience. Instead it was repeatedly having to settle for any fast food around, repeatedly, and often in the clear light of day. My girlfriend, a vegetarian, had been suffering through it even worse than I had. She had done some research for our first meal in Denver.

Rupert’s at the Edge, in Edgewater, was the perfect kind of hearty yet refreshing breakfast to snap us out our fast food stupor. Not rushing to get back in the car, for the first time since leaving New York, we sat outside and absorbed the view of the lake across the street. Rupert’s claims Eggs Benedicts as a specialty, taking up their own portion of the menu - I ordered the Southwest Benedict and my girlfriend ordered an Eggs Benedict with avocado, hollandaise, red onion, and spinach. Not only were these the first fresh veggies we had access to since New York, but also our first avocado in the west. Since we had decided to go to California I had been describing the ocean of difference in avocado quality between the coasts. This difference was already clear in Colorado – fresh, rich, creamy perfect green avocados. In a move of pure inspiration, my southwest Benedict was served on a corn fritter with green chiles as opposed to an English muffin. The slightly grainy texture of the corn masa was perfect under the soft poached egg – both topped by tender pulled pork and spicy pico de gallo. Not only was it the freshest food we had on the road, it was the best food I’d had in months, and would start to reveal to us the staggering quality of breakfast food in the Rocky Mountains. 

In addition to this discovery, we noticed Northern Lights Cannabis Company two doors down from Rupert’s – all in a small strip mall that I was sure, if on the east coast, wouldn't have contained anything of interest. While Northern Lights hadn't come up in my research at all, we had plans in Boulder later that day and convenience was definitely a factor in the choice. Any research I’d figured out the night before went out the window - I took a quick look at the Yelp reviews, and decided to give it a try. 

I walked into a dark opaque storefront, to find a small room with a door and a desk. Someone checked my I.D and took my date of birth. Another customer checking in had a medical card that I learned would lead to lower prices once inside. There were 5 counters, behind each were dozens of different strains of cannabis and edibles including gummies, mints, and hard candies. A budtender with bleached blonde hair and an eyebrow piercing asked me what I was looking for in terms of my cannabis – I told him I was interested in something to reduce anxiety, as well as something good for going on a hike – both important functions for our road trip through Colorado. He showed me a Northern Lights #5 pure indica, especially for anxiety, that the store was named after. It smelled sweet with a pale green minty hue. For hiking, he suggested Bubble Gum, a hybrid good for an active day. This was more of a sour smell with a deep green color. Both had firm, dense buds. I had had my eye on some THC hard candy, but the budtender recommended gummies instead for a more reliable dosage and rate of release. As a lifelong fan of gummy candy, and sensitive to the unpredictable effects of edibles, I didn’t protest. An older woman customer came over who seemed to be a regular, noticing it was my first time in a dispensary, and I took the opportunity to ask what the clientele was like. They were proud to tell me a story of a big athletic guy who came in, nearly in tears, addicted to opiates and looking for a way to get off them and treat his chronic pain. The customer and the budtender were full of pride and positivity about the fundamental goodness of the endeavor of selling cannabis – that both recreationally and medically, it can change lives. I was impressed with my experience, which really lived up to my greatest expectations about what the new “cannabis industry” was really like.

Over the next days in Colorado, I really got a sense of my two strains, as well as the gummies. The Bubble Gum was nice, mellow and well rounded – but the Northern Lights #5 was my favorite – meditative, positive, and sedative. The gummies were some of the mellower more predictable edibles I had ever tried. Northern Light’s recommendations had been on point. 

We dropped off our two (now quite stressed out) cats at a fairly spacious hotel room just outside Boulder before going into town. Our time in Boulder was marked by run-ins with counterculture history, under the looming Rocky Mountain foothills. Our GPS mistakenly took us spiraling into the University of Colorado to Naropa College, a school founded by an exiled Tibetan monk with the help of beat writers such as Allen Ginsberg. Their poetry school is called the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, famous for its offbeat creativity and Buddhist spirituality. We turned off Siri and used the map old school to go explore the core of downtown, Pearl Street. Lightly yet colorfully fortified by my edible THC Gummies from Northern Lights, we explored Pearl Street’s many counterculture touchstones – a quirky bookstore focusing on the beat writers, and Tim Leary’s handprints in the sidewalk outside of a theater, which one of the Allman Brothers was playing that same night. The rest seemed like a blur of upscale yet generic looking restaurants and expensive boutiques.

Pearl Street, once clearly a hub of counterculture activity, now seemed like mostly a playground for the wealthy families of college students. What was clearly a place with a history significant to artistic counterculture was now filled with tourist boutiques selling overpriced, vaguely hippie-ish arts and crafts. The cleanliness and upscale feeling were also darkened by a fairly abundant homeless presence. It was hard not to imagine that twenty years ago, before the upticks in rent that had led to these changes – just like in New York and San Francisco – if some of these homeless people couldn’t have afforded a place to live. It was a dark side to gentrification, and a problem I had already encountered on both coasts. Nonetheless, we walked up and down Pearl street, had decent Mexican food, and enjoyed the atmosphere after days on the desolate plains – as well as enjoying simply not being in the car for a whole day. Boulder was beautiful and possessed a vitality of cultural life we had not seen at all on the road. More importantly, I was now armed with medical grade cannabis products, which during our time in Colorado, reduced stress and greatly improved the quality of my sleep – the Northern Lights # 5 in particular. The next day we would make our way through the Rocky Mountains and then the deserts of the southwest, a daunting prospect, but for our day in Boulder I didn’t stress about what was ahead.