American Update: The Mountains

After stocking up on the necessities from Walmart (beer, jello, hot dogs), we headed up to the mountains to camp.

I knew Denver was pretty high altitude wise already – it having the ‘mile high city’ moniker, but I just assumed that the Highlands would be able to rival the height of the peaks here.

Apparently not.

In fact, the city of Denver itself is around 1000 feet higher than Ben Nevis – the tallest mountain in the UK. Uhmm. Wow.

In relative terms the Highlands are still high. After all, when you begin at such a massive elevation above sea level, even a bump in the road is going to be ridiculously tall, but still.

It wasn’t till Caroline pointed out how difficult it was to breathe that I realised it was down to the altitude we were at. Along with feeling my heart-beat thumping away, I genuinely thought that I was simply ridiculously unfit, but after hearing her panting away as well, I realised just what a difference the elevation actually makes.

We joined some of Natalie’s friends who headed up earlier in the day to set up the camp. The whiskey came out, and as the fire burned away, we had ‘chips’ (crisps) and cigars.

Whilst the whole experience was fairly American, there was an element that seemed to resonate with something from back home. It could well be that there’s more in common between the Western American cultures and our own Celtic roots than I had thought before… the relationship with the land and nature, the communal drinking and eating. It was both new and familiar, and pretty comfortable.

The same sort of thing applied to the presence of the guns. The guys had a fair few rifles on them that were to ward off any bears should they show their grizzly faces around in search for our tasty snacks (or blood). This was something that instinctively I feel uncomfortable with, but in reality was quite different to what I’d expected.

Instead of having them lying about or on show, the guns were all wrapped up and in cases and out of sight, and not treated as just some macho accessory. It struck me that whilst it can be easy to dismiss and condemn the ‘right to bear arms’ when you come from a culture with no experience of it, the issue takes on a different light when considered in relation to the environment. When you have the risk of mountain lions and bears crashing in to your campsite, it becomes slightly more important to be able to defend yourself. In Scotland the biggest thing we have to fear (apart from the haggis that run about the hills, as I told the Americans) is each other.

The same thing can be applied to the abundance of trucks and large cars over here. It’s easy to blast them as indescriminate and unnecessary depleters of the ozone layer, but when you see the steep and rocky terrain that the roads in Colorado that people have to negotiate at times, it feels stupid to adopt a stance requiring everybody to drive a 1L Corsa. I’ve driven up a few steep hills near Beauly, and there’s no chance my little vehicle would survive long round here.

These examples are obviously very particular to their circumstances, but when we criticise Americans for their seemingly blanket attitude towards the rest of the world, we probably need to make sure we don’t make sweeping assumptions and statements ourselves.

We didn’t actually see any bears, or mountain lions, or any other ferocious creatures, but after carefully locking up all the food to avoid the scents attracting any wildlife during the night, we discovered this box of Cheez-Its empty and covered in saliva on the ground.

Sure, it could just have been the dogs, but I’m going to say it was a bear.

Me and Caroline kipped in the back of one of the cars, which was one of the more comfortable camping experiences I’ve had. Saying that, the alarm of the pickup truck behind us going off at 4am with lights and horns didn’t exactly fill me with confidence. I was convinced a bear had attacked them and that we’d be next. It was probably just after the Cheez-Its.

Stupid Sign of the Day:

“In case of floods, climb to safety.”


It’s nice having the gang back together.


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