NOTE: I wrote this in April, 2006, before I moved to Cleveland and learned to appreciate Ohio.
Ever since my aunt and uncle moved to Boulder over ten years ago, I'd been dying to venture out to Colorado. Ohio has an uncanny way of sucking people's soul from them, and I was drawn to the idea of the mountains, being at least 5,000 feet closer to the sun, as opposed to almost always being beneath a layer of clouds that keep the sun hidden more often than not.
In early 2005, I saw the best excuse ever: there was supposed to be some grand memorial celebrating the life and work of the great Hunter S. Thompson, one of my all-time heroes and favorite writer. I even managed to get in touch with Douglas Brinkley, who was taking care of publicity at the time. "Not sure of details," he told me near the middle of April, "but something will be going on August 22-23… Probably conference, cannon blast, much, much more."
That was all I needed to hear, and that very day, I booked tickets to fly out to Colorado. Of course, a few weeks after that, news spread that things had changed; the Memorial was no longer going to be the wild and public gala touted by the Thompson family. Which made sense, since quite frankly, having it public to begin with was a shocking notion, albeit one I certainly looked forward to. The potential of thousands of freaks all excited about Hunter Thompson, pilgrimaging to Woody Creek and getting twisted in the spirit of Gonzo, seemed like too much for the small town to handle.
Nevertheless, my tickets could not be refunded...not that I would have done so anyway. I was going to the mountains, and I was going to watch Hunter Thompson's ashes get blasted into the air.
I threw myself into high gear, working out and getting into proper shape. By the time August rolled around, I was in the best physical condition I had ever been. Then, about a week before we were to fly out of Cleveland and into Denver, I felt a strange tickling in my throat, which rapidly crawled down into my lungs. I knew it all too well, but tried to fight it off, drinking cranberry juice and Airborne in obscene amounts.
But it was no use, and the day before our flight was scheduled to leave, I accepted that I had bronchitis. The sick irony is that I had quit smoking cigarettes months before, which I had assumed was the main culprit of my annual attacks of this rotten affliction. I now suspect that the air in Ohio is utterly contaminated, and in the next few years, the public will be made aware of ghastly and ruthless things in the atmosphere above this mudhole.
To hell with breathing- I went to Colorado.
The following morning, we made our way from Boulder to Woody Creek, stopping off in Frisco to snag my cousin. We had it made that weekend- a nice place to stay in Glenwood Springs, a car, and nothing on the agenda more important than the Memorial.
It was around noon when we took that turn off 82, and down to the legendary Woody Creek Tavern. While I was surprised that there weren't all too many freaks roaming around, I was more impressed with the food at the Tavern. The burgers were just what a suffocating lad needed. It was also there that I tasted my first (of many) delicious Imperial Porter.
More striking was the general…I don't know, some mystical sensation floating about the air. It wasn't all glitzy or blinged out; this was a small town, where most everyone seemed to just be happy and grounded, sitting on the patio enjoying yet another beautiful, sunny afternoon in the mountains. Naturally, it seemed they were all slightly eager about the Event, for tales of large explosions planned to go off at sunset in their backyards is a hard thing to ignore.
But there was no attitude of superiority, despite the handful of folks wandering around who were obviously not from the area. I even swallowed my pride, and where I would normally do my best not to seem like a tourist, striving to not draw attention to myself, I felt this was a time where I should where my "Fear and Loathing" t-shirt. Even so, not one person gave me a dirty look, and the bartender even complimented my attire.
We lingered around for a while, debating about climbing over the ridge in front of the Tavern, and finding a way to sneak a closer spot to the Memorial. Alas, every minute or so, we'd see men in suits and glasses walking what we assumed to be the perimeter of Owl Farm. The papers were right this time, it seemed, as security was incredibly tight on this event.
So, we drove back out to 82, and it was then that we first saw that great Tower, covered in a purple shroud, looking like some great phallic shrine. Although I saw no mention of this in the press, you had to think that Thompson was looking down on this, and laughing his ass off. This structure that costs a large amount of money and time to build, with all the preparation and precaution and madness throughout the press, and it nevertheless resembled a 153-foot-tall penis. A righteous penis, to be sure, be a penis nonetheless.
We found our spot, and decided to roam around Aspen for a while, since we were there. You can tell what kind of town you're in when the police cars are pristine Saabs, by the way.
Night grew closer, so we shot back up 82 to our vantage. There was only a few people there, so I guess all the warnings in the press had worked, and discouraged most from coming out. But not us; even as the sun began to fade behind the mountains, I was still debating about hurrying back over to Owl Farm, for a closer, proper look at this grand Memorial. I wasn't going to sneak in and harass anyone; I was hoping to stake out a nearby hill, and simply watch the blast up close. Respect, I guess, kept me at bay. Anita and Juan had made earnest wishes about privacy, and there was no way I could actually permit myself to dishonor that...even if I firmly believe that Hunter would have figured out a way to sneak in.
For a moment, as the sky grew dark, the Monument almost disappeared from our view, but it quickly started to glow, as the lights on the peyote button started to radiate. Then the tarp was pulled, and the world was finally shown the total design.
Some of the cats near us had a spotter's scope, and they let us see the thing up close. It was a beautiful construction, every bit we had imagined it would be and more. It seemed to linger there for a great and exciting eternity, but then an explosion of fireworks blasted into the sky, lighting everything up, and pounding all about the Valley. We could feel the roars as far away as we were, thumping our bones until every hair on our flesh was on end. BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
There is no way of properly describing how amazing it feels to have paid witness to such a historical event. So I won't even try.
The next day, we went climbing around the mountains. At several points in the hike, my bronchitis grew overwhelming, and although I pushed on, I truly felt that I was about to die right there, on the side of Sunlight Mountain. That was fine by me, I thought. This is where I want to end up.
Saturday, April 1, 2006