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Getting high and climbing the Incline — invigorating, miserable or both?


  • Nick Morales
Research on the subject of cannabis as a performance enhancer is inconclusive, so it’s time for me to conduct some of my own independent “research.” I think I’ll start with the Manitou Incline — because really, what’s more Colorado than smoking a bowl before climbing a massive set of stairs up the face of a mountain?

So, turns out there’s is something more Colorado: all that, plus snow. It’s April 1, so naturally, it’s snowing. I could adjust my plans and sit this one out, but I must see this through. You know, for science.

I tentatively invite my friend and soon-to-be partner in suffer- ing, a local teacher and musician, to join me on this masochistic hike. Much to my surprise, she agrees enthusiastically, so we down a protein-rich snack and set out.

It is 5:58 p.m. We finally find the parking lot, after some struggle. This is my first time up the Incline, which compounds my unease about the snow.

A couple quick Google searches turn up posts of people bragging about their completion times, informing me that 30 minutes is a good time, 20 minutes is for world-class athletes, and Average Joes like me can usually finish it in around 40 to 50 minutes.

I relay that information to my friend who is distracted, as we just smoked two very large bowls of a weed dubbed “Green Crack” My local budtender, Chloe, upon hearing what I planned to do, laughed about how miserable it would be. She then proceed- ed to tell me about a friend who was into getting high and then working out at the Olympic Training Center. He was really into Durban Poison apparently, but that strain wasn’t in stock, so Chloe suggested I go with Green Crack — another sativa with similarly uppity-go-get-’em feels.

At 6:07 p.m., I look up at the snow-covered evergreens lining the ominous staircase that seems to ascend into the clouds. I take a deep breath as I start my stopwatch, and we begin our journey.

Not so bad at first. My throat feels raw, having been seared by hot smoke directly before doing aerobic exercise, but at the same time I feel like I’m having no trouble breathing at all. Air just flowing in and out. Nothing to it. Maybe this won’t be as treacherous as people make it out to be. We’re both keeping a good pace while keeping up (an albeit labored) conversation. Our heart rates aren’t all that high, for now.

  • Nick Morales
Soon we encounter our first fellow hiker — a bearded mountain man in a red-checked flannel, hiking down the trail with his dog. Is he a caricature lumberjack or just a normal dude? We smile, say “hello,” and he gives us a mean glare and passes by without a word. I wonder where his chill went, glancing down at my stop- watch. We’ve been at this for four minutes and 20 seconds. Can’t make this stuff up, folks. I chuckle, then realize that means we aren’t even five minutes into this beast. It is way too early to start drawing conclusions about the ease of this hike.

When the stopwatch reads 15:55, I feel myself starting to get into a rhythm. My heart rate is definitely climbing because I’m having to take deeper and longer breaths. Our conversation thins out.

At 19:05 it appears that everything we’ve done so far has been child’s play. The stairs are getting much steeper now, so our pace has slowed. But, according to both my stopwatch and self-image as a moderately in-shape person, I have to be about halfway done by now.

By 21:12, though, holy shit. How could stairs be so steep? My foot slips as I try to force my leg up yet another 3-foot-tall step. I stumble, but catch myself. Smooth. My friend didn’t notice. I spit on the frozen ground, resting for just a moment before forging on.

At 29:09, we run into more people. The man and woman, who are fairly young, are passing a blunt back and forth as they survey the city lights. Kind of romantic. Are they on the same assignment I am?

The surrounding beauty really starts to overtake us at this height. We stop to gaze down at the seemingly infinite set of stairs we just conquered, then up at the hundreds more still ahead. Sweating through my shirt and feeling my heart pound through my chest on this godawful gray day, I notice the city of Colorado Springs has never looked this good — the snow, the clouds, the twinkling city lights. I feel like a part of nature as I start off again, understanding now what cannabis fitness guru Dean Frankmore meant when he referred to cannabis as an “enhancer” — I may not be a better athlete while high, but I sure feel like I am.

By 35:05, we are beginning to enter into the clouds. The fog gathers thick and gray around us. My copious sweat adds to the thick atmosphere. At 39:11, I wonder: Is this the summit? I want it to be, but know in my stomach that the mountain’s trying to deceive me. Can’t turn back now, though without this stopwatch I’d have no idea how long it’s been. That time warp — is that from stoner’s high or runner’s high? Who cares, because I am determined to finish this. Onward!

When the stopwatch reaches 48:44, I am in the zone. I can do this. I believe. Not really sure what I believe anymore, but for one thing, I believe this has to be over soon. Finally, at 50:43, I crest the last step. It’s over. My legs want to churn onward, out of habit I guess, but then the relief sets in. Glorious flat ground. Checking my wrist, I managed to make an average time — a little bit on the slower end and definitely not as Olympian as I felt. No matter, I feel amazing.

We revel in our accomplishment at the top for a couple of minutes, exploding with laughter at the “No smoking on or around the trail” sign posted at the summit. We try to take some self-congratulatory photos, but the phone camera can hardly cut through this heavy fog.

A sense of adrenaline and accomplishment pulses through my veins. “I can’t believe that we actually did that,” I exclaim to my partner. We do one of those epic high-fives Tony Scott would have cried about had he captured it in Top Gun.

  • Nick Morales
Our excitement soon subsides as we realize that there’s no way we’re going to make it down Barr Trail and back to the car before dark. Also, my heart rate has dropped substantially and my coating of sweat begins to turn cold, as if my body just realized it’s on top of a forsaken mountain in the snow. I button up my shirt and we start to power-walk down Barr trail.

Just as we make it to the car, my editor calls me to make sure that we’re still alive. I’m happy to report we are, though it sort of feels like news to me too. Was it sort of dumb to go hike the Incline with barely two hours of sunlight left during a freak snow- storm? Maybe it just added to the awesomeness of the journey. Mission accomplished. I managed to get ridiculously stoned and climb the Incline. Now, I ponder: How did cannabis affect my experience?

The most obvious metric is my time: 50:43. Not the best, accord- ing to my research, but not nearly the worst. I should also factor in the fact that it was fucking snowing, which is very likely to have some sort of effect on my overall time. Given that variable, plus the fact I had no baseline comparable time, I cannot reasonably conclude if getting high helped or hurt my climb. But, I can say, how- ever, that I felt more devoted to what I was doing. It felt purposeful. My mind was full of insights about how amazing it is to be doing exactly what I was doing in that moment.

Sure, the Incline is a pretty brutal hike, and yes, my legs and butt are feeling pretty sore as I sit here writing about it, but never once did I actually want to be doing anything else. I could feel the beauty of the landscape flowing over me with every step I took. Moving my legs started to feel like a part of my breathing. There was so much more to think about than the pain in my legs: The snow-covered pine needles; that beautiful orange-breasted black bird with white spots and white streaks in its tail; the insanity that humans could even build this old-cog-railway-turned-trail.

I would say that feeling alone made the trip entirely worth it.

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