State by State

Apparently there is an entire country between Boston and San Francisco.


by Natalia

The town of Breckenridge is high. And not just because it legalized marijuana. It’s almost 10 thousand feet (3 thousand meters) above the sea level. According to a multitude of articles about altitude sickness this is a serious elevation. As usual I chalk the alarming tone of the warnings up to American miscalculation of risk. Anything practiced by thousands people inhabiting towns of Rocky Mountains cannot be that dangerous. And this time I mean living at this altitude, not pot smoking.

Year round inhabitants take to advising newcomers. We overhear a conversation in a bar where a wimpy looking bartender informs a pair of Californians: It took me at least 4 months before I adjusted. And I am a cyclist.. We are not staying here that long. And though we do have bikes, we lack spandex outfits necessary to call ourselves cyclists. But it’s nice to have a handy excuse when climbing the stairs leaves one out of breath. Puffing and huffing are not frown upon.

The low air pressure does affect our life in various ways. For one, it improves my green tea. Finally I don’t have to follow complicated algorithms of establishing ideal water temperature of 165 to 185 degrees F (73 - 85 C): looking at the size of bubbles, waiting after it boiled, investing in a thermometer, scalding myself. The water here boils below 195 degrees F (90 C) which is good enough for me. And the green tea is not bitter at all.

Not to deflate Damian’s opinion of himself as an expert barista but brewing coffee in a French press is also easier at this altitude. The only problem is you have to use standard tea kettle: the kind that whistles when the water is ready. Electric contraptions that switch themselves off when water reaches its sea level boiling point will happily keep on turning your kitchen into a sauna.

Grocery shopping needs an adjustment as well. We spend our first visit at a local grocery store doubting edibility of their offering. Most of containers seem to be bursting out of seams, which usually spells trouble. Wobbly stacks of puffed up yogurts keep sliding as we attempt to check expiration dates. They all seem to be valid. And then it hits us: the air expands as the yogurts travel up from a dairy plant. They are good. Or at least they have the potential to be good. But how would one verify that? Yogurt can get bad before expiration date when exposed to temperature. It can also stay good past the date. In a situation like this I trust my ability to taste. Perhaps I just like living on the edge.


I am reading a sci-fi book about Mars. Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson is a trilogy about terraforming Mars and transforming a population of colonists into an independent society. The book resonates deeply with our recent excursions. Hiking the red rocks of Utah parks reminds me of the Martian landscape. When driving a dirt road in a deep canyon with little plant life I feel the environment is as strange and hostile to life as on Mars. I almost expect to find a Mars rover around the corner. The abundant biosphere of our planet turns out to have clear and surprisingly close boundaries.


In our unskilled attempt to lead a life of debauchery we’ve ended up in Breck’s Absinthe bar. Two things need to be said right away. First: we are now officially allowed to call Breckenridge: Breck. We’ve spent more than 3 weeks here and earned that privilege. And the second: we had absolutely no idea that Absinthe bar would be actually serving - you know - absinthe. That just shows how naive we are. I’ve always thought that absinthe is something that has been drunk only in 19th century France. And even then by a fraction of a society that would have nothing to do with a good old bourgeoisie, which - for better or worse - we are now a part of.