“Why I Never Smoked Weed on the Colorado Trail”
If I had known that we were going to have to pass through a border patrol check point, I would have told my ride to take a different route. But the thought never crossed my mind. We weren’t crossing any international borders after all, and moreover, we were going to the Mexican border. If we were driving away from the Mexico border, a check point would have made sense, but nobody brings drugs to Mexico, I figured, so it wasn’t a concern when I packed a half pound of pot, vacuum sealed in individually labeled and weighed baggies into my backpack an evening before.
We had been on the road for the better part of five hours, driving farther and farther south towards our terminal destination, which was the line dividing Mexico from the United States when we saw the checkpoint off in the distance. My friend, who was gracious enough to give me a ride to the start of the Pacific Crest Trail in the first place, he didn’t smoke anymore. He’d been sober since we met. He had to have known that I had some bud with me though, since my status as a heavy stoner was pretty well known amongst just about everyone in my immediate circle of friends. But he didn’t say anything as we approached. After all, he had nothing to worry about. I did though, and as we drove closer and closer, I could feel my pulse elevating.
How do you go about explaining to a border patrol agent that the half pound of individually labeled and vacuum sealed bags were for “personal consumption”? Nobody in their right mind would believe that, even if it was true. And it was!
My plan, as we drove south that day towards the US/Mexico border, was to embark on a 2,650 mile trail the next morning that would take me somewhere between four and five months to complete, and being that I smoked like a chimney in those days, I brought enough weed to get me through every step of the way. But as we drew closer and closer, and eventually came to a stop, the gravity of the situation sunk in. I wondered how much time someone would have to spend incarcerated for that much pot, and although I didn’t know the answer, I knew that it wouldn’t be what I was planning for my summer if I ended up behind bars.
“Do you have any animals, plants, or seeds?” a short-statured woman in uniform asked after my friend rolled down the window.
“Nope,” he replied.
She leaned in and looked to the back seat where I was resting, trying my hardest to look like anything but an international drug smuggler. I must have been convincing too, because five seconds later we were back on the freeway and back on our journey south towards Mexico.
I never smoked pot when I was in high school. I never drank a beer until I turned 21. And “hard” drugs still hold no interest to me. It wasn’t until I was of the legal drinking age that I started to drink, and I never once touched cannabis until after I had finished graduate school. I guess that you could say that I missed out on the party scene in college, but I don’t feel like I missed much. To me the stoner crowd always struck me as quite lame, and the frat house-party-hardy-drink-til-you-puke scene seemed gratuitous at best.
I was open to the idea of pot throughout my later years of college, after I started looking into the arguments in support of its legalization and medical applications, but the groups that I hung out with never smoked I guess, and so by proxy, it never crossed my path. On top of it all, most of my time outside of class I just spent out hiking, and although there is certainly a social hiking scene in Northern Arizona where I finished my undergrad years and attended graduate school, I never felt much draw to be on trail with others. Mostly I just wanted to get outside and be alone for a few days at a time, and so that’s what I did. So since I was out there alone, I didn’t have anyone to pass me a joint after lighting a fire for the night, and as such, the opportunity to get stoned just never came into my life during my college years.
After grad school that changed though. I became close friends with a guy named Jeff (not his real name), and it didn’t take long before he came out and told me that he smoked from time to time, to which I didn’t mind a bit. But then as we spent more time together and started hiking more and more miles in one another’s company, it came to my attention that “time to time” meant just about every time we stopped to take a rest on trail. Jeff smoked more than I thought it was possible to smoke. He never touched a cigarette in the time that we knew one another, but I’m pretty sure that he smoked enough pot to keep a small crew of marijuana famers well employed and busy throughout the year.
He always told me that if I ever wanted any that the offer was out there, and at first it scared me, so I declined. I made excuses for why I didn’t want to smoke, most of them centering around the statement that, “I don’t really do that anymore.” The truth was however that I’d never smoked in the first place and I was scared of losing my pot-virginity. It was something that I’d never be able to go back to after I’d crossed that bridge between the guy who has never smoked and the guy who has. As time went on however, I softened to the idea and realized that my reasons for abstinence made virtually no sense. So one night beside a campfire when he asked if I wanted any I took up his offer and a dam broke free.
In hindsight I didn’t ease into being a stoner. Instead, one day I had never smoked, and soon thereafter I was smoking just about as often as the friend who gave me my first joint. I quickly graduated from an every-other-day smoker to a daily smoker to, “Oh, there’s Brandon—the guy who’s always high.”
During those years after graduate school when I developed my habit of pot smoking I didn’t see anything wrong with it. I never smoked before work (and I stuck to that rule without exception), but outside of work I felt like cannabis enhanced everything. It made food taste better. It made hiking more fun. It made sex more fun. It made watching TV more fun. It made writing more fun. It made sleeping more fun. It made walking the dog more fun. It made life more pleasant. If there was a pill out there that made everything better, why wouldn’t you take it? Well I had found that “pill” and so I ate it like candy.
Barely a year after I started smoking I had a six-plant high-end grow operation in my closet. Every morning I’d make my coffee and then wander downstairs, sit under the giant florescent bulbs and just watch the plants grow. I grew my own pot for the better part of a year, and I loved gardening about as much as I enjoyed consuming marijuana.
So when the idea of going out to hike the Pacific Crest Trail came up, it was obvious to me that I would bring pot… a lot of pot. Without the social confinements of work and “real world life” it only made sense that I’d need all the pot that I could financially and logistically justify. That amount, I reasoned, was just over a half a pound.
When I was dropped off at the US/Mexico border I was greeted by border patrol agents. They weren’t there asking about papers, they didn’t need to search the car, and they didn’t care much about what we were carrying. All they cared about was what in the hell we were doing there. It was too dangerous, they told us. There would be activity in the night—there was always night activity at the border, they promised. Their job was to stop drug runners, and that line in the sand between countries was where the battle went down every day. If I was camped too close to the border, I ran the risk of being robed, or killed, or… I’m not sure what exactly, but border patrol was very instant that I get out of there. Even at the time I thought that it was funny that they were looking for people running drugs, but that I wasn’t on their radar, despite the fact that the most valuable cargo in my bag was exactly what they were trying to stop from crossing into the US. But maybe since I had started in the US it didn’t matter as much.
Over the next 124 days I smoked every damn day. I woke up every morning, smoked while I made coffee, broke down camp, smoked again before getting on trail, then every time I stopped throughout the day, and up to the point of going to sleep. Looking back on it, I think that I smoked six to ten times a day, and anyone who tells you that marijuana doesn’t affect your memory has never tried smoking ten times a day for 124 days on end.
I reached Canada on the 28th of August—four months and one day after starting my hike at the Mexican border. I set out to go out hiking and get high every day, and I counted it as a mission accomplished. And what did I have to show for it? Memories, I guess. Some sore feet too… but I knew that I needed a rest after the trail. I took a month off from smoking, but soon fell back into the same group of friends with whom I’d smoked with before, and soon found myself in my same old habits of hiking more than I probably should have been and smoking just as much.
But the draw to cannabis wasn’t the same anymore. Yes, I was still smoking, but the thought started entering my mind that I might be outgrowing it. It didn’t do for me what it once had. I started smoking because it made everything more fun, but as time went on I found myself more and more often smoking because I needed to numb some part of my life that I wasn’t comfortable confronting. So I quit, and then restarted, then quit and restarted again. My drive to be constantly stoned was burning out, until eventually I just realized that I was done.
There was no grand moment when I took my last drag. It wasn’t something that I was counting down towards or anticipating. Instead, eventually I just finished. I stopped without even realizing that I had. Soon a week had gone by, then a month, and eventually a year. It was strange looking back on it and realizing that this thing that had been such an integral part of my life was now just something that I used to be.
I still hung around with the same friends, but when they offered me my old drug of choice, I easily and politely declined. Quitting was never hard for me. Marijuana held no physical dependency in the way that other drugs do. Sure there was a habit there that needed to be broken, but almost everyone who you ask will tell you the same thing—you get three or four days in, and that habitual draw quickly fades away. You stop thinking about it as much. You spend your time and money on other things. Until eventually, one day, it’s not even a consideration anymore.
I wish that I could be the kind of guy who could have a puff or two on the weekends, but the fact is that I have self-control problems. I can’t limit myself to just that. If I smoke a little bit then eventually I start smoking a lot, and that eventually comes quick for me. It’s a logical consideration really. I think to myself that if I’m smoking once this week, then I might just as well be stoned all the time. I mean why wouldn’t I? So instead of going through that moral game, I just don’t touch it at all.
And here’s what I’ve learned since I’ve stopped smoking… it’s a truth that I don’t like to admit, because at my core I’m still very, very pro-pot. I want for people to have the right to smoke. I want to have the right to smoke myself, should I choose to do so, but in quitting, I’ve discovered that it didn’t actually make everything better as I’d always assumed.
There were plenty of times when I was living like a smoke stack when I thought to myself that I needed to quit the habit, but it always seemed impossible to me. Any time I gave it a halfhearted effort I’d find myself at the end of the night remembering that there are two different types of addiction in this world. There are physical addictions that people find themselves locked into when they become users of heroin, tobacco, and alcohol, and those are addictions that I’m lucky to have never been locked into the throws of. Then there are habitual addictions—addictions to television, the internet, or in my case, marijuana. Cannabis didn’t cause any physiological dependence for me, but it was certainly a habit. Get off work—you smoke pot. Go hiking—you smoke pot. Go to the gym—better get stoned. I had associated all these pieces of my life with getting high, so when it came down to trying to quit, there was always a draw that kept me stuck into it.
And why quit anyways? I’d come up with these thoughts that getting sober might be nice—maybe just for a little while to give myself a rest, but then when it came down to actually quitting, I’d feel that habitual draw and then rationalize my way back into it.
Ah, what’s the point? Marijuana is healthy, after all.
Who cares if you quit? The laws around pot are just relics of prohibition anyways.
You know who wants you to quit? Pharmaceutical companies! That’s who!
Why would you want to quit anyways—it’s cheaper than alcohol… it’s less destructive than alcohol… it’s just as easy for me to access as alcohol…
There was always a reason to keep smoking, so I kept smoking.
Until one day I wasn’t anymore.
I could tell you that I quit for financial reasons, and partly that would be true. Or I could tell you that I was tired of the brain fog that I was never willing to admit was a real thing. That would be part of the answer too. Or how about the social isolation that I was unknowingly imposing on myself by always being too high to go out into public and socialize. I could tell you about the job opportunities that opened up after I could pass a piss test, or the fact that my medical marijuana card expired, or that my dealer moved to a different state… I could tell you about it all, and all of it would be leading towards the crux of the issue. But the honest to goodness truth of why I quit smoking was because I wanted to as much as I needed to. I had been living life in a fog of pot smoke for the better part of six years, and although I never touched the stuff when I was going up, Lord knows that in those six years I made up for lost time. There are plenty of people out in this world who smoke just as much as I did and probably a whole lot more, and I support them doing so with all my heart. For me however, it was time to be done.
You’d think, after playing such a major role in my life I’d remember the final toke. After all, it wasn’t more than a couple of years ago that I let it go, but I don’t. Instead, I remember reaching a point where I looked back and a month had passed. Then a year, and then two years. I don’t have an anniversary, and I don’t hold my abstinence from marijuana up on a pedestal, because a big part of me wishes that I could still do it. I wish that I could be the kind of guy who has a smoke on the weekend sometimes, but I know that I liked it too much to smoke just a little. The slippery slope is a logical fallacy in a lot of ways, but as it applies to my relationship with marijuana, it’s a fundamental reality.
so now I hike clear headed, and what’s surprised me the most is that I actually rather like it. I don’t only like the fact that I have saved money by quitting, but I now find as much pleasure from being sober in life as I did from that first time I ever became stoned on the trail. It’s funny really—I don’t remember quitting, even though that happened much more recently, but I remember that first time with absolute clarity. I remember smoking and just floating down the trail. I remember all the funny thoughts going through my head. I remember how everything around me seemed so magically beautiful. It was like a special kind of heaven. And today I get that special little heaven from abstaining.
And here’s what I never would have been able to admit when I was still smoking: I think more clearly without it. I’m more present in the trail than I ever was before. I’m no longer distracted by all the minute little details of life. I’m less paranoid. I feel more comfortable in public. I smell and taste things better than before. I no longer have to have that little fear in the back of my head that someday I might accidentally burn down the forest from the ash of a joint. I no longer smell like weed when I’m out in the world. I sleep better. I’m more productive. I’m more creative… All the things that weed originally made me feel like I gained are now truly gained because I’ve let it out of my life.
Once again however, I have to emphasize with full certainty that I think of myself as very, aggressively, and ardently “pro-pot.” I don’t want for “The Man” to take your weed away. I don’t think that people should be serving time behind bars because they tried to sell their friend the flower of a plant. I don’t think that it should only be accessible to the terminally ill or those in chronic pain. I think that if we live in a society where tobacco, alcohol, and firearms are allowed, then you should be able to go to the local grocery store and buy an ounce of bud without anyone thinking twice about it. Even though I live in a world where alcohol, tobacco, and firearms are out there and available to me however, I choose not to bring them into my life, and so too do I choose to leave marijuana as well.
I look back today at the people who knew me those years ago. I wonder if they still think of me as “Brandon the stoner,” if they ever think of me at all. I wonder sometimes what it would be like if I still smoked, and I wonder what I would have become if I’d never smoked. It’s not that I regret starting, nor do I regret stopping; I’m quite happy that life has taken the path that it has. But in knowing that “two paths diverge in a yellow wood,” I too wonder what ever would have been down the road not taken.
I’ve little time for curiosities of the like though, because just as there are unseen roads behind me, there are far more divergent roads ahead. So for now I’ll keep looking forward and see where I end up next, because a trail has led me here, and a trail continues onward into tomorrow.