Goodbye to the Decade – My 2012 Trip to Denver Was Weird And I’m Gonna Try To Explain It But Fail

This post is part of my 10 week retrospective looking back at a specific trip from each year of the 2010s. Read more about the series here. Today I’m talking about my 2012 trip to Denver Colorado. Previous editions of this series include


“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” – Hunter S. Thompson

I felt strange when I walked out of the Denver Airport to wait for my shuttle. Lightheaded, and confused.

Perhaps I was feeling the vibrations of the airport. There are some crazy conspiracy theories about the Denver Airport (everything from Illuminati or whatnot to secret bunkers underneath in case of a nuclear holocaust). I don’t give much credit to conspiracy theories (way too easy to go overboard and overanalyze details that don’t matter until it becomes something that “they don’t want you to know”). I don’t want to make anyone paranoid.

I will state for the record that my 2012 visit to Denver was weird though. Now Denver is not a bad city (and labelling a city as “good or “bad” is usually a gross generalization). Nothing horrible happened on my trip, but I felt weird when I got off the plane and I felt weird during most of my time in Colorado, but particularly in Denver. Usually I either vibe with a place or I don’t. And I know that’s pretty vague hippie language I just used there,  but I usually have pretty positive feelings toward the places I visit. I love travel after all. With Denver I was never really sure if I liked it or I didn’t. I wasn’t even sure what was going on while I was there. What was Denver? What is Denver?

Of course the likely culprit for my lightheadness was a touch of altitude sickness. Denver has the highest state capitol in the US. It’s a mile above sea level (hence it’s nickname The Mile High City). And I had just flown in after spending a week in New Orleans, a city whose elevation ranges from 2 feet below sea level to just 20 feet above. That’s a pretty noticeable difference, and I was feeling it.

I was in Denver (or in Colorado really) for another conference (same conference I attended the year before in Vancouver). The conference was going to be in another part of the state, a couple hours away. I wanted to spend two days in the Denver before driving to the conference with some other bloggers. Then a couple more days in Denver before heading home.

Sculpture of a Big Blue Bear (titled I See What You Mean) looking in the glass windows of the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, Colorado.

I See What You Mean. That’s the name of the big blue bear statue in front of the Colorado Convention Center. The conference I attended was not here.

I’ve stayed at a lot of hostels and never had any major issues, but the hostel I stayed at in Denver was strange. Dark. Stuffy. When I was waiting to check in the lady in front of me at the desk kept complaining about her parole officer and all I could think was, shit, is this not a good neighbourhood?

It wasn’t a great neighbourhood. Not like I have to get out of here now kind of neighbourhood, but more I’m going to look into couchsurfing for the two nights I’ll have in Denver when I get back from the conference kind of neighbourhood. My first night in Denver (before the conference) was spent drinking beers at an official party for the conference I was attending. It was only partway through the evening that I realized I was spending most of my time at the wrong part of the bar. The party for conference attendees was in another room.

Fun fact Denver has a lot of microbreweries, so you can drink lots of beer if that’s your thing (and I like beer particularly when it’s free at a conference).

The next day I went to a coffee shop and had a latte. I visited the History Colorado Center (tickets were free with the conference), but still felt strange. The beer was gone and I hadn’t had anything else to make me feel this way. I went to the 16th Street Mall, which has lots of shops and restaurants (a bit touristy). I wandered around and took photos of the street pianos there, but never played any. I visited a Federal Reserve Museum (that was free). I saw oversized public art.

In Denver the air was dry. In New Orleans the air had been muggy; I felt like it was compressing on my chest. In Denver the air was too light; I felt like it was sucking the breath from my lungs. I felt powerless and disoriented in Denver. The weather was hot. I had expected Denver to have cool mountain breezes, but there were no breezes during my visit in June. Looking back at photos I see cloudy grey skies, but I don’t remember rain, just heat.

The Colorado State Capitol Building in the distance with an obelisk in front with grey skies in Denver Colorado.

The Colorado State Capitol in the distance. Did I walk all the way up the stairs outside the building, just to be a mile above sea level? I think I did. I must have, but maybe I just looked at the top and never went up. At this point I can’t be sure.

The conference went well, but I didn’t do much other than attend the official events and parties. When I came back to Denver I found a lady to couchsurf with. This was only my second time couchsurfing (first being a few days earlier in New Orleans). That kind of turned thing around. She was really nice. I went to the Botanic Gardens for a bit and after work she showed me around the city. We went out for dinner at a burger joint and talked a lot about travel. She’d just spent several months in Spain, which sounded amazing. She had a Vitamix and I was pretty sure that now I wanted one as well. You don’t even have to peel the apple people. And it makes hot soup? What!?

Plants and trees along a small pond at the Denver Botanic Gardens.

Denver Botanic Gardens. They were nice. Denver was nice, but I just felt so weird here. Does any of this make sense to anyone? Probably not. That’s why this post isn’t a travel guide to Denver.

When I left Denver and got to the airport I still felt strange. I was still unsure. What was Denver? Had I discovered it or found a part of it? Was I even in Denver? What is a city? The security line was strange, the food court was set up weird. I was told I might need to be put on another flight (overbooking). And had to call my parents to tell them about the delay, but then everything was okay and I was put on the original flight.

Denver this isn’t a criticism. I know I was only there for a few days, but what was your city? I’ve never felt a such a bewilderment at a place before. I like most places I’ve visited, and like I said nothing bad happened in Denver. It was pleasant enough but I also felt weird and baffled during my entire visit. At some point I’d like to go back to Denver and see if my experience is different. But I wonder if people feel this way when visiting other cities? Is a city that I love like Montreal or New York or London completely incoherent to other people like Denver was for me?

Every moment during my time in Denver felt weird, and I don’t know if that weirdness was the city or me.

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