What A Mushroom Trip at the Aspen Highlands Closing Party Taught Me About Life

*Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals. Enjoy!


The snow slowed its trip down from the gray twirling sky above. The entire vista was enclosed with dancing snowflakes, each one seemed as though it was tied to its own beautifully individual parachute that protected its approach to the ground below.

The voices were becoming louder but my ability to listen was entirely lost. I finished the last sip of my hop infused Colorado brewed beer, tossed the empty can into my pack and zipped it shut. I’m not sure which way the snow was falling, was it falling? Maybe it was floating up, lighter than the thin air I was barely breathing. I heard someone say it was time.

My board was almost covered at this point, our time at 12,392 feet flew by as it usually does, but this time it felt like it never even happened. I saw my crew grabbing their skis, finding their boards among the boots of the people dressed in 80’s neon and full size onesie animal costumes. I trudged through the newly fallen 4 inches of damp but delightfully fluffy snow and plopped down in front of my board at the top of the bowl.

There was no view and no sign of a clearing, my mind was fuzzy. The colors were more vibrant than they should have been, the grayness was morphing into greens, blues, pinks and reds. I ratcheted the bindings. Left foot secured, right foot in the binding, tightened and done.


Everyone was ready, the first two dropped in headed straight for G-8. Two more at full speed, yells of joy and excitement were coming from all directions. I dropped my goggles intensifying the colors in a golden brown hue, sprung up and pointed the nose of my board over the edge. The yelling, the noise was all gone, my senses had been overtaken.

When the snow is falling it seems to absorb all noise. There’s nothing more serene, no place quieter. I was gliding down dipping into the steepest section of the bowl, not worried about anything around me, nothing at all everything felt perfect.

I weighted my left foot putting pressure on my heel and ripped left shooting a wall of powder to my right. Then weighed my toes and carved right so hard I was dragging my right hand in the snow as I gained speed. Everyone was staying in G-8 and headed left to Full Curl but the trees were calling me I couldn’t say no. My turns got tighter then I cut right to the patch of giant Evergreens around 11,000 feet.

As I got closer I the trees bowed to me and opened their branches creating a perfect entrance into a world that seemed to be inside even while out in one of the wildest places. I let out a scream of joy “Yeahhhhhhhh!”

Breathing heavy I continued plowing through the light powder, the trees were dancing and they weren’t just green anymore. Everything seemed to be changing, the colors of each branch and every needle were different, the thickest part of every trunk was moving to the silent music of the storm. My edge hit a patch of ice below the powder reminding me that I still needed to pay attention to the ride.

Thoughts began racing through my head. Where did everyone go? Was I the only one that went into the far G Zone?  Friends and family popped in and out of my mind. People I met just minutes ago, friends I made years past, friends that I have lost. Everyone was happy where they were, they were all doing exactly what they had hoped.

Diagonal streaks of snow illuminated by the covered sun shone through, though just barely. The shadows got darker; something didn’t feel right, what didn’t feel right? I dropped left still cruising fast on my way out of this evergreen cavern, the sky continued to lighten as the trees spread farther and farther apart. I was out, riding the steepest section and perpendicular to the runout, my knees bent deep to absorb the shock of hitting the flat I was riding above all that time.

I became acutely aware each little sting of a cold flake hitting my face and smashing into my lens. They were coming at me fast like I was cruising through stars aboard the Millennium Falcon. I became the Speed Racer. Every bump was my mission to conquer, ever turn to gain speed and every divot to jump. I weaved left then right then farther right to stay on track pushing my weight into every turn to gain speed and keep momentum at a maximum.

Everyone was there in front of me, however something wasn’t right, where they wearing those colors earlier?  Bright yellow, lime green, electric blue and orange deeper than the setting sun, all in onesies. They skied and rode side by side in perfect unison. I was set on catching them, I was gaining on them one mogul at a time. All the sudden they sped up, still in perfect harmony so I took the berm tight and gained speed, each tactic I tried came up short, in no time they were 100 yards ahead of me, then 200, I had no chance.


Snow still hitting my face tongue out catching snow I enjoyed the runout to the end. I continued to keep all the speed I could to reach the chair at the end.  Passing some and others passing me, I made it to the base of Deep Temerity and found the guys. High fives for all! “Insane!” yelled Justin, “That was incredible” said Shawn. “That was awesome” was all I could muster up, it was incredible, it must have been the longest run of my life, I felt so incredible up top but I was apprehensive down lower.

Two on, two on, then Adam and I sit on the three person chair lift that’s dusted in white. The girl behind us misses the chair at the start, I grasp tight. We climb higher, the chair not only climbs the mountain but rises farther off the ground, I grip harder. “How was the run?” Adam said. The voice didn’t seem right; it was really low as if he was a talking gorilla. I stare blankly, he asks again “Did you like the bowl?” but this time his voice was high, squeaky almost. “Yeah it was good” I said, not feeling right I slid my goggles up.

Too many thoughts are racing through my head to know which to think about first – “What’s going on?” “What’s wrong with me?” ‘Is this guy joking?” “Why is this chair so high?” I lower the googles thinking it will change something. I raise them again hoping to come out of the darkness and escape of some kind of messed up dream. I grip the back of the chair again. “I need to put the bar down” I barely get out, actually maybe I didn’t, maybe I just thought I said it.

Adams saying something again, every phrase out of his mouth is in a different voice, a unique tone, he seems calm. “What is going on?” I say to myself. “Did you have mushrooms too?” I ask Adam. “That’s why you’re acting so weird!” he says, this time he sounds normal. I still don’t feel normal, I guess I did, but it feels like I dreamed the last five minutes up.

He raises the bar, “you ready” Adam says softly. We stand up and slide down the roller back onto the mountain, half way down. Everyone is there, everyone seems happy. I don’t know what to do, I strap in, I leave.

I start riding down Broadway. A brown bear skis by me.  An 80’s dancer is not far in front of me. Snow continues to hit my face, its coming down faster. I keep riding turning when I need to but trying to go fast, I remember I said I would meet Allie at the bottom.

By then I should feel good, “I’ll be fine” I think. The hill gets more crowded as I continue to lessen my elevation. The snow get slower and wetter, the falling snow begins to diminish. I weave in and out of lions, penguins and people with afros bouncing to the moguls they jump as if in a dance off.

The last pitch down, Highlands Pizza is mobbed. Everyone looks weird, there aren’t real people there. I see a cop; it seems like a light is shining down on him alone. Another one and the same glow surrounds him. I reach the base, more security guards, more cops all lit up. I unstrap and put the board under my arm, I bolt past the crowds, the bars, the pizza and the beers. Less people the farther I go, I walk briskly past the lodge, there’s a bus waiting and I jump in.

I avoid eye contact with the guy that has the hair tie and jean shorts with ski boots, I stray away from the penguin again. I sit one row from the back on the passenger side, scoot toward the window and wait. We start to roll away from the lodge out on the Maroon Creek Road. The sun is beginning to shine and the clouds are being pushed out of the valley. I sit quietly.

My phone vibrates, I reached into the unzipped pocket of my waterproof snow pants, the caller ID says its Allie, “Hello” I say quietly. “Where are you?!” she says with excitement, “On the bus” I respond, “When are you coming back?” she says.  “No” I say and press End.  I stare at the phone, it rings again, I answer “What do you mean?” she says, “Home” is my response. End.

Everyone is staring, we just passed the circle, I need to get home. I answer the vibrating phone again, over her voice I say “mushrooms” and wait for confirmation that what I say is actually happening, “What?…”  yelling erupts from the speaker of my phone, again I hit End, this time I feel more worried, more scared of what is happening.

“Buzz, Buzz” it’s vibrating again, I put it in my pocket, people are watching me, everyone is watching me, eyes are fixated on me. I sit, hold my pocket and try to count the time till I’m back. She’s calling again, I already told her what’s going on, or do I just think I did, no I did. I’m back in Aspen, we stop. I stay on we are still too far to walk.  I want to get off I stand up, the doors close. I sit back down, the driver saw me and opened the doors again, I need to get out and I walk out the doors and off the bus. Am I walking or running, I’m not sure I know I need to get home.

Down the sidewalks of familiar streets I walk nervously. Goggles down then goggles up, I know something’s wrong, I know this is the most strange and realistic dream I have ever been in. The shadows crawl toward me. I cross the street, the sunlight is my only friend and the only thing that keeps me even marginally sane.

Everyone I pass has paused what they are doing and is following my every move and my pace quickens. I look down, my feet are practically running, moving so fast that they blur in my skewed vision. The tan two story apartment building I live in finally comes into view, completely lit up it looks like an oasis of normality, its got to be my safe haven.


I stumble into the tiny living room throw the key on the floor followed by my boots, jacket and soaked snow pants and with the pull of a string I shut the light out. I jump onto the brown leather couch and make a dark cave under the soft blue fleece blanket. My mind wanders.

The vibration startles me once again. I am dreaming that Allie is calling, it feels like it’s vibrating but it can’t be, the voice says to go upstairs. I listen, blanket over my head I run up the stairs, close the window and make a nest in the rest of the blankets tossed on the bed.

I’ve been stuck in this dream for hours, I’m not sure why it went from euphoria to a nightmare quicker than I would’ve thought possible.


The room is lit with stale fluorescent light, I’m laying down on the bed, white sheet over my body and an IV in my right arm. I must have crashed on the bowl today. I continue to think and analyze every thought. I realize I was not snowboarding today.

I have been here longer than I can remember, unable to move completely paralyzed. Everyone I know has been a figment of my crazy imagination. I’ve never been out of this bed, I’ve never had any family, nor a friend and never been able to speak a word to anyone.

Everything that I have ever known has been made up in the isolated part of my brain.


The bedroom lights up in warm flames, a giant creature is pacing up and down the stairs staring at me. I pull the sheets over me and hide knowing there is nothing that I can do. Shivers move like ocean waves  from the center of my warm body out to the end of my extremities. I’m frozen in place, time is moving in slow motion. I hear screams.

I count the years I have been laying here lifeless, I can’t understand why nobody just pulls the plug out of the plain white wall behind my unmoving body. Was I born this way or was there an accident that I never came back from?

“You took drugs, Duke” I hear from a soft mysterious voice.  I’m still in the white hospital bed but the whisper repeats itself.  My mind starts to churn, I begin to see images again, dreams flow through the synapses of my brain.

Images flash before my eyes, milliseconds each and it seems like an eternity that my life past and present dies and reincarnates. I can’t figure out where I am, I see Justin handing me something at the bowls peak, I imagine myself riding blissfully down the slope that is the bowl.

Then I see something else, I am in a hospital room, leg broken or paralyzed forever? I don’t know, I may have been here for years at this point. I hear her voice again, the room begins to brighten and I seem to have feeling on my arm.

The haze that has overcome my brain seems to be lifting as the fog after a rain in the mountain valley. One by one I feel as though I can piece things together. There’s a funny gremlin in the corner, I laugh. Another one under the sheets, the hospital was a dream, I am in my own bed in my cave of blankets and sheets! More and more gremlins appear but the more I see the clearer it all is, the demons are leaving and giving my body back.


I awake again from a seconds long micro sleep. Allie sitting at the edge of the bed laughing but I don’t know why. “You’ve been seeing gremlins all over!” she says, “but before that I don’t know what you were thinking, I’ve never seen anyone so scared before”.

I lay there memorized by everything, fully conscious of what I just lived through and what my mind was capable of making a reality. Stunned and deep in thought I couldn’t move, I was still paralyzed but this time I knew I would come out of it.

The dreams were over, the last six hours mutated into a dark evil existence that felt as though it were years long if not my entire life. I hugged her, I touched her face to make sure that the hallucination was over, to be as sure as I could that I was back.

I was back.


The place, the mountain, the people, and my connection to the landscape and sport is enough. Sometimes it takes going beyond to realize what is so simple. The otherworldly experience that I had that day was both incredible and yet the worse, most traumatic day I can remember.

Now the mountain, my board and my friends are more than enough to satisfy my hunger for life each day. Those are the things I thrive on, it’s about pushing myself not adding something to the mix that I can not control.

Life is yours to control.

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Ryan Sarka
Ryan Sarka

Brand Ambassador & Writer

Cyclist, climber, snowboard mountaineer, triathlete, and engineer. Founding member of Between The Peaks. Bikepacked across the entire U.S.

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