I’m tired of skiing or hiking or mountain biking with half-dead corpses that used to be family members and friends.
I’m talking, of course, about innocent people who visit Telluride after falling victim to the lies and half-truths spewed by the Medical Altitude Sickness Complex. Flatlanders who come here are told — relentlessly, over and over again — that they can feel normal at elevation if only they hydrate, hydrate and hydrate some more. So that’s what they do the moment they get above 6,000 feet: suckle their hydration packs with fiendish greed, like that British woman a few years ago who became so dehydrated on bad Ecstasy at a rave that she literally guzzled water until she drowned. Imagine that: Succumbing in your 20s because you couldn’t refuse that last red Solo cup of H2O. Yikes.
That woman’s lesson, sadly, is rarely heeded in these parts. Flatlanders, including my own relatives, come here and inhale water before going to bed so they can “acclimatize to the altitude.” But can one truly acclimatize when one wakes up every 40 minutes to pee out all that excess liquid? Hell no.
Tourists struggle enough with Kant-Mak-M even on a good night’s sleep; they truly can’t make ‘em if they’ve slept two hours a night between runs to the bathroom. This is where half-dead corpses come from. What the Medical Altitude Sickness Complex won’t tell you is that exhaustion and sleeplessness will ruin a Telluride vacation in a heartbeat, no matter how admirably clear your urine appears.
This over-hydration madness must stop. Personally, I’d rather pound Cabernet Sauvignon until I pass out, sleep as much as possible, then deal with the cottonmouth and hangover in the morning (I believe this is why Ibuprofen was invented). You can always hydrate yourself back to normalcy on the chairlift. You know what you can’t do on a chairlift? Sleep!
Slumber at altitude is too precious to mess with. According to sleep.org, “The reduced oxygen experienced at higher elevations can cause breathing troubles at night, which may disrupt sleep. The result is that people visiting high altitudes can experience less sleep overall, trouble falling asleep, and frequent awakenings throughout the night, leading to next-day fatigue.” According to altitude.org, “Most people don’t sleep well at altitude. Climbers commonly report vivid dreams, feelings of being suffocated and wake feeling unrefreshed. There are important changes in the way we sleep at altitude that makes sleep quality poor.”
I’ve lived here 21 years, and still experience elevation-related insomnia far too often for my taste. Take the night of July 28, for instance. After spending more than a week at sea level — reveling in the oxygen-rich air of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, sleeping like a baby due to the soporific white noise of Earth’s second largest body of water gently lapping the shore — I flew back to Montrose and ascended the oxygen-poor San Juan Mountains. Shortly before turning in, I discovered my medicine cabinet was bereft of Ibuprofen PM or any sleep aids whatsoever. Uh-oh.
As a mountain-town veteran, I should be able to withstand a lack of sleep aids. I should be mentally strong enough to understand that sleep aids are a psychosomatic crutch. Alas, I am not. So that night, I tossed and turned. Then I turned and tossed. Every sleep position (on stomach, on back, on right side, on left side) was explored and then soon abandoned. Such futility went on for hour after agonizing hour.
I once read that sleep experts say the last thing you should do in the throes of insomnia is to check the time. Unfortunately, I caught a glimpse of my alarm clock at 5:40 a.m. Dammit. I tried all the sleep positions again. I moved pillows here and there, then there and here, attempting to block dawn’s nefarious rays from my eyes and songbirds’ nefarious calls from my ears. Nothing worked. Finally, at 6:50 a.m., I dragged the haggard mess that was me to Clark’s grocery and waited for it to open so I could purchase help for acute sleep deprivation. If you haven’t opened Clark’s in a while, I suggest you try it — if only to scope other haggard messes hellbent on replacing their lapsed sleep aids.
After stumbling home, I swallowed three more pills than recommended and managed to sleep from about 8-11 a.m. Did I awake refreshed and renewed, singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’?” Of course not. I stirred to life with anger and resentment and profound grouchiness. I discovered my sleepless thrashings had stripped two pillows of their pillowcases.
Yes, I’d managed a couple of hours of sleep, yet I had zero desire to seize the day. I felt nothing at all like the master of my own domain. Instead, I felt like a victim. A loser. Insomnia had won, because at altitude, insomnia always wins.