5280

Blame It on the Altitude

One thing I love about Denver, and people in Denver love about Denver, and people talking about Denver love about Denver is its altitude: 5280 feet. I’ve never lived anywhere else at elevation, but the evenness of the number—5280 feet is one mile—makes the fact that we’re living above sea level a constant source of fascination. The number serves as decoration at many coffee shops, lends its name to the Denver lifestyle magazine, and is tattooed on more than a few wrists.

But the number is not just a gimmick: it’s a real part of living here. Boiling water and cooking in general take longer for reasons I once understood for a 9th grade chemistry test. Alcohol is also more potent, and the sun is brighter. There’s less pressure in the air, and less oxygen, too. After months at elevation, I’ll still get out of breath walking up a hill and talking on the phone.

Oxygenation and air pressure are big, if hidden parts of the way we exist. Like God or Mercury in Retrograde, their effects are both far-reaching and not completely understood. So whenever something is off in Denver, the altitude could be the cause. For example, I’m about two minutes early to everything in this city. Must be the air pressure in my bike tires.