Vinotok, Mk. II

So last year H and I through-hiked up over the mountains to Crested Butte's harvest festival/binge drinking nightmare, better known as Vinotok. The next morning we hitchhiked out of town to the local airstrip, and caught a ride in a single prop plane back to Aspen, barely beating out a serious storm. Exciting times all around. 

This year A invited me to go with him. I'm sick and behind on a deadline, so I offered up an alternative plan: drive over the passes, do Vinotok, then drive back the same night. 

Simplicity itself. After the excitement of last year, what could go wrong?


The night began like all good plans, that is, according to plan. A rolled up to the house with S, a woman that works at the local CSA. Nice girl, on the hippy side of things, but I've always been comfortable and familiar with that angle. With a few bottles of homebrewed wine and some Maker's Mark, we headed off into the mountains to put the year behind us and welcome the coming winter.

We arrived in Crested Butte just in time. The crowds were gathering, even as the mummers were making their way through the street, dressed in faux-medieval garb and chanting: 

Vine and grain
vine and grain, 
all that dies will rise again. 

The mummers go from bar to bar, singing and chanting. At each bar the mummers are given that bar's signature Vinotok drink. Dodging the mummers, we hit a different bar to get my friends started in true Vinotok style. The bartender brought our drinks, then comp'd us three glasses – the last of the bar's Vinotok drink. This is like a zen master offering tea --- you just don't turn it down, so bottoms up. 

But like the pomegranate Hades offered to Persephone, that red Vinotok mystery drink would ultimately conspire to keep us in the underworld.  

Now, quick note: Crested Butte is an idilic Colorado mountain town, just shy of 9,000 ft. in elevation. A & S are experienced drinkers (what a terrible label to earn) but Alcohol + Elevation = Bad News. 

Just a note. 

Back out in the streets, the mummers were finishing up, and the pageant began. The Greenman foiled death by offering up the Grump in his place. The Grump, a twenty foot high demonic statue, was convicted of our collective sins and marched off to his burning. 

At this point the street is filled with several hundred people, drinking, singing and chanting into the darkness. We march the Grump down to the crossroads, where the statue is placed into the center of an enormous bonfire. Statue is set alight, the drum circle begins, and the dancers start up. 

All according to plan. Vikotok is in full swing. We've done out part, cast our years' regrets into the fire, and even had some official mystery grog. Time to roll out and head home. 

But where's S? 

Somewhere in here: 


A's had a fair bit to drink at this point, so I station him by a police cordon, and loop the crowd.

No S. 

We try it again, now as the crowd begins to thin out. Still no S. 

At this point I'm starting to get worried. I'm the guy that was supposed to be responsible for these two, getting both of them back to the car and back home again. Like parenting, one out of two isn't such a great record. I had never met S before that night, but that's inconsequential. There was a drunk woman somewhere out in the night, and I needed to find her. 

A and I walk back to the car. He gets tucked in and I head back to the fire, still looking for S, but no dice. I make it back to the car, and we're faced with a decision. Clearly we can't leave her --- it's 2.5 hours and a mountain pass back to Carbondale. So we tuck up as best we can and pass the night in the car, waking up periodically to note, that, sure enough, S still isn't back.

Dawn comes and A and I walk the streets looking for S. Crested Butte is a small town, but large enough to hide one woman. We canvas the streets, make it back to the car one more time and still no S. 

A and I are being forced towards a decision. We can't hang around indefinitely, but we can't leave S. We decide to grab some breakfast and reassess. Rounding the corner, we see our hippy girl about to catch a ride in the back on a jeep.

Vinotok miracle. 5 minutes either way and we would have missed her. But there's our S, with a bloody foot and a black eye, but otherwise no worse for the wear. It seems that once she lost us, S had wandered around town, looking for the car. Unable to find our car, she settled on any car and ended up in a random subaru, wearing some unknown soul's coat with a sweater wrapped around her bloody feet.

Props to S for urban survival. If that was your sweater, ping me and I'll buy you a new one.  

We never found out whose car it was, or how S stubbed her toe and got a black eye. But we hit the road and were back by noon. 

Vinotok, Mk II.    

Lessons learned: 
  • Once Vinotok gets its hooks in you, pack a toothbrush. You will spend the night. 
  • Altitude will rock you. Respect it. 
  • Keep your friends close, and strangers ... catching a ride in your car ... closer. 
I'm sure there are more lessons, but that's it for now.

Till next year,

Punk Rock News
Jesse Michaels is back in the band Classics of Love. Road trip to Berkley!


Off to Vinitok

Now go get your faux-Viking / Colorado Mountain ritual on. Little Burning Man in the Mountains, indeed. 

And maybe I'll remember to write about it this time.