PACKING FOR THE TRIP…
Sometimes people will get together and spend 100 years pretending to be legitimate tunnel bandits. It’s not a common thing, but it’s been known to happen. For example, it happened to me.
Earlier in my college career, a friend from a calculus class told me about “hobbiting,” wherein a group of friends dress up in medieval garb and draw out a fantasy treasure map, with orcs and dragons and treasures, then ingest psychedelic mushrooms and hallucinate an amazing adventure.
So, intent on experiencing this fantastic mind-altering journey, two fellow writers and I got suited up. For the most part, we supplied our own dragon-slaying equipment. Luckily, I owned a pair of giant foam swords already, because I do not know how money works. I normally keep them hidden away because I am ashamed of my nerdiness. More on that later.
In any case, two of us equipped the pair of foam swords, each roughly three feet long, and entirely impossible not to notice. The third group member was even more hardcore, with a cricket bat, a comically tiny plastic shield and a big yellow Nerf shotgun slung across his back (we are not sticklers for fantasy genre equipment limitations). We looked like either the dumbest people ever or the coolest. Most of the people we saw decided we were the former.
After suiting up and drawing a terribly childish treasure map based roughly off Rancho San Rafael Park, we downed the mushrooms and headed out. We had heard (and this is very likely a rumor or a placebo) that consuming orange juice with the mushrooms would enhance the intensity of our visions and so, being very responsible adults and intent on tripping as hard as possible, we set out to buy some orange juice from the 7-11 just northwest of campus. In full hobbit gear.
Purchasing that can of orange juice while wearing a three foot foam sword was an incredibly painful experience for as somewhat reserved as I am. It shouldn’t have been though: the guy at the register didn’t even notice, and the one bro we saw in the store seemed to genuinely enjoy our get-ups. Either that or I do not understand sarcasm, which is possible. I thought I heard the few girls in the store snicker at us, but I’ve been known to get self-conscious when doing illegal drugs in highly public places.
After quickly chugging our orange juice and with about 30 more minutes until the drugs kicked in, we shambled across Sierra Street, hopped a big white fence and entered the park that was supposed to magically transform into a kingdom.
We were ready for anything. We weren’t ready for this.
THE TUNNEL PHASE
As we made our way through the Rancho San Rafael, people couldn’t help but stare. The cricket bat and foam swords made it clear that we were not enjoying a normal day in the park. We were outcasts and likely assumed dangerous psychopaths. When the occasional stranger was brave enough to walk within earshot of us, we tried desperately to appear sane by admitting how crazy we looked. With nervous laughter and self-deprecating jokes, we discussed how ridiculous it was that we were wearing swords, hoping that the people would ignore the swords and us by proxy. Our self-conscious pleas to be ignored only drew more attention and heightened our embarrassment.
We hiked up and down medium-sized hills and crossed a wooden bridge spanning a lake filled with unassuming ducks and several ill-tempered geese. As we walked, our weapons swung awkwardly from our belts, occasionally tripping us and constantly blocking the way of people who tried to pass by. Eventually, we found a long, dark tunnel underneath the road that separated the Frisbee golf course from the rest of the park. We decided to rest inside so we could escape the sunlight, which had somehow become tangible and gained an uncomfortable amount of weight. The drugs had finally kicked in.
A quick search through Wikipedia will tell you that magic mushrooms, or “shrooms,” have likely been in use for thousands of years. In the past, many believed that mushrooms allow human beings to commune with the gods. They were a common part of various religious ceremonies and were often used to enhance spiritual awareness. More recently, surveys have shown that individuals who have used mushrooms often cite it as the “most spiritual experience” of their lives. With this in mind, we settled in and allowed the euphoric high wash over us as we leaned against the cool concrete walls of the tunnel.
With the onset of the mushrooms, our adventure began in earnest. The tunnel felt like home. It was dark and quiet. It protected us from the weight of the sun and judgmental strangers. In the park, people looked at us with a mix of pity, amusement and disdain because we were better equipped for battle than they were. In the tunnel, however, when people walked by, we stared at them. They couldn’t judge us here. This was our home and they were only passing through. We were, and always had been, tunnel bandits.
We were comfortable in our makeshift home. The tunnel had everything necessary for any band of outlaws. There were two walls to lean against, plenty of shade, and no geese whatsoever. It was perfect. But, as time passed, we realized we couldn’t stay forever. A part of our bandit mentalities demanded that we continue our adventure. The time had finally come. The tunnel phase had passed and the outside world was waiting.
Bolstered by our great success in the dark recesses, we boldly set out across the plains, in search of new scenery. We lamented which paths to take, hoping to avoid encounters with large groups of people or dogs. Both proved to be an unavoidable nuisance, so we headed straight for a crowded bridge.
We attempted to stifle some lingering giggles and pretend our clothes were a fashion statement. It seemed everyone but the dog let us slide. The young pup followed us for a distance, fervently attempting to join our triad of companions. We were in no shape to take on new, non-human responsibilities and the dog finally let us be.
Once again we had bested both human and canine.
Moving along through this new section of the park was freshly peaceful. The paths were somewhat quieter, and it had a whole different “feel” than previous places. We were now back to the same general area where we had entered the park, but it felt like nowhere we’d been before. No hyperbole: even the sun felt different. The tones felt warmer and we felt brighter.
I sat down on some bricks that felt deceivingly comfortable, and we continued conversations in the warm afternoon light. The specifics of these conversations can get hazy with time, but the general theme tends to be appreciation—for life, ourselves and others. As outright cheesy as that may sound, these are always the shining moments of such trips.
At the perpetual risk of sounding like a total hippie: the brilliance of taking psychedelics in the park is getting to watch day transition into night. It’s a remarkably able bookend to a great adventure. We all felt closer as we began to wind down.
We gained more of our faculties back, and reviewed the day’s (seemingly years’) events with each other—reliving our favorite moments while they were still fresh. In this afterglow, we talked about what we wanted to change about our lives or what we should appreciate more. Many conclusions were drawn, and they all felt positive.
This isn’t just a “one time I was so high” story, because those stories never end with a lesson. Instead, this story ended with a moment of learning that we will carry with us forever: as we bumbled from stop to stop on our adventure, two of the three of us didn’t hallucinate anything. And that meant that we vividly saw all the people staring, some laughed quietly, but more often than not, their faces crumpled with contempt, but not because we were using illegal drugs (you can’t see that, and honestly, we kept our act together pretty well) no, they were disgusted at us just for having the audacity to wear stupid plastic swords in a public park. That disgust was something expected. It’s why we were so uncomfortable in the 45 minute period we spent walking around before the shrooms kicked in, but our reaction to their hatred was something new, and I think an epiphany that justified our whole “journey.”
Looking back on that Sunday afternoon, we realized that our time as tunnel bandits was relatively short. Honestly, we’re not really sure what a “tunnel bandit” is in the first place. We didn’t do very much in the way of banditry (or tunneling, for that matter). But that doesn’t really matter. Nearing the end of the trip, we came to a group conclusion: We were sad for human beings. We were sad for people so caught up in that quest for normalcy, that something as stupid and harmless as plastic swords could illicit such a violent reaction. We were sad because people like that didn’t know how life works –they had never done anything crazy, never kicked in a stranger’s door, never broke a heart or had their heart broken, or never got real about who they are, deep down. They were so worried that people would notice their mistakes or flaws that they forgot to make any decisions at all. It’s a common sentiment, but we took it to heart: people who don’t take risks never really get to live at all.
When you use mushrooms, your mind can turn itself inward, allowing you to come face to face with a raw, unpolished image of yourself. That image is the part of you beneath your consciously constructed personality. That image is the part of you without the excessive social constraints and unreasonable personal apprehensions. That image is the part of you that has the courage to strap a cricket bat to your hips and be the best damn tunnel bandit Rancho San Rafael has ever seen.
By the time the trip ended, roughly four hours after we downed some mushrooms, hopped the white fence into Rancho San Rafael and spent a lifetime being tunnel bandits, the sun had begun to set and the park had begun to empty. Cars were no longer allowed to enter the lot. We were subtly encouraged to wrap up our trip and head home. And even though we were sober, dressed like idiots and wandering down a busy Sierra Street, we felt vibrant: because we learned something about courage, courage to live your life the way you want, regardless of empty societal pressures to be “normal.” We were armed with a newfound knowledge that it was better to be genuine and hated than fake and adored. Perhaps, to the sober public, three assholes wandered around the park looking like idiots. To us, we had a bona fide adventure. Sure, not every conversation is gold and some notes are just rubbish, but there are genuine flecks of goodness throughout every experience. You won’t often make the statement, “don’t judge me because I wasn’t born a tree,” but we also hadn’t considered that a mire really is like nature made a human trap.
We found no buried treasure. We might even be bad hobbits. But we’re better friends. Headlights swept across three faces as they rushed down the hill. We laughed and held our swords high.