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Does a Hippie Trip in the Woods?
Drug use in the great outdoors
By Ted Taylor
Many of us enjoy a natural high from just being in the great outdoors and tuning into the music of wind through the trees and the buzz of life all around. We don’t need drugs for our summer outdoor camping adventures, but hey, there’s nothing quite like strong coffee perking on hot coals on a morning campfire. A pint of whiskey to pass around the evening campfire. A couple of mushrooms to transform that campfire into a swirling cosmic firestorm.
Author Denis Johnson consumed a bag of ’shrooms at a Rainbow Family gathering a few years ago. He couldn’t handle the intensity of the natural world crashing in on him so he crawled into his tent. “It was dark and closed and I’m safe from what’s out there, but not what’s in here, the impending cataclysm, the imploding immenseness, the jocular enormity,” he writes in his essay “Hippies.”
Johnson, even with his enormous literary skills, couldn’t do justice to the experience. “Anything you say sounds like the understatement of the century,” he writes. But his psychedelic adventure, miles from the comforts of civilization was not particularly pleasant.
This appears to be the quandary of the wilderness tripper. Psychedelics enhance everything, and the experience can be overwhelming, even horrifying in bad situations. And the day-after crash can be hellishly depressing. Even longtime tripper Ken Kesey in his later years opted for just a little acid, enough to “dapple the leaves” as he wandered the trails of Mount Pisgah. Kesey, in his Oct. 5, 2000 interview with EW, warned about impure, or “bad” LSD that’s sold on the street: “The chemical is so minute, if even a tiny amount is slightly bad … sometimes I’ve done it and wished I hadn’t.”
One solo mountain climber we talked to took a tab of pure LSD halfway up Mount Shasta. He made it to the top, but not by any of the safe and sane routes. Teetering 12,000 feet high on a narrow ridge far off the trail, he says “I was panicked out of my mind, but then the clouds parted, and I beheld below me a ray of sunshine illuminated a crystal blue pool in a hidden cul-de-sac. It was a throbbing Technicolor fantasy paradise. Mist formed out of the rocks, waterfalls and snow banks, and the whole electric scene slowly faded to white.”
The illicit thrill of a throbbing electric fantasy is not for everyone. Cheap beer, cigarettes, chewing tobacco and ibuprofen appear to the drugs of choice for folks who fish from the rocks along the beautiful Willamette and McKenzie rivers, based on the trash they leave behind. Alcohol is so prevalent among boaters and river floaters that the sheriff’s department is kept busy ticketing people all summer long and the Army Corps of Engineers decided to ban alcohol on Cottage Grove and Dorena lakes next year. Every year a few tipsy folks drown, usually without life jackets. Bummer.
John Denver sang about his good-natured Rocky Mountain buzz: “Friends around the campfire and everybody’s high.” Chances are he was passing around a pipe of good old-fashioned weed. And that appears to be the preferred intoxicant for many Oregon lovers of wilderness trails and mountain lakes. Pot is cheap (in moderation), easy to get, the buzz is predictable, and there’s not much weight to pack in or out — unless you stumble upon someone’s secret crop. It’s just not legal.
Denver also sang, “I’ve seen it raining fire in the sky.” Can you really see the aurora borealis in Colorado?
Does a Hippie Trip in the Woods? Drug use in the great outdoors
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