My friend Ryan took acid once. That’s not to say he’d never taken acid previously. Nor was he my friend, actually. But if you knew Ryan well, which I didn’t, you’d be aware of his penchant for all things hallucinogenic. The kids call it tripping.
On this particular occasion, Ryan was tripping in a small town in Northern California. Sandwiched between giant redwood forests and a bitterly cold Pacific Ocean, Arcata attracts university students, hippies, marijuana farmers and a large transient population.
I sat on a porch in the middle of town drinking weak American beer. It could have been a Friday, it could have been a Tuesday, but it was a sunny afternoon. A few people I knew had decided to skip class for the day and, like any good exchange student worth their accent, I agreed to join. It may have been my idea.
“There’s Ryan,” said one of the boys, pointing down the street.
The rest of us turned to look. Ryan was darting between colourful, weatherboard houses at high speed. He was too far away to be audible, but he appeared to be having a great time. I’d met him a few weeks back at a party.
As Ryan made his way up the street it became apparent he had either mistaken himself for Jack Sparrow or was having a stroke.
“Arrrrr!” he screamed, rolling past a letterbox and crouching behind a set of stairs.
“Cannons at the ready!” he cried, taking cover between a pastel yellow split-level and a manicured hedge.
“What the fuck?” we asked each other in unison as he ran past our porch.
“Ryan likes acid,” my mate explained. We took a sip of beer. California knows how to party.
Never tried acid myself. It seems a little removed from reality and, contrary to popular opinion, I quite like reality. On a global scale it’s completely fucked, I grant you that, but if you keep an eye out you’ll witness little moments every day that remind you just how great it can be. Like dropping an egg, only to realise you had actually boiled it that morning, or watching a commuter sprint for a train and jump through the doors at the last second.
Then again, I suppose that’s the whole point of drugs. They can be used to either escape or enhance reality and the same goes for travelling. Maybe that’s why it’s called tripping, and why every 19-year-old returning from their first summer in Europe has to publicly confirm that “travel is my drug of choice”. To them, I say try MDMA. It’s cheaper.
I was a novelty in California. In a town of 18,000, with a student population of 8000, there were only two Australians and the other was from Canberra – enough said. A leisurely “How are ya?” would lead to party invitations and I even made a girl orgasm with my dulcet Aussie twang.
That’s not entirely true. Thanks to issues of flaccidity and my masculine failings after a number of beers, I have sincere doubts that particular orgasm was real. I tried pointing this out to her multiple times but she was having none of it – neither my excuses, nor an enjoyable experience.
“Just keep talking Australian,” she commanded, despite the erectile elephant in the room. So I did. But instead of sweet nothings I whispered ‘Strayan somethings in her ear, essentially acting out 50 Shades of G’day.
“That’s not a knife…” I said. She became louder. The dolphin tattooed on her lower back mocked me mercilessly with its fully functioning bottlenose.
“How ya goin?” I queried.
“How’s the serenity?”
This was too much for her and her confusing climax, which defied both logic and logistics, completely ruined what little serenity remained in the apartment.
“That was great,” she informed me in her American drawl.
It wasn’t, but it was nice of her to say so. When I woke up she had vanished, leaving me to wonder, Did that really just happen?
It’s a question I often ask when thinking back on experiences had while travelling. The memories become hazy after a while, like the recollections of a bender, as if there’s a trade that has to take a place: I can have those endorphins, the rush of the unfamiliar and the novelty of not knowing what could happen, but in return I’ll never quite remember how it truly felt. So I chase it, and more often than not I’ll convince myself that those kinds of peaks are only achievable while travelling, while taking drugs or while whispering cliché Australian sayings to an American sophomore. But of course, these peak experiences are achievable anywhere; it’s just a question of finding what makes you tick, what helps you become open to anyone and anything and how you can incorporate that into your life every single day.
There’s nothing wrong with waking up on a Sunday, or coming home from a big trip, and asking, “Did those things really happen?” But a life put together from a patchwork of nights out and annual leave is, I think, hardly something to boast about. Perhaps the ultimate goal, for me at least, is to forget that question. To be lying bruised and broken on my deathbed and say, with confidence and a clear memory, “Shit. That all actually happened.”