March 11, 2017
All of our experiences and perceptions were different. But these were mine.
We left the convenience store around 10:30am, with bags stocked full of water, trail mix and protein bars. The ranger greeted us with a friendly smile as we paid our admittance fee and drove through the northern entrance of Joshua Tree National Park. The winding curves of the road eventually brought us to our preselected trail head. After a brief conversation with a sporty family who had parked adjacent to our green Corolla — and with goods consumed and boots laced, we set forth into the unexpected.
The trail was only a mile and a half, but with unparalleled beauty, photographs failed to do it proper justice. We slowly meandered along our way soaking up all that we could while listening to tunes by the Mystic Braves. Rom had already started feeling the effects of the unfamiliar subconscious energy that slowly was spreading across his body for the first time. Shu and I were feeling normal, having enlightening discussions on various scientific disciplines while KC followed behind. We stopped for a brief rest and sip of water masked by the shade of a tree about a mile in. It was only 80 degrees outside, but the cover from the sun felt amazing and our hyper sensitivity to sensory consciousness was first notably experienced here.
We pushed onwards and came upon a large isolated boulder that I thought had an abstract pre-mayan civilization face look to it. Shit was dope. There was also a different kind of rock type flowing between the dominant stone which looked like a river. Things were growing more and more visually fascinating. We had lost the path we had walked on and were confused in what direction to head (it turns out that the path did actually end here and we had reached our destination but decisions are hard to make when your mind has too much to process). So with no better options and the rock calling our name, we moved closer to explore. This is where things started to progress into the realm of weird.
Shu went up to the boulder and gave it a hug. Its warmth surely felt radiant and he looked content so we let him be. The three of us who weren’t busy sharing our love with geographic land masses walked around the rock and appreciated the vegetation around us. There was some moss on the boulder which looked unusually vibrant neon yellow-green. Rom and I found a little cave in the boulder that we felt was calling out to us. It felt very comforting. Shu wanted to sit down in the shade for a bit so we let him. He closed his eyes and smiled as he watched geometric patterns, fractals and colors dance across his eyelids. Rom went to do the same behind an adjacent rock while KC and I sat and stared in pleasurable shock as our environment morphed around us. The greyish tones of a nearby bush flirted with purple as we started to hear voices approaching from the distance.
Being only a short mile and a half trail, it dawned on me that we weren’t going to be the only ones out on a Saturday enjoying this part of the park. It wasn’t secluded enough for our rapidly approaching mental onslaught. We continued sitting for a little while unsure of what to do (remember, decision making is hard). The voices grew closer and I heard them talking about how it would be nice to take wedding photos out here. I realized that if they stumbled upon us sitting behind this rock, we’d
1.) Look really odd. Western civilization social custom frowns upon grown men sitting under random rocks looking at bushes with fascinated expressions
2.) Not be able to properly take photos of them, if they asked
3.) Not be able to properly explain that we couldn’t take photos of them (it’s hard to rationally convey thoughts in a linear fashion sometimes)
With all this taken into account, I prodded the group into leaving our spot and pushing onward to find a more secluded area. As we got up, we saw a troop of Boy Scouts coming our way and we definitely didn’t want to be around a bunch of impressible youths of America. Since the path had disappeared, we picked a direction and stumbled forward as quickly as we could. We immediately came across a ridge of boulders that we excitedly scampered up to get to the more secluded side thinking people would be less inclined to do the same. We were right. There was only one other couple in our immediate vicinity.
They were a trendy fit mid-twenties LA couple out in the desert to take some sick photos for the ‘gram (I only assume this because they played some popular EDM song out loud so I knew she was basic). The girl’s leggings were neon orange/red and had a beautiful psychedelic pattern that I kept staring at from the distance. She also gymed hard and her butt was great so she served as a fountain of beauty juxtaposed against the dry desert climate. The chemicals in my brain had me loving everything at this point and she was one of the initial recipients of my universal affections.
While all of this was happening with the girl and her beau, we had managed to climb up to the top of this rock structure. Shu, KC, and Rom found a shady crevice to sit under but I wasn’t feeling it. I felt my primal instincts kick in and had to climb to the highest vantage point in my immediate vicinity. Fortunately, this was right above where they were sitting so I climbed up and surprised them when they heard my voice say hello from above. There was a little crater that had been carved into the rock over the years from what I assume were star gazers attempting to find a nice place to view the night sky. I thought it was the coolest thing so I convinced Shu and Rom to come up with me. The climb wasn’t the easiest task, especially with impaired motor skills but the body is a beautiful, aggressive beast that is capable of much more than we realize so the challenge, though difficult, wasn’t impossible. KC went back down the rocks and did his own thing for the next two hours or so (time wasn’t really comprehensible at this point).
Shu spent some time before climbing up hugging the rock and pretending to be a lizard. Rom did the same later face down on top of our perch. I had sprawled myself out inside of the crater and was just staring up into the sky. What had once been a calming blue had quickly turned into various shades of purple complete with geometric lines and fractals that were only enhanced by the occasional passing airplane and its contrails. We were all having a great time. The warmth of the sun felt orgasmic upon the skin as the lifeblood of the universe pulsed across us. (Indigenous shamanistic cultures really know what they are talking about with all their connections to various aspects of nature. Shit is real, fam!) We were laughing at nonsensical conversation about God knows what and Shu cried tears of joy from laughing so hard. It was beautiful. One such conversation I mustered the ability to type into my phone.
“What is real? What is Fake?”
Shu went to set up his 360 camera below us to capture the scenery and Rom tried to figure out where to pee. This decision was not an easy one. The Boy Scouts had set up their campsites in the valley behind us where we had once came so Rom didn’t want to whip his dick out and pee in that direction (laws are dumb). He also couldn’t pee off the most convenient side of the ledge because I was sprawled out in that direction. Thinking that it was waterproof, I joked that he should pee on the camera. This idea gathered a little too much steam before we eventually convinced him that he shouldn’t actually do this.
The sensory input when peaking is overwhelming and it’s easy to lose track of what your end goal is, no matter how small. Rom wanted to pee but in order to do this he needed to put his socks and shoes on. This proved to be an ordeal as he was constantly distracted by the visuals, whatever we were laughing at and the occasional desire to take a drink of water. Eventually, he got everything together and went down to pee but was still having a tough time enacting his plan. I got a burst of spontaneity and immediately acted upon it. I lept up to pee and went to the spot he was originally eyeing.
There was a large cactus directly in front of me so I thought it would be cool to pee on that but knew that if I lost my balance and fell forward I would be in for an uncomfortable time. I figured I could balance so I proceeded. Rom said something funny so I turned around to look at him, and wouldn’t ya know, I lost my balance. I had to jump to the side mid-piss to avoid falling into the cactus. The best part about this mini affair was that it was likely caught on film courtesy of Shu’s 360 camera.
Rom eventually went pee and the three of us all climbed back to the top of our ledge. Rom asked, “Where’s Eric?” in reference to KC. But this man’s name was by no means Eric. I don’t even know where he got Eric from?? It was at this point that we realized we had no idea where KC was. We called his name and got no response. We figured we should probably attempt to be responsible and go find this dude.
It took a good while to get ourselves collected because we were peaking again. My mouth was dry and frothy so I kept spitting every few minutes which prompted Rom to declare that spitting was an art form. I agreed with him and we traded personal and cultural stories about this gross and archaic display of masculinity. I tried to conjure up some phlegm from my sinuses into the back of my throat but this just led me to gag and dry heave. We found it funny. He then referenced Titanic and I told him that I hadn’t seen the movie to which he shouted astonished, “YOU HAVEN’T SEEN TITANIC?!?!??!” into the valley of Boy Scouts below. We kept talking about spitting until we realized we were supposed to be looking for KC.
We got off the ledge and tried shouting his name again. This time, he stood up at the bottom of the rock formation and stared up at us with a face of pure bewilderment and terror. Apparently, he had spent the entire time that the rest of us were on the ledge simply lying in a ditch thinking he was dead. He said afterwards that there were flies climbing on him and he even let one land directly on his eye because he thought he was dead (LOLZ) He gathered himself and his belongings and made his way up towards us because we wanted to go explore the valley below.
While he made his way up to us, Shu grabbed his camera and Rom and I talked. In relation to the Boy Scouts or something I aggressively shouted out “FUCK KIDS!” (dry humor doesn’t really convey well without context). Anyway, we also noticed this straight line of rock that traced several ridges and hills that captivated us.
Once KC made it up, we climbed down into the valley. Rom and I whipped out my knife and started cutting into a cactus out of curiosity. He then reminded me that it wasn’t the large thorns that we needed to be wary of, but the shorter, fibrous ones. “That’s how they get you,” he affirmed. After cutting up that cactus, I wandered off ahead of the rest of the group and this is where I got myself into some trouble.
Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been pretty fascinated by cactus. I think the thing I find most intriguing about them is that instead of having leaves like normal plants and trees, these bitches have thorns?!! Essentially every cactus that I come across, I have to touch — albeit gently. Cacti command respect. There’s a mesmerizing power in their ability to absolutely shred something to pieces. It’s certainly a unique feature of theirs in comparison to the rest of the plant kingdom.
Now, there are normal cactus and then there are cool exotic looking ones. The Silver Cholla is certainly captivating to the eye and I was drawn in by its symmetric and graceful majesty.
I walked up to one of these bad boys and started plucking the needles to see how strong they were, because they certainly looked sturdy! (they were). But in the process of doing this, one of the thorns pricked my index finger. This was no slight pain. This was an abrupt, shocking pain. I yanked my hand away from the cactus and shook my arm in frustration. I saw a drop of blood exit the skin from where the puncture had been made and didn’t really think much of it besides the fact that I deserved this for being an idiot and sticking my hand near a cactus.
I walked back to my friends and told them I had been pricked. No big deal. But then I started thinking about how weird my hands felt. It seemed like there was a lot of blood down in my hands and it felt more difficult to ball my hands into a fist than normal. I started to think that my hands might be swelling up. Granted, increased blood flow to the hands has been a noticeable side effect of mine when consuming fungi in conjunction with walking long distances. But I hadn’t walked any long distance in a couple of hours so this theory didn’t really make sense.
I then thought back to basic scientific knowledge of how some brilliantly colored plants and animals are often poisonous and their colors are used to warn passers-by to stay away. This cactus was clearly different than all of the others. It was frosty. It had strong needles. And it was more sparse than some of the other flora.
It was at this point I got it into my head that there was a good chance I might be having an allergic reaction due to my interaction with this plant. It was tough for me to properly explain this to my friends and I certainly didn’t want to panic and worry them for nothing so I kind of just shut up and followed along with what they wanted to do.
We walked into the valley, tossing a frisbee around (with cacti on the ground this probably wasn’t the smartest idea). We reached a stack of rocks that KC thought looked like the Jack in the Box logo (he wasn’t wrong). We were gonna climb up onto these rocks before Rom said that we probably shouldn’t because he thought he read about a particular culture that lives on the surface of these rocks and we shouldn’t disturb them. He then contradicted himself and said that he could be making all of this up and these rocks might be perfectly fine. Regardless, we turned back in the direction of where we had chilled for most of the day. Someone said they felt like having a group hug so we all brought it in close. After sweating and laying in the dirt all day, there were a lot of unique scents between the four of us. Ahhh, the funky smell of experience.
Despite that brief hug, the whole time out in that little valley had me feeling terrible. I tried to tell myself that I was the one making myself feel miserable and that I just needed to convince myself to be happy again but this was much easier said than done. The existential dread of confronting your own death is not something that one can easily brush aside. After being in direct sunlight for the past two plus hours, the sun was taking its toll. I figured my best bet was to go sit in the shade for a while and attempt to rationalize my swirling thoughts and feelings.
I wandered over by myself and sat down. Being out of the sun helped a lot and I felt a little better. I tried to sit still and relax for a few minutes by breathing calmly and looking at some nearby bushes and boulders. These both started to sway and warp a little bit and I thought, “Jesus. I’m still fucked.” My friends came to where I was sitting and Rom started eating a protein bar. I figured that was a good idea but just couldn’t muster up the strength to reach into my backpack and do the same.
I sat staring at my hands perplexed for a good several minutes trying to see if I could figure out what was wrong. I wanted to see if that cactus was poisonous (I was convinced that it was) but I didn’t have cell service and hadn’t had any since the moment we drove into the park. Going back to the car would be pointless since none of us were capable of driving. I couldn’t rationally explain my predicament to my friends. Even worse, if I somehow was brought into an emergency room, I wouldn’t have been able to find the words to explain my situation to the doctor. It was at this point that I accepted that I was going to die out in the desert. My overall feelings of confusion and helplessness led me to feel more panicked and anxious than I ever have in my life. Overwhelmed, I stared deep into the face of death and acquiesced.
But then I thought about how scarring it would be for my friends to go out to the desert and experience one of their friends dying. That’s not fun. I told myself it was probably best I shouldn’t let myself die so easily. Rom said my hands looked fine and compared them to his. That helped a little bit, but I still wasn’t fully convinced I was okay.
I mustered up the strength to open up a protein bar and took a bite. Food was a foreign substance I had never experienced before and my mouth was disgustingly dry. I eventually managed to swallow a few bites and immediately began to feel better. I drank some water and repeated the process over the course of the next fifteen minutes. Soon, the food wasn’t tasting gross anymore and I was actually enjoying it. I felt replenished and my sour mood went away. I was making jokes again and having a good time. My hands still felt weird but I didn’t care.
My sensory sensitivity to everything was completely magnified during this whole experience. The sun felt more amazing than it ever had before. But it also subtly took its toll and drained me of my energy. Shade had an immediate cooling effect and the sugars in the food were also quickly absorbed into my body. It was like I conducted an experiment on myself and lived to tell the tale.
Once I was done being a moody mess, we decided it was best to hike out before the sun set. We took our time and snapped what were probably too many photos along the way. We passed an all-Asian Boy Scout troop (shout out to California’s ethnic diversity) and the troop leader pridefully instructed his scouts to stop on the side in single file to let us pass. This man took his duties seriously and I had some mad respect for this strong Asian dad patriarchal figure. He made me want to be an Asian dad! We continued along the path and I found another Silver Cholla. I decided that we should make peace and all was good once again.
It had been a long and eventful day. We reached the car and munched on some trail mix (always a good choice) before attempting to chase the sunset as we headed west.
Lots of self-growth and learning occurred today. Having greater knowledge of geography and botany would have certainly proven helpful, as well as general wilderness life skills. But at the end of the day we all had an eventful time full of memories and experiences.
The boundaries of western civilization dissolved alongside our egos as we pulled back society’s curtain to see the Earth for what she really is. That alone is worth more than anything rationally quantifiable.
I will conclude this post with the words of my favorite ethnobotanist and philosopher, Terence McKenna:
“If the ego is not regularly and repeatedly dissolved […] there will always be a slow drift away from the sense of self as part of nature’s larger whole. The ultimate consequence of this drift is the fatal ennui that now permeates Western Civilization.”