It was my junior year and I was on top of the world looking down on the peons beneath me. Solo room in the house, next door to two of my best friends, and my boy Lenny was right down the road. At this time, I wasn’t about rules and regulations but I wanted to do all the drugs, all the time. It was my last rebellious stage and the one that made me fail out of school. That’s a different story for a different time, though.
My neighbor was a pledge brother from Pittsburgh who we call Chunk. The kid is skinny as a damn rail but made the mistake of letting us know he was a fat little kid whose cousins used to make him do the truffle shuffle. It took the whole class, the actives, and myself, in particular, weeks to figure out his real name and we called him Chunk, Cam, and Carl until we did. By the time we learned his actual name, it was too late. The man’s name had been etched in stone by all of us and that name was Chunk. When we met him, he was a shy dude who liked to drink a beer or two and blaze occasionally. By the time he was an active, Chunk was a full-on animal. We had created a monster. It took until a fateful day junior year to learn how far it had gone.
He and the half-pint he roomed with, who was a notable wild child, came over to my room one day and asked if I wanted to go camping. Being in the mountains of North Carolina, camping is the ultimate pastime. There was a catch, however. As it turns out, innocent Chunk had recently bought some spores and was growing gold-caps under his bed. We planned to spend the first warm weekend of the year in a secluded area, being one with nature and tripping our balls off. I was admittedly hesitant. I only started doing drugs that weren’t alcohol when I got to college. The one time I had smoked pot in high school was after prom, and it made me decide that the “cool” thing to do was pushups in front of a girl I had a huge crush on (if you’re reading this, Naomi, let’s get a drink – I can still pound out a good 15 pushups). My dude Lenny had turned me into a full-on stoner for a while, and I was up for anything. The date was set; Lenny, Chunk, Half-Pint, and Karl were going on a vision quest.
We mapped out our course over the next few weeks. Half-Pint, despite being a little dude who can’t handle his shit, is a quality frontiersman. Rather than just car-camping like a bunch of pussies, we decided to make a move to pure seclusion. We hiked a solid four or five miles into Panthertown Valley, easily the most beautiful place in NC. I vividly recall passing a huge “Caution: Bear Sanctuary” sign and all of us laughing it off like it was no big deal. In hindsight, I’m happy the rest of the crew didn’t get devoured. Since I was wearing my trusty Chicago Bears Hat, I know I would have been spared. We forded rivers, cut through brush, and generally lived like pioneers on the way in. It was damn majestic and even the walk in was a serious experience.
We finally found a nice spot by a babbling brook to set up camp. There was a nice swimming hole a few feet in, and our vision quest was in full swing. Being from a military family, I was lucky enough to have a very nice tent with a rain-guard. Half-Pint pitched his unnecessary six person shelter, which would end up being the clutch move of the day. I threw my rain-guard on top of it because I didn’t feel like pitching my own. Lenny, being a tough son of a bitch, pitched his tent a few yards off from ours. We decided to take the shrooms then and there, around 3 p.m.
This was my first experience with shrooms so I was a little hesitant at first, but I dove head-first into those fungi like I was going down on Kendall Jenner. It. Was. Awesome. All of us except Half-Pint took a tenth. He took a full eighth. We sat by the creek and within fifteen minutes I recall melting like a pat of butter. I stared at the clear sky and saw black lightning course through the sky. It skeezed me out a little, so I decided I needed to get a roof over my head. Hopping in the entrance to Half-Pint’s tent, I was enjoying the hell out of myself. Within ten minutes (in shroom time), Pint and Chunk had joined me. We needed to be in close proximity to people we trusted. Soon we were just lying in the tent with the world breathing around us. Next thing I know, tough guy Lenny comes storming in and sprawls out. All four of us were in the thrall of hallucination and it was just beginning.
The little I remember of this was Chunk, our mastermind, being the nervous one. As you can probably tell from my other articles, I try to be the voice of reason. Every once in a while, Chunky would pop up in a state of fear, and I would be the guy who told him “It’s okay, man. Just relax and take a trip.” I didn’t know if it was the right thing to say, but it worked. We were all in a prone position, admittedly using one another as pillows and having a great time. Lenny was giggling like a schoolgirl, Chunk was trying to stay cool, I was still seeing lightning, and Half-Pint was clearly having the time of his life. This lasted for a few hours until the sun set. By that time, rain had begun to come down, and my cover was a life-saver.
The thing about shrooms is that when the initial trip ends, you’re still wavy. While Pint was still losing his damn mind, Lenny, Chunk, and I were just bullshitting. We listened to some Eric Church, we talked about bad-timing women, and we got to know one another better than we ever had. Lenny mentioned his fear of America going to shit. Chunk talked about how afraid he was to even be there. I just listened and chimed in when necessary because I flat-out hate talking about my past and thinking about my future. It was heavy, but it was brotherhood — the likes of which I didn’t know was possible.
By the time we fell asleep, Pint included, it was well past four in the morning. When we awoke, we made our way out of the site in pure silence, aside from the occasional “Slow up, let’s burn one” for the next hour or so. The ride back consisted of Chunk staring out the window terrified of what he thought life was now, Lenny rolling Js, Half-Pint driving, and me suggesting classic rock songs to keep the mood lively. Words were unnecessary. In the past day we had gotten to know each other, and ourselves, in ways Gandhi could only dream of.
I could go on. I could write a book on Lenny’s plans in case of a foreign invasion. I could extrapolate on Chunk’s knowledge of cars and hockey. I could tell you about the unholy shit I took right outside the tent in a dip and mushroom-fueled frenzy, and I could talk about how much of a hoot it was when Half-Pint freaked out over a lizard in the tent. I don’t need to, though. The point is there are times when you really get to know your brothers. For me, even with guys I was already best friends with, it was in the middle of a bear sanctuary hopped up on hallucinogens. Is it extreme? Yeah. But when you think about it, everything we do is extreme. Pledgeship, rituals, and even weekends. They get crazy. I just take credence in the fact that I know there are at least three guys who will always have my back..