Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Survival of the fittest - Mike Stroud
Beyond the rapids the river entered a second long ribbon lake, down which we would paddle for most of the rest of the day. At about lunchtime we stopped briefly, pulling into the shore to show our race card at another checkpoint. 'We debated sleeping awhile, with Rebecca keen to rest for an hour or two. We had now gone for well over thirty hours without sleep, and before that for several days with only brief uncomfortable stops. Besides, other than my father who had snatched some shut-eye in the boat, we had begun to hallucinate.
Paddling along in a half reverie, we had all been seeing strange things in water, hills or sky - not true hallucinations in the sense that one believed in them but still very real. I had seen huge words written across forest hillsides and some gigantic animal heads carved in the cliff. It struck me as odd that I couldn't easily make them disappear, even though I knew that they could not be there. Yet they were not unwelcome. Although mildly disturbing, they made the time go by.
Hallucinating or not, I was still concerned about our position in the race. 'We remained in the top third of the field, but we would be slow on the mountain bike section to come compared to many of the teams behind us. The end of that section would be a critical cut off with many teams prevented from continuing if it was felt that they could not complete the course before the eight-day deadline. I felt sure that we couldn't afford to stop at all, even though it meant another wakeful night to come. I insisted we should conrinue.
At around six that evening, having paddled for eighteen hours non-stop, we reached the end of the lake and the next staging point. The setting sun cast a glorious light across the water as we cooked and ate.
With tired limbs and backs, each of us thought about remaining there - resting, relaxing, and enjoying the wonderful surroundings instead of meeting them head on. But the race officials confirmed my earlier fears.
We had to get through the biking section by sundown the next day or our race would be over. Wearily, we picked up our bikes and packed to leave. The heavy rucksacks on our backs - containing food, fuel, camping gear, safety ropes, and extra clothing- made cycling extremely difficult.
Things grew worse when we met the start of the hill, a hairpin logging track that would take us up about three thousand feet and over a mountain pass. It soon became evident that pedalling uphill was not an option with the weights we carried and so, dismounting, we reluctantly began the long push just as night fell.
It took more than four hours to make that climb, and winding back and forth through essentially unchanging forest might have been boring were it not for the hallucinations that altogether eclipsed our earlier experiences. Exhausted from physical effort and lack of sleep, we found our minds entering a wild, free-running state of continuous delusion.
All around us as we walked were men, animals, and cities, created from the play of moonlight on trees and rocks, but to our thinking, as solid as concrete. For some reason, I saw many giant Disney characters, or at least things quite like them, and they were not just transient. Some I saw from hundreds of yards away, and then watched as I drew nearer and they became larger. Try as I might to recognise the nature of my delusion, the reality that underlay them, I could not do so, and once or twice I actually walked close by my fictional beings, peering at them from every angle as I approached, passed and left them behind me.
It occurred to me that here we might be experiencing something quite traditional. We were on the lands of native North American Indians, and many of them had used periods of fasting and wandering in the wilderness as part of the initiation into adulthood. They believed that, in this way, young men would meet their Gods, and now I wondered if I had met them too. Many of the spectral figures formed from trees were giant living totems.
My father still claimed that he was not seeing illusions - a denial we all accepted until he stopped to have a pee. As he returned to pick up his bike, we were astonished to see him drop suddenly to his knees.
'Look,' he said, his voice filled with wonder.
We all looked but could see nothing except his bent figure crawling forward as he brushed his fingers back and forth across the rocky surface of the mountain track.
'It's carpeted,' he went on. 'Beautiful . . . Why have they done that?'
Clearly he had not had enough sleep after all.
Sometimes we had identical visions. At one point my father, now hallucinating freely, and I were baffled to see the others standing in the road amid piles of office equipment. We could even point out imaginary items to one another. Yet, when we drew nearer, the imaginary world dissolved - desks, chairs and tables melting back into tree trunks, branches and shafts of moonlight.