The story of four smokers on Scafell Pike. Sympathy for the stoner. Weed as an exploration enhancing drug. Public perception of marijuana. Deciding who to help. Passive eugenics. Why smoke and travel?
The story is this; four guys go up Scafell Pike in the Lake District, smoke a joint, and, according to various newspapers, become ‘too high’ to walk down again. With the light failing, they call the local mountain rescue team for help, who, with some irritation—a feeling mirrored by the general public—fly their chopper to the area and ‘rescue’ these hapless, high people.
At the time of writing, those discussing this story are also those least equipped to do so. News like this does deserve comment, it touches on various issues, not all of them related to weed. Any good story is a structure to learn about the world and this is no different. But for the comment to have any value, you need someone with extensive experience in the relevant areas. In this case, hill walking and weed smoking. You could debate in which field I have the most experience, but regardless, I have significant experience in both, even if my expertise slightly favour Class B substances.
If you have a certain attitude, nothing I say will change or add nuance to your views. If you’ve always disliked weed and weed smokers, if you’re the type of person that considers calling the police when they smell some ganja drift across the garden, you are, in fact, beyond help. Your attitude is so rigid, and so informed by fear and control freak tendencies, there is nothing to be said. This small article will only upset you. Go ahead and read it, get red in the face, push up your blood pressure, if nothing else, it will give you a chance to get to know your enemy, to get into the mind of your adversary; the much maligned and sometimes despised pothead.
The event has caused some small public outrage. People get angry at the abuse of their public services. They see a situation like this as a misuse of their money. Individuals that are this way inclined will usually over-dramatise the situation as well. I’ve read comments talking about how these volunteers had to risk their lives to pick up the Lost Boys. It’s true in the sense that we risk our lives every time we decide to take a walk or drive a car. But this isn’t how the phrase is usually used. When we say X risked their life for something, it usually means they put themselves in imminent danger. If simple mountain rescues in the Lake District require death defying feats, you have to wonder exactly how old the equipment of the mountain rescue team is.
Anger at the misuse of public services is perfectly understandable. But if it isn’t tempered with some compassion and consideration, it leads down a nasty path. Some people want the Lost Boys to pay for their own rescue. It’s a common sentiment on news site comments sections. They reason that they got lost because they were doing something illegal, these bastards broke the rules and then had the cheek to ask for assistance. Fuck people like that.
That’s an issue of interest here for me; the idea that because someone did something illegal, fuck them, leave the bastard to make his own way down or let him pay for a rescue out of his own pocket. Truth is, getting lost in wilderness areas is fairly common, rescues are fairly common; you don’t get to pick and choose which ones are legitimate.
It’s a train of thought that leads to withholding care and emergency services based on your lifestyle choices. Follow this track far enough and it starts to look like a passive eugenics programme. Should the smoker with lung cancer be treated by the NHS? The boy-racer in the car wreck? The fat guy with diabetes? The alcoholic, the junkie, the addict? The boxer? The extreme sports athlete? It seems pretty obvious to most people that riding a piece of wood with wheels on the bottom at high speeds down steep inclines will end in broken bones. Why should I pay for your stupid pastimes?
Surely, if the public are upset by this, they should be even more upset with the hikers that get lost and require assistance entirely sober. These people have no excuse. At least the Lost Boys can be understood not to be of sound mind. They’re barrelling through the woods on low-level psychedelics after all. A person who is uninjured and requires rescuing from a hill they decided to walk in the first place, is truly a cause for alarm. Hiking tracks in trafficked areas, if anything, are easier to get around than the London Underground system, which doesn’t even have a search and rescue team.
Often, the same people who throw their outrage at the Lost Boys turn a blind eye to the misuse of public funds on a grander scale. While these guys should be left at the top of Scafell Pike, little is mentioned about our tax pounds being dropped on foreign lands in bomb shaped packages, or the overpayment of MPs, or the wilful ignorance of government when it comes to tax evading corporations. If we tackle these wastages, there’s no reason we can’t rescue all the high people in the country from themselves.
A lot of the anger comes from confusion. People don’t understand these guys, and when you don’t understand something, the tendency is to dislike it. It is The Other and The Other is dangerous and scary. Almost all anti-drug arguments come from a place of fear and manifest as a desire to have their surroundings, people included, locked down. They want to take the spontaneous and the frightening away and make it so the only adventures left are ones you plan and book in advance. They want their environment sterilised of all those things that make them uncomfortable.
As a child, life has a kind of mystery and excitement attached to it. Things are new and interesting. Possibilities are endless. I always found this feeling increased in the woods. The woods were especially mysterious. You could hide in them, which meant other things might be hiding in them. As you age you realise, partly through personal development and partly through the conditioning received from our pessimistic culture, that life isn’t interesting or exciting. It is routines and grids, and the only unsolved mysteries left are ones that no one cares to figure the answers to anyway.
A child in the woods exhibits a primal excitement. At least, that’s how it was for me and my friends. I don’t imagine it’s limited to us, then again, I don’t imagine what I’m saying is applicable to everyone either. With the use of weed, you can get that feeling back. The woods feel like magic again and the possibilities unravel as they used to. You feel closer to the ground and your drive to continue comes from a soft but manic urge to see what is beyond those trees, where this trail stops, or what that rock feels like. If you’re exploring with friends, you’ll feel closer to them too. You’ll laugh more. Together, you’ll develop a narrative for your journey that wouldn’t have existed otherwise. If you don’t want to give the world any meaning, weed won’t make you, but if you do, the places you can get that meaning from are far more abundant.
You can sit on the summit and appreciate the beauty of the landscape, or you can do the same thing with a joint, and feel like you’re directly connected to the beauty around you. You’re almost a part of the mountain. It feels like home. The separation between ‘you’ and ‘world’, between ‘I’ and ‘The Other’, is reduced. You’re a monkey in the forest and not too many things feel better than that. This is where your ancestors evolved. This is what your body was designed for.
The problem with the story, from a pothead’s perspective, is that it’s bad press. That was my first thought. Some people will roll their eyes, others will shrug, but a vocal conservative subset will feel some strong righteous indignation after something like this. News of this type, it could take a year off their lives, send them into a thick brow sweat and have them raging quietly to anyone who’ll listen. This is not what we need.
These boys lose marks for failing to properly represent cannabis culture. The story makes them sound so inexperienced, you imagine them crowded together at the top of Scafell Pike, giggling, passing a poorly strapped zoot between the four of them. Clichés like this are no good for weed or its proponents. Besides the obvious failure to get themselves home, everything feels amateur. The correct approach is to smoke a joint before beginning or whilst on the trek, this eases you into the journey ahead, another larger one is rolled and smoked to celebrate with at the summit, and then, to discuss the adventure on your return, a third and final joint. You don’t blow your entire wad at the top, reach new states of anxiety, and call mountain rescue. This amount of weed may sound like a lot, but for a good hill walk or an experienced pothead, it is only reasonable.
The top of an unfamiliar mountain is no place to try a novel mind-altering substance. Nor is it the place to figure out just how good you are at hill walks. To smoke weed in situations like this, and enjoy it, requires a strong mental game. The same goes for being high in supermarkets, shopping centres and unfamiliar cities. If you are prone to nervousness at the best of times, believe that when you’re at the top of a mountain, even a small mountain, half knackered and smoking skunk, you’re going to be reaching some interstellar levels of anxiety.
The same property of weed that makes great art, the way it presents possibilities from the absurd to the profound, creates unrestrained anxiety. You may wish to use your high writing new compositions but end up spending it worrying about something you said earlier, going around in circles on the subject of your own mortality, or convincing yourself that you’re hopelessly lost and in any case, your legs don’t work, so even if you weren’t lost you’d be screwed anyway.
When the papers say these guys couldn’t walk, they’re almost certainly exaggerating. There is no weed that good. For something of that quality, you’d really need to dip into the hardcore hallucinogens, or drink a decent amount of liquor. Even mushrooms may not get you to the state the paper’s want to suggest these guys reached. Maybe the rest of us aren’t getting good shit. If nothing else they could parley their internet notoriety into a decent black market business.
‘Our shit takes the legs out from under you. You’ll get so lost in your head, you’ll get lost in the real world. There are contact numbers for the emergency services in each baggie. Rest assured, this shit is certified.’
The police were called out on this, the idea that weed kills your motor functions, and responded via their twitter feed that they’d described the situation as it was described to them by the Lost Boys themselves. Funny thing is, the police were probably uninformed enough to believe it. It’s more subtle than that. It starts with a kind of slow burning fear, the beginnings of that terrible weed induced paranoia people talk about. They have the wrong idea about this. The truth is, weed is an introspective drug. With any introspection, you risk involuntarily tracking your thoughts through areas you don’t want them and if you don’t have the discipline to stop these spiralling thoughts, you’re going to have a bad time.
Years back, when I was still an amateur, I would get into negative spirals if I felt any sort of pain when I was high. Had I fractured my leg without noticing? Maybe slithers of bone were caught in my thigh and stabbing into the surrounding flesh. I wondered if leg cancer existed. On a surface level, I knew it was nothing. Maybe a light sprain. Even though I was aware of how ridiculous my thoughts were, they came anyway. If you cannot put stupid thoughts like this to the side, you will not be able to enjoy the interesting and grounding ones marijuana can provide. You may end up calling a mountain rescue team. Some people struggle with this element of the weed experience and that’s fine, lots of people can’t handle booze either. Course, the people that can’t handle booze usually don’t call the police on others that can and they usually don’t campaign for the prohibition of alcohol.
How much can we blame these guys? For seeming to reaffirm an unpleasant demographic’s ignorant opinion, we can blame them wholly. The search and rescue team coming out for them? Man, I don’t think I’d have called them, seems a little soft to me, a little over the top, a little like someone freaking out on weed.
I don’t see anything other than ill-preparation and stupidity creating this situation. How much is the weed responsible for? Probably the anxiety that broke them wouldn’t have been present without the weed, but there’s no reason they couldn’t have gotten lost regardless, the difference really, is how the story gets reported after the fact. Now its a farce comedy that caricatures weed culture, when it could just as easily have been a few mates getting off track and getting lost. That wouldn’t have been a story. At least the Lost Boys saved us from a slow news day and showed us that some people’s compassion is dependent on the legal system.