April 19th – Bicycle Day, commemorated as the date the discoverer of LSD, Albert Hoffman, took his first intentional dose of acid in 1943.
“I was completely astonished by the beauty of nature. Our eyes see just a small fraction of the light in the world. It is a trick to make a colored world, which does not exist outside of human beings.” Hofman.
My own personal Bicycle Day was London Gay Pride 1989. I met guys taking acid in the dance tent in Kennington Park, and I wanted in – having been increasingly drawn in my clubbing nights towards house music and the emerging acid house genre. That night I met one of the guys from the park again and we went together to Heaven, where he passed me a wrapped strip of chewing gum. I unfolded it carefully in the bathroom cubicle and found the small square piece of blotting paper inside, adorned with a purple OM symbol.
I had been given no guidance on how much of a dose to take, and that piece of paper looked so small, so I took the whole of it under my tongue and held it there, eventually chewing away at it.
Back on the Heaven dance floor the night came to a rapid conclusion, though to me I felt trapped in an eternity of intense sounds and flashing lights. The first thing I noticed was the floor seemed to slant to a 45 degree angle, then around me all the men became pig-faced. Very soon there was nothing in my universe except sound and light, I could not find anything solid to reference, i felt myself dissolving. Somehow the guy who gave me the trip found me and tried to pull me together. I was freaking out by this time however, and although he thought it wasn’t the best idea, I insisted we leave the club. As I entered the air outside i came to my senses a bit, realised we were walking past a long queue of people waiting to enter the club, understood that we had not been in there long at all.
My trip facilitator was known on the scene as Acid Bob – a tall, skinny triphead from whom I learnt that gay men had been dropping acid on the Heaven dance floor since it had opened in 1979, long before the arrival in the late 80s of acid house, and what we liked to call the ‘second summer of love’. The 80s hi-energy music of the gay scene was the bridge between 70s disco and the house music explosion. It seems gay men had even been keeping alive the path of lsd exploration, which had gone out of fashion after the 1960s. As we travelled home in a taxi to Bob’s house in south London I relaxed and switched from fear to excitement. Everything I looked at shapeshifted into something else…. the skies were full of fireworks, there was more colour around than I had ever seen. Bob tried to calm me down, the taxi driver was getting worried.
A six year period of lsd explorations had begun for me. When I was ready to try the drug again after that first big trip, i started with small doses – soon working out that a half tab, or even quarter, was enough for me to enjoy a night out of non-stop dancing. As my tolerance increased I became more brave and eventually would happily drop a microdot, knowing it was going to throw me deeply into another dimension for eight hours, but excited to take the ride. Occasionally I would slip off the dance floor and sit closed eyes in a corner, prompting a bouncer to come check on me – but I was perfectly happy, surrendered to the inner visions that the lsd was provoking. In those trips I forgot I was an atheist – I went through inner portals, i talked with the universe, and it communicated back, I felt i could travel through wormholes, I became aware I could see, manipulate and direct energy – on those early acid dance floors, at clubnights like Troll and Future, we used to play with chi. We believed we were souls awakening to a new and very different version of life on earth. House music sang this message to us: “Brothers, Sisters, we’ll make it to the promised land.”
The next day after a trip, I went back to scepticism and atheism. I had real life to deal with – diagnosed HIV+ in 1990, I became angry with the world, with weekly acid trips my time of escape to a much better place. When AIDS set in, early 1995, I started to ask spiritual questions about existence – i read books about witchcraft, buddhism, and the tao and the ‘new age’. Opening my mind to a god concept for the first time since I gave up on Christianity aged 12, ‘light’ flooded into my brain. My mind seemed to speed up and get out of control – suddenly everything was overstimulating me and inspiring me to manic mystical outbursts. But I remembered the acid trips, i recalled that I had learnt to navigate the ways of the mind and get beyond, way beyond them. Didn’t I used to think I was talking to ‘god’ when i was tripping on the Heaven dancefloor, or at the Market Tavern? I dropped the scepticism and began a spiritual journey – suddenly ‘knowing’ that there is a second birth possible in life, a birth of the soul-self, which exists in union and communion with all creation, that knows it has lived before and that has no fear of death, seeing it as going home. We get to this rebirth by releasing ego, attachments, aversions – by surrendering the mind to the sky, was how it felt. With early death my only future prospect, this was quite an easy surrender to make.
I believe those acid tabs prepared me for the biggest trip of all – into the mystery of consciousness, light, love, death and incarnation. They showed me that other dimensions exist, they showed me that holiness and divinity are not separate from us, not something to be feared, nor something necessarily to bow down to. Holiness and divinity are the nature of what we are, at the deepest level of our being. They are what mystics of all faiths have always been directly exploring, they are what religions are supposed to keep us connected to. But for many of us today, religions seem to be control systems, and not relevant. Acid revealed the innate connections to the spirit worlds within me that I had previously been blind to, so that when i went on to face death and study the world’s spiritual paths, I remembered that this Unity thing, this Cosmic Love thing, the sense of infinity and eternity, was already something alive and active within me. Acid indeed, as Aldous Huxley put it, exists to help us open the doors of perception, and once open we are never the same again.
“By observing natural scientific discoveries through a perception deepened by meditation, we can develop a new awareness of reality. This awareness could become the bedrock of a spirituality that is not based on the dogmas of a given religion, but on insights into a higher and deeper meaning. I am referring to the ability to recognize, to read, and to understand the firsthand revelations.“ Hofman.
Bicycle Day celebration blotter
On April 19, 1943, Hofmann performed a self-experiment to determine the true effects of LSD, intentionally ingesting 0.25 milligrams (250 micrograms) of the substance, an amount he predicted to be a threshold dose (an actual threshold dose is 20 micrograms). Less than an hour later, Hofmann experienced sudden and intense changes in perception. He asked his laboratory assistant to escort him home and, as use of motor vehicles was prohibited because of wartime restrictions, they had to make the journey on a bicycle. On the way, Hofmann’s condition rapidly deteriorated as he struggled with feelings of anxiety, alternating in his beliefs that the next-door neighbor was a malevolent witch, that he was going insane, and that the LSD had poisoned him. When the house doctor arrived, however, he could detect no physical abnormalities, save for a pair of incredibly dilated pupils. Hofmann was reassured, and soon his terror began to give way to a sense of good fortune and enjoyment, as he later wrote…
“… Little by little I could begin to enjoy the unprecedented colors and plays of shapes that persisted behind my closed eyes. Kaleidoscopic, fantastic images surged in on me, alternating, variegated, opening and then closing themselves in circles and spirals, exploding in colored fountains, rearranging and hybridizing themselves in constant flux …”
The events of the first LSD trip, now known as “Bicycle Day”, after the bicycle ride home, proved to Hofmann that he had indeed made a significant discovery: a psychoactivesubstance with extraordinary potency, capable of causing significant shifts of consciousness in incredibly low doses. Hofmann foresaw the drug as a powerful psychiatric tool; because of its intense and introspective nature, he couldn’t imagine anyone using it recreationally. Bicycle Day is increasingly observed in psychedelic communities as a day to celebrate the discovery of LSD.