In November 2016, we (Earth & Fire) were driving 150 miles to San Francisco in our space cruiser (Subaru 2001 xx7xa.3.4) and happened to hear a long-form audio interview of Stephen Colbert by Terry Gross on her radio show, “Fresh Air”.
During the interview, he described his experience working on The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Trapped in our space flight between the California gold country and the metropolis, when Colbert mentioned that he sometimes experiences “the flaming toboggan ride” (FTR), we both spoke up simultaneously and started talking over the interview. Why? The description he gives is very close to our experience of the life and work of Erowid:
To do one of these jobs, you’ve got to kind of love the flaming toboggan ride of it. You’ve got to like it because everybody else is in the toboggan with you. You’re doing it together, that’s the joy. Everybody is doing it together and at the end of it you go, ‘Hey! We survived! Pretty good show! Let’s do it again tomorrow.’
That’s it. It’s the movement forward, because it never stops. You’ve gotta love the downhill hurtle. There’s no finish line. You’ve got to just love missing all those trees that you could’ve hit today.
We’re from Minnesota and we both independently grew up with classic wooden toboggans hanging outside our homes. Family members would carry them up hills and then try to ride them down absurdly dangerous routes. Imagine yourself holding a couple of ropes attached to a set of boards that you can barely aim, hurtling down a freezing slope covered in trees, rocks, and brush. There’s one person in front who is putatively “in control”. But you might be in back, shouting, “Turn, turn, tree! Left! No!!!”, wondering if you should jump off.
The “Flaming Toboggan Ride” experience includes an illusion of control, the inability to stop the ride, and a sense of extreme responsibility for the outcome. A mixture of stimulation, fear, exhilaration, with bursts of novelty, fun, and accomplishment. And exhaustion. There’s a very real feeling that one’s physical (or metaphysical?) life is on the line, whether true or not.
When imagining the flames, are the flames shooting out of the toboggan, or the nearby trees, rocks, and brush? Left! Left!! No, right!!
We personally appreciate Stephen Colbert’s humor stylings that gave us the Flaming Toboggan Ride as a good description of our experience.
What doesn’t quite match with the Erowid HQ experience is that Colbert’s vision doesn’t include the deep sense of activism. We are kept up at night and work nearly every weekend because we believe deeply that a few more hours each day or each week could mean the difference between the future freedom of joyful consciousness, and a slightly less fabulous outcome–for individuals and the culture in general. We are, in a small way, leveraged representatives of everyone who reads this and feels a kinship with our work and goals. We are all in this together.
Although we’ve been using the FTR visualization a lot over the last year, in the last couple of weeks, we’ve been thinking that representation is missing a couple of elements. First, a lot of the ride is actually great and good things are happening and getting done. I think Colbert would include that in his silly visualization as well. But more importantly, Colbert’s version misses some kind of pedaling or difficult up-hill climb aspect of our FTR. It’s not just a ride, it’s also a physically exhausting marathon. We’re definitely not only barely-steering a downhill ride we can’t quite get off. To fit our experience, it also includes a series of sprints where the “rests” consist of slowing to a running-jog before taking another slug of caffeinated beverage (diet Coke or tea), enjoying 3 grams of properly-prepared Minnesota wild rice with Tillamook Sharp and some garlicly vegetables, a long nap, and then back on the toboggan.
Yep. That’s what our lives are (often) like. And hoo-boy is January 2018 an impressively flaming toboggan ride.
earth & Fire
PS: As of January 25, 2018, Fire and I have decided to help improve the description by using the term “Flaming Toboggan Portage”. If you haven’t “portaged” a whole canoe-camping trip, it can be difficult to communicate what that means or feels like. Imagine you’re going on a two week camping trip, carrying all of the food and supplies in gigantic backpacks. And you are mostly traveling by water, in a canoe. Now you ‘need’ to carry everything on land, up and over hills, to reach the next lake. Including the damned canoes. Carrying the canoes? Really? Yes. That’s portaging. And it’s measured in ‘rods’.
Often, during “the ride”, one is actually dismounting and carrying all of your stuff and the toboggan up and over a huge hill on a dangerously slippery (and potentially flaming) path.