Burning Man: Friday
Black Rock City, NV
Words By J-man
Photos By Carly Marthis, Murray & J-man
Video By Murray & Carly
I thought I knew. I'd seen the video footage, I'd seen the photos, I've participated in communal environments, but I didn't know. In fact I really had no clue of the magnitude and impact of one of the most highly anticipated festivals in the world, Burning Man! People came from all over the world to attend this gathering of open-minded individuals in the middle of the Nevada desert. The weekend turned out to be an experience of a life time. There were so many stories to tell; this is our's...
My girlfriend Carly has been attending Burning Man for several years and it is without a doubt something that she looks forward to annually. Carly's father happens to be one of the county commissioners for Pershing County, the county that hosts Burning Man. It was wonderful to see someone in his position, so excited about the event, and so supportive of the folks headed to the Playa.
"It's a great event!" said commissioner Darin Bloyed as he gathered glowsticks and other various items for mine and Carly's trip to the Playa.
Our adventure began in Denver, CO late Wednesday evening. The Jeep was loaded with camping gear, foodstuffs, costumes and other various items. We pulled away from our house on the outskirts of town around 10:00 pm. We headed north to Wyoming, then west through the state and into Utah towards Salt Lake City. We continued west into Nevada to the far side of the state. One thousand miles/16 hours after we began, we came to stop at Carly's parent's house in the small town of Lovelock, NV.
After a good night's rest we headed towards the dried up lake bed that would be our home for the weekend. We traveled through the rugged desert terrain, through rolling meadows, past countless livestock to Pyramid Lake. The name is derived from a pyramid-like mountain protruding from the water. It was wild to see such a large lake in the middle of the desert, like an oasis. We then passed through the small town of Gerlach, which was the last stop before the Playa. A mere one and a half hour drive from Carly's home town, we pulled onto the Playa.
Through rows and rows of cones, past poetic signs, we arrived at will call. Due to odd circumstances we ended up with two extra tickets to the sold out event. We offered them to a couple of women who were in search of tickets and dancing around a full band (drum set and all) out in front of the gates. They were ecstatic and insisted upon a trade and with that we headed towards the gate through minor security.
Upon our arrival at the main entrance, we were made to step out of the vehicle by the greeters...
"Is this your first time on The Playa?" one young lady asked me.
"It is..." I said, curious as to where the conversation would go.
"Alright! Lay down on the ground and make a dust angel." she said with a smile.
So I did, and everyone at the gate started clapping and yelling. Just when I thought I was done and could get up, the girl yelled... "Now fuck your snow angel..."
I looked around at all of the faces watching me and did as I was told, making gyrating hip motions towards the ground. Folks began to laugh and clap loudly.
"Welcome home!" the girl said as she helped me to my feet and hugged me.
Following lots of hugs and smiles, I rang a plastic bell, dusted myself off as best I could and drove into the festival. What I saw immediately blew my mind. On our way around the back of the outer ring of camp we passed countless motor homes, RVs, tents and compounds. We turned into the massive ring and headed towards Center Camp. We located some of Carly's friends and set up shop at Initiation and 5:30 (two crossroads). I felt giddy as we set up camp and unpacked the car. We made vodka drinks, hopped onto a couple of bikes and rode off to explore the outer realm of sanity and find our friend Murray.
We passed a ton of themed camps with overwhelmingly elaborate decorations and set ups. The closer we got to Center Camp, the more bicycles passed in all directions, weaving in and out of art cars. These giant over-sized, often multi-level vehicles, were packed with partying people in costume, as well as DJs. It was like a constant parade on non-sense and techno music. Eventually we came upon a large open area with folks (many naked) riding in every direction, booths and bike racks everywhere. It was as if we were on Tatooine, Luke Skywalker's home planet. The terrain was extremely flat and covered in a layer of fine dust, though we were enclosed by mountains. It was breathtakingly beautiful.
We parked our bikes and headed into Center Camp on foot. There was art, performance, and happiness everywhere. For the first time in my life I experienced what a true utopia felt like. It was incredible. As we walked around the massive tent structure we passed musicians, acrobats, folks doing collective yoga, political speakers, and characters that could not be of this world. The environment was indescribable.
We headed out of Center Camp and back to our bikes which we rode toward the keyhole then on towards the Man, down a road lined with wooden light poles. The Man was impressive. It was a large wooden structure crawling with folks looking to enjoy and connect with it before it burned the following night.
We rode back to our camp to refill our drinks and water supply. Our plan was to check Center Camp every three hours until we met Murray, so we headed back that way. We stopped at a row of porta johns and as I came out of the bathroom and hopped back onto my bike, I saw a group of federal "agents" gearing up. One agent already had the K-9 sniffing at the back side of the porta johns. The dog sat signaling and the agent motioned to another agent to go around the front side. At that point my Utopian dreams went out the window. These police weren't there to keep the peace, they were there to ticket and arrest people participating in fairly innocent activities on the Playa.
We rode back to Center Camp and did a few laps hoping to spot Murray on his bike. Instead, we saw several more pockets of agents raiding camps and using their dogs to sniff out and intimidate peaceful cooperative folks. It was a sad realization, that Burning Man was crawling with cops/feds. With that we returned to our camp to regroup and refill.
Three hours later we made one last trek back to Center Camp to locate Murray. On this attempt we would be successful. Carly stated that we should find a spot in the large canopy and stay stationary, a different approach than what we had undertaken prior. Within' a minute of our new plan, Murray, who was sitting on the ground right in front of us got up and walked right towards us looking spacey. It took him a second to realize he was right in front of us, but when he did, we all smiled and exchanged hugs.
It felt good to find Murray. It almost seemed an impossible feat given the massive amount of people in attendance, the large size of the actual grounds and the absence of time, etc. We returned to camp only to realize that Murray was set up just a couple of blocks from us. We grabbed Murray's rental van and headed over to our camp where he would remain with us for the rest of the weekend. As the sun set over the mountains, we ate some dinner, assembled our costumes and headed out for an evening of insanity. While at camp we watched people parachute into Burning from a plane via the Burning Man airport.
"I can't believe this place has an airport and post office..." I said in sustained disbelief.
As we left camp I was immediately overstimulated while we walked towards the open Playa. There were lights, glowsticks, costumes, fireworks, explosions and all sort of visually pleasing sights. We hit the open Playa and were immediately drawn towards Thunder Dome! Thunder Dome is a massive steel cage/dome, in which two people are suspended from the top of the dome and battle it out with large sticks with padded "pillows" at each end. It was straight out of Mad Max. The dome was covered in spectators. The scene was absolute insanity. Prior to the event they had a woman come out to sing opera. Her voice was beautiful and everyone watched in amazement. Murray climbed the dome for a better view...
The night was comprised of one stimulating moment after another. We walked aimlessly across the dark Playa towards lights, explosions and past lit up art cars. There was no order to the chaos, just the consistency of the madness and randomness involved. At some point in the evening, we came upon my favorite art car of the festival, The Steampunk Octopus; a giant militarized looking octopus that shot fire out of it's tentacles and head. I was floored.
"What the fuck!?!" I muttered to myself in disbelief.
We headed past the Man, down the main road to the temple. I could see the temple in the distance, but couldn't make out its magnitude and incredible vibe. Behind us fireworks raged in one of the largest displays that we had ever seen. It seemed to go on forever and included explosive patterns unlike anything that I had ever witnessed. After walking for what felt like forever, we arrived at the Temple. I had never in my life seen anything like it. It was massive, with archways and columns everywhere. There were bridges that lead to an upper level and the center was open and filled with people laying on their backs listening to the chimes that the Temple played. The vibe was the most incredible thing that I have ever felt in my life. It was as close to a religious experience that I had ever felt.
We collected ourselves and headed across the dark Playa away from the Temple, passing art installations and unique structures. We arrived and the DJ domes where Murray and I continued to toss his LED frisbee as we had done all night. From there, we headed towards a really incredible art exhibit that our friends had a hand in helping to create.
In the distance we saw an enormous fire. The Trojan Horse was being burned! We gathered our gear and our minds and headed to the massive assembly of art cars, people and mayhem. We made our way through the crowd and climbed on top of an art car that was fashioned as a boardroom table. To our right was a massive art car with people climbing all over it. It boasted a stripper pole, disco ball and a furry layer of material. It was a wild scene. We all watched as the Trojan Horse burned to the ground.
Following the evening's burn, we made our way back past Center Camp where people were gathered watching some women perform acrobatics on hoola hoops suspended from the ceiling of the large structure. We then headed back towards camp to conclude our evening. We dusted off as best we could and climbed into our tent. Somewhere in the early hours of the morning we were awoken by some of our friends who had just arrived to the Playa. It was a relief to know that they had made it safely. We slipped back into unconsciousness...