Burning Man 8.25 - 9.1.14


Black Rock City
Gerlach, NV

Words By J. Picard
Photos By Carly Marthis & J. Picard
Video By Carly Marthis


Months in the making, Burning Man, a 70,000 person celebration of art and culture, challenges attendees to sustain for an entire week in the desert utilizing "radical self reliance." For these two burners, the quest began in June with excessive preparation concluding only once upon The Playa. The dried up prehistoric lake bed allows for no sustaining life outside of the unclassifiable group of world travelers. From Denver, CO we departed on our 2,200 mile trek across the country, tuning into one public radio jazz station after another, heading a mere fifteen hours west to the small desert town of Lovelock, NV, which would become our sort of outpost as wild and unpredictable events began to unfold. Our early morning Sunday arrival triggered sleep followed by last minute shopping, a few hours of kitchen prep and meal freezing. The final packing of the vehicle lead to a humorous unpacking, repacking and cramming of items. Exhausted, we enjoyed one last night in a real bed, though we tossed and turned in anticipation of what the following day would bring.

Monday, August 25th:

We awoke Monday morning at an early hour to a call from our great friend and fellow Burner, Murray. "The gates are closed. Once you've processed that, call me back," he said in a tired voice. So many questions came to mind and after further discussion and a quick tune to Burning Man Information Radio (BMIR), yielded the reality that a storm had passed through leaving standing water on The Playa. Lighting struck the BMIR tower as well as an individual, resulting in minor injuries. As the day progressed, Burning Man released the following statement:

"RAINSTORMS CLOSE BURNING MAN UNTIL TUESDAY

Black Rock City, August 25th, 2014 - Organizers of the annual Burning Man event are asking any participants traveling to the event now to postpone their arrival until at least Tuesday morning. Black Rock City has shut down following rain storms that left standing water on the playa, leaving it un-driveable.

Nevada Highway Patrol will be directing traffic away from Highway 447 at Wadsworth. Local law enforcement have also begun turning around traffic at the event entrance on Highway 34 northeast of Gerlach. Drivers are being instructed to find a safe location to park until the expected re-opening of the event on Tuesday.

Organizers expect the rain to dissipate and the playa surface to dry out by mid day Tuesday and participants will be allowed to enter the event again."

From BMIR on The Playa we assertained that there was a possibility of the porta potties being closed due to service trucks not being able to access them. The radio host was seeking individuals to distribute toilet paper and was encouraging folks to utilize buckets or make friends with your neighbors with motor homes. Even as we sat in Lovelock tuning into the sporadic broadcasts coming out of Black Rock City, all we could do was think about getting to Burning Man.

After the initial announcement regarding the closure of the Black Rock City gates, Burning Man's social networks became a vacuum, with no information coming out of the organization. The feeling of being in limbo was heavy. The day became an extended waiting game without the satisfaction of movement ever becoming realized. Around 9:00 PM rumors began to surface that the gates had re-opened. Without official confirmation and with the evening growing later, we planned for a Tuesday AM departure from the Lovelock outpost. We made arrangements to be guided over a couple of back road passes that would ideally shave hours off of our wait to enter the magical land.

Tuesday, August 26th:

The news came early Tuesday that the gates were indeed open and that the conditions were such that the Playa had returned to some level of "normalcy." Our convoy headed down I-80 pulling off at a small exit with no services. We crossed a cattle guard and traversed over Raggedtop, down an hour long gravel road toward Gerlach. We passed cattle on the open range, wild mustangs and dried up riverbeds without ever seeing another vehicle. After a crazy ride down a road that seemed to lead to nowhere, we hit 447 and gassed up our vehicle using a red gas can provided by Carly's father, Darin. A mere fifteen clear miles down 447 and we found ourselves passing through Empire and pulling onto the cracked Playa which seemed to have little to no wait in regards to vehicles. We were directed towards the will call line, which seemed manageable. Planes dropped in at a nonstop rate to the Black Rock City Airport, dropping Burners off and returning to the sky to pick up more. Two and a half hours later, with our credentials in hand and the line now somewhere near a six to eight hour wait, we made our way through the gates which boasted a zero law enforcement presence, counter to the rumors of FEDs and K-9s, and pulled into the camps.

The roads are laid out by the letters "A" through "K" running parallel to the inner Playa road, Esplanade, while the perpendicular roads were named after the times on a clock. With the 9:00 side of the camping grid near full, we headed past 6:00 and found a comfortable spot with ample room at 5:00 and "J"ade and began our set up for a week in the desert. We quickly erected our tent, Murray's tent, his clothes tent, our shower tent and Murray's massive Tee Pee that would act as our community space. As the sun set, we took a quick breather, decorated our bikes as best we could with glowing objects and a box of wine and headed down 5:00 towards the Playa for our first glimpse of the chaos. Arriving at Esplanade, we came to a stop taking in the incredible scene that had presented itself. Lights flashed in every direction, explosions and fire lit up distant scenes and lasers extended across the horizons, all while folks on bikes, feet, pirate ships and dragons headed every which way. It was the most euphoric scene that we had ever witnessed and it took a few minutes to take it all in.

On our right was a towering contraption that converted the notes of a piano/synth into electrical currents that flashed brightly while sounding out the notes being played. On our left was a sort of bumper car race track with folks in the middle section swinging dust covered pillows at the mini-cars pedaling by. We decided that instead of heading down Esplanade past the clubs and semi-permanent art exhibits, that we would head straight out onto the open Playa to see what sort of non-sense we could discover. One of the first installations that we encountered had a large neon sign that read "BORING" which hosted a DJ and a decent-sized dance party surrounding it. From there we rode across the open Playa towards the man, who was surrounded by tents that were referred to as the "Souk." The man was huge from the ground up and the tents created a very gypsy-esque vibe that offered a variety of stimulation, from mirrored rooms to fortune tellers and large backlit art. It did indeed feel like a "Caravansary" in the middle of the desert.



From the man we headed down the torch lit road toward The Temple. As we grew closer, the finite details became more apparent. This creation had taken a lot of time and energy to output and its fragile feel reminded us of the fact that it was temporary. We passed over an arched bridge into the courtyard of The Temple, where people sat quietly along its outer fence. Inside The Temple, the vibe was heavy, with photos of folks that we've lost along the way, poems and messages strewn about. In the center, under a large wooden chandelier, Burners prayed, meditated and held on to one another, many crying. Being that our energy and excitement was high from our first experience of the year on the Playa, we departed The Temple making our way towards a tall LED tree that flashed through different colors in a beautiful display. Looking off to our right we spotted the dimly lit porta johns. The colorful tree would be our beacon for the restrooms on the Playa for the remainder of the week.

Following our emptying of wine we rode towards Embrace, a massive wooden structure of two people embracing. As we pulled up a flashing LED ghost from Pac-Man man pulled between us and Embrace. As the art presented itself, we appreciated it with open arms and inquisitive minds. After exploring the build of the Pac-Man art car, we made our way into the hugging structure, which was packed with people climbing up and down wooden staircases and through wooden passageways. On the ground level of one of the beings was a large metal heart that hung from the ceiling. In the other, a fiberglass heart that was beating and glowing. The installation was massive and impressive and we couldn't wait to see it burn later that week!

After seeing three of the larger more prominent staples, we let improvised fate be our guide and headed off at random. We eventually came upon a large rickety looking pyramid of ladders covered in people trying to get to the top, then navigate a safe return to the Playa. We locked up our bikes so that a confused or disoriented individual didn't jump on and ride off with them and we began to climb the structure. From the get go you could feel its unintentional sway and with each grab of a railing, its loose jiggle. Around us we could hear discussion of people who had fallen off earlier in the day, whether true or not. Back on the ground a group of riders approached in white fur coats aboard what appeared to be surfboards on wheels spitting erratic colors from patterned LED lights.

What happened next was by far one of the weirdest things that we experienced during our week at Burning Man. We rode towards a gold domed structure feeling drawn in its direction. We parked our bikes outside and walked through its large open doors. Inside it became clear that it was a library, with a ton of books on tables and shelves. I reached for a book from a table on my right and opened it up... Its pages were blank. I picked up another from the same table and its pages too were blank. I turned around and reached for a book off of one of the libraries packed shelves and opened it. We glanced down to see a page full of writing and in shock, we stood silently starring at it. One specific word jumped out at us immediately... "Picard." My last name on that page was the last thing that I expected to see. It was a quote/entry from Star Trek. Our minds were blown. We scratched our heads, had a laugh and quickly moved along into the night.

Coming out of the "library" we had our first encounter with my favorite art car, El Pulpo Mechanico. The towering mechanical octopus seemed to be constructed of parts from a junkyard, that shot fire from its eight tentacles and from its head. As it rode in the distance, I jokingly said to Murray "It's coming right for us!" to which we both had a laugh. Then all of a sudden from about a half of a mile away it made a turn towards us and came right for us, stopping a mere ten feet from where we were standing. Mexican music fittingly blasted from the craft as the heat from the flame warmed us and lit the whole area around us. A gentleman hopped off of the car and approached us and I immediately began asking questions. It was explained to me the there were two hoses running up each tentacle, one for the pilot to keep the flame lit and one for the massive bursts that the mutant vehicle output. The gentleman gave me a sticker featuring El Pulpo as folks began to gather. All of a sudden "West End Girls" by the Pet Shop Boys came over the sound system and the gentleman on the propane began hitting buttons to the music, to the delight of the wide-eyed crowd. As the song came to a close, people cheered and as the gentleman went to step off of the car he was rushed by a bunch of folks who presented him with a group hug.

We made our way back to camp for a little breather and some cold beers before heading back out to Esplanade past Circus Combustious, the tower near Center Camp, Center Camp, the Jazz Cafe and a couple of dance clubs before shooting back out to the Playa. We rode through the darkness until we came upon a dance club that featured small glowing LED circles on the ground that changed colors. From there we returned to The Man and The Souk to see what sort of latenight nonsense we could get into. There were so many folks passing through sectioned off portions of the tents experiencing a wide array of stimuli. From there we rode out toward 9:00 down the torch lit road, stopping at a structure of swings followed by a structure of hammocks for a brief break. On our return to camp we passed The Black Rock Skate Park which was buzzing with skateboarders hitting half pipes, rails and ramps. Just past the skate park we stopped to watch a few minutes of roller skating at the Black Rock Roller Disco. Anyone could throw on a pair from the installation's pile of skates and have a go. For us though, our night had reached its end and what a day it was. Back at camp we crawled into our tents hearing generators, beats and explosions in the distance. Though we were done for the night, Black Rock City had the feel of just getting started.



Wednesday, August 27th:

We awoke to the sun cooking us out of our tent like a hot oven. We in no way felt 100%, but the statement "I feel like a hundred bucks" was tossed around a couple of times as we got our coffee and breakfast going on our small propane cooker. To Murray's disappointment, he discovered that his blender was 550 volts and his solar generator only 400. He took his fruit loaded blender to the camp site next to us and returned with a half full container as he had made smoothies for everyone who was present at the source of electricity. We dove into multiple rounds of delicious fruit smoothies, breakfast burritos and an eventual shower in our new shower tent. All of the aforementioned treats were just enough to return us to a functional state. At the row of porta john's, there was an older gentleman in a tuxedo and bowtie acting as a bathroom attendant. He offered shwills of mouthwash in little cups, tooth brushes and toothpaste, gum, cigarettes and more. Though we were taken aback by the gesture, many indulged in the offerings acting as if it were commonplace.

We straightened up our site a little bit, did a better job of decorating our bikes and made our first day time trek through the city. Riding down one of the lettered roads with smiles on our faces, we were called into a camp where we were offered stickers, buttons, a spritz of water and craft beer. We took them up on some of their offerings as Murray doled out custom buttons that he made that included messages like "Everyone I know is awesome" and "I only sleep with the best!" Back on the road we were stopped following another short hundred yards by a camp filled with older folks who had a sort of "town crier," call us in. We were offered craft beers, jello shots and the opportunity to make arts and crafts. While the one gentleman, who claimed to be a doctor went to retrieve our jello shots in syringes, a lady explained that we could stamp temporary tattoos on ourselves or make a shirt or flag using our asses and paint. They placed saran wrap over a chair, covered it with paint, then the "artist" would strip down nude, sit in the paint, then sit on a flag or t-shirt leaving the imprint of their ass and sometimes their junk.

We had only ridden one block and were being bombarded with gifts and stimulation. At the end of the block a group was gathering and it was clear that something entertaining was taking place. There was a gentleman with a bullhorn officiating a jousting match on a balance beam. The contenders were announced by their Playa names and the battle, though short in duration, involved a lot of action using swords covered in pillows as weaponry. Murray spoke with some of the camp's participants and confirmed that this would indeed be the location of the slave auctions that would be happening later that afternoon and in the following days. From there we rode down one of the numbered roads towards the Playa, past bars serving whiskey and hosting wild competitions. We hit The Playa, posed for a quick group photo before Murray headed off and Carly and I made our way towards "Love," a large metal structure with the word "Love" spelled out in different sizes. People were climbing all over it and making wild jumps from one letter to another. Our focus shifted to The Man, which we had yet to see in daylight and as the day was beautiful and clear, there seemed no better time.

At The Man, people were writing messages on the enormous wooden structure and exploring the continuous nonsense within' the Souk. We shifted gears towards The Temple, heading down the road from The Man away from the camps and toward the "Deep Playa." Along the way we stopped to check out a collection of large flowers that had oversized beanbag style pillows at the bottom and a place for people to put their hands. We placed our hands against the device and our heart beat began to shoot up the flower's stem in a pulsing array of colors. Across the road from the flowers was the Minaret, which boasted a sort of traffic jam of climbers along its lower half on their approach into the tower and up to the caged top. There were no safety nets, there were no traffic cops, just human courtesy and communication. A little ways up the road towards The Temple, we hit a series of arches with fabric blowing in the wind. The piece was called "Silk Road," which played to Burning Man's "Caravansary" theme.

We finally arrived at The Temple where once again, the vibe was very heavy and sorrowful. We stood back and watched as people cried and wrote messages to their loved ones on the Temple wall. A man and his partner situated a large mural of what appeared to be his mother in one corner of the courtyard, while a naked young lady hung up a picture of what appeared to be her boyfriend. She wept and caressed the photo as I found tears running down my cheeks and creating dusty mud on my face. Again, I felt the need to move on quickly, as I was not in a sorrowful place mentally. From the Temple, we returned to embrace for a glance at the huge undertaking in the light of day. Carly and I posed for a photo on a box that read "Embrace Photo Spot." Behind us in the distance, we could see large dust devils spin towards The Man and Temple.

From Embrace we rode towards the Paha’oha’o Volcano, which was a large structure with stairs on the side that led folks to the top. Once at the top, they would place a burlap sack underneath themselves and drop into a slide that exited the volcano. Inside the volcano there were two large drums that could be beaten for the sacrifice. From The volcano we headed towards Center Camp to purchase one of the only two things on the Playa that money could be exchanged for, ice. The ice seemed of top quality, and of a very reasonable value, so I made the purchase and we headed back to camp. On our way we saw a large procession of police vehicles heading towards The Temple to honor their fallen officers whom they had lost in the line of duty. Though the presence of that many law enforcement vehicles was a little disconcerting for an event like this, I was grateful that the FEDs also saw value in the traditions and places in which Burners held near and dear.

Back at camp we iced down our coolers, re-hydrated and laid down on the carpeting that Murray had brought along for just such an occasion. A short time later Carly and I awoke to the sun disappearing behind the surrounding mountains. We made a pasta dinner, cracked some glowsticks and hung them from ours bikes and backpacks, and headed out towards 2:00 in the direction of a rumored disc golf tournament. Upon our arrival, we were disappointed. What was referred to as a forest of mushrooms, was in fact a sparse, empty, dimly lit course. We again parted ways with Murray, with the intention of meeting at Center Camp at a specific time. On our way down Esplanade, we stopped at Circus Combustious, who's evening performance was just beginning. The show featured a range of fire spinners, acrobats, belly dancers and off colored comedy. Throughout the show there was a lot of mistakes, dropped fire and slip-ups, though it was entertaining none the less. A little ways down Esplanade we passed Thunder Dome, which appeared to be preparing for the evening's battles.

As we Headed towards Center Camp, we stopped at the dance club, Planet Earth, to check out the scene. Inside we found a large but empty room, with only two people on the dance floor as a DJ played 80's music. The vibe felt like a high school dance, though the club had a lot of potential! We exited the room and headed past BMIR which was blasting some nonsensical hilarity from the radio station. We locked our bikes up at Center Camp and headed into the large tent structure to look over some of the art and catch a glimpse of some live performances. Inside, we found a very relaxed feel with some incredible interactive art. On stage, a gentleman with an acoustic guitar sang beautifully, while also tapping on the guitar percussively. Over by the still bustling coffee and tea bar, we found Murray and sat for a few minutes on pillows to take a breather. We glanced up at the ceiling to see the circular opening in the grand tent, with its multicolored flags contrasting the blackness of night, blowing in the wind. At one point Murray spotted a couple of rangers wandering through and he approached them to give them buttons. Surprisingly, they accepted and gave us bracelets that read "Bureau of Land Management." It was a humorous gesture. Unlike in previous years, the police and BLM were there to assist as opposed to aggress.

From Center Camp we rode back to home base for a refill of cold beers and other random items. We returned to The Playa and hit a saloon in one of the plazas where Murray was denied service for not having his ID. From the plaza we headed out to The Man briefly, then off to "Insanity," a large LED display of the word itself, reminding us that we were in the midst of pure chaos. From "Insanity" we rode towards 10:00 to explore some of the larger stages. On the other side of a large ferris wheel, we came upon three massive stages, the first of which, Opulent Temple, was dropping some enjoyable four on the floor beats. We spent a decent amount of time at that stage dancing and watching the party grow to a decent size. Out on The Playa, lasers shot off in the distance as flashing lights moved in every direction.

Heading across The Playa we encountered a large Jackalope that glowed and changed colors. As we passed the Minaret, Murray requested that we stop. He dismounted from his bike, approached the tall, poorly lit structure and assessed what it would take to make it to the top. He returned to his bike, then turned back to the Minaret and began climbing. He was cautious about the placement of his hands and feet, while at the same time flying up the structure. He tossed his hat onto The Playa and disappeared into the hole on the side of the tower. A short time later he emerged in the cage on top, to our cheers! He spent a decent amount of time above The Playa, taking in the view and enjoying the accomplishment. After his return to the ground level he seemed energized with a dash of adrenaline. From The Mineret we headed towards Disorient and the large stage at 2:00 and Esplanade where Skrillex was rumored to be playing. To our delight we arrived to find one of the world's most famous DJs, Skrillex, alongside Griz, performing for a massive crowd. None of our group are all that into electronic music, nor are we into Skrillex, but when else would we have taken the opportunity to see a set from the little man himself outside of Burning Man?

After a short time, we headed all the way back to camp, for what felt like miles. At camp we sat, mellowed out and drank a couple more cold ones before calling it quits and crawling back into our tents. With our neighbor's generator providing white noise, sleep was inevitable. Safely nestled in our tent on the comfort of a fully inflated air mattress, we could hear the chaos of the world melting around us...



Thursday, August 28th:

We awoke yet again to the sweltering heat, feeling like "a hundred bucks." From Murray's tent we could hear the sound of fans running off of his generator. We prepared coffee and breakfast as Burners from the camps around us came to life. That morning we would be meeting up with Carly's Father Darin, who is a Pershing County Commissioner, and her brother Dylan, who would be coming out to The Playa for a short time for a meeting that Darin had. We grabbed a shower and drank a couple of drinks that included electrolytes before heading over to the bone tree near Center Camp where we would meet them. It was really cool for Carly to get to spend time with her family in a place that she holds in such a special regard. For Dylan, that day would mark his first experience at Burning Man, which he seemed blown away by. We hopped into the back of the white pick-up truck that Darin was sporting and headed out onto The Playa at a very cautious rate of speed, or lack there of.

The first place we headed was an obvious choice for "tourists" with limited time on The Playa, The Man. Darin and Dylan took photos while wandering around the Souk. At one point we all wrote our names on one of the bases on which The Man stood and shortly there after, Dylan made his way into a tent maze of mirrors. From The Man we headed out to The Temple, again only for a brief time, before heading to Embrace. Upon our arrival we entered the structure and headed up the stairs. As a man in a kilt stumbled passing by, Darin took the opportunity, as he always does, and tossed out a quick one-liner, "Careful so you don't get kilt..." to which we all laughed. From Embrace we headed towards a castle on Esplanade near 3:00. We entered the castle to find a bar, oversized king and queen chairs, an active DJ both and stairs to a second story that overlooked The Playa. In the distance, we could see the dust picking up and it began to look like we may get our first dust storm/white out conditions of the week.

Darin asked the group where we wanted to go and I piped up quickly requesting to head out to the deep Playa to check out the perimeter fence. Darin agreed and we were on our way, which was perfect in regards to saving us an extensive bike trip. As we headed out out to the bright orange fence that lined the event, we could view the whole scope of the chaos that was overtaking the Playa. We headed along the fence passing several outpost art exhibits as I dug through my backpack for bandanas, goggles and painters masks for the group. With our masks secured we headed back inward towards The Observatory. As we parked and hoped out, a lunar rover with four astronauts pulled up blasting what at first sounded like official audio from an actual moon landing... until we heard things like "Permission to land on the fucking moon, over." It was quite entertaining and impeccable timing.

Heading back towards what we thought was Center Camp, we were hit with a white out of dust bringing our truck to a complete stop. I had never experienced anything like that dust storm. Even our group wasn't visible in it's entirety. The dust calmed down briefly as we passed by a bowling alley in the middle of nowhere. When the dust cleared in the distance, we found ourselves at the Black Rock Skate Park and Roller Disco. We refocused our path towards our destination and made it back to the bone tree outside of the organizer's camps. Looking back at The Playa Burners dropped in via parachute into the dust storm from the air with large ribbons in tow, while an art car blasted its music briefly, before they were asked to turn down their music or relocate as they were drowning out an interview that organizer Larry Harvey was giving. "Sorry Larry," someone yelled from the car before they drove off.

I mentioned to Darin that we were going to head over to secure a few bags of ice before returning to camp and that we would be right back. He then informed us that we were already taken care of, as he had four bags in a cooler for us. Carly hopped into the back of the truck and Dylan rode her bike along side of me on our way back to camp. As this was Dylan's first experience with the camps, he looked around in amazement. At one point we passed a couple of completely naked girls with spray bottles, for which I demanded our convoy halt. Refreshed, we returned to camp passing El Pulpo Mechanico, who was not active. At home base we sat and rehydrated before Darin and Dylan departed. We said our goodbyes and they took some of our trash, to lighten our load. A short time later, we found ourselves on the carpet again, dozing off as the sun began to sink in the sky.

We awoke feeling rested, made some dinner and began to prepare for the evening's events. With Murray sporting what looked like a moo moo/dress, Carly wearing zebra stripes and sequins and myself boasting some sort of velvet coat, we made our way past Brokedown Palace, the Grateful Dead camp, which had some intense noodling going on. Out on The Playa, we headed for fire as there was smoke rising and folks gathering. As always, there was a circle of art cars and bikes surrounding the small burn, so we parked, poured drinks and began to wander around the scene. Weaving in and out of art cars we came to a stop at a large pirate ship who's captain was no longer satisfied with the ground level and had utilized the lift on his craft to take the vehicle up to about thirty feet. From up above, the party raged on. As we continued around the circle we saw impressive art car after impressive art car, all dwarfing the slow burn of what looked like a wooden wave.

From the slow burn we worked our way out to 10:00, to the three large stages that we had visited prior. On this evening people were getting down as large fireflies appeared on poles, changing color in unison, while their carriers danced wildly. The next stage over had a massive screen with some intense imagery, but the music didn't keep us in place. We hit the last stage of the trio, who's DJ booth was suspended from a crane and who's LD was spitting fire from the stage's surrounding large poles. It was quite a display, but we once again found ourselves uninterested in the beats. We worked our way back down the clock towards 9:00, where we discovered an awesome plaza! On one of the stages, Crossroads, was a funk band with a full horn section that sucked us right in. What started off as solid funk quickly devolved as the camp began rotating through three bands during the performance. What followed was a pretty terrible cover a previous horrible song in Marilyn Manson's "Dope Show," that featured a sort of grunge style cabaret show. With the third band entering the fold, it was clear that it was time to head in a different direction, though the live music aspect of the camp was refreshing, the music was not very good.

We rode down 9:00, further into the camps on a side of the city that we had yet to explore. We stopped in the middle of the plaza to check out an exhibit that featured a ton of metal structures that were outputting flames. One of the camp's proprietors claimed that the camp was tapping into underground propane reserves, which to me sounded sort of far fetched and fabricated, though interesting none the less. A little further into the camps we came upon a large jungle gym structure called "Swing City" that offered all sorts of physical challenges. We filled our drinks and sat on a bench to observe as Murray scaled the structure to claim a hammock. Physically fit men swung back and forth on hanging rings, while women hung upside down from suspended ribbons.

We rode on into the night down one of the lettered streets coming to an immediate halt as a massive art car, both in height and length, came to a stop on one of the intersecting roads. We glanced up to see four giant teapots atop large structures on wheels being towed by a giant art car. At the base of the craft stood guards all holding staffs in a serious manner, ensuring that no one rode under the massive procession. Bikers gathered to spectate as folks peered out of the windows of the dimly lit teapots, in what was truly a euphoric environment. When the road cleared we parted ways with Murray, who headed further into the camps for additional nonsense, as we rode on into the night. We popped out onto The Playa where we found another huge pirate ship, though this one had a full drum set and band aboard.

Things started getting weird as we headed to Center Camp for a different sort of stimuli. We passed through the large epicenter, looking at photos and paintings, both abstract in nature and very real. Many of the art included scenes from previous burns and intimate images of people who had participated. At one point Carly and I approached a box with space on each side to peak our heads in. Inside of the box was an array of mirrors that created the illusion on an exponentially expanding realm, glowing with a variety of colors from some LED rope at the top of the space. Pulling our heads out of the box was like returning to a strange reality. It took me a second to reorient to my surroundings. From there we rode back towards our side of Black Rock City to regroup at camp and schwill a few Colorado brews.

Reenergized and back on track we headed past Brokedown Palace that seemed to be getting very loose with what sounded like a 74 "Franklin's Tower." When we hit The Playa the first thing that caught our attention was the massive Kalliope truck. We rode straight for it, dismounted and got down to some really fun grooves. It was indeed a mobile dance party in the middle of nowhere and it was getting rowdy, with a DJ above dropping the beats. We turned around to see "Love" behind us. There was a very entertaining inflatable man who was acting ridiculous and posing for photos in the "O" in "LOVE." We hopped back on our bikes and stopped once again at The Man and The Souk. It was a happening spot with people getting into all sorts of nonsense including naked fire spinning. We waited in a short line and headed into the tent of mirrors, The BRC Line, that showed our true reflection as people actually view us. It was a sort of bent mirror that was less impressive in reality than it sounded. As we exited the tent a greeter handed us a button from New York. We wandered in and out of some really interesting spaces filled with cultural items, art and a camel.

Tired and spent, we rode past so many incredible pieces of art and random scenes towards camp. There was no stopping the party that surrounded us, though in order to sustain through the halfway point of our week and remain healthy, we headed back to to our tent. That night as our heads hit the pillows, the generator that had provided our white noise, abruptly came to a halt. We could hear everything that was happening around us, until we dozed off.

Friday, August 29th:

We awoke to our fourth day on The Playa feeling no worse for wear. Our groggyness was nothing that a little coffee from a french press couldn't fix. As we prepared breakfast and enjoyed our showers, Carly was receiving texts from her friends Jenny and Jesse, who had just arrived at Burning Man for their first time. After going through the initiation ritual of laying down and making dust angels on The Playa, they pulled into camp looking dirtier than we did, which was perfect. As we all stood and watched, Jesse backed the trailer into the spaced the we had saved for them. He got out of his car and we applauded the tight squeeze. He quickly realized that the door and awning were facing away from camp and decided to reattempt the task to get it right and with ease, he accomplished the feat. As he secured the trailer and extended the awning, excitement overtook me as I realized our tent would now be shaded, meaning more rest. Murray jumped right into making smoothies as Jesse unloaded a large two-seater bike from his truck. He had designed and crafted it himself and it was awesome! After he got it operational, we took turns trying it out. It was a riot and took quick drop-of-a-dime turns as we laughed at my lack of control getting used to the amazing vehicle.

Jenny presented the group with some awesome Burning Man themed cupcakes as possibly the craziest thing that any of us saw during the week began to unfold. Murray passed by with an odd contraption under his arm. We watched in amazement as he set what appeared to be a foot bath down on the ground. He filled it with water, added vinegar and flipped a switch triggering it to bubble. Without even a simple expression directed towards the ridiculousness of the scenario, Murray put his feet into the spa style foot bath and began his treatment. Our minds were blown. Jesse continued his set up, erecting a hammock out front of the camp. Jenny and Jesse put the finishing touches on their bikes and a short time later, we were once again ready to ride out. The excitement within' the group was high as we were riding with first-timers.

When we hit The Playa we found a very active dust storm that included a plethora of dust devils and white out conditions. We secured our bandanas and masks over our mouths and noses, situated our goggles and rode into the madness. First and foremost, we stopped at The Man where we realized that we were just in time for Critical Tits, or The Parade of Tits! We sat back and encouraged what appeared to be hundreds of topless women, scrambling to find the direction in which they were supposed to ride, due to the insane dust. They circled back and regrouped a couple of times, which was fine with us. Shortly to follow, we headed to The Temple, then towards Embrace. We had heard rumors of Embrace being burned at the morning's sunrise, but we had to see it to believe it. To the disappointment of the group, we arrived at a pile of smoldering debris. We were never able to climb higher into the structure and Jenny and Jesse weren't able to lay eyes on the beauty that was Embrace. From that point we rode towards the castle per Jenny's request, through sections of deep Playa dust that had collected in drifts. At one point we were hit with a whiteout and lost track of the castle, riding off towards a nearby installation that was the head of a plane converted into a DJ booth. When the dust cleared, we were able to locate the castle. We headed in and up to the second level for a better view. After a short time, I headed to the camp's bar, where they asked to see my ID before pouring a warm PBR that was pure foam into a dirty cup that was not mine. I made note of the cup not being mine and was handed the remainder of the warm can. I thanked the barkeep and attempted to drink a single swig of the beverage. Outside of the castle we retrieved our bikes and noticed a two story beer bong hanging off of the castle wall.

We rode back towards camp down the long roads from two o'clock, finally passing the Twistine Chapel that housed the seventy plus year old naked popes that kept a presence at the camp. We arrived at our home base to find a wook passed out in the hammock, inevitably. At camp, we tried on all sorts of insane costumes and accessories before selecting our evening attire. We ate a satisfying meal, cracked our glowsticks for the night and headed down 5:00 towards Esplanade. Besides Carly, none of the group had seen Black Rock City at night with so much dust overtaking the scene. It was surreal. We stood and watched as yet another pirate ship passed by, blasting beats to the packed ship of fools. We made a quick stop at Thunder Dome to obtain the battle times before heading out to Kalliope for an impromptu throw down. We parted ways with Murray and headed over to Earth Club where we entered to a packed house all getting down to Parliament Funkadelic's "We Want The Funk!" We then headed out towards the dance clubs at 10:00. The clubs were empty so we danced around like idiots, consuming wine and watching the bursts of fire from the far stage.

As it grew closer to the time that we were supposed to meet Murray at Thunder Dome, we saw fireworks going off in the distance, signifying the Trojan Horse's inevitable burn! We made haste, only slowing down to ride through a warped wooden tunnel lit with different color LEDs. The circle surrounding the Horse was massive as a procession of art cars drove around it firing fireworks and roman candles that bounced off of its sides. Eventually it exploded with fireworks as well as a deep propane blast and it was engulfed in flames. Before the structure fell, we hit the bathrooms and headed towards Thunder Dome, which was crawling with wildly dressed Burners, including Murray of course. The event's host and official announced that we would first enjoy some fire spinning and live opera. The woman's voice was incredible, setting the mood for the epic battles that would follow. With the music's conclusion, the huge crowd began to chant, "Two men enter, one man leaves! Two men enter, one man leaves..." The hair on my arms stood straight up as the evening's first participants were strapped into the harnesses. The contenders were pulled to the edge of the dome and upon a cue from the official, the warriors flew at one another bouncing as they collided, swinging large pillow swords. Through three rounds of intensity they battled until a winner was declared. I found myself yelling throughout the entire match.





Around the third or fourth bout a massive viking looking mother fucker was brought in for a battle. He grimaced, growled and looked downright scary as the fight began. The two contenders collided in a fierce engagement. At one point the massive beast of a man started using the butt end of his weapon to inflict damage. His weapon bounced off of his opponent's head and out of his hands, as he resorted to fists, to the surprise of the crowd. That was the moment that the illusion of Thunder Dome became real and pure unfiltered aggression poured out onto The Playa. The match was called due to the smaller man bleeding down his face and surprisingly, yet rightfully so, the match was awarded to the beast. In an attempt to mellow out and regroup, we returned to camp for a couple hours of cold beers and on the spot humor, including some fire drumming from Jesse.

Jesse and Jenny called it a night, while myself, Murray and Carly continued to party on The Playa. We returned to Kalliope for a couple more hours of drinking and dancing as the previous evening turned into a new day's dawn. We sluggishly made our way back to the tee pee and then to our tent, for what would be our longest night of rest. The following day, The Man would burn...

Saturday, August 30th:

I awoke to a shaded tent, with no chance of Carly rolling out of bed with me. Thinking it was about 10:00 AM, I started some coffee and breakfast, so that when Carly awoke she could have "breakfast in bed." I realized that I was way too chipper for day five of an event of this sort. There was rustling in the trailer and Jenny emerged, looking surprised to see that I was up and active. "What time is it?" I asked. "1:00 PM," Jenny responded, to which I laughed. "God bless your awning," I said under my breath.

Carly finally came to from the tent, with Jesse not far behind from the trailer. From Murray's tent the sound of fans and Murray sawing logs poured out. We ate a large breakfast, re-hydrated with vigor and prepared for a short ride on The Playa before securing the day's ice. For some reason we all brought our red plastic cups with carabiners that Carly and Murray had made for the group. We rode down 4:30 until we hit the Jazz Cafe at Center Camp, where a live jazz band was performing. We locked up our bikes and headed into the somewhat crowded dome. At the entrance there was a sign that listed the week's events at the camp. To my absolute delight the schedule for the day read "Mingus & Mimosas" from 1:00 PM - 4:00 PM and "Jazz Jam Session" after the burn! Inside we made our way to the bar with our cups in hand. A very friendly young man welcomed us and set us up with our mimosas, at which point our focus shifted to the music. We found a comfortable corner of the circle next to a Jerry Garcia doll and watched as a ragtag group of musicians absolutely crushed the music of Charles Mingus! I returned to the bar and inquired about another round of drink, while communicating that I understood that a "no" was possible in order to ensure that the supply remains for folks who had yet to drink. The gentleman replied that he appreciated my concern for the group, while filling my glass near to the top!

After an extended reprieve of enjoying live music of quality, we headed outside a little bit more buzzed than we were when we arrived. "Hey, I have something for you," called out an older gentleman standing nearby. I approached and he gave our whole group necklaces with carabiners attached for our cups. We hugged and thanked him and rode towards Arctica to purchase a six pack of high quality seven pound bags of ice. I situated them on my shoulders and we rode back to the tee pee to ensure that our goods would not spoil in the mid-day sun. Jesse offered beers from a Colorado variety pack that he had brought. I was reminded of home and smiled as I drank a local Colorado IPA. Jesse spent a solid hour untangling his kite and preparing it for flight. As he did so, I watched thinking that this would be just another kite flying situation. Ultimately, there was nothing typical about this badass kite, or the pro pulling the strings. The kite whizzed by at insane speeds, leaving a buzzing sound in its trail. A group watched and clapped as Jesse guided it through wild twists and turns, dives and perfect landings.

The sun set as dust ripped across Black Rock City in the distance. Jesse prepared brats for the group and we ate until we were stuffed knowing that a full stomach was needed to provided energy for the night that was to follow. Again, we tried on different absurd costumes until we felt comfortable with our choices. Murray made an executive decision and pulled out the coolest item of our camp. He had raided a thrift store and purchased a seventeen dollar coat, which he had The Man and surrounding encampment custom air brushed on to. It was nothing short of epic and with his selection of headwear, he looked like a "Burning Pimp." Off we rode towards The Man who kept disappearing and reappearing behind large plumes of dust. We parked our bikes on Esplanade, deciding to head in on foot towards the gigantic circle of art cars and Burners who were gathering for the week's climax. We were hit with a whiteout of dust and when it cleared Murray and his friend were nowhere to be seen. We walked straight towards the enormous gathering, passing through a maze of art cars, crafts, bikes and tens of thousands of people celebrating life. We found a comfortable location from which to view the ceremony, while taking turns wandering off looking for Murray and scanning the crowd.



A short time after our arrival, The Man's arms lifted into the air while scores and scores of fire spinners lit their torches, chains, and other various flammable objects for a half hour of fire spinning on a scale that I could have never imagined. We stood there dumbfounded, rarely speaking, as there was really nothing that could be said. Fire dancers bounced and flipped on springy devices, while others were rolled back and forth in wild contraptions. There was fucking fire everywhere, as rangers and fire professionals stood by waiting to assist if needed. After thirty minutes on the dot, the fires were extinguished and The Man exploded with fireworks shooting in every direction! What followed was one of the largest firework displays that I had ever witnessed. The structure eventually caught fire and burned... and burned... and burned. A half hour passed and The Man was still standing. An hour passed and there he stood, almost mockingly. People began to lose interest and wander off in different directions. At one point it was suggested that we hit the bathrooms and off we went toward the colorful LED tree.

We glanced over our shoulders at the enormity of the event, as lights lasers and fire tickled the sky in every direction. We arrived to massive lines, the size of which dwarfed any wait we had entertained previously during the week. I walked to the end of the row and peaked around to find an additional row of porta johns butting up against the others facing the opposite direction. I called our group around and we hit the emptying stations without a wait. While inside I heard someone say "Murray?" from outside! I stepped out to find that in that split second that our group decided to hit the restrooms for a duration of two minutes, who do we run into but our lost comrade! We rejoiced in the randomness, parked Murray's bike and returned to the burn. We landed just under the smoke and embers flashing above our heads like a million shooting stars in the night sky. Charcoal pieces of The Man landed on us and flew by as we alertly brushed ourselves off.

After an hour and a half to two hours, the son of a bitch finally fell, flat on its face, to the delight of the large remaining crowd. We headed out down 3:00, located Murray's bike and headed towards the large stage at 2:00 and Esplanade. As we walked a young man approached me and offered me a pack of peanut M & Ms, to which I excepted and passed along to the group. With not much going on at the stage, we peaked into a couple of domes, including Disorient. From there we headed back up Esplanade in a dream like state, eventually arriving at Center Camp. Inside we browsed through art and sat in one of the many booths. Jesse and I were drawn to a live performance that was happening. Two gentleman were beatboxing and making ridiculous statements about Burning Man and the counter culture. We were laughing out loud and really enjoying the performance, when all of a sudden another gentleman with an acoustic guitar was brought on stage and took over with his self-indulgent brand of gobbly gook.

We decided to head over to the Jazz Cafe to check out a little bit of the Jam. We told Murray that we were heading that way and somehow over the course of ten to twenty feet, we had lost him yet again. Carly headed back to look for him in front of the stage and was unable to locate him. "Let's head over to the Jazz Cafe. It wouldn't surprise me to find him there already enjoying the music," I declared. We laughed at the absurdity of that point and wandered out of the encampment. Inside the Jazz Cafe, who do we find, but Murray in his Burning Man pimp coat, getting him some Jazz. We all laughed and stepped in to enjoy the music. From Center Camp we rode out passing a couple of dancing glowing mannequins suspended in the sky from large balloons. Back we headed towards the 10:00 clubs stopping at a phone booth to "Talk To God." There was some confusion about whether or not anyone answered, though it appeared as if Jenny was talking to someone.

We arrived at the stages to a large group of people and we jumped right in. Jesse was throwing out all sorts of wild moves, while Murray tossed his glowing Frisbee into the air and unexpectedly danced to electronic music. "At least with our music you don't have to get fucked up. With this, you have no choice," said Murray, laughing! We were having an absolute riot when Murray called for a group hug! From the stages we stepped back about fifty feet onto the open Playa and got loose with a long range game of Frisbee. Murray was deep in his element as Jesse and I tried to keep up. After a shorter time than Murray would have liked, we took a time-out and rode out toward the porta johns near The Temple, which was glowing from its torch lit courtyard and massive chandelier. From the bathrooms we rode straight out into the darkness in search of The Observatory. With the combination of dust and darkness, it appeared as if we were headed towards nothing. When all of a sudden a structure appeared, though it was not what we were looking for. We stopped and I glanced off to the right. Using a small ring light I illuminated what appeared to be two domes. It was The Observatory! We rode up, parked our bikes and wandered into the dome that was open, where we found two people trying to figure out a telescope that had a cap on it. If there was indeed star gazing going on that evening, we missed it.

Once again, Jesse and I found ourselves in a long range Frisbee game with Murray, who we could just barely see except when the dust wasn't blowing and his glowstick was facing us. We remounted our bikes and headed towards The Temple where we stopped shy for our final game of what had become morning. As we played, the sky became brighter and it was possible for us to see the puppy that was Murray in the distance. At one point I was approached by a "Gurdian of The Temple," who suggested we cease our game of Frisbee as to not disturb the people inside The Temple a distant one hundred yards away. I thought it an ironic interaction given all of the surrounding art cars blasting beats and the folks all around us partying. She went on to exclaim that "it's easy for people to get wrapped up in their thing," to which I concurred with the irony of her self-righteousness. I suggested that she go and enjoy "her thing" and our quiet tossing continued, respectfully.

As the morning came we hugged Murray grabbed our bikes and headed back across the Playa towards our camp. A small group of hardcore Burners surrounded the remaining burning pieces of The Man as all of the surrounding installations appeared differently in the pinkish light of day. I smiled and laughed as we rode off of the open Playa and back into the camps. I knew that moment would mark the last time that we would be in that place following a long week. As we rode down 5:00 there was no shortage of remaining nonsense and folks wandering back and forth in a daze. For the last time, we climbed into our tent which was filled with dust. We placed our heads on our dusty pillows and hoped for even a few hours of rest before our camp's inevitable and lengthy dismantling.

Sunday, August 31st:

We awoke on the final day of our adventure feeling better than we would have anticipated. We began slowly putting items into their right places while our morning coffee brewed and our last breakfast burritos cooked. We made a large meal as we were trying to eliminate as much of our remaining goods as possible. We conversed about our time on The Playa and made plans for next year's engagement, with knowledge from the current year to expand on our experience. We pulled up our shower tent and allowed the remaining water to evaporated in the hot sun. One by one our tents came down and every single remaining object went into its proper bin. We did a grid pass over the ground in our camp to make sure that there was not a single piece of "MOOP" (Matter Out of Place) present. Jesse and Jenny were nice enough to take our trash and recycling as they had ample room in their trailer.At one point I overhead Jesse exclaim to Jenny that next Christmas he wanted an LED Frisbee and the next thing I know, Murray is handing him a brand new disc in the package. Jesse hugged Murray with excitement as our neighbor approached with frozen freeze pops for everyone! I felt like we were kids at a summer camp.

We made a conscious decision to miss The Temple burn, though Murray would remain, and with the car loaded to the gill and our bikes strapped safely to the rack, we said our goodbyes and rolled out of what was our home in the desert for the past six days. Oddly enough we didn't feel sad or drained, but instead energized from the experience. On our way out, people waved and yelled goodbye. We joked about getting a pizza asap and about having a mock wedding on The Playa next year so that all of our immediate family would have to join in on the adventure. We made it a lot closer to the exit without hitting traffic than we had expected. Traffic control was pulsing and pacing the outgoing traffic, triggering a measly two hour wait during our exodus. Rumors of a four to six hour wait behind us loomed on BMIR. As the sunset over the surrounding mountains in an incredible spectrum from orange to purple, we pulled back onto the paved 447 and headed towards Gerlach, Fernley and eventually Lovelock.

We delayed our returning travel day to spend time recovering from the exhausting week. Tuning into social media and returning to cell service, we heard a lot more about a young lady who had attempted to climb onto a moving art car, a huge cardinal sin, and consequently lost her life. We also heard a bunch of news about celebrities who were present and the largely controversial "Plug and Play" camps, that cost thousands of dollars to participate in and notoriously excluded all outside individuals, while shitting on Burning Man's Ten Principals. None of the aforementioned scenarios defined Burning Man. A lot of judgement surrounded several aspects of the event and as is often the case, the rich were thrown under the bus. I found that notion disappointing as Black Rock City clearly could not function at its current capacity without massive amounts of money behind it. I began to ponder, "who are the folks that can afford to create a lot of the massive art cars and installations?" "Who are the people that set up high functioning bars in the middle of nowhere that serve copious amounts of alcohol to people passing by?" In many circumstances its very giving folks who have money to spend on creativity.

Burning Man is not defined by the rich or the poor, participants or tourists, but instead by the draw it has for people of all backgrounds from all over the world. What we experienced through our week in Black Rock City was love, passion, creativity, endless giving, acceptance and a connection with strangers all around us. Time and time again I was brought to tears by the most simple and most humane of gestures, by the smiles that people shared and stories that people told. It was humanity at its purest with objects and concepts that were only temporary. It was life, unfiltered and free...

www.burningman.com

Comments

  1. What an incredible recollection of your trip!! :)

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular Posts