Burning Man 8.30 - 9.4.16
Black Rock City
Words By J. Picard
Photos By J. Picard & Carly Picard
Tuesday August 30 - Arrival in Black Rock City:
Our convoy roared through the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation. There was still nothing but static coming through the radio. We made the turn towards Gerlach and in the distance we could see a dust storm, behind which lied the collective destination of about 70,000 travelers. Through the crackling came the sound of BMIR 94.5 FM Burning Man Information Radio. We had arrived after hours of driving and weeks of preparation. Our group pulled onto the Playa and passed down the flag-lined roads of quotes, stories and poetry towards the Black Rock City gates. The first set of greeters directed us towards the box office which had no wait. At the second checkpoint the staff, accompanied by a stuffed K-9, checked our vehicles for stowaways. From there we were sent on our final stretch to the city gates where we were welcomed by an excited team of Burners amidst a massive white out dust storm. This year our group would consist of myself, my wife Carly (seven time Burner), Murray (four time Burner) and new-comers Mr. Pickles and Heather. Our first timers participated in the ritual of dropping for a dust angel and the ringing of the city bell. We had returned to the temporary city of dreams for an extended stay.
My stomach was full of butterflies over the realization that this was the moment that the returning Burners had waited a year for, and the first taste of the madness that is Black Rock City for the new arrivals. As I led our fleet, I turned and smiled at Murray who said, "This is what we do." We hit the open Playa and rode out towards Medusa passing an insane amount of installations and art cars. It was early in the week, but the city was buzzing and so were we. We came to our first stop at what appeared to be a riverboat packed with folks dancing under the lowering sun. The flags atop the massive art car blew in the wind, as I looked around and took in the beauty that surrounded us. We herded all of our cats and made our way to Medusa for a few photos before heading back to check out Funky Town, the camp that Jill and Jason were with. Their personal camp was super cute, with a vintage trailer and a sort of tiki/beach vibe. We hung out for a bit and then decided to ride back towards our side of the city stopping a couple of times to pick up "MOOP" (matter out of place) as the evening's winds picked up.
Back at camp we it our lanterns and suited up with layers and costumes of odd sorts. I loaded up the backpack with our empty cups and a box of wine for the long night ahead as Carly finalized the decorating of our bikes with glowing EL-Wire and flashing lights. Our group reconvened at the porta-potties before heading into the night. Once again we hit Esplanade, this time heading to the left towards Center Camp. To my delight El Pulpo Mechanico was parked along our route and was putting on quite the pyrotechnic show, blasting fire from it's tentacles and head. A massive crowd gathered for "worship," or should I say "rendir culto", as the beats poured onto the Playa. Pickles turned to me, smiled and attempted to communicate what he was feeling regarding the enormity of the city and full scope of what we were diving into. I got goosebumps and smiled back.
"Get the middle finger behind El Pulpo," Murray said, laughing. "Six to five," he followed with, which is known among our group as "go fuck yourself."
We looked behind us and Carly and Heather were gone. We circled back towards the bikes and located them before heading towards the fabled 747 that was supposedly on the Playa. Though we passed an incredible amount of stimulating nonsense, we put our blinders on and rode towards the massive airplane. We arrived to a sizable dance party and a line through security that featured metal detectors and faux TSA agents. I circumvented the line and headed around to check out the inside of the cabin which was lined with multi-colored LEDs and had a plethora of fur covered seats and couches on the main level. I headed up the stairs to the top of the wingless shell of an airplane where there was a DJ booth and a large line to get into the cockpit. I made my way back down just in time to catch the plane being hijacked! Unarmed men and women appeared on top of the plane and dropped a massive banner down the side of it that read "We will not negotiate with Larry," in reference to Larry Harvey, the gentleman who created Burning Man. We had a good laugh before shifting focus to The Man.
Fading beats sounded out in the distance between the constant moan of generators as we faded into the early morning...
Wednesday August 31 - Establishing Perspective:
We awoke a little disoriented and hung over, which was to be expected following a night such as the previous. I located a Gatorade and got the water boiling for coffee via our large French press, as a part of our morning ritual to disavow our hangovers. I stared at the surrounding mountains and fell a feeling of comfort. Though I had started to come around, Carly seemed sad, to which I reminded her that we were in her favorite place and although it was difficult and uncomfortable in regards to amenities, it was where we had chosen to be. As I finished my attempt to make her feel a little bit better, our neighbor, who had a prosthetic arm and leg, came over to our camp to say "hello" and introduce himself. It was a clear sign of needed perspective for Carly from the universe. She immediately snapped to and resumed her adventure. Following a bacon, egg and cheese breakfast burrito, we set up the shower tent and catch basin tarp to evaporate the water and enjoyed a rinse. Upon our return to temporary freshness we met our neighbors who were English, though from Australia. They had just gotten married in Las Vegas and were honeymooning at Burning Man, with very limited knowledge of how to survive such an undertaking. I offered them food, water, beer, the use of our shower and anything else they may need to not end up dead. They were grateful.
We hopped back on our bikes and headed towards The Temple for our first glimpse of what would be David Best's last. We intersected the lamp-lined road from The Man and rode a short distance to The Temple and locked our bikes up near one of the light poles. The Temple was a large, beautiful pagoda that appeared to house multiple levels. Our path wove in and out of parked bikes surrounding The Temple, arrived at the gate surrounding the structure and passed through. As we drew closer, the finite details were impressive and the vibe became somber. The Temple is a space of letting go and honoring those folks whom we have lost throughout our stories. In the middle of The Temple was a large room with a large golden spire coming up from the middle alter and coming within' inches of a large golden spire suspended from the ceiling. The room was packed with people meditating, crying, praying and outputting emotion on an incredibly high level. I pulled myself away from the innermost room and headed towards the outside which too was covered with photos, poems, notes and items of varying sorts. I wandered around the courtyard for a bit before reconnecting with Carly and returning to our bikes.
We located our bikes and rode across the cracked prehistoric lake bed towards Funky Town who was hosting an afternoon party! We pulled into camp, located our friends, locked up our bikes, grabbed our cups and headed to the bar. With our IDs presented and stamp obtained we ordered drinks. Dancing ensued as the group hung out, laughed and participated in a variety of nonsense. I noticed the The Lost Tea Party in the distance above some motorhomes and headed that way on foot. Pickles and Carly joined me and we arrived just as the group was preparing for departure. The train of elevated teapots was surrounded by guards with large staffs who marched alongside maintaining a perimeter for safety. As they marched by, one of the "guards" gently poked my belly with his staff and I laughed like the Pillsbury Dough boy, triggering a roar from the group. The encampment passed by and faded into the distant dust. Carly and I walked just a couple of camps over along 10:00 to get a look at Robot Heart's cherry picker and signature robot head.
The ride back to camp took us strait across the Playa past some incredible art. Our convoy passed the French Quarter, a large facade of the New Orleans district, as well as The Hotel and Hardley's. We made a turn at The Twistine Chapel and arrived at our destination. Back at camp we ate dinner and a short time later, I wasn't feeling great so I laid down. I came to and attempted to rally as the group was heading off. We told them that we would catch up with them on The Playa, which I felt good about, but knew was a crapshoot. After some re-hydrating and some rest, Carly and I dawned our costumes and headed out for the night. The first stop was Deathguild's Thunderdome, where the evening's bouts were already underway. Intensity and humor clashed in a series of battles inside of the large dome, where two participants are suspended from bungee ropes and wielding large foam bats. The audience was raucous and perched all over the dome, cheering and taunting wildly. Walking away from the dome it became clear that it would be a bit of a challenge to locate the bikes among the massive collection of glowing and flashing rides.
"Send her!" a man yelled from the darkness.
A loud click followed and the woman screamed as the coaster could be heard rolling through the darkness. Folks laughed loudly and cheered as it was a comical and unpredictable moment. Heading back up 2:00 we passed some interesting camps including a large sound camp elevated in wooden trees, with stairs to the upper level. With midnight approaching, we decided to head to The Man to meet Murray. On our way past White Ocean, our group re-united when we spotted Murray's Frisbee in the air and Jason's top hat. Additional dancing and partying lead to a rallying for a ride towards The Catacomb of Veils, a massive pyramid structure. With our bikes locked up, the climb up the front side of the wooden structure began. In my state, I found it best to climb on my hands and feet. Once at the top, I turned around to take in an amazing perspective of the Playa. In the darkness it felt like one could make out every flashing or glowing light. There was so much motion with art cars buzzing every which way and explosions at random in the very far depths of the Playa. It was incredible. Without thinking much beyond "I want to climb this," I had no further expectations, so when I noticed a ramp leading down into the pyramid, I was thrilled. Down we headed into a huge chamber that was open near the top and filled with glowing battery powered candles. Down another hallway we went into another chamber then down a ramp into the deep into the pyramid. At one point, there was no one else with Carly and I as we made our way down a hallway with large hanging bells. We reached a dead end and turned back to see more people heading our way. A hand reached through a hole in the wall as a man stopped to hold it. Another popped through and I playfully slapped it to hear giggling from the other side of the wall. We wandered until we found an exit and headed out of the structure. In that moment I had concluded that the pyramid was one of my absolute favorite things that I had seen on the Playa.
Thursday September 1 - All Together Now:
The warmth of the tent brought consciousness as I hopped into my morning rituals. I waved to the neighbors, who appeared also to be enjoying their blend of morning caffeine and stretched as Carly came to. Breakfast was followed by a shower and rapid hydration as the heat of the day increased. Early that afternoon our friends and fellow Burners, Jenny and Jesse (three time Burners), arrived and launched into their quick and efficient set up. As is always the case, Jesse began unloading and assembling something interesting. As I watched, I had no clue what he was working on, but I could tell that it was far cooler than anything that I had ever built. He passed by yet again with materials, but this time also carrying a fire extinguisher, peaking my interest. A mere thirty minutes later, Jesse was showing an increasing group of fascinated folks along the roadside exactly what his project could do. As we watched, he used the sun and one of the magnifying glasses attached to the structure to burn/write on pieces of wood that he had brought in a barrel. As always with Jesse, I was impressed.
We wandered in and out of the workshops surrounding The Man as a large amount of bunnies started to gather. Jesse and I watched what turned into a large rabbit protest as Carly and Jenny wandered into a side room to make rings. There was a lot happening and nothing, all at once. Carly and Jenny returned and we headed back to our bikes and back to camp for some dinner before we turned it up. Back at Camp TIWWD, we powered on our solar lights and sorted through costume options. It was great to have the whole group together for a night before folks returned to the real world. The night began out at the pyramids, where we were informed that they had closed the structure earlier than anticipated. I was disappointed that Jenny and Jesse didn't get to experience the installation. With that, we rode over to 2:00 to White Ocean where the crowd was building and the Playa was in full night mode. We stood just outside the spires as art car after art car passed behind us, dropping off and picking up wide-eyed Burners. Our group was getting loose tossing around Murray's glow-in-the dark Frisbee and goofing off.
A stones throw over and the California Honey Drops were about to take the stage. I located Jason and Jill by Jason's hat and pointed them to where our group was standing next to an LED dome filled with people sitting and laying underneath it. From what I remember, the California Honey Drops put on a good show and before long we were headed back to camp. Past the Orgydome and Twistine Chapel we went into the darkness of the outskirts of the city. Jenny and Jesse called it an evening as Carly and I refueled and headed back to meet our friends on 2:00. After locking up our bikes and a couple of texts, they were located and dancing like crazy to what I would consider some of the worst music that we heard all week. We jumped right in and got weird! Reality became a blur of tracers, laughs and breathing as the night turned to morning. The group decided to head down to another Sound Camp to check out Skrillex while we decided to ride around for a bit and explore what The Playa had to offer.
Tribal beats poured out of the Mayan Warrior while rangers and fireman moved the circle back repeatedly. It felt as if we were existing on another plane of reality; like we were a part of an ancient society coming together to worship in a sort of tribal solstice ceremony. The morning grew later and as the sun peaked over the distant mountains, smoke began to billow from the massive structure, which was quickly engulfed in flames. Even the Rangers couldn't help but take out their cellphones for some photos and videos of the impressive display. The heat could be felt from far back, as the fire grew larger and larger. Back we wandered past the art cars to the outside of the crowd. We turned around just in time to see the pyramids collapse and hear the crowd roar. The party continued as we headed in the direction of camp. By the time our heads hit the pillow it was 7:30 AM.
Friday September 2 - Playing Ketchup:
"What time is it?" I asked.
"10:00 AM" someone said outside of the tent.
"Fuck." I muttered to start my day.
Over on Rod's Road, we found our way in line at Arctic Camp where we struck up a conversation with an IT programmer. We exchanged life stories while a large vacuum art car cruised by, as we ordered up our desired amount of ice from the friendly folks at the camp. While loading it into our packs, the woman with whom we spoke to in line shuffled over to show us a secret handshake before she faded back into the dust. We took turns with Jenny and Jesse taking pictures in front of the painted Black Rock City postcard and then made haste to camp to ice down our coolers. Back at camp we heard a rumor about White Ocean being attacked, having cables cut, trailer doors glued shut and gray water being poured out onto the Playa. It was confusing and seemed to make little sense on the surface. We assisted Murray in the dismantling of his setup and the tight squeeze of gear back into and onto his car. Murray bought a few more moments watching Jesse fly his kite. It ripped through the sky at a high rate of speed, buzzing as it passed by. As Murray departed, we dined on Drumsticks to cool us down and help us feel better about the departure of one of our campers.
Carly came out of The Temple where she had placed a couple of pictures and wrote notes to a couple of amazing people that she lost. Oddly, through all of my denial of spirituality, faith and beliefs, I felt some sort of release and closure. I exhaled as we exited The Temple courtyard and returned to our bikes. As the sun lowered a bit in the sky we rode towards The Black Rock City Lighthouse. The lines to climb up into the towers were lengthy and backed up for quite a ways. We wandered around the structures for a short time observing the art before heading over to Funky Town to catch Griz for a song or two. The first appearance of orange in the sky triggered us to circle back towards La Victrola for the evening's Symphony. Along the way we passed Early Birds, a couple of eight foot tall crows with peanuts in their beaks. Though I wasn't sure of the message, I appreciated the artistic nature of the piece. Dust devils swirled in the distance as we arrived at the gramophone.
Saturday September 3 - Tornadoes of Fire:
I opened my eyes feeling well rested and ready to tackle the day with an elevated level of adventure seeking nonsense. Gatorade, coffee, water, breakfast and a shower and I was feeling it! As Camp TIWWD came to, Jesse got his kites up in the air. Anticipation was high for the climax of the eight day event as we rode towards Center Camp to see what was happening. When we arrived, it was packed with Burners engaging in speeches/talks, doing all sorts of yoga and aerial acrobatics, waiting in line for coffee beverages and living life in Black Rock City.
In the real world, one wouldn't always approach following that command, but as we were at Burning Man, we inched closer.
"Hold out your arm," the man said.
I complied and he stamped my forearm with a really awesome red stamp of the camping grid and The Man!
"You should have put dick on that stamp," I said jokingly.
"Next year," he said with a straight face.
After some more venturing around and a young woman gifting us a Polaroid picture of Carly and I under the flags, the group returned to our bikes. We headed towards Playa Info and had a Chuck Taylor art car pass by as we made our way back to the Space Whale. The piece was even more incredible in the light of day and sure enough, there were whale calls coming from the installation. There was something about the piece that I took comfort in. Maybe it was the motherly vibe of the whale caring for its calf, or maybe the bright colors shining in the Saturday sun. I turned and smiled just as a woman ate shit on her bike, sharply contrasting the moment. I moved in her direction to assist, as she was surrounded by helping hands to bring her back to her feet. My smile returned.
Massive vehicles passed by heading in every direction in search of the perfect spot to place their craft. In the distance, a man with a megaphone yelled, "Come join us on The Bleachers for one last ride before we park them for the evening." The Bleachers are almost always entertaining, but we decided to head over to check out The Man one last time prior to his roasting. We snapped a few shots in front of The Man as they were creating a perimeter and bringing in what looked like explosives. Off towards 10:00 we rode as a massive pirate ship passed in front of us. The first stop was a collection of mushrooms that slowly morphed and changed shape. It was enjoyable to watch folks interact with the art and sit under the mushrooms. En route to nowhere we passed a large tee-pee shaped structure with red fabric blowing in the wind. On the other side of the tee-pee structure was what looked like a cross between a modern spaceship and something from the Middle Ages. Jesse explained that it was DaVinchi's design for a tank. Apparently, someone implemented his blueprints. "Only at Burning Man," I thought.
At the end of the craft was the door to the cockpit. It was closed, so of course I opened it. As I did, two gentleman in the pilot and co-pilot seat swung around, greeted me and asked me to close the door, which seemed odd to me. I sat down on the furry bench behind them as they simulated a take off. After a while, I stood up and exited the cockpit to find a long line of Burners waiting to get in. They seemed confused, as was I. I smiled and continued as folks poured into the cockpit. Outside of the plane, people danced under the sinking sun. On the lower level, people lounged on the furry benches and seats. My first impression of the plane in the dark of night was that of disappointment. Though in the light of day, more of the attention to details were visible and I really enjoyed the whole experience of the camp.
Down Esplanade we rode passing the "Misinformation" booth and "Suburbia," a small village of shed sized houses with white picket fences, AstroTurf, mini garages and mailboxes. Past the "Slutgarden" we heard people chanting "Beer from the sky, beer from the sky" as they attempted (and failed several times) to launch a beer with a massive slingshot. Though they were unsuccessful, it was very humorous. A quick stop at Boulder artist, Android Jones' Samskara dome and we continued to the Black Rock Skate Park and Roller Disco. Skateboarders dropped into dust-covered half pipes and output what to me were impressive tricks. The vibe was a lot different at the Disco as folks grabbed their size skates off of a mess of skate covered cubbies. I was surprised with the caliber of ability as folks rolled passed by. One dude was straight up dancing on roller skates like it was the 70s. Just as I was going to head back to my bike, another chick ate shit. I mean she wiped out hard. People quickly moved to check on her, however all I could do was giggle.
Back at camp we filled up on fondue and Asian food in an attempt to prepare for what would for sure be one of the wildest nights of our lives. You sort of can't prepare for an experience like we were set to undertake. It's more about diving in and holding on for the ride. The sun set and the dust blew in with intensity. Everyone ran for their tents/vehicles. Our tent shook violently and dust blew in the light of our lamp inside the tent as we laughed. We continued to get dressed for the evening and as the dust storm passed, one by one we opened the doors to our shelters and came out dawning our party costumes. I sat just outside the car port and looked up at the night sky, taking a deep breath and exhaling gratefulness. That night would be the final night of our adventure and I intended to enjoy it fully!
Following a variety of deserts, euphoria took hold and it was off to the races! We lit up our bikes, loaded our backpacks and baskets and rode off into the dust. The dreamlike statecannot be overstated as we passed camps and art cars appearing, disappearing and reappearing in the dust. Arriving at each intersection we would hear the ringing of bike bells and laughter while folks crossed paths in every direction. It was a wonder that street after street we passed safely. Even the ride from camp to Esplanade managed to separate half of our camp. We re-grouped across Esplanade and located a solid parking and rallying point outside the circle of art cars along 3:00. We headed to the portos and back to the scene of the action. We passed through the ring of art cars blasting beats and found a spot with a great vantage point of all of the fire-spinning that was taking place.
The Man fell and the attendees roared as they fled in every direction for an evening of celebration and revelry. Our group located our bikes and rode back to camp to refuel and reset. Reality turned to a dream. Re-fueled and ready, we quickly made our way out towards The Black Rock Lighthouse Service which was surrounded by art cars and already fully engulfed. It was massive. It was radiating heat. There were dust devils. And it was over quickly, sending us off into the night towards the mushrooms which were illuminated with neon LEDs. The vibe was mellow and surrounded in chaos with flashing lights, lasers, explosions and all sorts of nonsense that went on in the distance. A short jump and we once again found ourselves at Firmament, this time for a bit longer than our previous stop. I took a seat towards the edge of the canopy and signaled Jenny to join me as we enjoyed the familiar sound of the composition. The sound of Classical music had me wanting some Jazz, even if just a little.
A long time after our ride towards the lights began, we arrived at a long row of circular LED lights that spiraled and flashed inwards creating the illusion of a tunnel or a wormhole. In my state of lingering euphoria, I found it to be pretty spectacular. We rode through the tunnel feeling like we were riding through time. We hung out as Pickles and Heather rode off towards something in the distance. By the time we headed back waves of dust were sweeping over Black Rock City. Towards The Temple we went, passing the burning rubble of what was left of The Man towards Esplanade and the keyhole, stopping a couple of times to get leveled with dust. As Carly and I stood hugging in a white out we could see massive flashes of light all around us. We laughed our last bit of energy and headed back down the dark streets towards camp.
Sunday September 4 - A Good Stopping Point:
I awoke and stared up at the prayer flags strung across the ceiling of our tent in a daze. I wandered out and looked around our camp which was in shambles following a wild week. I sought a Gatorade to no avail and started pounding water while I directed a few items towards their proper bins. I opened up the car and slowly began sorting as I made breakfast. I didn't bother to put on shoes while I wandered around camp, as my feet were covered in dust. Slowly everyone came to except Pickles and Heather. Breakfast was under way for one final meal at Burning Man, a sort of "last supper." With fuel in the tanks we began to dive into heavy packing. In past years it's been a miserable process, though this year it didn't seem to bother me. I was feeling good and excited for fast food, a shower and an actual bed. We removed our camp's shower from its basin and allowed the last little bit of water evaporate in the desert sun. Down came the tapestries, the tents, solar lights and eventually the car port. I did a lap around the entire footprint of our camp and picked up any pieces of MOOP that I could find which, was little to none.
The ride out of Black Rock City at that time is always lengthy. We departed with Jenny and Jesse, which was great! Every time we pulsed and came to a stop we pulled out chairs, snacks and drinks. As well we had access to the bathroom in their trailer. It was a very similar experience to tailgating. Four hours later we pulled off of The Playa, no worse for wear. We passed through Gerlach, Wadsworth and hit the Wendy's at the Pilot station in Fernley. The gas station was crowded with exhausted Burners using the small town of Fernley, NV as a launching point to their final destinations across the globe.
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