Burning Man 8.30 - 9.4.16

Black Rock City
Gerlach, NV

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.

Our caravan passed through the gates and turned towards the middle lower end of the gridded clock themed streets, settling between 5:00 and 5:15 and J(Justice) and K(Knowledge). As this location had been the home of our previous adventures, it seemed only right to return to our little corner of Black Rock City. The dust had cleared and the sun was shining. We introduced ourselves to a few of the neighbors and popped open some beers, Gatorade and water as we emptied our vehicles and began the lengthy set-up for our near week in the desert. Up went the tents and brand new carport followed by Murray's tee-pee, before the bins of decorations came out. As we were putting our finishing touches on camp "This Is What We Do" (TIWWD), a couple of mutual friends, Jill and Jason arrived to welcome us to the city. They were decked out in sort of steam punk attire with Jason's top hat becoming a reference point early on. Following some quick bike prep (fur, EL wire, baskets, etc), we hopped onto what would be our transportation for the week and made haste down 5:00 towards Esplanade and the open Playa.

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.

A Chinese dragon art car approached with it's lights contrasting the continuously darkening sky. As the evening approached we headed back across the Playa towards camp trying to orient ourselves to landmarks that would be usable to guide us for the remainder of our stay. En route we came upon an octagonal structure with Tibetan Prayer Wheels under each corner. We of course stopped and spun the wheels. Further along our path we hit Esplanade, the road along the inner portion of the circle running parallel to the camps. We passed the Hotel and Hardley's Saloon which were glowing an eerie red glow. The camps had come alive with DJs, Karaoke and all sorts of absurd nonsensical activities as we rode down the city streets through the darkness to our humble abode.

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 remounted and peddled a bit further arriving at The Space Whale, a full size stained glass mother and baby whale. As we pulled up we heard a familiar sound. Carly and I smiled as a large group rode up blasting Colorado's own, The String Cheese Incident. The whales were beautiful against the blackness of the night sky and though I thought I had heard what sounded like whale tones, it was hard to delineate in the state of euphoria that I was in. Excitement over took me as we locked up our bikes at Center Camp. Though there was very little going on at that time, there was always something about Center Camp that I have found fascinating. Maybe it's the infrastructure, maybe it's the sense of tangible community that it represents. We headed into the art-filled space and glanced up at the circle of flags blowing in the evening winds. We took comfort in the colorful lights, pillows, benches and smiling faces wandering in and out of the massive circus-like canopy. Pickles, Murray and I headed out across Rod's Road to a camp along the inner-circle, packed with folks country line dancing and couples dancing. I asked Pickles if he wanted to dance with me, though we both knew neither of us were in any shape to do so. He blushed and laughed.

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.

We arrived, locked up our bikes, re-filled our wine and made our way into the Guild Workshops piazza, courtyard of structures surrounding The Man. As the theme was "DaVinchi's Workshop," The Man resembled DaVinchi's Vitruvian Man and was surrounded by blacksmiths forging metal in maintained high heat and workshops where participants were building drums and other instruments. As well, there was an area full of white elephants that were painted by school children across the globe, as well as elephants to be painted by participants as a form of "Radical Self Expression." In the center of the Elephants Expressions project was a large orb covered in tooth brushes. There was a lot going on along the outer ring, however The Man itself was closed off as cherry pickers and other machinery appeared to be working on the non-functioning structure. It was odd to see that though Burning Man is constantly taking shape, the centerpiece was still being worked on two days after the gates had opened. Off we headed into the night in a daze of flashing lights, laughter, conversation and creativity. We rode until our tanks were empty and turned back towards camp. As the night turned to morning we sat in our chairs, taking in all that we had experienced on the day of our arrival in the city. Before calling it a night, Heather came out of their Sprinter van with a Tibetan singing bowl in hand. We struck the side of it and listened to its different resignations before filling it half way with water and moving the stick in a perpetual circular motion until the vibrations made the water appear as if it were boiling.

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.

The camp came to life and it appeared as if everyone had survived day one. It also seemed like we were getting sporadic cell service, which would be helpful to connecting with the group if we got separated. Under the tee-pee Murray began unloading a suitcase of his wears, while trying items on and laying them out. I marveled as this bro from New Jersey dug into his inventory. A short time later we encountered our first dust storm, forcing a quick closing of all of our windows and doors. Realistically, it was too late. There was no hope of avoiding the dust. As it cleared briefly, we moved some ice from Murray's ice cooler into ours, saving us a trip to the Arctic Camp. I threw on my hotdog socks as we prepared for a bike ride to enjoy some of the Playa art during the day. Carly and I saddled up and rode multiple miles on the open Playa through intermittent dust storms and white outs that brought us to a standstill. For one of our first stops we dismounted at large metal text that read "@ Earth # Home," with a tree in the center of the square. Burners came and went as we hung out, climbing on the structures and taking pictures in what looked like an otherworldly environment.

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.

In the distance, a massive yacht sailed past blasting beats and packed with partying Burners contrasting the vibe of The Temple. We rode towards The Black Rock Lighthouse Service passing a gentleman standing on his head next to a bicycle. The lighthouse appeared in the distance and then disappeared again as the dust picked up. I half expected it to appear in a different location. We arrived, locked up our bikes outside of the large incredible structures and wandered around. We stumbled upon a wedding on the back side of the largest lighthouse. The main chamber of the Lighthouse was filled with ornate trinkets, books and art. We headed upwards climbing up a steep, somewhat rickety staircase/ladder to the second level and out onto a small balcony overlooking the ceremony. Then up to the third level we peaked out onto another balcony before heading out onto a rope bridge which connected to one of the secondary towers. I peered around the tower, which was on a slant, proving a bit of discomfort for me as the plywood floors creaked under my weight. Back across the bridge was another climb up to yet another level. We wandered around the 360 balcony taking in the incredible panoramic views of The Playa before slowly making our way back down to the ground level, where I exhaled a breath of relief when my feet hit the ground.

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.

As we wandered back to Funky Town we were intersected by Pickles and Murray and were approached by a slender gentleman in gold booty shorts. "Here, I think you need this" he said handing me something. I looked down at what I was holding in my hand and read the words "Crystal Boof Kit." I immediately began laughing and handed it back, to which the man refused. "It's yours" he said handing both Pickles and Murray a kit as well. Murray looked less than thrilled as I opened the kit to find instructions, a large crystal, wipes, lube, a breath mint, a condom and a Burning Man shockra sticker. The man explained that he had made 500 and even wandered over to medical to give them a kit and fill them in on what they may be dealing with later. It was a humorous moment among a sea of insanity.

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.

Once the bikes were located, it was decided that we would head to one of our favorite sound camps, White Ocean. Rounding 2:00, White Ocean's laser could be seen overtaking the night sky and vibrating rapidly. With the bikes secured, dance ensued as the spires shot fire and fire spinners began their unscheduled performances. Wandering down the 2:00 side of the the city yielded incredibly massive sound camps, overlapping with conflicting beats while confidently blasting each brand of electronic music. From White Ocean we headed towards purple text in the distance that read "Magic." After a few photos and some water, it was off to the Roller Coaster on the far corner of 2:00 and K. Upon our arrival a woman was climbing to the a top and being strapped into the coaster by a member of the camp. Just as the woman was about to take the plunge the crowd started cheering and the generator went out, completely quieting the crowd and camp.

"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.

Outside on the steps we took in the moment. Jill passed by heading up the stairs and Jason followed behind almost stumbling and having to reorient himself to the structure, much like I did. He turned and smiled at me before his second attempt. A short distance behind the pyramid was the massive gramophone, La Victrola. Following some milling around at the La Victrola on the outskirts of Black Rock City, we headed back towards civilization, more importantly, back to camp. The long ride was rewarded with our double stacked airmattress on the other end and as we climbed in, our bodies were sore and our minds still wandering...

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.

With the dust literally settled from their arrival and our cups full, Jenny, Jesse, Carly and I decided to hit the Playa for their first ride of the week. We hit Esplanade, this time heading right and stopping at one one the first camps along the road, which happened to be hosting a full Bluegrass band. It was a refreshing half hour of live music to break up the monotony of all of the electronic music that we had heard up to that point. A group of about thirty people sat under the camp's shade enjoying the music in the mid day. From there we rode straight across the Playa to The Man, which appeared to be open, though not functioning. In speaking with a young lady sitting under the event centerpiece next to what looked like what would have been used to move it on it's access, we learned that The Man was too heavy to spin and that when they did spin it, they forced it and jammed some of the gears. Additionally, its head fell of while upside down. They were working to remedy what was a potentially dangerous situation and decided that it would not be worth the risk to allow The Man to move.

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.

We ventured down towards the porta-potties and over to the Roller Coaster which was yet to be fired up. Murray informed the group that the California Honey Drops were playing somewhere along Esplanade. We made our way in that direction as to not miss an opportunity to hear live music on The Playa. Pickles also informed us that we would be meeting up with Jill and Jason, who would be enjoying their final night in Black Rock City. Heading that way we passed by a large sleigh that must have been forty feet up in the air on a lift. Folks inside waved down at us from high above. The group continued on until it hit Thunderdome and immediately dismounted to enjoy the action. At first a couple of light weights flailed about until the match's conclusion. Then, a man was selected to take on a woman. I joked with Pickles about how this was a "lose lose" for the man. Wisely, he gripped her up and bopped her on the head, only to be separated, warned and grab her up again. Eventually he was disqualified, though I saw his logic in the madness.

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.

Our journey took us past The Temple, which was beautiful and illuminated with torches, to the Lighthouse and over to where the Mayan Warrior art car was putting on a fantastic display. Firmament is one of Carly's favorite installations, so it was a delightfully obvious and anticipated stop. The ground was covered with folks on their backs looking up at the wild LED display, as classical music played loudly. It was relaxing and enjoyable to take in the project quietly among so may others. Before long the sky grew brighter and the masses flocked towards the pyramids, which were set to burn at sunrise.

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.

I tried to convince myself that I had a fantastic night of sleep and jumped into making coffee. Slowly the rest of the camp came to. Following breakfast, Jesse began working on the bikes, loosening Carly's chain, putting a kickstand on Heather's and oiling all of the chains across the board. The straitening of camp and a shower was followed by a ride towards Center Camp to obtain ice. On the way, we ran into some friends from Colorado, Parker and Jenny, just outside of a large Bluegrass camp. While the group talked I poked my head into the massive structure to find a guitar workshop taking place! Down the hall at the end was a large room with a stage. We intended to return to see the camp in action, but all knew it was a crapshoot.

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.

With the sun passing its high point in the sky, we decided to head to the Temple to honor our lost loved ones. Quite honestly, I had been dreading that moment. Since the passing of Bernie Worrell, I had been having a hard time accepting his death. We gathered our photos and markers, mounted our bikes and rode towards The Man, past it and down the lamp-lined road to The Temple. We parked our bikes and stopped for a couple of pictures before heading in. For me, it was important that I find the appropriate spot to honor my friend. As soon as I walked around the back of The Temple and saw the Black Rock Observatory in the distance, I knew I was in the right spot. "Maybe from here Bernie will find The Mothership," I thought to myself and laughed as a tear rolled down my cheek. I placed his picture on top of a couple of boards and wrapped it with Tibetan prayer flags, before standing back to observe the frame's placement. I glanced over my shoulder to see Jenny and Jesse standing by watching. As the flags blew wildly in the wind, Jesse stepped up, took a stone from Lake Tahoe out of his pocket and placed it on top of a couple of the flags to hold them in place. It was a very sweet moment. A few more tears fell as I thought of my friend and how much I missed his presence on this earth.

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.

The conductor welcomed everyone and communicated that they appreciated everyone's patience as they were waiting for their generator to be dropped off. Some time after they were supposed to start, they dove into orchestral arrangements. At first I felt the music was sloppy and unrefined, until I found out that this group had never performed with one another. I wandered around, taking in the whole scene as our group sat in front of the rag tag orchestra. Though the music wasn't perfect, what in Black Rock City was? We rode back to camp to refuel for our evening. I already knew that it wasn't going to be a late night as we struggled to motivate ourselves. Jesse fire up his propane fire pit, attached a couple of glowsticks to his kite and began flying it wildly. I wandered over to the porta potties and when I came out a young man and his friend were losing their shit trying to figure out what was glowing and flying through the night sky so erratically. I chimed in and said, "It's insane. It's been flying over our camp and changing directions on the drop of a dime. None of us can figure out what it is..." "Whoa!" the kids replied as I wandered off into the darkness. A short time following some food, a couple of drinks and warmth by the fire pit and it was decided that we would call it an early night and rest for the big day ahead of us the following night. Possibly for the first time ever in Black Rock City, we found ourselves crawling into bed at a reasonable hour. As everyone prepared for an evening of revelry, we rested our heads on our pillows and there was no where else I would have rather been.

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.

"Come here," a voice said.

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.

We headed back into the camps passing the Post Office and a massive television art car to find portos for the group to empty our bladders. Feeling lighter the group rode back out past BMIR and along Esplanade. Jesse pointed out a cool art installation that looked like a ferris wheel with red umbrellas. Upon first inspection, it appeared not to be working. So, of course, Jesse explored the possibility of what it would take to make it work. After realizing it was a lost cause, we peddled past a naked well-endowed silver gentleman to a colorful octopus. In the distance the art cars were starting to circle The Man for the week's main event. Jesse and I rode along stopping at what looked like a vehicle from Star Wars, while Carly and Jenny got their photograph taken in front of a butterfly by a gentleman who claimed he would send them their portrait as a magic eye.

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.

Back at the 747 the bikes were locked up. While everyone went to check out the plane, I grabbed my cup and headed into the air conditioned dome for a drink. The bar was set up on what looked like a wing. As the bartender finishing serving the semi-belligerent people in front of me, he asked what I would like. He checked my ID and a Moscow Mule it was. I went around the bar to give him a hug and went through the hanging down plastic doors back out to the desert, where I found Heather and Pickles. People waited in the unnecessary line to pass through the faux security. Once again, I wandered around the "InSecurity Checkpoint" and up to the second level of the aircraft where there was a DJ on Facebook as his laptop played. A little further into the cabin a man stood spinning fire poi, with no flames of course.

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.

Our group posed for some pictures and got loose as the crowd grew in size and began peaking. Fireworks shot up into the night sky and The Man caught fire quickly. The firework show, as always, was incredible and extremely visually stimulating. Then all of a sudden there was a loud "boom" that shook the ground. It sounded like a large propane tank explosion or something. A series of additional explosions followed as The Man was completely overtaken in flames. The fire burned as dust devils blew from the burn out towards the crowd. At first it was incredible to see and observe. Then the devils began to grab on to fire and embers, hurling them into the massive ring of people. The crowd began to back up and scream with excitement as fire rained down on them. I attempted to encourage the group to back up as a large ember hit me in the chest, but it was a lost cause.

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.

We slowly got back on our bikes and rode towards the Center Camp ring, parking out front of The Jazz Cafe. The group took notice of a two story art car and one by one we climbed aboard for a great view of a wild evening. I peaked into the cafe for a couple of licks of some solid Jazz to quench my palate. Jenny and Jesse headed back to camp as we rode out past Thunderdome towards 2:00 for some dancing. This point of the morning was hazy, but I do recall looking out at pulsing lights on the horizon. I suggested we ride out in the direction of the lights and that we did, for what must have been miles, through the dark vast emptiness of the open Playa. It felt as though we were riding through our minds to some dark corner. The object disappeared and reappeared in the dust. At one point the four of us questioned if we were ever truly riding towards anything and then it reappeared.

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.

As I laid down in our dusty tent, in the suburbs of Black Rock City, I dreaded the thought of waking up and tearing down our well settled camp. I thought about everything that we had experienced and seen, everyone we had met and all of the stories that would be told following our departure. I closed my eyes and smiled as I dozed off...

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.

We tackled the uphill battle of packing all of our gear into our new crossover vehicle with limited bickering, and loaded the bikes onto the racks one way and then the other. Just prior to our departure from camp, I knocked on Pickles' and Heather's Sprinter van to say our goodbyes. To my delight, Jenny handed out ice cream drumsticks as we jumped into our cars and navigated through a couple of camps on to K. We headed up K and made a left following traffic, passing hitchikers headed to a variety of destinations. Carly and I both glanced back at our packed car and laughed at the prospect of trying to fit anything else into our vehicle, let alone another person and their belongings.

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.

For Camp This Is What We Do, we survived. As did all of our gear. We had an incredible time and looked at it as a possible good stopping point for us for a couple of years. Our six days in Black Rock City were a fantastic reset of creativity and life in general. It was a sort of "Choose Your Own Adventure" of riding through our dreams. A dream that we would wake up and remember. We saw things that we had never seen before. We interacted with people from all over this planet and made Burning Man what we wanted it to be for us and our group. People always ask me about Burning Man and if it's [insert preconceived notion]? I always try to explain that it can be whatever you want it to be. It can be the most beautiful utopia, or it can be a harsh unforgiving wasteland. It's up to each individual to decide if it's for them or not or if they feel drawn to the lifestyle that Black Rock City provides. To not experience it at least once is to miss potentially one of the greatest stories of your life...

J. Picard's Photo Gallery



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