Where does one start when trying to relay the Burning Man experience. One assumes while writing that the reader has not been to “That Thing In The Desert” so where do you start? I’ll start at the beginning. Hell, lets start a little before that since this piece isn’t just about a trip to the desert, it’s also about a personal journey that took one hell of a pit stop this past Labor Day weekend.
You see, in case you haven’t gathered by now. I’m a little different. I’ve gone about life in the unexpected fashion so far. Where my friends have zigged, I have zagged. At times I’ve felt like a vampire who witnesses the coming and goings of friends while somehow remaining immortal. I don’t mean this in a life and death sense, strictly in the “phases of life” sense, …well the conventional phases of life that is. I’ve literally floated along watching waves upon waves of friends find that perfect partner, get married, settle down, and join the masses of proud parents. Nestled comfortably in their 9-5, tic toc, 2 weeks vacation, Christmas in the hometown with family, back to the nest and see you next year kinds of lives. Fair enough if that works for you, for me, it’s slow death.
I’m currently working in a 9-5 existence and it’s draining my soul like the above mentioned vampire. That said, it’s allowed me do something this year that would of most likely been filed under the “cannot afford it” section and forgotten for another year had I not landed this job in November of last. My first Burning Man experience. I was on top of my submission to the lottery for a ticket, I ordered one and waited. Then I got that email, telling me one ticket was coming my way. From that point on, like so many others I searched out, consumed and absorbed as much about the Burning Man culture as I could. I wanted to be prepared and I wasn’t going to be a tourist. I found the regional group here in Alberta. I helped out with the website for the local burn here (although wasn’t able to go), and met some great people in the process. I sent messages to active people on the Burning Man forums (eplaya) asking stupid questions, I watched Youtube videos and documentaries, I became obsessed and drawn to Temple, like a moth to a flame (pardon the pun/irony).
In my effort to NOT be a tourist I formulated an idea to build a tow-able cart for behind my bike that would hold my photo gear and advertise “Burner Portraits“, my gift to fellow burners. An idea I then bounced off of a few burners to see if it was “ok”. Thank you Zoltan, Savannah and Halcyon for the guidance and support. Through the summer and closer to the event I got a few preliminary things together. Then a guy I had paid a deposit to (for help with my initial cart because I had not the tools nor the space to build the main box), had vanished with my money leaving me scrambling over the last few weeks to get my ducks back in a row. Just as I brushed that off as a minor setback I noticed my vehicle was making a strange noise in the engine compartment. I took it in and saving the long version of the story ended up getting the timing chain replaced. Less than a month to the burn and a co-worker mentioned that her friends passport expired. Alarm bells went off and sure enough, upon inspection, so had mine. While amidst hemorrhaging money I rushed down and got my renewal application in. Then, no sooner was that done and we got hit with golf ball sized hail here in Calgary causing severe body damage to my truck and taking out my windshield. With all these little setbacks adding up both emotionally and financially I was stressed to the point where I thought my first burn wasn’t meant to happen this year. I seriously considered selling my ticket. Then within a rare moment of clarity I said to myself, “you were one of the lucky ones that won a ticket in this crazy messed up lottery this year, you’re fucking GOING to Burning Man”.
A few days later and a week early my new passport arrived, the mail lady even signed for it and left it in the mailbox with a note saying she “suspected I really needed this”. Other wise I would have been taking time off work to get downtown during the day to pick it up. The insurance company came through and allowed me to get the windshield of my truck fixed, leaving the body damage until I get back. With the help of Zoltan and my good friend Iain we got the main portion of the photo cart ready. The week before leaving I spent a few evenings figuring out how to attach the wheels and making it look how I wanted and then found myself a used $40 bike. The cards I had designed to hand out with a web URL so people could find their photos after we all returned to our default worlds arrived in the mail. A slow day at work allowed me time to set up the URL and temporary web page. I decided it might be easier to meet new people if I joined a theme camp so after looking into a few I decided on the one that touted an 11 story penis made of scaffolding as their camp landmark, figuring guys and gals with that type of sense of humor would be right up my alley. Things were once again coming together.
I packed everything up, found a couple funky hats for cheap, got my camera gear ready and bought some supplies here, the rest would be purchased on my way to Black Rock City. With literally hours to spare, I was ready. I was going to Burning Man.
Just like any of my other road trips, as soon as I hit the open road I was at peace. The habit of watching for photo ops in every pixel of my peripheral vision came back, and my soul felt at home. Three days of driving, a stop to say hello to Dennis and Frances at the Dog Bark Park in Idaho (whom I met years previous) and soon I was rolling into Sparks Nevada to pick up the last of my supplies. After stocking up I headed North up the 445 towards Pyramid Lake, started seeing burner cars everywhere and feeling that rush of anticipation and excitement. It was Sunday afternoon, I was mere hours from Burning Man.
The journey into the gate wasn’t as long as I thought but it was dark and the wind and dust had picked up. Lanes of cars loaded with bikes and supplies, RVs, Rental trucks and minivans all moving slowly in the windy dusty night. This is where, although feeling excited that I was about to become part of something that was so much bigger than myself (or even a group of friends) that I was in fact alone. Most likely because I was.
Because of the wind and dust I wasn’t asked to make dust angels or ring the virgin bell. Entrance was quite uneventful actually but once inside things changed, I made my way towards the address of the camp and even Sunday night radiated a sort of energy I’d never really felt before. I found my camp, met a few of the guys and set up my tent and got organized.
Throughout the week I wandered the playa like a mesmerized child in a huge toy department. My camera by my side for most of the time however I soon realized that one does not simply capture Burning Man to a memory card. It’s practically redundant. I didn’t take a lot of shots early on, eventually quite a few of the artwork and then when I took my cart out many of the people I met. Mere snippets of what its really like to be there. I felt as if a guy could shoot constantly for the week but really only scoop a few specks of plankton from the ocean that is Black Rock City.
I was blessed early in the week when I met and had an amazing conversation with David Best. What a genuinely beautiful human being that man is. I simply wanted to tell him Thank You for the amazing temple and 15 minutes later I was walking back to camp with the residue of an intense conversation swirling through my head and a very full heart.
When the dust (which really wasn’t as bad as everyone was saying it was going to be) subsided enough I was out with my bike and cart, meeting many great people while taking their portraits. It was so much fun. Even with this project however there were times where I still felt alone as everyone seemed to be busy with their own exploring and their own friends. Over the week through the immense sensory overload I did realize that a lot of this feeling stems from the way I have become in the default world. A person doesn’t simply transform into Captain Extrovert just because they landed their ass on the playa. It still takes some effort. I think if I learned one thing while experiencing my first burn it was that there are MANY open doors to new people and new experiences while in BRC. The biggest mistake a person like me can make is to NOT go through any of them. That is going to be different next year.
So with that said I’ll say that despite my few learning disabilities, I still had an AMAZING time. It was beyond what I could have ever expected and larger than anyone can ever explain, in energy, creativity, love, acceptance and shear physical size. The art was incredible and the people that make up the community are the most creative and expressive humans I’ve ever had the chance to meet. The photos I’ve taken and others I’ve seen do not relay what Burning Man really is. it is an experience that has to be experienced, felt, inhaled, and viewed first hand. Anything short of that is depriving one’s self of one of the most amazing events of your life.
Burning Man 2012 blew my mind. Here’s to many many more.