I've been waffling back and forth about writing this, as I'm not sure if I can do justice to what I witnessed.
But I have decided that sharing my experience with others might help consolidate my own thoughts and feelings, and if I can inspire even one person to smile, or give a loved one a hug, then writing this will be worth it.
Let's start almost a year ago at a good friends birthday party, at a karaoke dive bar...
I had just climbed the North West Face of Half Dome a few weeks earlier, and I was glowing with success and energy. The messy divorce I was entangled in, the dead end job I was stuck in, none of that was phasing me. Climbing the face of Half Dome in a push filled me with so much joy and enthusiasm for life, and everyone I met could feel it.
A girl from high school happened to also be at the party, someone I hadn't seen in over a decade. She too was glowing with energy, and the giant smile she wore was infectious. We began talking and she told me she had just returned from her first time at Burning Man, and as she talked about her experience camping in the dust at some temporary city in Northern Nevada, i recognized that she had also been filled with joy and enthusiasm for life and I could feel it.
We talked all night about our recent experiences, and even though I didn't understand why camping in the dust was so great, and she couldn't understand why spending 21 hours on a cliff was "fun", we both knew our lives had been changed.
Over the next few months we went on a few dates, realized we had lots in common, dated some more, and fell in love. In December, atop the 3 sisters formation at The Pinnacles National Monument, I asked her to be my girlfriend, and she said yes!
Earlier this year she bought a ticket to Burning Man 2012, but as I had recently been laid off and couldn't afford it, I did not. I wanted to go, but felt that the cost could not be justified at this point in my life. She said if I wasn't going, she would just sell her ticket because she didn't want to go without me. Come August, amidst a flood of depression and debt, I said F*#k it, and got a ticket off of craigslist. I had no idea how much work was involved, I figured it was like going camping in the mountains, an activity we had done together many times, I was so wrong!
The first challenge was living quarters, a nylon tent just doesn't cut it in 100 degree heat and whiteout dust storms. We found a Starcraft pop up trailer for 300 bucks and we got to work repairing the canvas, cleaning the inside and repairing the bearings. Meanwhile, we searched for a tandem bike to provide us transportation around the enormous Black Rock City. We bought a $60 dollar tandem off craigslist only to learn it was near impossible to find the parts to fix it in our short amount of time. Serendipitously, Alex at Faber's Bike shop in San Jose (a 100 year old establishment!) saw our bike and told us to bring it back the next day with some beers. Skeptically, we came back, to find a gorgeous classic tandem bike that Alex had bought with us in mind. We traded our bike plus a hundred bucks and spent 4 hours with Alex bringing the bike up to good riding form. Our trip, which had seemed impossible before, was beginning to become a reality, our living and transportation were handled!
With butterflies in my stomach, we packed up all that we thought we would need. It reminded me of packing for a Big Wall, with checklists and gear spread out all over the floor. The dry ancient lakebed that Black Rock City is built on is called The Playa. No water, no electricity, no grey water disposal. If we pack it in we were packing it out, another similarity with Big Walling.
It took us over 8 hours on wednesday to arrive at the gates of the city, and another 2 hours to get in. The line of cars and RV's at the gate would normally be a discouraging sight, but all the smiling, excited people wandering around outside their vehicles made it more of a fun, party atmosphere. These people were amped. Some of them had driven for days to be here but no signs of exhaustion or negativity could be seen. I even recognized a familiar face, my skateboarding buddy from San Jose and his girlfriend!
Finally reaching the front of the line after a thorough vehicle search for stowaways, I was asked a question by the greeter, a sagely looking man in his 50s.
"Is this your first time at Burning Man?"
"Yes, it is." I said anxiously.
He embraced me in a warm, loving hug and said, "Welcome Home. Now lets see a dust angel and hear you ring the bell."
I laid down on the soft thick dust and imagined I was in the snow, leaving a nicely formed angel on the ground and becoming covered in the finest white powdery dust I'd ever seen. I swung a metal bar against a thick metal bell, blasting the air around us with a huge "BONG." As i brushed myself off the greeter laughed and said "Don't bother!" We still couldn't see the city, but we were now heading towards it at the wicked fast speed limit of 5 mph.
As we approached the back of Black Rock City, lights could be seen for miles in both directions, and the occasional blast of fire would illuminate the apparent chaos. My first impressions were somewhat horrified, everything was just plastered with dust, my lungs were already feeling overwhelmed and uncomfortable. We were going to be here for 5 days? What the hell had I signed up for?
My girlfriend had set us up with a theme camp that her childhood friend was a part of, so we made the journey around the clock shaped city to our home address of 10 o'clock and C. Feeling full of anxiety about finding a place to park our truck and trailer in this madness, as well as the realization that her friends would be virtually impossible to find, we nonetheless made our way to the NEXUS theme camp that would become our home. Against all odds, we found her friends in less than 5 minutes, and had our pop up set up in less than 20. Just in time for the camp's art car (a 30 ft long Louisiana style Bar on wheels, complete with lasers and a gigantic high end sound system) to sail us away for our first tour of Burning Man 2012. We saw so much that night, and as my faculties became diminished I was led to a place called the Temple. It appeared as if massive amounts of energy were coming out of the earth, through the temple and dispersing throughout the city beyond. Pulsing, powerful energy flowed continuously from this obviously sacred place full of meditators at 4 am. I was speechless as I gazed upon the building constructed entirely of intricate scrollwork in a way that made it appear to never stop moving. Looking at this building, I began to understand. I finally saw what it was that made my lover so excited the year before. This place was magic in the truest way I have ever seen, and it was the source that powered the spiritual side of this extraordinary city. Never before had I, a devout Atheist and believer in science, come face to face with such unmistakable spiritual energy.
We stayed out all night, and despite my growing exhaustion I stayed up and saw the sun rise over the Eastern Mountains, a ritual I would not miss again for the duration of our trip. Ah the sunrises. Indescribable beauty, set to booming house music that never got old.
We crashed out for a while in our little home, until even the thick canvas couldn't keep the heat out. Tired but happy, we got up to explore the city in daylight. We met our campmates at NEXUS, signed up for jobs, and immediately fell in to the swing of things. Introductions always included smiles and hugs and people everywhere were giving away whatever they could. I learned that money had no use here except to buy Ice, and contribution and positive attitudes were the highest goal. I learned that no sponsorship advertisements or promotions were allowed. No logos anywhere. Here were 5o thousand plus people doing all this just to be AWESOME!
A few days later my good friend Jimmy showed up to stay at the sk8 Kamp. Riding bowls and ramps in the desert dust together was unforgettable. Jimmy asked me to come with him to the Temple for support, as he had some heavy burdens to release. We cried together, we gave each other deep meaningful hugs.
The rest of our time was spent dancing, reveling in positive energy and expressing love towards one another the like of which I had never truly experienced before. My girlfriend and I fell deeper in love than I realized humans could. We watched the Man burn, sending tornadoes of smoke across the Playa. We danced during sunrise at Robot Heart, a massive dance party out in the open Playa that was always pumping. We saw the work of Alex Grey the artist at Fractal Nation and rode countless miles together on our beautiful efficient tandem bike. It was nothing less than a trip to Utopia. A glimpse into the heart of what mankind can be when we are free to be ourselves without judgement.
Our time there eventually came to end, as all things seem to do. But now after the long drive home, the cleanup, and all the hard work has come to a close, I now feel just like my love did a year ago when I met her. Glowing with life, optimism and hope for mankind's future.
Thank you, and may you be blessed with peace and love. Hug your loved ones. Hug a stranger. We are all in this together, and Love will heal all. See you next year on the Playa.
Never before had I, a devout Atheist and believer in science, come face to face with such unmistakable spiritual energy.
That is why Burning Man has such a profound, life changing effect on most who have been. And why it is nearly impossible to explain the experience to any that have not felt it. 50,000+ human beings exuding unconditional love and oneness, without any judgment, is a unique and intoxicating sensation. Thanks for sharing your experience.
Really good TR. Thank you for sharing something different. Seems like a bunch of people come out with this same positive experience. Maybe I will try it some day, but don't think it will change my mind about the mankind!
Welcome to the power of the playa. Afer 11 years there I still cannot explain the energy there. You summed it up very well. It heals people. I met someone on the night of the burn that lost his daughter and wife 2 weeks before the burn. It was the only peace he had felt since the loss.
Its an amazing place. Head out there when the festival is not going on and you would be surprised that you get the same feeling as well.
Its a special place.....
Ron.........Maybe ill post one up for you later. NAH you have to go to see em.
Karo. Glad you liked RobotHeart. Good friends of mine helped with that one. We built The PERVertical Playground that you may have seen at sunrise as well.
Glad you found yourself there....
Thanks for taking the time to post this - you did a great job. My last burn was '97, but last year I watched the online cam every night, and felt the pull of the Playa again, and I really hope to return home someday.
Take all that positive energy and run with it man - good things are coming your way.
Beautiful trip report! Thank you. I missed this year. It would have been my 8th in a row but my broken foot prevented me from feeling playa ready. It is a singular place. It is filled with magic and love. I watched you get ready for it on the climbing at bm thread and was filled with hope for you. I am SO glad that you found that it is your home, too. Big playa hug!
Sorry I missed you out there. It was eye opening for me as well, definitely looking to head back out there in subsequent years. What time did you make it through the gate on Wednesday? We made it around 8:30, and I can't help but wonder if we were in line together.
My girlfriend was able to find some bouldering out on the playa:
Did you see this art car out there? Not sure if she's still going to the playa, but she's my baby. My job in camp every year was to assemble her. It took about two days. Building it in Placerville took months and months.
Not trying to detract from your awesome TR in any way. It just made me miss BRC more than ever.
This place was magic in the truest way I have ever seen, and it was the source that powered the spiritual side of this extraordinary city. Never before had I, a devout Atheist and believer in science, come face to face with such unmistakable spiritual energy.
Indeed bro! I travel the world seeking to be in unmistakable spiritual energy and nowhere is it stronger than in the burning man temple. What other temple can you be assured someone has tears in there 24/7?
Going to BM will change ones life forever. It's just a question of in what way it changes it.
Before I left I told someone "I'll see you when you return"
Their reply was "You don't ever fully come back from Burning Man. If it takes you in there is going to be a part left at the playa until next year when you return home."
I miss that place. Too many good memories to list, and they aren't memories of depravity. They are memories of building art with friends, getting to know strangers, and essentially creating a great time out of a blank playa.
I hear that it's getting rather large these days, many more tourists. That's ok, the core creative community will always be there.
This is so completely different from the impression I had formed about what burning man was! In 1996, a friend of mine showed me a video tape from the place, and what stuck in my brain was 50 naked bodies slithering over each other in a mud pile in the mid-day heat, with a ring of spectators. I was a bit horrified and afraid to go after that.
I guess like much of life, you get out of it what you bring to it and what you are looking for. I'm happy to have seen a slice of it from your perspective.
Great write up, so much more in line with what I want to imagine BM is about: more than tits in the desert and various hallucinogenics. Lay of the E and keep going back there. Stay with that lady too, she has a good smile and it seems like you're a part of it. That's priceless.
I have been 8 times and have had a lot of great fun but think I will give it a pass for a while. It is just too big and when things get that big it becomes more like the cities we are running away from and turns into a business. This is BIG business for the state of Nevada, the BLM, local cops, etc. This year there were an excessive number of law enforcement, most of whom were concentrating on busting people for pot instead of doing something useful like traffic safety (too many poorly loaded sketchy rigs on the road). Full time armed security at the Man. Maybe I am jaded but there don't seem to be many surprises any more. It is a good camping trip (or an exercise in recreational moving)but the radical is becoming mundane.
I imagine local law enforcement earns most of their revenue for the year ticketing burners. Bunch of parasites, akin to mosquitos. Follow the rules, be discreet and things will be fine. Excited as hell to be huffing that playa dust.
Year 16, in a row, for me (man how time flies) ...usually only get to go for 10 days but going for 12 this year! (The "event" is 8 days but if you have an art project or theme camp that requires extra time to construct you can arrive earlier with an "early in" pass)
Something for everyone to enjoy..... regardless of age, social status, religion, national origin, or political viewpoint....whether you're the type who likes to spend all morning doing yoga/chanting/spiritual healing with world renowned yogis in a completely sober environment and then searching out all the amazing artwork the rest of the day; or maybe you prefer to stay out till the sun comes up every night, riding wild art cars and dancing at all the clubs and raves with your thousand best new friends....stock up on the caffeinated drinks, because you won't want to miss any of it...
Our camp, about 50 of us, has about an equal age representation of every decade, (our camp participants are from 17 years old to 74) and are a nice international mix; coming from Europe, Australia, and all over the States.
So many great friends, and memories, made at Burning Man over the years.
For me, Burning Man is about spending time with old friends and meeting interesting new ones.
Edit: (Ok, the yoga every day and dancing till the sun comes comes up is not bad either ;) )
Heading back "Home" to the Playa on Thursday to see them all again!!
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