August 23 – September 2, 2019
2019 was my eleventh straight trip to That Thing In The Desert (TTITD). A friend I hadn’t met yet gave me my first ticket in 2009. I was terrified the first time. I didn’t know anyone, had never camped alone, and all I knew about Burning Man was what I had seen on television, and that was pretty scary! I almost chickened out that first year, but I’d made my friend a promise: I would go. If nothing else, I would drive in, circle around the city, and immediately drive out. Promise kept, right?
But from that magical moment I first left pavement on Highway 34 northwest of Gerlach, I was hooked.
And I haven’t missed a year since.
This year, I traveled down with a friend from Canada, Char. We met at my place, and she tetrised in her stuff while I finished up my work day. As soon as I got off work, we took off with Big Red loaded to the roof. We couldn’t have fit in another thing!
The trip down was relatively unremarkable. Sadly, I had to be in Black Rock City by 8:00 a.m. the following morning for my volunteer position’s mandatory training, which meant we had no time for stops or fun along the way. But, with two drivers, we were able to take turns, and we pulled into BRC at 9:08 a.m. Friday morning after a 600-mile drive.
After a full day of training, I finally made it to camp around 4:30 p.m. I’ve been camping with the same group of friends for ten years–including the friend I hadn’t met yet that first year in 2009–and it was a happy reunion. It was too hot and windy to set up my tent, so I sat under the giant shade structure and chatted with campmates for a couple of hours. By then, then wind had died down significantly, and it was tolerably hot.
After 11 years, I have a pretty good camping system, and it didn’t take me long to get set up. I set up everything the same way every year, so it really feels like home. The 8′ x 12′ tarp goes down first, leaving a small 2′-wide “front porch” for my water evaporation system and my bike. My tent goes on top of that, with the back side facing into the prevailing wind, and then the fly. Everything is staked down well with 12″ rebar staples.
My cot goes in next, against the back wall to give the tent additional support during strong winds, with the small folding table at the foot. The folding camp chair and table go along the mountainside wall. The tubs of clothes and miscellaneous go under the cot–again, the weight providing additional support during strong winds–and the food tub next to the door. My beverages (soda, PowerAde, water container) go along the manside wall. Four throw rugs go down on the tent floor. And finally, for safety purposes, I place solar lights next to every rebar staple. (Rebar injuries are really ugly! You really don’t want that happening to anyone, so light up your tent stakes!)
That’s it! Not very exciting, but it’s my home for 12 days a year.
In the past, I’ve been a workaholic, sometimes volunteering as many as 100 hours during my 11 days at the event. This year, I set a goal of volunteering half that number of hours and spending more time in camp. And I wasn’t the only one! Another campmate, who brought his daughter for her first time, had set the same goal. I wanted to actually “do” Burning Man this year: Go out and experience the event, see the art, ride an art car, interact with camps, and spend time with friends.
The thing about plans at Burning Man…
Ha ha ha ha ha! Make plans all you want, and then immediately forget them. Plans at Burning Man are not worth the energy you put into them, unless you want a good laugh.
It started out with Jane finding a Tomahawk Throwing event on Tuesday. We were all really excited about it, but by the time Tuesday came around, none of us had the energy to go. It was a good idea, but it was just too hot. We sat around camp and talked about it instead.
Char and I had made plans to spend Wednesday, the FIRST TIME I’D EVER TAKEN A DAY OFF, “doing” Burning Man. But it was just TOO HOT!!!! We spent most of the morning at her camp, and then we hopped on our bikes to head over to our friend Dazzle!’s wedding. I’m pretty jaded when it comes to marriage and weddings, but their wedding was pretty awesome. Dazzle! and Maverick had written their own vows, and they made an adorable couple.
After the wedding, we rode our bikes back toward the city. We made it as far as the Esplanade before we were accosted by a man who said it looked like we needed to go to the doctor to get checked out. So, we went to the “doctor,” got CAT scans (a stuffed cat rubbed up and down our bodies), were given sticks of lip balm, cleaned our ears, and were “inoculated” with shots of vodka.
We both felt much better after getting checked out by the doctor. I’m really glad these services exist! I mean, really, we need neighborhood health clinics such as these all over the country. And you can’t beat the price–free!
Did I mention it was the FIRST TIME I’D EVER TAKEN A DAY OFF IN THE HISTORY OF BURNING MAN?
We next headed over to Kostume Kult. Since I’ve never, ever taken a day off in the history of Burning Man, the only costumes I have are related to my volunteer position. Not something I want to wear when I’m out doing Burning Man. I mean, what if someone were to ask me for assistance and I didn’t feel like it? If I were wearing my volunteer costuform, I’d have to be nice and helpful. But, if I looked like everyone else, I could happily point and laugh. (OK, I wouldn’t do this. I would help because that’s what I do, but still…the thought that I could point and laugh makes me smile.)
We waited in line for probably about 20 minutes. As we waited, we were entertained by those who had found their costumes, exiting the tent on the catwalk.
Finally, it was out turn! Char and I eagerly entered the costume tent. Even though this was my 11th Burning Man, it was my very first time at Kostume Kult. They had racks and racks and bins of costumes and costume pieces of all sizes and colors and themes. Char found us some awesome hats. I had forgotten mine this year and had picked up a straw hat at XJoy, but these were really cool. We each selected one.
I spent about 20 minutes digging through the racks and found a red french maid costume. It was a little on the big side, but it fit well enough. Some matching red shorts made it more comfortable. Char also found some adorable yellow socks for me. I selected those, but put them in my bag because they didn’t go with my current costume. They would, however, go with my volunteer costuform, so I would be able to wear them later in the event.
Char picked out an adorable black and white outfit, and we took our turn on the catwalk. Sadly, we didn’t think to have anyone take our photos until it was too late.
We headed over to Pink Heart after leaving Kostume Kult. Pink Heart was serving wonderful ice cream, and some guy let us line jump. I know we shouldn’t have, but no one else in line was paying attention, and it was really hot! Within minutes, we were both enjoying ice cold, refreshing dairy-free mocha ice cream. (Almond milk, I think?) We took a break on one of the camp’s faux-fur draped sofas, when Halcyon joined us for a few minutes. Char explained to him that I was out enjoying my first day off ever in the history of Burning Man, and he congratulated me, LOL.
We left Pink Heart at about 3:00, the hottest part of the day. My poor Alaskan body doesn’t do well in heat, and I was just melting. My costume was itching and making me sweat more than normal, and I was miserable. We agreed to take a break, head back to our respective camps, and meet up again later for a Burners Without Borders event. Afterward, we would check out the night life.
Just as we were to meet up again, the city was enveloped in a massive dust storm. It was pretty nasty, and I wasn’t looking forward to heading out into all that dust. Char’s camp and the BWB camp were both in the center of the storm. But, I did head out. We met up at Char’s camp and headed over to the BWB event. We got there early. I stayed for a while, but after a few hours, headed back to my camp for dinner. The BWB event was going to go on for quite a while, and I’m more on the introvert side. I’d rather spend time with a small group of people, such as my campmates, than with hundreds of people I don’t know in a noisy environment where you can’t hear anyone.
I’m glad I went back to my camp. Instead of checking out the night life, one of my campmates made me a plate of cheese, crackers, and fresh fruit for dinner, and then we all played bocci ball on the open playa. The dust storm had long abated and it had turned into a beautiful, clear night. It was fun. That’s how I like to spend Burning Man!
The rest of the week passed pretty quickly. I usually spend one shift a week in Gerlach, and this year was no different. It’s a nice break from Black Rock City. It’s less dusty, less noisy, and we get to take showers. Real showers–the kind with four walls and heated water running from the tap. And we don’t have to pack out the gray water or evaporate it.
I’m not really big on watching the burns anymore. I prefer to avoid the crowds and usually watch the Man burn from a viewing platform along the Esplanade with a group of friends, and this year was no different. As Char said, “it’s just another fire.” I did, however, watch a bit of the Temple burn on Sunday night. They happened to set it on fire as I was in the area in a pickup, so we stayed at watched until the last tower fell.
By Sunday afternoon, the city was significantly empty. Most of the theme camps had shut down for the year, and streams of people were heading for the exit. With only one lane in and one lane out, it takes a long time to get 80,000 people out of Black Rock City and back to “civilization.” Indeed, Exodus now starts Saturday, even before the Man burns.
We, too, started breaking down camp, taking apart the bar, and packing furniture, rugs, and other items into the container. It’s always sad to see our camp get packed up. It was said to see all the empty camp sites Sunday afternoon as I rode my bike to the commissary one last time. The playa noise had changed from the continuous thump! thump! thump! of techno music to that of voices calling out instructions to teams dismantling structures.
Char and I were leaving early Monday morning. I still have one more evening shift left, so I packed up my camp Sunday afternoon and made a final MOOP sweep of my area. It was clean, of course. I’m very careful not to let anything hit the playa. After my shift, I spent an uncomfortable night trying to sleep on the front seat of my F150. Although it has a bench seat, it is NOT comfortable to sleep on! Never again!
I met Char at her camp at 7:00 a.m. Monday. GATE radio said Exodus was taking only about an hour, so we quickly loaded up her stuff, and by 7:30 were joining the queue out of the city. We made good progress until the line came to a halt about a half mile before pavement. Some neighbors got on the top of their RVs and said they could see an RV had rolled over just as it got to the road, so there was nothing we could do but wait for tow trucks to clear away the carnage. And wait, we did! It took about two and a half hours for the line to start moving again, and we hit pavement at 11:47 a.m. My goal had been to hit pavement by noon, so we were right on schedule.
Unfortunately, since I had to be back to work at 8:00 the following morning, it was another straight-through drive, with no stopping, other than a quick dinner in Madras. We made it back to Olympia just before 11:00 p.m. I had put all of my gear in the back seat and left the entire truck bed for Char, so it was easy for her to load her stuff into her car, and she was off for Vancouver shortly after midnight.
Another Burning Man on the books!