A closed mind can never by blown away by an experience. That only happens to open minds. Closed minds are just obliterated and forced to be reinvented after such an experience.
The journey begins
(The beginning is rather long. Skip ahead to DAY1 if you want the good stuff.)
Filled up with gas the day before – $58.
I left the dropzone this morning leaving my room open so Sarah could take my basil plant home. I neglected to give it to her the day before in all my pre-packing and continuing working hubbub. I still haven’t heard from Kim, and I’m getting a little stressed over it, though I’m trying to remind myself that the whole part of this trip is to remain stress free. Plus, I’m very resourceful should everything fall apart.
I stopped in Lone Pine for gas. The Arco as I entered listed $4.35/gal and I thought fuck that. That shit gas always turns on my engine light – which finally turned off two miles into my journey. I was beginning to regret taking RTE 395 at the beginning, though. When you leave the 215, there’s a ton of stop lights, a lot of big trucks that drive way below the posted 55mph speed limit and it’s only a two-lane road. But after 20 mins or so of realizing my stress levels were still quite high, the road gave way to a long expanse of rolling hills which nearly made my stomach flip. At least there were no stop lights. For a while. Of course, one hour into this and I was fine.
The Sierras rise out of the valley floor from nothing, towering into the sky like monuments to some forgotten gods. As I drive the desert creeps alongside the car, but the mountains remain still, motionless, awaiting my arrival. At one valley the rock is black like charcoal and then red as if rusted ore. I’m reminded of Tongariro and I wonder if I’m really in a volcanic crater.
As I leave Lone Pine – a green-treed oasis amongst this desert and rock landscape – I roll up the windows and try to call Kim. She picks up and my heart is instantly at ease. We’re camping at 9:15 and E. I’m stoked, so I pulled into a rest area to eat a sandwich, write and pee.
Stopped in Carson City ~ $40 on gas. (I filled up somewhere else before this too. $30) The kind man at the Shell said he used to live in upstate NY. He carded me for buying beer.
The drive into Incline Village is gorgeous. Every now and then the lake would peak through the trees and I’d have memories of Thunder Bay slide through my mind. The turns through the mountains were no where near as bad as NZ or Colorado, but they could be classified as windies.
I got to Incline and Andrew and Marshall’s roommate is moving out tomorrow. His friends came over for a bbq, but I was a wet blanket and went to bed early. Sleep was elusive, however. Kim texted to ask if I was awake. I texted her back to say that I was unsuccessful at sleep, so she called. They never made it to the playa. They were still in Reno and would call me in the morning so we could rendezvous and drive in together.
MORNING – dreams are weird and Marshall’s bed is uber soft. But made his bed as he’s overseas and now Andrew is cooking breakfast. Cell phone said it was 30F outside. Fuck.
I took the Mount Rose Hwy into Reno. And I was wrong about the hairpin turns. They were ample on this road. And so was the construction. But I got to Reno and found Kim and her boyfriend, Zac, and their RV at the Grand Sierra Resort. Kim was still in bed and in her underwear. Zac was making biscuits. They were waiting on a few friends. No one was in a rush, apart from me it seemed, so I went to Trader Joes and got some ice and fresh food. I was getting antsy though. I just wanted to get there.
So when it finally came time to go, Zac had dumped the tanks, filled them and we helped him hook the trailer to the RV with the bikes, water, coolers and other crap. I left on my own journey as I had to stop at Will Call, but I knew I would arrive before them, so I stopped for some non tacos. Stopped to get gas. Stopped to pee. But then I could see the dust kicking up in the desert – a wall of white hovered in the distance. They said it was the dustiest it’s been in years.
ARRIVAL/DAY 1 – The line isn’t that long. But the dust is intense. My car is already completely coated. I get two cars from the line and they stop letting people in for a bit. I guess it’s to let the line at the real gate die down a bit.
I get to Will Call and it was a breeze. The ticket lady even gave me an atomic fireball.
This fireball is really fricken hot!
My mind is blown. I’m not sure how to explain all of this, but I’m gonna try. It took us hours to set up camp. The combination of stoners and ADD-children who want things to be a certain way but have no idea how to get them that way.
Me and Jen took control of the guidelines for the massive military surplus round parachute that would be our shade for the duration. But when that structure finally got up it was dusk. I got my tent positioned, but then it was a whole feng shui thing. But when it was settled and the stuffed animals were placed over the rebar to protect from impalement, I needed to venture.
So I reiterate. My mind is blown.
One would think that an event in the desert that lasts eight days would be more primitive and natural, and while I’m sure that’s the case on many levels, I’ve never seen so much neon lighting.
I rode the bike down 9 to the centre. Lanterns light the edges of 9, 6, 3 and 12 out to the temple. I think 12 is called Main.
Everyone has some kind of generator. Some huge trailer they hauled supplies in. Some massive feat of engineering making their centre camp. And some kind of amazingly built and imagined mutant vehicle – some as big as double semi-trailers, double decker buses or hinged city buses. With a lighting system. Sound system. And entourage.
My mind is blown.
And this is while I’m riding my bike around at night. Plus, this is probably only 40,000 people right now. This place is massive – beyond anything I imagined. This is the real Freakshow. I’m home.
My legs are white! The dust is everywhere. I should’ve just done a dust angel when the greeters asked me if I wanted to. Tonight, after a nap, we walked around and saw pretty much the same stuff I saw on the bike. But tonight people went to bed too. It’s not always an eternal party. Camps were dark and shut down. Some of the veterans said it’s because it’s Monday and they’re setting up still. Whatever. At least the generators are off and the super loud music nearby is off. Not that there isn’t music. I do have ear plugs.
Tonight I went to the port-a-potties at 9:30 and D. They’re cleaner than the ones at 9 and E. On the way my headlamp, yes, I wear a headlamp, lit up the particles of dust flying through the air at my face. While I’d like to think I have a devil-may-care attitude, I couldn’t help but think what I was inhaling and what was going into my eyes. I put on a face handkerchief right away.
I get this now.
The boys tried unsuccessfully to light a fire a few times. I tried to explain what they were doing wrong, but it was only at the end that they listened, and by then we were all ready for bed and didn’t try to light it again.
So I filled up my water, ate some turkey jerky, drank a warm beer and – the music still loud – decided to go find a bar in the morning. Just need to bring my ID.
Late night pee run. Remember to bring TP form now on – everywhere.
DAY 2 – Woke up early and no one was awake, but Camp Fuck Yeah sure was trying to remedy that. I tried to get a little more sleep and wound up having more weird dreams. I can’t explain them. I’ve been having them for months now. Jen, our campmate, was all decked out in a tutu – it’s tutu-Tuesday – and said she was heading out before it got too hot. I liked her thinking. I got dressed in a bikini top, skirt, thin neck scarf and boots. I packed my bag, realizing later I forgot ID and money for ice.
(As I’m writing this Crocker just woke up and was amazed that Nick and I already got ice and then Zac handed him a coffee. The look on his face is priceless.)
So i got on my bike and just started riding. I could go anywhere and I knew my campmates wouldn’t be up for hours.
Many of the camps looked deserted. Bars were empty, and the odd person was passed out on a couch here or there – exposed to the elements. I still continue to marvel at the forethought and ingenuity here. The scale of some of these structures are not only huge, but costly. And did I mention the bars are free? Just bring a cup.
I ended up at an intersection where a lot of people were gathered. I stopped my bike and tried to assess the situation. There was a cafe, a farmers market and some kind of smoothie shop. Zac said he would make biscuits and gravy for breakfast, but he wouldn’t be up for hours and I was hungry. As I stood contemplating my first bold move of asking someone for something for free, a guy came up and asked me if that was what I was contemplating. I was stunned at his insight and said yes. Then he put a snocone in my hand told me to let that help me make my decision – it was grape – no corn syrup.
So then I got a plumacot, a cross between a plum and an apricot and went on my way.
I knew I needed to find Burning Sky. I found someone with a hot air balloon set-up and asked them if they knew where it was – they did. So I found it and Fred was up. I met Fred a few days before in San Diego. He was glad to see a familiar face, so we went for a walk. The boots I chose to wear were a bad choice and then I remembered I forgot to take my meds that morning. Shit. No wonder i was in pain.
So the walk didn’t last long, but Fred offered me one of his jump tickets to go for a ride-a-long. I sort of declined and sort of said yes – but left him at camp explaining I’d find him later and we’d find a bike for him so we can cruise.
I got back to camp and Nick and I went to get ice – then I cracked a beer and told my snocone story.
Went for epic bike ride with Jen and Nick. Really, we went where ever our hearts desired. If we saw something that intrigued us we went.
We went and saw the MAN. We looked at art and even shot-gunned a beer on a pier to a sunken ship – it cracked open in Jen’s bag. We looked for the lamp lighters volunteer area and in the process went to centre camp and filled out a census. It had questions like – How much do you make? What is your gender preference? Do you plan on having a sexy encounter while here? Seriously.
Jen was saying she wouldn’t mind getting some pasties – and BAM! Some guy was right there offering pasties. Pastie Dan was his name – we call him Chester the Molester because the thing is, he is the one who has to apply them if you want his stickers. Uh, more Jose Cuervo require before Jen stepped into that arena.
We stopped at a camp where a guy was screen printing Burning Man T-shirts, and Nick got one. I opted out because of my up-coming world travel and lightening of my load. We got sprayed by water, misted and shouted Tutu Tuesday to anyone we saw in a tutu. Kim had lent me one of hers, so I was also in a tutu during all of this. The only problem is the tulle is quite abrasive, or it’s the bike seat, but I’m getting a rash on my inner thighs from some kind of friction.
But anyway, we got back to camp before the wind really picked up – we had already donned goggles and face masks. We opened some wine and ate some tuna.
I am mostly white now.
The bike rides continue. We tried to find a bike for Allie, but it took forever. She found one. (I’m really drunk right now.)
We were going off to a Steely Dan dance party and I wanted to find Fred on the way. We found him and brought him along.
Later we went to Ashram Galactica and drank quite a lot. That was after we drank quite a lot of wine. Ashram was cool. They raffle off a night in one of their five tents which are decked out like for royalty in the 1500s. My ticket was one number off. So was Nick’s. Damn. I got too wasted and put myself to bed whilst everyone else went out and partied until sunrise.
DAY3 – I woke up early. I emptied my cooler water in the dehydration pond the boys had built the day before. It’s really quite clever. It’s a wooden frame divided into three sections. Then they draped a black tarp over the frame to create three shallow ponds that we could pour our water into for the sun to sap up.
I ate some crackers, basil, goat cheese, tomatoes and olives – a favourite meal of mine these days. Then I got on my bike and went to see Fred at Burning Sky.
What happens next, while there was quite the lead up (like two hours,) was awesomeness. Fred gave me one of his jump tickets and I was on load one, the first Firefly (that’s what they call ride-alongs) at Burning Man 2012. Also, it was my first ride in a PAC 750XL. Beer.
It was breathtaking when we finally got out to the airport – which we got to in my first art-car ride – the skyvan. We took off and got to only about 11,000AGL. I watched everyone exit and then felt dumb for choosing not to skydive. Phil, the pilot, did some nice hard banks during descent and I got some Gs – and we came in for a smooth landing.
I’m feeling the need to do something nice for Fred.
We had a nice walk in the morning while we were waiting for things to get going. We’re learning we have things in common. Plus he explained that he may come to San Diego, or at least that’s what I think he was getting at.
After I got back to Burning Sky from the airplane ride, I decided to head out into the city and find the place that was giving away grilled cheese sandwiches (7:15 & E,) but when I got there the line was hell-a long so I opted to go to home-camp and eat. I told them all about my morning and after a good feed of Mary’s Gone Crackers and hummus, with hot sauce, I headed back to find Fred. He wasn’t there, but I figured he was in the air, so I cycled to the playa. I think I spotted his canopy so I took some photos and rode over to meet him.
When I got back to Burning Sky I ran into Tutti. After a wonderful and long hug, we caught up and I went to say hi to Jay too. On the way out I met Efjay’s fiancee.
And I got a snocone on my ride home. As i was rounding the corner to basecamp I camp across hundreds of naked people at the Duck Pond – a bar with a slip and slide down the street from us. Guess you have to be naked if you want to use the slip and slide.
The wind was picking up and so was the dust. For obvious reasons this makes us all want to go home. So within an hour we were all at basecamp. And so we started drinking. HAHA.
Everyday at 5pm a bunch of people meet at Centre Camp at the Lamp Lighters station to fill, recap and light the hundreds of lamps that line 3, 6, 9 and Main out to the temple. It actually takes some time. Then they fit you in a robe. Then they line you up. Then they lift poles with six lamps on each side onto the carriers backs. Then the carriers and lifters and support staff head out and light the streets. Jen, Nick and I decided to be carriers for the route out to the temple. The hardest route. So for nearly one mile we carried long poles over our shoulders with only a wadded up towel as a buffer between our shoulder blades and weight of the lamps. You can’t let them sway or they may drop and break and then the playa would be on fire. Plus you have to keep pace. There is a weird knee-bend kind of walking you need to adapt to to be able to do this well. Plus, when the lifters remove lamps from your poles, they try to do it in unison from each side, but they’re volunteers too and it doesn’t always create a stable carrying surface.
While it was awesome. It also sucked so bad.
Afterwards Nick asked me and Jen if he was the only one that wanted to give up right at the beginning when they first placed the poles on our shoulders. Nope. I seriously didn’t think I could do it, Jen either. But none of us wanted to be “that guy.”
People were so out of it that they didn’t always move out of the way for us. But most people cheered and said thank you for lighting their city. It was an awesome and amazing experience, but I don’t know if I’d do it again.
My shoulders still hurt. They gave us a pendant to say thanks.
We headed home and started drinking. Luckily Zac had made ham and beans. I was so hungry that I had two helpings.
We went to Ashram Galactica again to try and win a hotel room. While we didn’t win, we did hook up with some of the staff/camp people who took us way out into the playa on their art-car. We got to see way more of the art. Me and Jen rode on top of the golfcart-art-car. There was some impromptu dance party out there somewhere too. And then someone told us about a French movie theatre done up like the early 1900s way at the end of the playa. I need to see this.
We had more to drink and biked home. I decided to stay in and so did Kim so we got a chance to talk a little, though we were both quite drunk. Then I went to bed.
DAY 4 – My morning ritual seems to be to go see Fred. I did that but before I went over I tried to wipe myself down with a vinegar and water spray. It’s supposed to help get the dust off. It kind of worked, but not superbly. My lips are cracked and I know it’s going to be painful because it’s about to split.
But there’s this thing about the dust – it gets in everything and everywhere. The inside of my tent is white. My sheets. My clothes. I’ve given up.
Rich, the Brit at our camp, went with me to Burning Sky, and after running into people and saying our hellos, we decided to head out to the playa. Rich hadn’t been to the temple yet, so we went there and it was heavy.
People put up signs, pictures and notes to their lost loved ones. I became overwhelmed by all the loss plastered all over the walls. I cried. I wrote a small note to Dave on one of the walls, but that just made it more heavy. There was hardly any empty space.
The temple – I don’t really want to go back there. But I have to go back there for Efjay’s wedding later today.
Rich and I then went and checked out the maze and Wall Street – which is meant to be burnt tonight. We got back to camp, went and fetched ice, and I went out to get a grilled cheese, successfully.
On my way back I got into a collision with a guy on our bikes. It was his first day. We both zigged instead of zagging. I walked with him to the bike repair station and luckily there was one tire that would fit his bike. His front tire got demolished.
I tried to take a nap, but the heat is pretty unbearable today and our neighbours have this generator that just cranks away all day long. You’d think they be kind and put a dampening box around it. But I guess they need their air conditioning. I gave in and made a bloody mary.
Kim and Jen wanted to go make pasties. So one hot glue gun blister later, I was taking my top off in front of complete strangers and applying pasties to my boobs. These would make it about three hours.
We had a few more bloody marys and went out to temple to see if we could be a part of the flash mob and also to watch Efjay’s wedding. Unfortunately the dance group had already rehearsed and didn’t want any outsiders to assist/ruin their presentation. We rode out to the French movie theatre – which was closed – and rode back just in time to see the canopies open and watch the wedding party land. All the canopy pilots had long streamers attached which really just made the scene more beautiful.
It was a nice wedding – and then I ran into my friend Andy. Hah! We said hi for a few minutes and then I lost all my friends. I re-found them at basecamp.
I had to go to Jay and Tutti’s camp, but there was a regional burn occurring and we were like moths to the flame. We had to go watch. So we cycled out and watched the burn, nearly losing our bikes. After we found them we all headed back to Ashram and had some drinks (and got raffle tickets.) I left and went back to Jay and Tutti’s where I ran into Amy. We caught up, but I was missing my campmates. I went back to Ashram and found them all right where I left them.
DAY 5 – I woke up and had a tuna wrap. For the first time in days I didn’t bike to see Fred. In fact, last night when I was out that way I stopped in at Burning Sky and Fred’s tent and car were gone. Oh well.
Me, Jen and Nick left and went to another camp to try and sleep away from the generator. Unfortunately we walked into a sonic expression workshop and it was so loud (and funny) that I couldn’t sleep.
(I totally forgot. I made out with some random dude at a kissing booth last night.)
I went for a bike ride to the other side of the playa stopping in at Burning Sky to see Fred, but I was told he packed up and left. I guess once jumping was done that was it for him.
The roads are rutty and torn up on the other side. I had to push my bike through the dusty sand so many times to just keep going. There wasnt’ that much occurring. Our side was definitely better. HAHA. I cycled back through centre camp and I think I was at around 3pm near the man when a satellite photo was snapped. Then I got some free pancakes and discovered I’ve lost my cup.
A bunch of us went to a camp to see about a sweat bath. You have to get naked for this and the line was 45 mins long. To be honest, I’m getting incredibly used to naked people. The longer I’ve been here, and the other people have been here, the more naked people there are. I guess it just takes time for people to buck up the courage.
We opted out of the sweat bath and Jen and I left Nick to search for a Reiki tent we never found. (But Nick did.) However, we did find the burlesque show – with champagne. It was the best burlesque show I’ve ever seen. One girl put clothes back on. A guy got naked and had a tassle on his dick that he swung around. He was like 6’7.
I really like Jen and Nick. I’m going to miss them.
I’m happy I’m continuing to write.
I was just telling Kim that my morning bike rides are special to me because it’s my alone time. I love exploring the culture and world here. But nothing surprises me. This is the way it should be.
The rest of the night gets blurry. We went to go see Alex Gray talk but we were late and the place was packed. That led to an impromptu desert photo shoot and then we headed over to Ashram, naturally. Oh, I’m getting ahead of myself. We went to go see Wall Street burn, but due to the wind it was cancelled. We went back to Ashram and a few shots later I have no idea how I ended up in my bed.
DAY 6 – My skin is so dry that it hurts. I’ve been trying the vinegar and water thing, but after I tried to do a handstand and fell over in the dust last night, I have dust in every crevice and wrinkle and crack on my whole body. My skin feels tight and it kind of burns. The crack on my lip is still functioning, but I worry that it’ll bust open again before I have a chance to get myself clean. Now I’m glad for bagging some clothes for my ride home. My hair is ready to break off. I think I need to put more oil in it. Each time I brush it the static worries me. Oil. Definitely more sesame oil.
But hair is brushed. My brush is so dirty. I need more sleep.
Took a nap in Kim’s RV. Totally needed that. I wanted to eat a grilled cheese earlier but the camp is closed until next year. Oh well. I went for a bike ride to Burning Sky and back again. I’m surprised to see so many camps being torn down already.
The day is lax. The man burns tonight and none of us are in any hurry to do anything. A week of drinking can do that. The plan is to meet our friends from Ashram at 7p.m. Meet our campmates at 8p.m. and then walk out to the man. They say bikes are not a good idea for the big burns. I have decided to put on my ankle braces – they’re looking a little swollen.
After Ashram (it’s all torn down) we all got dressed up in our tutus, fish nets, wigs, burn shirts and top hats and Zac led us out with a big torch so we could keep our eyes on our group. Ingenious really. Big groups are difficult to maintain. We met out at a hangar art care (It was a big neon clothes hangar) and watched the burn from there.
I don’t think I can write about the burn. I got so drunk that it’s difficult to recall all the events. But I do recall that shortly after Wall Street burnt at 1a.m. I made my way home to bed alone. All the street signs were gone. Luckily I knew what landmarks were still up and how to get home. Kim tried to wake me up later. I really wanted to see the sunrise one time out here, but I didn’t want to get up.
This week has really taken its toll. It’s been amazing, but I’m tired.
DAY 7 – I woke up and Rich popped his head in my tent. He was meant to leave at 5a.m. but it was now after 7a.m. He said good-bye.
I too have decided to leave today. The camp was gonna hang out until tomorrow and then go to Reno for a decompression party, but I’m all partied out and I’m beginning to worry about work. I have been packing up my stuff all morning. I think I’ll leave by 1p.m.
I left at 11a.m. there was no point in sticking around, especially since I had packed everything up already. I said my good-byes and began what would be and hour long journey out of the desert to the paved road. Before my exit though I picked up a young chess master from Uzbekistan named Timor. He needed a lift to Reno. He didn’t stop talking for hours and I nearly kicked him out of the car four times. But I didn’t have the heart. Plus, wasn’t Burning Man about being tolerant? Dammit. My engine light just came back on.
THE DRIVE HOME
I dropped off Timor at the Grand Sierra Resort – the site of the Burning Man after party. Funny that my journey should take me back here. The trip was long from the desert to Reno and part of me wondered if I should take a nap in the parking lot before heading to Incline Village. I thought about making my way through Sacremento and San Francisco, as I’ve never been, but I was too wrecked. The thought of a longer drive was really unappealing. I texted Andrew and set the GPS. A while later Andrew texted me to let me know no one was home, but to make myself comfortable. I hoped the door was unlocked.
The door was unlocked. I got my shower stuff and began the process of cleaning the dust out my pores, cracks and hair. My skin hurt. I applied lotion twice and went up to the balcony to sit, reflect, drink a beer and call my mom. I looked at the lake through the trees. It was beautiful, but my skin still burned. I applied more lotion. This would go on all night.
I checked out Facebook. Oh glorious Facebook. But then I realized I missed nothing. OH well.
I went into town and got a pizza and some OJ then settled into the couch to watch Iron Man before I fell into a deep sleep. Still, weird dreams.
I woke up and quickly got on the road. It was chilly as we’re nearly at 9,000ASL, but it felt nice compared to the past week. I filled up in Carson City – a tank that would last me until San Bernadino – and the gas station clerk asked if I had just come back from Burning Man. Apparently I still had the 1000-mile stare going on. I think he saw me blowing the dust out from around my gas cap before I filled up. God, my car is filthy.
So two hours down the road I stopped at a little mountain town where a highschool volley ball team was having a car wash. I gave them $8.
Further down the road I stopped in Bishop and had the best veggie sandwich ever at the Pizza Palace. The break was good, but I was getting tired. I needed my second wind. Everywhere on the road I saw cars and RVs covered in the playa dust – and the symbol of the man.
Anyway, traffic on the 395 sucked so I took a little detour. When I finally got to the 215 it was smooth sailing all the way home. I was never so happy to get to the 805. But things were different. Home felt different. My view on people and what I’ve been doing with my life has changed. Now I know what living really is. And I suppose right now I feel this desire to live despite or in spite of all the bull shit.
I know I left a lot out. This was the journal I kept each day. It’s how I want to remember BM2012. I’ll probably add a bit to it in the days to come. It was one of the best experiences of my life. If you get to go – go. But go with an open mind.