Burning Man isn’t a “hippie event” by any stretch of the imagination. It sometimes feels like far less than a festival because of the ridiculous obstacles one has to overcome just to get out onto the desert. Your own water supply, your own food, your own shelter, your own clothing… basically you’re moving into the equivalent of an avant-garde FEMA camp for the duration of the event and you’re mostly left to fend for yourself and “choose your own adventure”, as it were.
This year was especially difficult, and I’ll start by saying this: my boyfriend and I are no longer together. About a week before Burning Man, I talked to him about our relationship and how I was especially unhappy in the relationship, and that I didn’t want to continue with it. A pretty nasty fight ensued, but we still managed to be civil enough leading-in to the event itself and for the duration. We camped in the same theme camp and shared the same tent since there were no other accommodations that could have been made on such short notice, but we made it work.
One of our camp co-leads left his ticket in San Francisco, and after discovering this in Reno, NV, we took on all of the passengers and luggage he was carrying into the remainder of our caravan that had left San Francisco and began the 6-hour drive back to SF to go grab it. Not 6 hours later, we finally got to the line to get in to Burning Man itself, and our other camp co-lead discovered that he had picked up his 2012 ticket instead of this year’s ticket. He ended-up going to the Will Call booth and persuading them to let him buy a $500 replacement ticket and apply for a refund of the face-value of his “real” ticket back in San Francisco. Ouch.
Fast-forward to arriving at our camp placement at 7:30 and False Idol (F), which is now the following day in the very wee-hours of the morning. The camp co-lead that went to get his ticket from SF finally gets on-playa, gets two hours of sleep, and then gets woken-up by all of us moving around at sunrise. Throughout the next couple of days, we flirt with dehydration and sun-induced dementia while building out the camp infrastructure and get everything ready for the events later in the week. I managed to make a couple visits to The Temple in the early mornings before the noise on the playa got too loud and got to have an extraordinary set of Temple experiences that I had never had before. Suffice to say, it was powerful and I came back from the Temple much lighter in spirit than I was before.
Saturday evening though, things went a bit sideways with regard to the impending camp tear-down. Instead of 4 people leaving early from our camp, Fate conspired to throw us a curve-ball: 8 people ended-up leaving early, leaving the remaining 8 of us (with camp leads included) to tear down the entire camp from front-to-back. In so doing, we spent literally 18 hours tearing down the entire camp and packing the infrastructure back into the steel storage container that remains on-site year-round. Since we finished packing the container at approximately 1AM on Monday morning (ugh), we also missed the Temple burn and managed to get caught in the mass exodus. Only took us about 6 hours to get onto the highway itself, and I managed to catch a quick cat-nap in the cab of the truck carrying all of our kitchen gear and assorted other materials for camp.
By the way, if someone ever suggests taking a route around Lake Tahoe with a 20’+ truck in the caravan… the answer is a flat, resounding NO. Not only were we delayed two hours because of a massive accident on the way to Tahoe from Reno, the route around the lake itself was fraught with hairpin curves and hills so bad that the engine just could not keep-up. We finally ended-up back in San Francisco at about 10PM on Monday night, having failed to secure access to the storage unit where stuff was supposed to get stuffed into. After a make-shift dump of the truck to one of the leads’ garages, we bid our farewells and made our way to the airport hotel to sleep for 4 hours before the flight back to Boston.
Grand-total of hours spent awake post-exodus? 46 hours. I’m surprised I wasn’t tasting colors and talking to signposts with how tired I was.
This is Burning Man in a nutshell. Anxiety leading up to it, utter insanity during the event (what with being dusty, filthy, smelly, and sleep-deprived because of art-cars driving in front of your camp at 4 in the morning), and exhaustion afterward. But you remember it as this gorgeous, transcendent event a couple months afterward. Go figure.