Tuesday, 8 September 1998. Reno, Nevada.
So far most of my trip has been focused on climbing. Time for a diversion. I'd first heard about Burning Man from an article in Wired magazine last year. Interesting, but never thought about allocating one of my two precious weeks of vacation to go. When Hilary expressed interest in joining me on my trip, she said she was planning on going to Burning Man after climbing with me. That sounds interesting and so I went.
So what is Burning Man? I think of it as a large carnival where the attendees create the attractions. A temporary city of 10-15 thousand people is created out in the desert. Why? Possibly to provide a large contrast to the structured, urban lives that most of us live.
We knew things would be different as we pulled into our campsite. Driving by was a bar on wheels, with all patrons required to be naked.
Friends of Hilary's were planning on returning to Burning Man with a theme camp. Our camp was to be the Temple to the Big Ass SUV. The organizers liked our camp idea, and gave us a great campsite fronting the village center. No running water or plumbing, but we had electricity. It took two days of hard, hot work to build the temple, but when complete it was pretty cool. Sound effect enabled buttons, gas and brake pedals, lights and music completed the atmosphere. The SUV was pretty well received, people were clowning around in it at all hours of the night.
Burning Man takes place in the Black Rock desert, about 120 miles northeast of Reno, Nevada. The site is a large mud flat, named the playa. Everything you need, must be brought with you. Hilary and I loaded my truck down with 20+ gallons of water and a water mellon per day. The afternoon sun was brutally hot, but out pvc pipe and tarp shelter provided a spot to avoid the direct sun. Afternoon siestas were necessary both to avoid the heat and to catch up on missed sleep. The best way to get around the city, was by bike. We had a bunch of bikes in our camp which was handy for exploring around.
The range of camps was impressive. Some camps had day time attractions, some night time. Some were interactive, some were passive. Some of the most interesting sites were exhibits out in the middle of the playa. One was a dinner table at a restaurant, isolated in the middle of nowhere. On the table were a place setting and a menu with a short play written in. Another was an old manual typewriter. People had typed some interesting poetry.
One of the best sites for keeping cool was the Fern Gulley. A dark tent structure with overhead mist jets created an ideal environment for beating the heat. Tropical music, hanging ferns and a small water fall created a cool environment. All on 35 gallons of water per day.
Some of the creations required some impressive engineering. There was a cool pair of easy chairs which on a tower, which revolved for great views of the city. Motorized creations roamed over the city. The coolest was a motorized couch, controlled via a joystick. A roving bar and living room were pretty wild.
Other sites were simpler. One we named the car wash, offered a range of tactile sensations. Brushes, feather dusters, beads and other things lined the car wash.
At the center of camp, a metal tree offered an oasis. From the branches water trickled down, enough to rise off and enjoy being wet. Its amazing how little water you need to be cool and wet.
At night the city took on a totally different look, with light shows nearly rivaling Las Vegas. The most impressive was a Taj Mahal structure, where the walls were pieced together plastic murals back lite by large lights. The front contained a stage used by different performers. There were lots of places to dance and listen to music.
The climax of the event is the ritual burn. At the center of the circular camp is the Man. A 60' tall, neon lit stick figure is the landmark of the city. As everyone congregates, ritual drumming begins. A firesuit clad person, lights up the Man and the pyrotechnic display begins. Cheers ensue as he lights up, and finally burns to the ground. Everyone was dancing around the fire to the tribal drumming.
We had our own ritual burn. The group had rented a U-Haul truck to bring all the materials for the SUV, but had returned the truck after dropping off all the materials. So we needed to dispose of a few things. With the help of a trailer we hauled the SUV out from camp and onto the playa. A very liberal application of stove fuel, ensured that only one match was needed to light up the pyre.
The weather was not as predictable as I expected. I expected hot, with clear blue skies. But we got rained on several days. And clouds, while not common were always welcome. The rain was less welcome, since with it came high winds blowing dust everywhere and left us with mud. Luckily the rains were never torrental, but the mud would stick to the bottom of your shoes in thick goops making walking difficult.
Burning Man was a great experience. Describing it in words is hard since so much of the experience is being there taking part in things. One of the rules of Burning Man is no spectators, which ensures active particpation.
Today is a day of errands, then off to Sacramento to pickup Jamie Leef to head to mecca -- Yosemite.