This is my trip report for Burning Man 2008, my first time. I am starting with an overview of the events; the journey, followed by short essays on several topics.
Final load was Saturday, as was departure. I would have liked to have left more on schedule than we did. We had intended on leaving my place with the bus at 9AM that day, but due to last-minute loading (not everyone was available for the pre-load the day before), we weren’t able to get out of town until closer to 3PM that afternoon.
There was lots of group-dynamic stress that came about from this. The people we picked up on the way (who blessedly had only a modest amount of stuff) had to wait a while to go. But finally, we were all ready to go.
It was a good feeling to get out on the road, southerly-bound for the desert of Nevada. I was finally on my way to Burning Man. For the first time ever. It was exciting!
We stopped many times along the way to get supplies that various of us needed. Groceries, liquor, etc. There were more stops than we could have done it in, but this part wasn’t very well scheduled. Oh well, no big deal.
The driving took longer than anticipated to reach our stop. The goal had been to stop in Lakeview, OR that night, but due to the late start, it wasn’t to be. We ended up pulling into Bend, OR around 3AM, and found the only motel with rooms available that night. We all doubled up (and doubled-up again) and slept four to a room. I ended up sleeping next to Scottie.
Then the next morning, we had a good breakfast at the IHOP in Bend. The food was pretty good, and it was nice to eat a hot meal.
We then drove from there to Black Rock City. The drive was mostly uneventful. The pass at Cedar Pass was troublesome for the bus. On the way down, we had to pull out because of the massive load on the breaks. There was the strong stench of burning breaks, and a little smoke.
As we neared BRC, we stopped to help some young women whose RV had broken down. Really, all we did was stop, and take a message for them to post at Playa Info for their friends. Entry to the city took a long time.
We joined the long line of cars along NV-447 that runs along the western side of the Black Rock Playa. The string of taillights wound around the desert much like a serpent might. I stared off into the distance at the line of cars, and eventually to the flood lamps of the greeters stations that lead into Black Rock City.
It took a long time for us to get from the road by Gerlach to the actual entrance to the city. But we did it. Along the way of waiting in line for greeters station, a couple of our bus passengers bailed out to go collect their tickets from will-call. I was alarmed that they did this, but didn’t worry about it too much, or say anything. Off they went into the night.
From that point, we continued on. I read the signs that line the way, full of ideograms and sayings from various writers. Lots of very American sayings. Neat stuff.
Eventually, we reached the first greeters station, where they checked us for stow-aways, and took our tickets. We did all that, it was easy and straight-forward. Next, we passed to the real greeters station, where we were welcomed home. Those of us who were newbies had to ring the bell, and were made to do dust angels. We laid in the dirt, and did like you would in the snow; thus, dust-angels were made.
Then, we proceeded into the city, and dropped off our non-camp riders at their various places. Dawn rose over the playa while we were unloading our riders’ possessions. I had hoped to be camped by now, but it wasn’t to be.
Then we made our way to where our camp was. I awoke Todd (who was our camp mapper) and got home to specify where the bus should be parked. We parked the bus, and set about setting up our camp. Then it became time for me to go off to my volunteering with Camp Arctica/9, all the way across the middle emptiness of the city. This ended up being a bike-ride by the man, and was when I got my best view of the man. It was perhaps 8:20 in the morning, and already the sun was high in the sky.
I got to Ice Camp early, perhaps 8:30. So I had a bit of a wait before me. This was my first day on playa, and I’d been up since we left the motel the previous morning, so I wasn’t certain of myself yet. I could have explored around the 9 o’clock plaza, but I didn’t. What I did do was let a lot of people know that “no, we’re not open yet. Come back after 9am.” Eventually a few people decided to wait with me. There was a lovely young woman, topless and unconcerned. She sat down, and we talked some. I don’t remember her name, or what we spoke of.
Eventually Frozen Monkey (Brian) showed up, and we were able to begin the process of opening. We still had to wait for the cash-registers to arrive, but no big deal. Time passed, the things necessary arrived. I helped out in a variety of ways. I slung some ice, and did things that needed doing. It was good. Around 10:30 or 11AM the dust began to pick up. The wind blew. The rest of the shift was a little more interesting from the difficulties that the blowing dust provided, but it was done. The tips from the day were split among the crew. Three dollars. That’s nice. We also get a complementary bag of ice for each shift we worked.
So I then left. I rode my bike around the esplanade back to camp. This took a while, and I had a pretty good time doing so. The blowing dust made it harder for me to bike. Biking with a particle mask on is a harder thing than I anticipated. I made it back to camp, and was tired. I helped Janice set up her tent, and then I took a nap.
I’d have slept until evening, but I was roused by my camp-mates when they were having trouble with securing one of the structures and needed my help. So I got up, and helped out. From there, I don’t remember very well how things went. I don’t even remember where I slept that evening. I know my tent wasn’t up yet (because I had gone to volunteer with Ice Camp).
Unfortunately, a lot of my memory of the week after this is a blur, and I can’t say precisely how it was spent. I wasn’t on any drugs, so I have no excuse there. The following are my writings on various topics that I thought about after the event.
It flows over and
I feel swept up
And Carried to
The dust at Burnign Man 2008 was truly amazing. On Monday, we rolled into the city at about 3AM. The greeters station follow, a man of medium build and with a big, black beard and bright eyes greeted us. He made us get off the bus and lay down in the playa. He had us do dust angels, six of us together, our heads touching as we lay on the black rock playa.
I remember smiling and laughing during this. It felt childish and good.
The day progressed; we let off our riders at their camps. Then we went to our home in Gigsville and did some setup. The wind began to pick up, and the dust blew ’round.
Then it grew into a storm, sustained gusts and streams of dust flowing across the ground. I was at Ice Camp when this began.
We didn’t manage to get our shade structure set up for tea, but no one came by that day, anyway. It was too dusty and windy to do anything. I couldn’t set up my tent in theis kind of weather. I think I slept on the bus. The next four days, Tuesday through Friday, were much nicer; the skies were calm and blue, with light clouds, and only occasional gusts of dust. They were beautiful, and tea was well done.
On Saturday, the weather turned harsh again, and we had whiteout conditions all day long. There was even talk among the BRC Rangers of delaying or not conducting the burn that night. But eventually that evening the winds did die down, and the burn of the man was able to go off. The fire performers were cancelled, however. I’m sure their hearts were heavy and upset. I’d have been angry had all my preperation for performing there been cancelled due to the wind.
On Sunday, we had to pack up camp, and prepare to leave. We did this during the day, before the Temple burn that night. The winds were pretty reasonable until shortly after noon, when they picked up and behaved a lot more like the previous day and like Monday. We got most of our packing done, but not all of it. We had intended to take refuge in one of our Costco Carports that evening after the burn.
That evening, I went to the Temple Burn. It was a beautiful experience. Right before the burn, the Playa gifted me with a bandana. How odd. It even had hot peppers printed all over it. Just my style. Then the temple burned. Towards the end of the burn, the winds and dust picked up. It began to blow hard. By the time the temple collapsed and fell, there was a great storm brewed. I noted the direction of the wind before the temple fell in. Then after the burn, I oriented myself by the wind, and walked back to camp. This was no where as easy as I make it sound. The wind was driving, and the air was full of dust. It was harsh. Eventually, I saw the shadow of Ubie against the dark nights sky. This was great! I was nearly back. When I got within a hundred yards or so of camp, Ubie lit up, bright and tall. I made it back to camp, and stumbled into the bus, cold and filthy.
I slept for a few hours, and then I was roused by Jake; we had to get everything together to go! It was hard. The weather still blew, and I was cold, cold in my bones. But we packed, and I was cold. And we got the packing done.
Dusts of the Playa
The dust of the playa gets into everything. This is very hard to believe or understand without having been there. I thought before going, “how bad can it really be?” But when you’re there, you come to understand. The wind blows the dust, and the dust makes its way into everything. Even sealed containers. Even your food. Even your drink. Everything you bring to the playa will be bathed in the dirt.
The dust was amazing.
Gigsville and our Uberman (Ubie)
He said with a smile.
They’re all assholes
so they’ve said.
I don’t buy it; never did.
When I’m in Gigsville,
fuck off means
I missed you.
Ubie led me
Home at night.
Cold blowing winds
Or just drunken
He waves to me.
Time for Pie.
In the great sea
Gigsville is a big community. And at Burning Man, Gigsville is a village. This means it’s a collection of affiliated theme (and non-theme) camps that share space (and friends). Gigsville has two mayors. For the year colmunating with BM’08, they were Normal and Jet Fuel. Both wonderful people. They wrangle the village, interacting as a single point of contact with BMOrg, and as a central agency of social and geographical means.
Gigsville is one of the older villages. They’ve been around for 11 years. This year, the gate to the village hung a banner that read “Gigsville 2nd annual tenth anniversery.”
Normal and Jet Fuel are both wonderful people. They willingly took on the mantle of being responsible for a huge amount of work for a huge number of people. They worked literally second jobs in making Gigsville be a success. I really appreciate them.
Gigsville has its own man. This man is called the Uberman, or Ubie for short within the camp. Dishearteningly, the man is known outside the village as “The Time-for-Pie guy”.
Ubie is a 40 foot tall metal structure wreathed with neon lamps, and air-raid sirens. Ubie this year held an American flag and a cross, firmly mocking the theme this year, The American Dream. Ubie was lit every night. His light was bright Red-Orange, and was visible more than a mile away on the other side of the city. His head is an inverted triangle, with a pair of glowing eyes. In his chest is a sign that reads Time For Pie, with a Whirlygig man, and a letter G, and the word “Gigsville” below that. He has a perimeter fence surrounding him. Any time someone violated that perimeter, the air raid sirens would go off. This did a great job of keeping people from fucking with him.
I found the presence of him to be very reassuring and helpful to me. When I was elsewhere in the city, I could use Ubie to find my way home quickly. He was almost always visible at night, and he stood out.
He literally led me home on several nights.
This year was Ubie’s last year in his current form. He’s too broken and too tough to maintain. Next year, he’ll be something else.
Good travels and thansk for bringing me home, Ubie.
I feel like I leanred a lot about myself at BM this year. This was my first year attending, and it was awesome.
I learned that for me radical self-relaiance is not so much about the physical world, and the event. That part was fairly managable for me. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t overwhelmingly difficult, either. For me, it’s really more about hte mental and emotional components. I feel like the event tested me from an emotional stance. It was both wonderful and hard to do.
For me, the most lonely part of the whole time at Burning Man was when I was at the Burn of the Man. I was alone, among a sea of people. But I wasn’t with anyone I knew, or that meant anything to me. I thought most at that time that I wished Melissa had been along.
I aclimated to the weather, the dust, the sun, and the wind after a couple days. Monday and Tuesday were hard. By Wednesday, I Was Just There. I could do fine in the day, or the night. I felt fine physically.
I feel thinner and stronger after leaving the experience. I didn’t eat nearly as much as I should have for the exertion of things. I brought home a lot of food. I walked all the time. I think I probably walked about 10 miles a day, and at most, 25 miles. The whole experience was very big. I did a lot, saw a lot, learned a lot, and felt a lot.
I missed my wife a lot while I was on the playa. I thought about her often, especially when I encountered something that I thought she might enjoy, appreciate, or value.
Being apart from my close and wonderful wife for nearly two weeks was hard. It’s been very rare in our relationship to be apart for a long time, and I missed her a lot. We have a close relationship, and I value that.
Melissa, I love you.
Friends, new and old
I ran into a lot of people that I know from around the Seattle area while I was at Burning Man. It was great to run into them, to hug them, to reconnect. I’d been absent from the Seattle scene due to preparing for BM, ironically. We had build days the same day as the social event in Seattle that I attend.
I also made some new friends while at the event. Some were from Gigsville, some from Seattle, some from other places entirely.
I had the chance to meet people from Gigsville, and I was really glad to do so. They’re great people.
I made a really great new friend. She camps in Gigsville, and she’s from Colorado. We talked a great deal, and I felt a real and strong connection with her. Solid friendship was made, and I didn’t expect to do so at all. We spoke at length, and openly. We told each-other our stories. I still miss her.
From Seattle, I met KatiePie while volunteering at Ice Camp. I was being shy that first day of volunteering; tired and more than a little overwhelmed, and Katie came up and said hello to me. We talked, and got along well. Later on, at the Ice Camp volunteer party, we talked more. She talked about her relationship (both the good and the bad, and its on the balance more for the good), of her becoming a cosmotologist, and lots of other things.
I also ran into several existing friends from around. Drunken/Frozen Monkey from INW/Seattle. Rob/Anybody who I’ve known for a while. Reba, who I first met at Critical Massive earlier this year, and others from Seattle and Portland.
I continue to feel a lot of joy and happiness at the openness and closeness that I found in the Burner community. It feels like home, and it feels like the friends I never had before.
Growing up, I was home-schooled until the 5th grade. Being home-schooled, I didn’t really get socialized with kids. I was around adults a lot more. This was a real problem for me when I finally got to public school in the 5th grade. I was terrible with the other kids. I couldn’t relate to them. It’s taken me a long time to realize how terrible homeschooling was for me. It took me a long time to make any friends at all. For a long time, starting earlier than 5th grade, and lasting until 9th grade, I had no friends. None at all.
That hurt so much. But now I feel like I’ve got community, and friends for real. And I find real connection with people in this rabble. We’ve all had our problems, but we’ve also found each other now.
Overall, I was surprised at the quickness of friendships, and all our willingnesses to share. In talking about this, people hold a variety of views as to why this is. Some feel that it’s because of the harshness of conditions. Others feel that the environment is one of more openness, where we’re willing to walk around with fewer masks up. I feel that it’s these reasons, and others.
I know I’ve made some real friends. People who I’ll stay in contact with as time passes. Rather than just the sort who I meet, we talk, and then drift away from each other. I’m happy about that.
I was sad to leave. I miss the friends I’ve made, and the experience. I look forward to seeing them again.
The art at Burning Man was really good. It ranged from huge works like the Temple Basura Sargrada and the Flaming Lotus Girls to smaller works like the Iron Monkeys’ Cauldron, to small works like individual necklaces made by individual people.
There were many expressions. Of music, of performance, of sculpture, of flat art, and many others.
I don’t feel like I’ve got a lot to say about the art; it was there; it was beautiful.
The most moving piece for me was definitely the Temple, followed by all the really small expressions. Photographs by CatCat, musical performance by Eric, the CarBeQue, an dall the small works by people.
The process of creating is what’s beautiful to me. The action of invocation and evocation of dreams into concepts into reality is the soul of art. Create and you are a god. A god of small, wonderful things.
(Burning) The Man
Stand on your tower
Tall Idol of self.
I watch the flames lick at
Your feet, perched
Atop that fragile tower.
Alone in a crowd,
You (and I) wait until your
They cheered when
You fell from your spire,
The Desert floor.
Hot Carbon mass.
See you next time.
The man was far from everything. He was placed on a tall wooden tower at the center of the circle that deswcribes the city. That tower could be climbed earlier in the week (though I didn’t), and you could look out and see all the city from there.
I think that placing the man up so high was a mistake — I think that making him so out of touch with everything made him seem like an observer to the event, rather than a participant.
For me, the man was a small part of the event. He was cool to see, and I’m glad I did, but he was removed from things. Always a distant watcher to what happened in the City.
The night of the Burn was a lonely time for me. My camp-mates had all gone to do other things, or weren’t leaving camp to watch. I walked over to the man, half a mile from our camp on the Esplanade, and made myself a place to sit, two rows back from the burn perimeter.
Then I waited. While I waited, I wrote a lot in my journal (of which some has ended up here). This was a good opportunity to get my thoughts and feelings from the week out in a written form. Something more concrete and intelligible than my ramblings by mouth.
Eventually, things began to pick up, and it became apparent that the man would burn. All day Saturday, there had been doubt whether the man would burn or not; the weather was being the sort of weather that might delay or halt a burn that night. Windy and dusty. Whiteout.
We all knew he would burn when his arms raised up to the sky, neon lights blazing in blues and purples. The man raised his arms, and the crowd cheered his coming death.
The man was burned. Fireworks roared to life, and the tower was ignited. Fireballs of jet fuel or propane rose like mushroom clouds up the framework of the tower, setting it ablaze along its height. The man was lit.
Eventually, the man wobbled. We wondered if he’d fall before the tower did, or if the tower would fall and take him. In the end, it seemed to be that man and tower fell at the same time; both crashing to the ground.
The crowd took flight at this time, and raced forward to the flaming wreckage of the Burning Man, swirling around the pyre, dancing, evoking. I was drawn in with the crowd, and circled the man once. It was hot, and bright and good.
Eventually, I broke free from the mob, and looked about. Ubie. I saw Ubie, and he led me home from the Burn. I followed his glow back to Gigsville. The man had burned. The ritual could be repeated next year.
The Temple Basura Sargrada and its Burn
On Saturday morning, I got up and got ready for my day. I filled up my hydration pack, filled an extra bottle of water, and put some energy bars into my pack, but I didn’t eat anything.
I decided that this morning would be my time to go see the Temple. I started walking out to the temple after I got ready. It’s a long walk from where I was camped. About a mile, over the dusty, duney windblown playa.
As I walked there, I thought about the meaning of the temple; a place to contemplate, a place to let go of pain and the past. I thought about things that I wanted to let go, and as I approached the temple, I started to cry. I became upset on my sojourn to that ephemeral shrine in the desert. That place that would be consumed in flame soon.
When I got to the temple, I spent a little time looking around on the ground floor, but quickly decided to climb to the second story. I climbed the double helix spiral staircase that led up into the temple.
I walked around on that floor, and read some of the many things that peole had written there. Some were people asking for forgiveness from others; people saying goodbye to a departed loved-one, copies of divorce decrees stamped Filed, people letting go of anger that they held at themselves or at others.
I had a marker with me, and I added my own things to the temple. Things that I wanted to let go of. Regrets over past things, things that I wanted to pass outside of my Self.
Afer I wrote my statements, I went and sat down on the edge of the floor for a long time. I watched the people come and go, embrace their friends, cry, and simply be. I watched the dust-storms roll along, past the temple, obscuring the people on the ground.
I watched the dust devils 500 feet across race across the playa at 30 miles per hour.
Most of my time in contemplation was done sitting half-way between the sides of the front of the temple, facing out towards the Man. After a time, my friend Cat showed up and waved up to me. She came up into the temple, and I went down and met with her.
She pointed out to me where I had been siting in the Temple. Right above the opening in the middle, right above the words, “Love Is Real.” How beautiful.
I had spent about three hours in contemplation at the Temple. I am not a spiritual or religious person, usually. For me, the experience was deeply spiritual and moving. I felt good after leaving.
Sunday night is the night that the Temple is burned. My camp spent the day on Sunday preparing to go. We packed, and made ourselves mostly ready.
At about 8PM that night, right after the sun had set, I set off for the temple. I took along my camera and tripod, and I photographed the temple burn. I got to the perimeter for the burn, and spoke to a couple temple guardians. They were pleasant. I then walked around the perimeter until Jake called out to me, and I stopped there. I was up-wind of the temple, and it was a good spot.
We talked for a while, and I set myself up for the coming burn.
That night was a cold one. Waiting for the burn, I was cold. I tried (and mostly succeeded) in not letting the cold touch me, but eventually I had to pull out a Mylar emergency blanket. I had prepared poorly for going to the Temple Burn.
The temple was burned, and everyone was solemn during the hour-long burn. I made my way back in the cold to camp.
Food at Burning Man
Food. That thing that we all need, but at Burning Man, that thing I did a poor job of actually partaking of.
I think I managed to have about one real meal each day, and some snacking. On a really good day, I made the time for two meals. So much to see, so much to do.
On Friday, one of my camp-mates, Todd, made a group dinner that was to die for. He made penne pasta with sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts in a pesto sauce. He also made fresh dolmades right there on the playa. The food he made was fantastic and delicious, and laden with garlic.
Most of the time, the food I ate was directly out of can, or was a cheese sandwich. I am glad I took mostly canned food, since I ate so little.
Burning Man was a great experience. I am incredibly glad I went, and I’m looking forward to attending in the future. The harshness of the experience fades as time passes, but the wonder of it grows. I had a really good time, and I can’t wait to go back.