Five years ago three best friends packed our RV with gallons of water, more booze than food and set out on a scouting party from the Great White North. The day had started clear and hot as we drove further away from Reno but as we arrived in to the line the winds had started to pick up. By the time we came to a stop, the dust storm had engulfed everything around us. People poured from the vehicles in a flurry of excitement.
The power of the dust storm was striking as I exited our RV. It whipped around me, stinging my eyes until I had the good sense to trade in my sunglasses for my pair of Russian pilot goggles. It wasn’t long before I was involved in a game of tag. Sneaking up on other explorers in the dust tagging them as my compatriots ran away laughing. When I Returned to the car out of breath we decided to all take turns going out into the chaos in between the rank and file of cars. Darkness had replaced dust by the time we had moved in to the city. We drove around the rings of the city looking for what would be our home for the next week. The glow and sounds from the esplanade filled the night sky. Even then we could hear the pulse giant sound systems with thousands of people dancing.
We’ve camped next to great groups of people. From the Canadian derby girls to the Germans who only brought soup but no stove, to a South African beauty pageant winner, and a US Marine who had just returned home from Iraq and never heard of Burning Man, but decided to follow a girl there. But for that first night we parked next to a painted van with a Canadian flag flapping in the wind. The next morning we met our neighbors as they walked in on our friend dry shaving his balls beside the camper. Surprisingly enough, we are still friends with them all to this day. There is nothing quite like making a great first impression at Burning Man.
Each day we ventured out in to the desert, like fearless explorers trekking across an alien landscape whose inhabitants ride mutant vehicles to monuments birthed from some crazed collective consciousness. This harsh environment acts as the perfect canvas for the art. The stark contrast between the barrenness of the dried lake bed framed by the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the vibrant art that seemingly appears from nowhere is awe-inspiring. Though, it isn’t until the setting sun comes to rest behind Granite Peek that the real fun starts.
At night the Playa turns in to a fantastic bohemian carnival of fire, music and art. Many of the theme camps shift gears from offering courses during the day to full on party mode at night. No matter what your interests might be, you are nearly guaranteed to find adventure, fun and some of the best music in the world. Within the vastness of Black Rock City there exists a microcosm of parties that go on. This free market of fun will even provide to those of us with the most discerning of tastes; music that will keep us dancing until the stars begin to fade as the sun chases them away.
That first year we learned a lot about pacing ourselves in the harsh desert environment. Between the breakneck pace in which we were consuming our cache of booze, and the complete over stimulation coming from every direction; it is a wonder I can recall a single thing. What I do remember most clearly was gravitating towards the massive geodesic domes of Roots Society on the Thursday night. We made our way to the front just in time for Bassnectar’s set. I’ve never been disappointed by any of his sets, but what stands out the most in my mind, was the moment when Bassnectar stopped to offer the crowd a healthy dose of political diatribe. I couldn’t help but feel that he was preaching to the converted.
By the time Saturday rolls around most people have that crazed look in their eye. The city has worked itself up in to a fever pitch and it gathers around the man ready to burn him to the ground. The night plays out like a strange mix of New Years, Halloween, and a healthy dose of The Lord of the Flies. When they ignite all that diesel fuel, the giant fireball it is truly something to behold.
When people ask me what it is about Burning Man that I love so much. I tell people it is because it represents the infinite possibilities that exist within all of us. There are no bounds to the innovation and creativity that I’ve seen there. Burning Man is the actualization of hopes and dreams and there is nothing more empowering than to see people living life they want. I think my hero Mr. Bill Murray said it best:
You won’t believe the bastard who say, ‘[It’s] is once a year and it’s a fraud.’ It’s not! It can happen every day! You’ve just got to want that feeling! Ad if you like it and you want it, you get greedy for it. You’ll want it every day of your life! And it can happen to you! I believe in it now. I believe it’s gonna happen to me, now. I’m ready for it! And it’s great. It’s a good feeling. It’s really better than I’ve felt in a long time.
In the dust, we’ve danced with the giants. We’ve run through the darkness, chasing unknown lights to find ourselves surrounded by a symphony of music, people and fire. As summer begins to wane tens of thousands of us make the pilgrimage in to the Black Rock Desert to participate in an event unlike any in the world. Some call Burning Man a festival, but to many of us it is so much more than that; to many of us it is home.
The playa will provide.