Burning Man. A city in the desert. A culture of possibility. A network of dreamers and doers. An annual experiment in temporary community dedicated to radical self-expression and radical self-reliance.
I had no intentions of going to Burning Man this year. People asked throughout the year if I was going to go again, and after missing the opening ticket sales online (through a technical oversight on my part), the answer was always a “no, not this year–maybe in 2015”.
Numerous friends tried their hand at convincing me to go, but I always stuck to the same answer.
That being said, sometimes the universe conspires against you, for better or worse.
This time around I’m happy to say that everything worked out quite well in hindsight.
I first gave thought to attending Burning Man while doing the Mongol Rally in 2009. My buddy and I were on the way from Dushanbe, Tajikistan to the autonomous region encompassing the Pamir mountains when we picked up a hitch-hiker during one of our stops. Cass, as he was known, was an adventurous Kiwi who was working in Afghanistan at the time. All foreigners were strongly “advised” to leave the country for the two week period surrounding national elections, and so he decided to pop across the border and explore the lands to the north.
The next leg of our journey would encompass around 24 hours of driving spread across a couple of days, so we had plenty of time to chat on the way. I had heard of Burning Man before, but had never really looked into it. Cass had attended multiple times, and the way he described it to us prompted me to make a mental note to go at some point in the future.
We ended up dropping him off in the next major city, after which our car completely died, my partner left, and I had to hitch-hike myself all the way to Ulan Bator, Mongolia…but that is a story for another time.
My opportunity finally came in late 2012. I had just finished a grueling 5-month, 14,000 mile charity drive across Africa, and was in Scotland with a couple of friends (that I had actually met sat the end of the Mongol Rally in Ulan Bator) celebrating my safe return. Somehow the topic of Burning Man was broached, and it wasn’t long before both agreed that they were in. With those tenuous plans in mind we started on preparations to attend Burning Man 2013.
Over the next few months our group of 3 turned into a group of 7…then 12…and eventually 19, as more and more friends latched onto the idea of attending their first-ever Burning Man. Somewhere along the line I became–willingly–the de-facto leader of the crew. There were many things to be done–an RV had to be rented (and driven across the country and back), expenses and payments calculated, water and food divvied up, 20-foot shade structure purchased and transported, and attendees from a half-dozen locations corralled together into one spot at the same time. It all turned out to be a bit more work than I had anticipated, but everything worked out in the end. I was rewarded by the fact that I had a fairly big part in making so many of my friend’s first Burning Man an unforgettable experience. (Also, no one died, so that was good.)
2013 had been a lot of work–I definitely enjoyed the fruits of my labor, but wanted to do it a bit differently the next time around. I convinced myself that I needed a year off, in order to re-calibrate and approach Burning Man through new eyes in 2015. I also needed to spend less time traveling, partying, and “networking”, and more time focusing on my safari company (something I wrote about in the Year Overview for 2013).
That being the case, I spent much of 2014 with the mindset that I was definitely not going to attend when it rolled around again in late August.
Everything changed at the end of Awesomenessfest 2014. The day after the event had finished I had a four-hour lunch with four attendees that would convince me to yet again lead a group of first-timers to Burning Man. How quickly things can change.
To further along our plans, we had recently discovered that there was a camp being led by past Awesomenessfest attendees that we were welcome to join. This would radically reduce the amount of work and planning I needed to do to attend this time around (in exchange for a bit of money). Excellent.
Four of the five of us committed to attending (one was based in the UK and couldn’t swing it this time around), and we set out to commence preparations. The event was happening in only two months, and tickets had been sold out since March, so we had to just assume that we would come across four tickets somehow.
Well, that’s exactly what happened. Tickets in hand, I led a trepidatious foursome to their first ever Burning Man experience. Things started off a bit rocky (as they often do for virgins), but I’m happy to say that everyone involved ended their trip vowing to go back yet again in 2015.
So, how was it? Well, I like to equate explaining Burning Man in words to trying to explain the color red to a man that has been blind since birth–it’s an extremely difficult thing to do.
Crazy weather hit on the second day and turned the whole area into a giant mud bog, delaying the entrance of tens of thousands of burners a day or more (luckily we had gotten in the day prior). The camp was half virgin attendees, and it took much longer to get our shade structures and basic necessities up than planned. Our meal deliveries went to shambles, as the guy we had contracted to fulfill our daily rations didn’t show on time, then didn’t deliver what he had promised.
But hey–these things happen, especially for an untested first-year camp such as ours.
On the other side of the coin, I experienced mind-bending all-nighters, scaled massive art structures, marveled at the dust devils snaking their way across the playa, danced for hours on end, stared through the eyes of giants, witnessed sunrise weddings, and experienced a funeral procession at The Temple.
New experiences were had. New friends were made. The sunrise at Robot Heart was witnessed.
See you in 2015.