My last post was about my days leading up to Burning Man. Even though I can’t possibly sum everything up in words, here’s my attempt at sharing some of my experience with you…
Day 1 for me, is all about “adjusting.” I really had no idea what to expect. I’m still warming up to my RV mates when I meet the rest of the people in our camp. I’m feeling utterly unprepared. I don’t have a bike & that’s the main source of transportation around the 7 mile radius known as “Playa.”
When some of the female campers want to go explore, I feel left out. Should I just walk? There’s no way I’ll ever keep up.
One of our campers offers me his bike & I scurry after the girls to catch up. They’re all friends or know each other in some way and although it’s their first burn, they seem to know how to navigate around the clock-like area. I’m once again, reminded of how unprepared I really am.
We make a stop for lunch. This is when I get to experience the “no cash transactions” policy for the first time. I have gifts to trade, but I don’t even have to use them here. It’s Chipotle, it’s free and it’s delicious! The camp serving the food is also offering signature cocktails. This is when I learn that you’re supposed to bring your own cup (*insert forehead slap). So unprepared.
Luckily, I have a water with me. I chug the remains & use the bottle for booze at our future stops. We make our way around to different camps & stop frequently to admire some of the art pieces. I’m amazed.
We head back to camp shortly after getting word that our friends, A&M have arrived. Maybe I’ll feel a little more at ease now that I have some familiar faces around.
We congregate with the entire group & have a camp meeting. Our camp leaders, (I guess you would call them) are some major veterans to the event. They have a lot of experience in Black Rock City. They named our camp Anam Cara – soul friend. It’s their intention that everyone in our camp meet theirs during our time here.
The night comes quickly & a group of us head out to explore Playa at night. Only, I’m not really in the mood to party. I’m still feeling out of place, unprepared & unwelcome. Against my better judgement, I go out anyway.
My perception takes total control after my group heads into a dance tent. The music is so loud & everyone is so excited to dance, but I can’t hold my tears back. I’m bawling & I just want my friend to walk me back to the RV so I can sleep it off and they can enjoy themselves without me.
I’m pretty sure I’m going home in the morning. Maybe this place isn’t for me.
Sure, It seems like fun to “go back to basics,” to experience life off the grid, and to have to use your limited resources wisely… but to be honest, I’ve experienced that kind of living. For certain years of my childhood, I remember times when my (then) single mother couldn’t pay all the bills. I know what it feels like to be walking through the house at night & the lights being shut off. I remember our house phone being disconnected by the phone company. I already know what all that feels like. Why on Earth would I actually pay money to live like what I’ve worked so hard to get away from? I don’t know, but I gotta go. For now, though, I’ll just cry myself to sleep.
Day 2 is a little better. I wake up to my concerned friends asking if I’m staying. After having a whole night to think about it, I realize that my camp mates are right: I’m just out of my comfort zone. At first, when they suggested it, I thought, You don’t know anything about me or my comfort zone. I live my life testing comfort zones. I’m always in a different city, with different people and… And then, I realized, the constant change of scenery & people had become my comfort zone. Taxis, subways, trains and planes have all become so normal to me. I’m usually only in one place or around certain faces for a day or two. It’s easy to “smile through it” for a day. But, I was here for five days, living intimately with my RV mates, with no social media escape & no Über to call to get me out of it. It doesn’t take much time to think about my response. I’m staying!
I spend the day as part of a group, from morning to night. I’m still not fully familiar with the city and I want to be with my friends.
photo by April Dydasco
It ends up being a day (& night) of dancing, partying & lots of drinking.
I’m enjoying myself, but I’m starting to think that it’s not quite the experience I came here for. Maybe I’ll try a different approach tomorrow…
One of my favorite memories of the day: Having drinks at Scar Bar. To order a drink here, you had to show a scar & tell the story behind it. It was such a beautiful way to connect with one another.
photo by April Dydasco
Day 3 is the day I explore alone. I’ve looked over the booklet that I received upon arrival. It lists different events being held at certain camps. I’m interested in few workshops.
I’ve heard that there are community bikes roaming about. You’re free to pick one up & use it as you please, when you actually spot one. I’m starting on foot and I hope to find one.
I decide that I want to try something new today, and when I stumble upon a community steam bath, I know it’s time to let my inhibitions go. Even though I’m staying in an RV, water consumption is something you need to be aware of. Since showers are a luxury, I undress & climb into the igloo-like structure. There’s a lot of steam, and it’s hot like a sauna. There are a few spray bottles & lots of naked men. It’s definitely a new experience for me to carry on a casual conversation with perfect strangers, while bathing, but it’s also very liberating.
This is a similar (miniature) version of the steam bath structure.
Now that I’m clean, I head to a couple workshops that touch on self development, self discovery & self empowerment. As I’ve mentioned before, I attended the Lamdmark Forum in 2013, and have enjoyed this type of work ever since.
I continue my day with a personal coaching session, and a hot dog lunch accompanied by a tarot card reading – something I’ve always wanted to do! I’m noticing that I love daytime here so much more. I’m what you would call a “day burner.”
I stumble upon one of those community bikes & take myself around center camp. It’s a beautiful, huge tent where art is displayed, acts are on stage, and people are practicing acroyoga. It’s amazing to see.
On my way back to camp, I get caught in the biggest dust storm I’ve witnessed my entire time here. Everything is consumed with dirt and the tiny particles hurt as they whip against my skin.
I don’t let the storm bother me. Even though it’s difficult to breathe and hard to see, I’m actually taking in all the beauty and strength of Mother Nature.
There are times that I have to stop, because I can’t bike through the white-out, but the journey back to camp is such an adventure!
This photo was a gift from a camp I passed during my solo bike ride, during the dust storm.
I decide that I’m continuing on with my solo mission tonight. I take the bike out & hit a couple of bars. One of my favorites is Spanky’s Wine Bar. It’s ladies night, which means men must do what ladies want. I’m in the mood to chill, and red wine is always perfect for that. I roll the dice at the bar & the “price” for my drink is that I have to find the founder of Spanky’s camp, ask to see his penis, point & laugh.
*Note: Burning Man is all about consent & no one ever “has” to do anything they’re not comfortable with.
I complete my task as payment for my wine. Why not?
When I go back for the community bike that had gotten me around most of my day, I notice that it’s now serving some other lucky burner. It’s gone. I take it as a sign to head back to camp & get a good night’s sleep to seize more of the day tomorrow.
Day 4 is my last full day in Black Rock City. I’m excited & free today! I want to hit a few workshops, spend time with the group, eat, drink, and stay up to catch the famous Robot Heart art car in deep Playa for sunrise.
I start my day with delicious French toast and when my friend, A, wants breakfast, I can’t deny her. We head back for a couple of slices, even though my workshop is starting soon. She loves it. I’m happy.
When we arrive at the camp hosting the workshop I want to attend, we discover that it’s full & has been moved. I’m sad that I’m going to miss it, but letting my friend enjoy yummy food made me happy. I’ll just look at other workshops.
When I pop my head into a nearby tent, I recognize Dave Booda, who I completed a Lamdmark course with. If he’s here, I know his wife (my friend), Paula, must be near! I turn & suddenly, I see her standing next me. I’m so excited… In a place with no cell phone reception, the Universe brought me back together with this amazing, powerful, inspirational woman!
I’m excited to participate in the workshop. It’s called Psychics 101. Little by little, we ease into exercises that lead us to reading each other’s energy. It’s mind-blowing! Some of these strangers are sitting in front of me, with their eyes closed, and they are picking up on so many truths about me.
The workshop is a reminder of how much we’re all always saying, even without words. I’m present to how loud I am, even when I don’t speak, how much people can read me & how much I try to hide it. Wow!
I also notice how much I try to ignore what people are giving me. I’m so caught up in my life & what I have going on, that sometimes, I just look past what other people are dealing with. I’m reminded to be more open with people. Life is so much more beautiful when we’re connecting.
I head back to camp, feeling fulfilled. A few of us head out for a bike ride. It’s one of the most magical days I’ve had…
Soon, we gather with our camp mates to offer black light, glow-in-the-dark body painting, as our gift to the Playa. It’s a nice way to come together and meet other burners.
The night goes on & we ride around looking for as much fun as we can find. We eventually split up, agreeing that we should all do what will make us happy. Since it’s my last night, I want to see more of the art pieces…
This is the Burning Man Temple. People gather here to pray, meditate, and leave gifts & notes for loved ones, as a way of “letting go.” Before the week was over, the temple, along with everything in it, would be burned. Walking through it was very moving.
I left a little note for someone who was there with me in spirit…
I had to get a photo with The Man before he was burned.
I’m determined to stay out until sunrise. So, that’s just what I do. By some – I don’t know, miracle- I find Leo (the RV driver that I had the bumpy start with) and his partner, John at a random bar with a bonfire. We dance into the morning hours & drink champagne at Robot Heart. By now, we all love each other.
We ride around the outskirts known as “Deep Playa,” and find a huge art fire to warm us from the desert’s morning chill. Someone explains to us that this, like many other pieces created for this year’s gathering, will be burned. It’s a reminder that nothing lasts forever, that things are always changing & we are always building and creating.
photo by John Andrew Kennedy IV
After a full night and a gorgeous sunrise, I take my time riding back to camp. I make frequent stops to appreciate the art pieces along the way. I know it’s almost time to pack my bags & get ready to leave Black Rock City.
My same amazing friends who got me all set up to attend Burning Man, also set me up with a ride back out. I met Peter, a Philadelphia local, yesterday, and we set a meeting time for today. When he comes for me, I have to say bye to my RV buddies, who I had come to love over the last few days. It was a bitter sweet.
As Peter and I begin our journey back into the real world, we spot a group of 3 hitchhikers. Since we have room in the car & we’re all heading in the same direction, we invite them to join us.
We share our experiences and instantly bond. We talk about the people we met, the things we did, what we saw & how we felt. It’s nice getting to know each other on the open road.
We make a few stops for delicious food, the final one being a farewell to our lady hitchhiker, also a Landmark graduate (small world). When we arrive to San Francisco, I part ways with the guys. It really feels like the perfect way to to end my first Burn…
Burning Man isn’t just a story to tell. It’s an experience, a feeling, a way of life. It’s a place that will never exist again, for next year, the entire city will change. After each annual gathering, the desert is left with no trace of what took place. It’s a temporary city, built by the people, for the people.
Where else can we simply use our gifts & words as payment for food and drink? Where else do we trade what we have with each other, to make someone smile. How often are we free to look and dress as crazy as we want? Where else is creativity & sexuality encouraged in such a way? How often can wear as much (or as little) as we please?
Although I complained, I resisted and I cried… I also laughed, connected, and felt confident & sexy… & safe. It was nice to be in a place where trust is the default. The instant camaraderie that Burners feel with other Burners is something so special and so rare. Something happens to human beings out there in that desert. I’m not sure what that thing is, but I’m so glad that that thing happened to me.
Thanks for reading along, everyone. I know this was a long post, but trust me, it still doesn’t cover everything.
*Special Thanks to each and every person that made Burning Man 2015 possible, especially those in my camp & those that I met during my time there. I appreciate every story I heard, every drink I had, every bite of food, every dance, every tear, every laugh, every moment.
**Assistance with photos: April Dydasco
I know I’m failing & falling behind, but stay tuned for more on my #30postsin30days challenge.