Sunday, February 06, 2005

The Road to Burning Man

My ride out to Burning Man, 2002

I've been thinking a lot about Burning Man lately and whether or not I will go this year (I think yes). So, I was quite delighted when I ran across this picture on Oil is for Sissies because it is the van we created and drove from Minneapolis out to Black Rock City, NV for Burning Man 2002. My subcamp had eight of all together (2 van, 6 RV), and I spent most of the drive in the van. Loaded with gear, no visibility, no air conditioning and a 2.5 day drive through the West through deserts and mountains. This poor, poor mini-van didn't have the ponies to make it up the steep inclines of Utah and maintain any reasonable speed. So, I learned to draft and drove dangerously close behind the RV for hour after monotonous hour. Now I can draft like a pro and when I still had a car I would lodge myself firmly in the blindspot of semis and let them pull me to my destination. This ability to pay attention to and react quickly to brake-lights probably contributes to my comfort riding in traffice.

Anyway, I heard about Burning Man and decided to go in early August and attending a pre-party with the intention of mooching a ride to the event. Mission successful--I met some total strangers and they welcomed me to their camp. In the two weeks preceding our departure we had several build days to deck out our ride to meet the standards of an 'Art Vehicle' by the DMV (Department of Mutant Vehicles). The idea was to astroturf the outside of the vans, replace the windows with portals, create a team of plywood seahorses to 'pull' the van, build a 'party house' on roof, shag the inside and connect music equipment to the electrical system. Fun stuff.

A guy in the group worked as a set-builder at a theatre, so we had access to a great workshop and tools. All of the seats by sides the driver and shotgun were tore out and a steel frame was constructed inside to support the house on top and the weight of many people. The portals were cut from a plastic, one-way mirror type material and installed--this took a considerable amount of time. EL wire was meticulously strung on the seahorses so their sillhouette and markings were colofully lit at night. Green shag carpeting was cut, placed and attached to cover the entire interior of the van and even more care was used to astroturf the exterior. After all, the astroturf needed to survive the drive to the desert from Minneapolis. I had my doubts that all of this could be accomplished, but it turned out great.

The drive out was amazing. On our first night camping we were hit by a powerful storm. about two minutes after the storm arrived my tent was swimming with water. Paul and I pulled down our tents and dove into the RV and slept on the floor that night. Good thing--during the night a huge tree crashed onto our abandoned camp site. Also, somehow one of the van's tires went flat. We spent an hour or two at a small-town Iowa service station getting the tire replaced while old-timers gawked at the van and our motley crew.

I sweltered in the van with Paul for much of the drive and enjoyed the amazed looks of other people on the road. I had been driving an art car for 1.5 years at this point and was used to gawks. The ride out to NV was the perfect road trip. Sun and new people and adventure. Perfect. The astroturf rippled in the breeze and through my side mirror it looked just as excited as I was about the upcoming trip.

There is this little outpost that is the last place for real supplies before entering Burning Man that was crazy as people bought their last supplies to prepare for a week in the desert. The road was lined with art cars and artsy-looking people and felt like the party was already getting started. Randomly, we ran into another crew from Minneapolis. Their were about 15-20 of them in the cow-bus. Apparently the bus at one point needed to be pushed by the crew, but I don't fully remember the story. What I do remember is that they had attached a live tree to the roof of the bus. I'm not an engineer, but I'm pretty sure that isn't the most aerodynamic modification possible. Anyway--fun, fun times.

The salt flats were absolutely amazing--it looked like snow, especially in the dusk as the ground glowed bluish-white. This part of the ride I spent in the heavily air-conditioned RV, so it really felt like winter--until I stepped out into the smothering, heavy heat of the desert. Hundreds of miles from nowhere was a gas station/truck stop with a Mexican restaurant--our last real meal for a week. Hot sauce, hot weather. I think we took our last showers there, too.

Nights on the playa were wild--every night people cheered when the scorching sun sunk below the mountains and the Playa truly came alive. My first several nights were spent walking or biking around the outskirts of the desert following the blinking lights of remote art installations. I am known for wandering away from groups to be by myself, and this trip was no exception. Those first few nights were serene, contemplative and beautiful. As far out as I went there were rarely other people and no streetlights--I felt the luxury of being completely alone in the dark, quiet desert.

Later in the week as the city grew, the nights became more party-like. We drove the van around with our DJ creating music to make whatever mood we desired. Everywhere we stopped a dance party broke out. New members were added and other people were left behind or ran away to join another mobile party or installation. A random couple 'christened' the house and prompted all of the couples in our group to also have sex atop the van. Alas, I was single and perhaps the only person in all of Black Rock City to not get any during that week. As the week progressed the playa turned into a huge party every night and huge clubs were constructed for no other reason than to throw a great party. Ybor City and Mardi Gras--New Orleans have nothing on late week Burning Man at night.

What an amazing experience. Writing this down has made me remember details of a trip that I should definitely do again. Expect more entries about Burning Man 2002--it seems so far away from my current life and yet I can still feel the sun on my skin and the wonder of the experience.


At 6:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, I never thought my photography would become so famous. Fun recollections. Sounds like a great trip.

At 3:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Check my cow ride! you've got great taste


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