It’s common knowledge that it takes everyone, especially virgins, a day or two to hit their stride and really start enjoying Burning Man. Adrian and I were no exception. The turning point for us, oddly enough, was when the dust storms started (they were pretty much constant all week). We returned to our tent to find it looking like this:
We hadn’t left the door open or anything stupid like that. The dust blew up under the fly and in through the mesh ceiling. We considered taking everything out and shaking the dust off, but the wind was still blowing and we knew that it would be a futile effort. So we decided that we would not be sleeping in our tent again. Where would we go? Well, we certainly figured that one out.
Here are the 12 best things that happened to us after we stopped returning to our tent:
- Unhealthy Reliance on the Cereal Bar
Most nights, we somehow managed to wake up as far away as possible from our camp— over on the 3 o’clock side while our camp was on the 9 o’clock side. Luckily, the 3 o’clock plaza was home to a camp known as Cereal Thrillers— an honest to god cereal bar. Every morning, we’d haul our sorry asses on to the bar stools and survey the wide selection of sugary cereals behind the bar tenders, ordering with enthusiasm only afforded in a world where everything is free.
- Jillian and the Gnome Dome
Our first night after giving up our tent, we were a little nervous, but luckily, our good friend Neil found us Jillian— the best friend ever. At a random 90’s dance party under a discreet little tent at the edge of the playa, Neil went right up to the person dancing the hardest and somehow convinced her to come exploring with us for the night.
Neil immediately started telling her the story of how he, Adrian and I had all met, starting from the VERY BEGINNING and we learned that Jillian also lived out of a backpack and had so many good stories.
By the end of the night, we jumped on a triangle art car and ended up at Jillian’s camp— smeared in black light paint, sitting on a piece of furniture known as a ‘love sack’, and chatting with a gnome named Yorik. Adrian and I were thoroughly danced out from the night of endless dance parties (including one on an art car that functioned as a really fun playground), but Neil and Jillian still had the energy for a sunrise party. So Adrian and I passed out on the Love Sack in the Gnome Dome. Quality sleep.
- Mail Delivery
For those of you who don’t know, Burning Man is not an event for spectators. Everybody has to contribute to the temporary community in some way. So after waking up at the Gnome Dome, we made our way over to the V-Spot to ask what we could do in the way of volunteering. We were directed to the Black Rock City Post Office— a totally legitimate US post office with its own zip code and everything.
We walked up to the window and the person behind the desk asked us if we were heading in any particular direction. We chose a direction and they handed us a stack of postcards to deliver. Most of them were sent from within Black Rock City, but some were from the outside world. One guy opened an envelope with a return address in Virginia in front of us. It turned out to be a note from his mother and a picture of a very nice bathroom with instructions to put it up in a port-a-potty so he didn’t “forget.”
People offered us beer, snacks and the beyond precious commodity, water, in exchange for our services. We had a blast talking to to people and following addresses to parts of the city that we hadn’t seen before. I feel weird even referring to it as work. By far the best volunteer experience at a festival this year.
- 21 Hours of Freedom
After partying all night and delivering mail for several hours, we returned to the bus to discover that we’d been gone for about 21 hours. Our camp mates had even started to worry about us. But the playa provides— we were no worse off than we would have been if we’d rushed right back to camp in the morning.
- Body Modifications
It’s not Burning Man without punching a few holes in your body, is it? Neil came to Burning Man with his piercing gun, which meant a new earring for him and a nose ring for Adrian. Then, this very very brave guy, Michael, decided to become the 5th person with one of Adrian’s prison style tattoos.
- The Teddy Bear Pit
The second night away from the tent, we slept… believe it or not… in a pit with 500 human-sized teddy bears. Because that exists at Burning Man. We were joined by probably about 100 other people. We slept until about 11am, which everyone without an air-conditioned RV knows is a goddamn miracle in the desert. Best cuddle party ever.
- The Worst Dust Storm Since ’95
The Burning Man survival guide warned about dust storms, but they were misleading in that they said that they were something that ended after an hour or two. This year, the dust swarmed all day for more or less the entire week. We got used to it and didn’t let it stop us, but one day was worse than all the rest. That day, the lifers were saying it was the worst year for dust they’d ever seen.
We hid in the bus with sand whipping against the closed windows until we were forced outside by a particularly nasty gust. Within seconds, our shade structure was destroyed— the parachute shredded and the two easy up shelters snapped. On top of the bus, a camp-mate was splattered with melted vegan ice cream. Truly a moment that could have only happened at Burning Man.
The rest of the afternoon was spent cozy in the school bus, colouring pictures and sharing snacks.
- Up All Night
On our last full night at Black Rock City, Adrian came to the realization that we had not yet stayed up to see a sunrise— an experience that we felt crucial to our Burning Man experience. So we set out on a night of endless entertainment that kept us going all the way until morning. We saw my new favourite painting, skated at the roller disco, rode on art cars, witnessed our first burns, tried to call our friends from a free telephone booth at 3:45am (thinking it was midnight), talked to a wide variety of people until an orange glow appeared over the eastern horizon. As we watched the clouds and mountain light up bright pink and purple, it was so cold. We huddled together and bet ‘a really good hug’ on which spot on the horizon the sun would appear at. Adrian won.
After we watched the sun rise, we were very hungry, but it was too early for any of the breakfast places to be open. Our first idea was that we should find a breakfast place and volunteer for it so we could get some food before they were officially open. However, we never did figure out how to find a place that might be a breakfast place at some point, so we just went back to our own camp to start our own might be a breakfast place.
By the time I was hitting the pancake-y sludge with a spoon in a way that remotely resembled stirring, it became very clear that it was a very good thing that we hadn’t stumbled across somebody else’s breakfast place. In my sleep-deprived state, I was completely useless. Adrian was coherent enough to operate the stove (and flip the pancakes, and deal with me), though, so we did manage to cook a couple dozen extra chocolate chippy pancakes. They were a huge hit, even though we woke everyone up in the process of making them with our inabilities to stop laughing. “MORE chocolate chips?” “Yes!”
- Neulyn and the Serpent Mother
After the Man Burn, for whatever reason, we were feeling both overwhelmed and disenchanted with the whole thing. As we made our way, freezing cold, across the dark playa, we spotted a flaming metal snake and decided to stop there to warm up. No sooner had we walked in, we ran into our camp-mate: Neulyn. We were a little intimidated by the dramatic silver reptile and had planned on carrying right on once our core temperatures rose a bit, but instead, we became captured by the things our new friend had to say. She said that the installation we sat around— Serpent Mother— was her favourite in the city. She told us about all sorts of things— train hopping, the critical tits parade, a memorable act of kindness from years ago, the art piece she intended to bring to the city some day. She told us about the Serpent Mother and the masterful welding skills of the Flaming Lotus Girls who had built it. With her, we witnessed the only-a-couple-times-per-night fire show. It was incredible.
- The Fish Lady
Later that same night, we wandered into the mouth of a big fish because it looked warm. Inside, we met the artist: a woman who was at her last burn. “I have other things to do,” she said. She showed us the abalone inlay on the wheel for spinning fire and told us about how her husband free-dove for each and every shell. The other things she had to do consisted mostly of sailing around the world. We told her about the similar journeys that we hoped to make ourselves and we left the fish with good advice and a friend who we will never see again.
- The Narc
The last person that we met that night, (and the last person we met before we left for the default world) was a narc. It was very fitting after we’d been warned so much about them and how they were everywhere and how we would never be able to spot them. How did we know he was a narc? Well… he was very bad at his job.
I said to Adrian as we huddled around a fire barrel somewhere in the maze of streets, “Once we get back to the bus, I’m just going to meditate through the rest of it.”
Before Adrian could even respond, the stranger next to us said, “What are you on?” His voice was agressive.
My first instinct was not confusion, but amusement at how obvious of a trap had been laid out before me. I acted confused anyways, though. When the narc pressed me, asking what I was meditating through, I explained to him that we were leaving the city, had to get a friend to the airport by a certain time, and thought that might be stressful.
We carried on into the night, satisfied with how we’d handled the villain and the entire week. We got on that bus with no regrets.