Tuesday, September 29, 2015

My First Burning Man Festival



I heard that over 200,000 people tried to buy tickets to Burning Man 2015. I was one of the lucky 70,000 who snagged a ticket, thanks to the superb internet skills of my friends Pam, Brian and Donna. $390 buys you entry only to the most God-forsaken part of the planet, Black Rock Desert, Nevada. Your assignment is to bring in everything you will need to survive intense heat, cold, and dust storms for a week and to take everything back out. Leave No Trace is one of 10 principles of Burning Man. Fortunately, BM provides 1,400 port-a-potties, so that's one thing we didn't have to take back out with us. I know the numbers because I had the privilege of meeting Robbi, the self-assigned "Shit Queen of Burning Man."



My friend Susan and I met in early 2010 after the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Susan is a nutritionist and volunteered to help out in Leogane, Haiti, the epicenter of the quake. We've stayed in touch, even after she recently moved back to San Diego, and figured out we were both going to Burning Man for the first time. So, like newbie leading newbie, we collaborated for a month or two and figured out what was essential to pack into her Toyota 4-Runner for the two of us.
Being the delicate ladies that we are, Susan and I decided to make it easy on ourselves and take a leisurely 5-hour drive to my friends Mary and Rich who live near Lake Tahoe to spend the night even though Burning Man had officially opened. We enjoyed a wonderful salmon dinner and a hot shower. A moment of panic set in when I couldn't find my SLR camera and freaked out that I might have left it at home, but twas not true. Then at 4 a.m. we slipped out quietly and hit the road to Reno and beyond. We gassed up at the last resemblance of civilization in Fernley, Nevada, where we were greeted with a large "Welcome Burners" sign, various and sundry burning paraphernalia and a large display of water bottles outside. Being a rabid environmentalist I had been collecting gallon plastic jugs from friends who buy milk and juice in those things, and we had filled them up with Mary and Rich's delicious Tahoe tap water. An RV next to us was also filling up 10 or more gas cans to run their AC out in God-forsaken desert.

I decided to skip the glow sticks, but I was gifted many throughout the week.

RVs like this cost around $3,000 to rent for the week.

2015 is the first year that Burning Man opened its gates at noon on Sunday, which fell on August 30. We heard that some people waited 10, 11, 12 hours in line to enter on opening day. BM used to begin at midnight, but the organizers realized that setting up in the dark might not be the best idea. Susan and I agreed. That's why we waited until early Monday morning to arrive.
Susan was hoping for a rest room, so we stopped briefly in Gerlach. This is where you can get last-minute goggles, fur boot covers, rainbow clothing, higher priced gas, scalped Burning Man tickets, and water. Fortunately, we felt prepared for whatever lie ahead of us.

 
NEED TICKETS. I heard scalpers in Gerlach were buying for face value of $390 and reselling for $600. Not a bad business.
 

 

Fortunately, our plan to wait until early Monday morning (August 31) paid off on a quick entry. It blew my mind to imagine all of these lanes filled with RVs, buses, trucks, campers, and cars for hours and hours.
 
We drove right up to the lines and were inside the gates in about an hour, which gave us time to turn off the engine and get out and stretch. Susan spotted a friend of hers and went to say hi.

Susan is all smiles and barely dusty at this point in our journey.
Here comes Captain Underpants to check us in. Hardly a newcomer to Burning Man.

It's a tradition for first-timers to get out of your vehicle and roll in the Playa dust, as a rite of initiation. Susan and I took one look at Captain Underwear and said, "No way, buddy!" He didn't press the issue, although he hung around to flirt with Susan. I figured we would get dusty enough without trying.

Another one bites the dust!

People were still setting up when we arrived. We heard there was a terrible wind storm the day before, but now we arrived to perfect weather, not too hot, and not windy at all. This gave us a false sense of security.
Susan helped me set up my tent and canopy at Camp Journeylizm first, then we went to where her friends were waiting for her, at a prime corner location with two wooden swings and a full bar. The camp addresses are numbered and alphabetical. Camp Journeylizm was located at 6:15 and H for Hanky Panky. Susan was at 8:00 and K for Kook. I only knew two people in my camp before I arrived, but by the end of the week they were all my burning buddies and fellow photographers and journalists. I even got myself a Media badge just in case I wanted to sell something.

A lot of my friends were concerned about early reports of an infestation of bugs at Burning Man. I was never really worried myself because either this was a ploy to get people to sell their tickets to the tens of thousands who still wanted to get in, or else the plague would pass. I did see a grand total of two bugs. Here is one of them.
Here I am, ready for action!

1 comment:

Sarah Throlson said...

I finally had enough money to buy Burning Man tickets this year so I'm about to have my first Burning Man in 2017. I can't wait! I just hope I don't look too out of place.