Destination Black Rock City #3: Monday

I never slept so well, at least not in a tent. It seemed like the past day has been more eventful than all my previous life. My head was buzzing and I needed to perform some kind of mental hygiene. Already. A lot needs to happen today, including getting my very first burner bike and playing my very first DJ gig at Black Rock City.

My mattress is done, and flat, and shit my back hurts. I’m sitting down, taking a sharpie and a notebook. I desperately need to get all those thoughts on paper and free up some mental capacity. We have couple of new arrivals in the camp and I love them already. It’s official: fried bacon is love at Burning Man.

Getting my Burner bike

Bikes are the way to move in Black Rock City. If you can’t get one pre-event, can’t get one to the event, or just don’t care enough – you can always rent. It’s actually for a good thing, even. By renting a bike, you are funding a repair shop. You never know when you’ll need one. Playa dust is unforgiving, especially to bikes.

It’s 10:30 and I’m making my way to the camp that is renting out burner bikes. It’s my first morning here, I don’t know what temperature or feelings to expect. I have no idea how much more water to drink, how much water I need to take with me. I have no idea how much of a hike it’s going to be. So I drink until I piss clear™ and go along the C-street. It took me about 30 minutes to get to Hammer and Cyclery.

Some types of people don’t really get Burning Man

Burning Man is a predominantly analog world. So I came in, showed a paper confirmation, and they found my name in a paper catalogue. After that, I was supposed to wait with a bunch of others. Now that’s ok – waiting gives you an opportunity to talk to others, to participate. Some of the folks around didn’t see it that way, tho.

There was no queue. Everybody of us was supposed to wait until their name would be called. Guys at the camp need to take care of about 1000 bikes each day, so all unnecessary drama is, well, unnecessary. But there was a guy (who even checked in after me), looking like Peter Sagan, who didn’t really feel like waiting. He started to demand to get his burner bike “because he was here waiting for already half an hour and some guys who came in after him did already get their bikes”. Another two or three people came forward to him to join his cause, which made the staff look for their cards. It took unnecessary time, and created unnecessary tension. They were bumped to the front of a line that didn’t exist, got their bikes, and were gone.

The Burner bike that chose me

I think, this was actually a very neat mitigation. The rest of us didn’t really care about waiting, and troublemakers were now gone. My name suddenly got called up, and after about 50 minutes, I got to choose my bike.

The rack I was heading to had just this one bike inside. So the staff guy who was assigned to take care of me went heading towards it. It was a blue rustbucket with blue tires and solid tubes. It seems, that the burner bike actually chose me.

I feel thirsty, but now having a burner bike means I am home in the next 5 minutes. It’s a very interesting sensation to ride on the playa, one needs to experience it.

Some few minutes later, I’m back in my tent, rehydrating. It’s indeed my last time experiencing thirst this year. I feel like now is a good time to go and stroll around. Test how much I can roll on a burner bike in one go.

Oh, all the sweet and painful distractions

You can run, but can’t hide. From the desert sun, I mean… Even though you don’t perceive it in the spur of the moment, it’s searing hot down there. One thing I learned the hard way is to be thorough about applying sunscreen, multiple times per day. Otherwise, you’ll get to experience the annoyance of having a 1 cm thin sunburn strip in places you never thought are reachable by sunlight.

There’s also a lot to enjoy while rolling. You’ll get used to drunk-driving (or drunk-rolling), but you’ll find hours of entertainment en route to wherever you are going. And, of course, the tremendous amount of fun, and some reasonable amount of suffering that comes with it.

What I mean by suffering? “Oh hey, look at that U-ramp, I always wanted try this!” My brain is on standby only and a minute later, my head hurts while I get back on my feet with people who seemed to enjoy my hilarious performance. Of course I smashed my head quite hard, but with that amount of Adrenaline, Oxytocin, Dopamine and Endorphin, it’s no big deal.

“Hey buddy, be immediate, try our jump!” – A minute afterwards, I’m getting to know, that the easiest way to kill pain is… having a sip of hot sauce! When your mouth is burning, you don’t feel any other pain. How awesome is that?!

The Superclubs

When it’s time to go take an afternoon nap, I’m passing through a structure during something that resembles a sound check. It’s a giant pyramid and its name is Playalchemist. It’s also the place that is going to become very dear to my heart in the coming days.

Along with Playa Skool and Opulent Temple, these are the superclubs of the 10-ish side of Black Rock City. The lineups are impressive and I’d love to be everywhere. Iconic art cars such as Robot Heart and Headspace are also around. Is this heaven? I’m sorting my thoughts while passing a space with pumping techno. There’s a fair share of ravers already dancing, and of course, this is Distrikt.

I expected to be overwhelmed? Ok, here’s my overwhelm, just 10x stronger than anything I ever saw before.

The subtle fun

You know what’s more fun than rolling around on a burner bike at Burning man? It’s rolling with your gang. Why? Cause you basically stop at every bar 😀

After couple of drinks along the way, seeing a 747 Jumbo rolling on the Playa is less surreal. People in bars are creative and the drinks are tasty. There’s still a lot of camps unpacking slowly. The air is densing up and suddenly, it’s a short whiteout.

We opt in to have a look at camp Best Butt and their neighbors at camp NoRegretzky’s give us a taste of their nipple dips. All 10 of us are into it. We dip our nipples into ice water while we get a cold mist at the back, and follow through with a shot of whiskey.

Before our first camp dinner, we do one more stop by for a quick daiquiri fix in a camp that’s Hawaii themed – today. We also do a brief stop at the iconic Barbie Death Camp.

The evening fun

I kind of did come here to try to see what my real “persona” is. It’s day 2 and I know that the DJ part of me is definitely not dominant. Only 3 people from the camp know that I’ll be playing tonight, but all of them are very eager to see me, while I’m still very reluctant to create unnecessary hype around it.

We are leaving for an evening in the stylish Leopard Martini Lounge, which is a camp run by the mom of our camp daddy. Yes, Black Rock City is run by dynasties. And it’s run very well indeed.

There’s no shortage of alcohol in Black Rock City. The drinks are russian-strong. I’m one of the few around that didn’t get the dress code memo, but all the leopard-people are very tolerant. As is everybody at Burning Man. The conversations run deep, when we suddenly spot (or better, hear) karaoke across the street. The gang gifts perhaps the most entertaining version of Toto – Africa to the whole neighborhood. Last time I sung was perhaps during my wedding, and it was so much fun…

…until someone from the gang realized I am expected to DJ in about 15 minutes.

I’m giving it my all, but camp Lip Bomb is pretty much on the other side of the city. In a normal setting, I’d already sip some drink backstage, meditate, think about the first track. Oh, yeah, I have no f…g idea what to play tonight.

The camp is small, but it’s jam-packed. It’s pretty groovy already for this early in the night, but well – folks do have a lot of fun here, so why not. “Housey” house is playing, while the stage manager (and DJ, because the previous guy didn’t show up) greets me with a hug. I feel anxious, so he relieves me with a “no worries man, as long as you are having fun, all the people will, too”.

One of my USBs is not working, but the backup one does. My headphones are not working as well. What a day to be alive! There’s a pair of headphones in the DJ booth (an old RV remodeled to a booth with backstage) that works, though. I can use those. I decide to go down from current 125 BPM, but add some more groove. I’m mixing in Monkey Safari – Epilogue (Guy J Remix) and it blends perfectly just in the moment when the gang arrives.

Suddenly, there’s a lot of traffic in the DJ booth. Photographers, camera guys, random entourage. I occasionally see my campmates in front of the booth and they seem to enjoy it. People are having fun and so am I. Orkidea – Nana almost blows the roof. Time flies. The DJ after me is on time and is unpacking his giant controller. The mixing gets funny, cause I’m helping with the set up, and my fingers have almost no physical space to turn knobs. My 90 minutes are over and I have no idea how fast it went.

A walk of fame

After a couple of very hearty goodbyes, I try to make my way out of the club. The camp headed out to Ego Trip and I intend to join them. Seems like I played well, because people are stopping and hugging me on the way out. There’s going to be occasions of people recognizing me for the next couple of days (all the way to L.A. airport).

As I reach Ego Trip, I realize it’s freezing cold. I’m also pretty tired. I stop by to listen to the music for a few seconds until I am pretty sure I don’t feel like staying. I’m heading back to the camp, hoping to warm up a bit on the bike. Not happening. There’s still a lot of darkwads, so speeding is not an option tonight.

We have a new fellow campmate setting up shop while I arrive. We were virtually collaborating on the bar setup prior to the event, so I am very happy that he could make it at last. He was looking for a ticket for several days after he got scammed. Yes kids, don’t buy tickets from random strangers, they are fake 99% times.

Couple of minutes after me, all campmates are back. I am not considering  time anymore, so I don’t know when I passed out in my tent into yet another enjoyable sleep. Score!

Destination Black Rock City #2: Sunday

The Nugget Casino Resort in Reno has been taking great care of me in the past 3 days, so it’s indeed a bit (subconsciously) sad, that I need to leave to continue travel to Burning Man. This base of operation, temporary studio, and war room is one of the comfiest places I stayed in my life. The sadness is subdued by anxiety and an essence of stress. I need to pack all procured goods into two containers, that will be allowed onto the Burner Express bus that’s scheduled to leave in 2 hours sharp.

Ziplock Spacebags are a work of magic.

I’m packing more clothes and less air, so the mass of costumes is effectively cut in half. The one thing that’s not willing to fit is the sleeping bag. I bought a thicker one because I had no idea about the conditions during the night. I was still suffering from a nasty cold slowly turning into an acute sinusitis (my unfortunate problem), so I chose to be rather safe than sorry. For next year, though, I’ll opt for a thin bag, and thick pyjamas instead. Ultimately, I made it work: large parts of the sleeping bag did stick out of the backpack, but it resembled something that would pass as one piece of luggage. And pass it did.

The hotel did have a lot of Burners checking out that day. Obviously, if the checkout is until 11 am, everybody is going to check between 10 and 11. I realised this the hard way, after desperately waiting and letting full elevators pass for about 20 minutes. In a brief moment of being logical, I hopped onto an elevator going up instead, which turned out to be a cool idea. What comes up, must go down… I almost missed the shuttle, but as Burners tried to fit in their luggage and bikes into the trunk, this gave me the few minutes to get on board. 10 minutes later, we’re parking at Reno Tahoe Airport – seeing nothing but weirdly dressed people. I’m in the right place!

Travel to Burning Man

The Burner Express is one of the best ways to travel to Burning Man. It gets both your sorry ass and stuff into the desert. 15.000 people did use BxB this year, which means about 8.000 less cars in Black Rock City. We do that for mother nature, don’t we? Of course, being able to have a 1 hour stop to buy crap that was sold out at Walmart yesterday, skipping the line at the Gate, and eventually being let into the city when everybody else is put on hold due to whiteouts (dust storms when you don’t see shit that’s 5 meters away) is a very nice bonus.

The organisation of BxB is fantastic.

You immediately get the snarky taste of experienced Burners trying to hold our Birgin (Burner Virgin, a person who is heading to their first Burn) hands. It’s also the point, when you get your Will Call tickets. My god, it’s the most beautiful ticket I ever held in my hands. I get the same goosebumps while recalling the emotions from when I got my burner starter pack. Minutes later, we’re on our way.

After the 1 hour shopping stop, I did have the bare minimum of burner survival material. All of it, but one item – a collapsible water container. See, BxB lets you buy water in 5 gallons quantity and pick it up in the desert. Turning on the much needed MacGyver skills, I bought a solar shower, which is exactly 5 gallons. This worked, except the water tasted like shit (but it was water). I solved this problem later on in the week when we had some empty containers in the camp. Btw., BxB also lets you bring your bike in and out, which was funny – cause I did buy that extra, but I didn’t get a bike. Since Walmart was out of bikes, I needed to rent one last minute for a huge pile of money.

The real travel to Burning Man (Starts at Gerlach)

I thought passing Gerlach meant being in Black Rock City in next 5 minutes. Wrong! I didn’t really know what I was looking at when the bus stopped in the endless traffic jam. It was, in fact, the city covered in a nasty dust cloud. After about 30 minutes, Rangers (the good ones) started to turn trailers around back towards Pyramid Lake. Just as I thought we’re being turned around as well, the ranger made a gesture and the bus bursted into a mad party.

We’re being let in! As we were passing cars, and dusty burners waiting in line, some of them were not looking super happy. Well, fuck their burn. As we were slowly rolling towards the Gate, I opted for rather watching yoga girls doing their art, and really hoped to get to know some of them later. Our bus got checked (tickets), and as we didn’t have anybody stupid unlucky enough to have falsified tickets, we were good to go.

We parked at the depot, and quickly ran to see the Greeters.

There was none of them at the bell. Well, let’s hug and greet ourselves. And ring the bell. “Virgin” does not seem to be a popular word around here. Every Birgin is kind of whispering the magic formula while they smash the bell with a rebar. “Fuck iiiit, I’m not a virgin anymoooore”. I’m shouting without any shame. The bell rings, I’m covered in dust from rolling around, accidentally kicking another burner’s head. 5 seconds in, and I’m already a jaded Burner (it’s those bitter folks who’ll always tell you how last year was way better). I’m Home.

The dust storm is settling. I have all my stuff, including a cardboard box with everything I bought during the shopping stop. I have 4 pieces of luggage, which I’m trying to tie together on a journey that should only take me across about 8 blocks. What I didn’t know –  it was about 4km of walking. The people I’m passing by are mostly nice. They greet me with “welcome home” (except for the Redneck camp where I’m told to “fuck my burn”). About half way through, I’m passing by two really nice ladies, who ask me if I need help.

“No…” *BAAAAM*

As you would expect from a good comedy movie, at that point all my luggage collapsed, and all the canned food started to roll down the street. “Ok, we help you!” Those two awesome chicks were from Mexico. They were hot, super nice, and after they helped me, hugged me and kissed me, I never saw them again. Good for me, I’m a married man without a Burning Pass (when your significant other gives you a free pass to fuck other people at Burning Man).

Minutes later, we’re in the camp. It’s in an awesome location (almost next to Center Camp), in an awesome neighbourhood (google Planned Playahood and Orgy Dome), and it’s deserted. It’s about to get dark, so I better get going to build tents. I bought two of them: one large, serving as a dust cover, and a smaller one to be put inside where I only am going to sleep, dust free. As you might have guessed, I never even unpacked the smaller one and trashed it as first thing back at Reno.

Midway through, my campmates come back and we hug. In Black Rock City, everybody hugs and it’s nice. While remembering my childhood, where you were supposed to procure tent poles out of nearby wood, I was facerolling through the process, inhaling dust the amazing atmosphere of this District 9 – like city. It got dark, and still felt so surreal…

I am pretty tired. I did not manage to pick up my bike, so I’m thinking to call it a day. Or not? Let’s just head out for a short walk to see what’s around. Since I see quite some bikes rolling, I decide to take whatever light source I have. This is always a good decision in Black Rock City.

Colors… everywhere

Darkwads are a problem, especially early days. After that (and few unnecessary bruises), even tourists get the message. With a headlamp and a glow-stick tied to my ass, I make my way out of the camp for a short walk. At least, I planned it to be short.

What I immediately notice are the colors. There is a fortune worth of EL wire on the Playa. Suddenly, I’m all surrounded by light. It’s becoming overwhelming already. “It’s just day one, wait for Saturday”, my campmates tell me later. Residing near Center Camp, I thought it might not be that bad of an idea to get closer to the Man.

It’s getting chilly, but there’s a fair mass of people converging on the biggest orientation point in Black Rock Desert for coming days. From afar, the Man looks intimidating. Coming closer, I realized I expected him to be much taller, though. To be absolutely honest, I felt lost within the mass of happy faces, but felt accomplished for making it out here.

Walking around the perimeter, I caught a glimpse of Galaxia – the Temple. At this point, fatigue was irrelevant and I stepped ahead towards the pilgrimage. Construction was still ongoing. But my god, it was already the most beautiful piece of architecture I’ve ever seen. It’s almost midnight, so I’m making my way back to the camp. Some clubs along the way are already buzzing, others (like Neu Verboten and Ego Trip) are still being built.

Ok, so maybe I might go out one more time tonight 🙂

While we don’t have a real fireplace at the camp, there’s something like a fireplace talk going on, as we try to get to know each other. It’s a diverse gang of very nice people I’ll be spending 9 days with. As I notice coffee withdrawal symptoms, I get some more water and think of laying down, when folks decide to go dancing. I’m hesitant, but they offer me a bike that’s waiting for a campmate. I’m curious how city exploration works in a larger group, so I’m in.

It’s hard to believe money does not work in a place like this. Hell, even barter is frowned upon here. Everything is gifted, and I’m struggling with the concept (as much as probably every other first time Burner), so I observe.

“Hey guys, would you like a drink?” “Yes please, what you got?”

It’s surreal. I’m getting a Sake and a cocktail moments later, as I’m vibing to breakbeat music. We’re drinking in a place called “Duck Pond”, which is a mid-sized club with a very thoughtful layout. Breaks aren’t really our thing, so after finishing drinks, we’re going next door to Celtic Chaos. While I don’t know the DJ, the music is nice. Time is flowing, so I’m surprised at first that some people are heading back to the camp.

Suddenly it’s 3 in the morning and I’m falling asleep. Like a baby.

Destination Black Rock City #1: Getting tickets to Burning Man

I failed for 3 consecutive years. Getting tickets to Burning Man is a ritual on its own and it took me 3 years to realise. I’ll be honest: I wanted to sneak in via shortcuts and the Universe said no. I wanted to abuse my status of an artist from the default world, but that didn’t work. Obviously, at Burning Man, everybody is an artist, and isn’t at the same time. Your participation is your artistic expression and that’s one thing I didn’t get. I thought it’s enough to send few e-mails and wait to be spoonfed tickets. Nope, nope, nope.

It all started by setting my calendar as soon as the dates became public. As many alerts as possible. This time, my determination and mindset were all different. During registration day, I was all anxious. It was one click. One small click a minute after launch, and a big click for me. I felt relieved, but knew the main tension point is coming.

Main sale day was one big test on thinking on my feet. I created a ticketfly account as recommended, cancelled all my plans, and came home from work early. Too early in fact, as I didn’t really pay attention to the switch to Daylight Saving Time. Lucky for me, this gave me an additional hour instead of taking one away.

Fast forward to a time 30 minutes before tickets to Burning Man going on sale.

My personalised link didn’t throw an error this time,  I’m in a queue! Is the sale starting earlier? For people, who supposedly want it more?

After 8 minutes, my queue is over – a countdown starts running instead. A countdown that is, based on my calculations, end exactly 2 minutes after sale launch at 9pm of my time… I’ve heard sad stories of people missing tickets to comic-con by seconds. I was trusting in the system, didn’t dare to reload the page and having faith. The ticketing system could already be down by the horde of Burners and Wannabe Burners, who all want the same: tickets to Burning Man.

9:02 and not a second later: One more queue. I see a white stickman walking in front of a progress bar, that looks like it’s updating itself based on the queue size in front of me. I think it’s a good sign that I’m not getting any “sold out” message. As soon as my stickman is about halfway through, I know it’s going to take about 15 minutes of waiting altogether. I’m sweating. Terribly. What’s going to happen when my stickman reaches its destination?

17 minutes of waiting it took. And I’m prompted to login to Ticketfly. And the login is not working, with facebook throwing nasty exceptions on me. With Ticketfly checkout embedded into the Burning Man web, I soon realise why. I need to use this account, as the email registered needs to match my Burner Profile. A password change is not an option, as I never set one. I cannot delete the account, and disconnecting facebook does not help me either. The last remaining option is “Reset password”. I pray for it to arrive fast, and fast it arrived. It helped, I got through! But…

I have 4 minutes to pay.

Yes, to manage server load, everybody who passes the queue stage gets I guess 10 minutes to pay, or try again. I was typing as fast as possible. The form was not really user friendly, but ultimately, I had it all. I did not care about all the service surcharges and fees. Just please: Let. Me. Buy.

My head is pulsing. My t-shirt is wet from sweat. A green confirmation bar tells me to have fun in Blackrock City. I grab hold of my lady and tell her calmly, that I’m in. I’ve got tickets to Burning Man. I feel the urge to share it with the world. So I do, via facebook, my arch enemy of the past minutes…