Originally published September 24, 2009
As my son, Van, and I planned and prepared for this years trip to Burning Man, I had no expectations and really no idea what would occur. What can I say to sum up such an epic journey that it ultimately transformed my entire existence?
For months before the event, we planned ~ I, of course, made my usual notes and massive to-do lists ~ checking off everything as we went: shop for supplies, have the van checked, and eventually pack up for the long journey away from OB. Sky, as we call her, is our beautifully solid 1970 VW Van and this is our first long distance trip with her. Hoping she runs well on our 1600 mile round trip to Burning Man.
Saturday, August 29th, 2:00pm
We’re off. All those months of internet research, planning, budgeting, refining, shopping, packing, and preparation have led us to this moment. We’re now north bound beginning our journey to Burning Man. We head up the coast with Salinas, CA as our first destination. We figured the drive to Salinas, about 400 miles, would take us half way there and figured we could easily do that in half a day. We expected to get to the motel around 10pm, get a good night’s sleep, then drive the second leg of the trip the following day, hoping to arrive at the Playa somewhere around midnight. The event opened at 12:01am on Monday, August 31st and my son wanted to be there when the event officially started.
We arrived at the motel dead tired and had to endure the chatty motel clerk for half an hour. All I could think of was sleep….. What in the world had taken us 13½ hours to drive 400 miles? We were comfortably cruising Sky at 62 miles per hour with a few stops to pee and coffee up along the way. Did we pass through some sort of portal that stole the rest of time?
We’re back on the road after several hours sleep, a long hot shower (this would turn out to be our last for eight days), and the first cup of what would turn into several gallons of coffee. Figuring if we drove straight through, we expect to arrive at the Playa in ten hours. Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men . . .
Each time we take Sky up a mountain road, she slows to 35mph. We’re in third gear now, our best choice the slow lane with emergency blinkers flashing, doing our best to ignore the gargantuan semi’s whizzing past us at lightning speed up these steep, curvy mountain roads.
Somewhere along the way (I‘ve lost all track of time at this point), we pass a speed indicator. Sky’s odometer reads 62mph. The indicator blinks its bold, red, radar detected speed….is says we’re going 50mph. Ah, this explains the 13 ½ hours to travel 400 miles. Sky’s speedometer is off by 12mph. No wonder everyone has been passing us as if we were standing still. Oh well, she’s running well and we’re in no hurry, so on we go deciding Sky is comfortably cruising in her own space and time.
We’ve been on the road for two full days and nights now and are getting punchy…definitely sleep deprived…and strange things are beginning to come out of our mouths that make no sense. No worries. Onward and upward we go, laughing at everything and nothing. Passing the 7000′ elevation sign now and feeling very light headed. Time to pull over and get some fresh air. We’re close. I can feel the Playa beginning to draw me toward it.
Sometime near midnight
We made our last stop for gasoline and forty gallons of water in Fallon, NV. There was no way Sky could have made those mountain roads with the extra weight of 40 gallons of water in her.
Back on Highway 447 north toward the Playa, the line of vehicles stretches as far as the eye can see both ahead and behind us. Traffic on this paved two lane road has come to a complete stop. People pour out of their vehicles in droves running off the side of the road to pee. Stop, start, stop, start. Everyone is anticipating the event and the air is alive with positive energy. A gal walks up to the van and offers us free donuts. Oooooh, sugar. Maybe that will perk us up. The five gallons of coffee we drank is no longer having any effect on us.
Nearly two hours later, we arrive at the turnoff from Highway 447 to the entrance of the Playa. We’re here! Look! The ’Welcome to Burning Man Evolution’ sign. No time to take a picture…just keep moving forward with the flow of traffic. From the highway exit to the main gate is only another mile. There are now eight or nine lanes of one way traffic on this dry, dusty, Playa bed road. Traffic is bumper to bumper stopping, starting, stopping, starting (must conserve gasoline if we‘re to make it out of here in 8 days). We watch the sunrise as we inch our way to the gate, Van comfortably perched on top of Sky taking it all in and letting me know when the line was about to move forward.
Down to nearly ½ a tank of gasoline, we arrive at the Greeter’s Station where we were encouraged to get out of the vehicle, shout, hoop, holler, and make dust angels in the Playa (I opted out of the dust angle experience). What a wonderful welcome! We’re actually here! We’re in! We made it!
Driving around the Playa for nearly an hour now looking for our ideal campsite. Where we originally thought of camping is full. How about over there? No, that spot is too near the porta-potties. Here? No, that’s a reserved Theme Camp all marked off. Geeze, we’re below ½ a tank of gasoline now. Okay, Source (arms stretched up into the air),….we need a place to camp. Suddenly, a man dressed in a white sarong-type robe strolling along Fossil near 7:00 asks us if we need a place to camp. Thank you, Universe, that was quick. We pull in, make a little room in the back of the van (too tired to unload everything) and pass out into the deepest sleep I‘ve had in years. The simple act of lying down never felt so good.
No cell phone service, no electricity, no running water, no trash cans, no flush toilets, it’s dry, dusty, and getting hot, and I’m feeling more relaxed than ever before. Time to set up camp. Let’s see, we brought a tarp to park Sky on, carpet for a floor, rebar stakes, poles, and tapestries to make a shade structure. Anyone have a hammer? Oops, better bring one of those next year. Pull out the folding chairs, bring out the cooler, set up the camp stove, and make a seriously strong cup of coffee. As the sun rises higher and higher in the sky, it begins to heat up (no ocean breeze here!). Between the elevation (3905‘), the dry, alkaline dusty air continually drifting off the lakebed, and the afternoon heat, all I can manage after setting up camp basics is another long, long nap.
The rest of what I write occurred between my last reference of time above and our departure on Monday, September 7th at 11:40pm. Time didn’t seem necessary on the Playa. It simply became either day or evening.
Water. Where is some water? I need water! Will forty gallons be enough? Oh, man, did we purchase enough water to last us? Worry. Concern. Doubt. Anxiety. And thus began the slue of emotions I encountered during my eight days/nights on the Playa. I walked through every emotion I knew and then three or four others came up and caught me by surprise. In no particular order, I experienced the following emotions and more: Fatigue. Exhaustion. Bitchy. Annoyed. Delicate. Vulnerable. Exposed. Droopy. Eager. Enlivened. Enraptured. Encouraged. Fascinated. Flustered. Frisky. Furious. Fed up. Abandoned. Afraid. Alone. Stranded. Yearning. Homesick. Giggly. Playful. Hilarious. Grateful. Grounded. Relieved. Impressed. Envious. Lethargic. Melancholy. Mindful. Numb. Overflowing. Patient. Peaceful. Protected. Receptive. Reconciled. Loved. Revived. Replenished. Renewed. Secure. At home. Silly. Sincere. Safe. Sore. Sparkling. Spastic. Playful. Excited. Spirited. Supportive. Surrendered. Threatened. Thrilled. Tingly. Tolerant. Tranquil. Transported. Warmhearted. Uplifted. And Ultimately Transformed. These are only the ones that come to mind now as I sit here reflecting on this epic journey. I’m sure there are many that I’ll remember later as I continue to ponder this journey.
There were some very magical moments for me on the Playa worth mentioning. One in particular, was during a conversation with a new friend named Bob. He was sharing about his life and said three simple words that immediately struck me to the core. “I need love.” His simple statement resonated deeply within me. I knew it was one of those crossroad moments in life. Suddenly aware of a wall of protection that was illuminated by his statement, I felt no need to figure out when I put it up or why. It was simply the moment to decide if I wanted to continue building it or to let it go. Faced with this new insight, I clearly saw my choices. If I tear down this wall of protection, it would allow limitless volumes of love to flow once again. Yet, it would also mean running the immense risk of being vulnerable to be hurt again. Was I ready to risk all and open myself up to abounding love again? Was I ready for all the unknown that lie ahead? Was I ready to let go and abandon what I could now see was holding me back in so many ways? A resounding “YES” shouted its glorious head off. In perfect Burning Man fashion, I wrote what this wall felt like on a coffee stir and glued it a piece of art in Center Camp that would be burned at The Man on Saturday night. I could feel the warm transformation beginning to unfold in my spirit. I was back on track flowing downstream once again; I felt free. Aahhhhhh, a magical Playa moment, to be sure.
I also had the privilege and honor of watching my son take his final transitional steps from boyhood into manhood. I homeschool him using a style called Radical Unschooling and we decided that this Burning Man, so appropriately themed Evolution this year, would be his high school exit exam. After studying other cultures, I came to appreciate rituals that help young men enter adulthood (sorely missing in American culture, imho). Burning Man was, indeed, this very transformative ritual for him. He has always been gifted intellectually (I swear he was born 40), yet to see him come into his own in body, mind, and spirit is truly beyond my ability to describe in mere words. From the moment I discovered I was pregnant with him when a wind of joy rushed through my body from tip to toe ~ right up to and including this very moment ~ I have never been so proud of him as I am right now. He handled the physical challenges of the Playa like a native, processed and released all emotions as they arose, and expanded spiritually to new and unforeseen heights. He is an amazing soul and I feel so … marveled and awestruck to have witnessed his positive transformation. Good stuff, this Playa magic!
The Art Cars and Art Installations on the Playa were beyond fantastic. Tall art structures lit up the night sky with their fire cannons. Enormous vehicles cruised every which way on the Playa playing loud techno music both day and night. Restrictions on what was possible were abandoned. Boundaries of artistic creation were pushed. All kinds of lights lit up the evening sky; glow sticks, I-novas, EL wire, holiday lights, lazer beams traveled across the sky to the distant mountains, headlamps and tail lamps adorned both bicycles and people, blinking this, that, and the other lights everywhere. And to behold the outrageously, whimsical costumed people filling the Playa with creative expression in every direction (both day and night) was a glorious sight; an unending visual feast.
Yet, considering that 50,000 people came together to Evolve, at no moment did it seem crowded. Whoa, think about that for a moment….50,000 people coming together to Evolve: profound. Such beautiful and creative energy permeated the air. People were genuinely happy moment to moment and all were utterly free to express themselves however they chose. All judgment was suspended. Nothing was taboo. Appreciation and support were everywhere I turned. Generocity was the order of the day. No bartering occurred, it was all about gifting. Light, love, and laughter filled the air with most beautiful, eclectic energy. Epic? Mind blowing? Awe inspiring? None of these words alone can begin to describe my experiences there. I have yet to find one word big enough to contain it all.
We made a good choice to drive as far as Reno our first night and check into a hotel that some Burners on the Playa had told my son about one night. The 120 miles to Reno was brutally exhausting and there was simply no way we would have ever made it to Bishop (1/2 way home) that night. We arrived in Reno around 5am and immediately booked two nights. There was no way I would have been physically ready to check out at 11am and get back on the road. What a refreshing and replenishing stay it tuned out to be. There were tons of Burners at the hotel, a poolside D.J. who kept the Burning Man vibe alive, and things I had previously taken for granted like running water, showers, flush toilets, clean clothes, and, oh my god….ICE. Glorious ice. My entire outlook on life and pleasurable amenities had changed and I was at peace as never before. We had such a good time there, we ended up staying three nights. The slot machines ended up being good to me and paid for our entire stay plus extra money for gas on the way home.
Now, while I don’t recommend driving from Reno to OB in one stretch as I did that day, but I was bound and determined to get home. In the wee hours of the morning, I simply had to pull off the road and sleep. I was physically spent, running on emotional overload, and beginning to hallucinate. After a short yet restful nap, we were back on the road heading for OB. Seeing my first glimpse of the Ocean Beach Freeway sign never felt so good. We had done it. We left OB to see what Burning Man was all about, not really knowing what to expect, and returned more appreciative, renewed, and transformed on many, many levels.
All in all, Burning Man Evolution will forever stand out for me as one of the most epic journeys of my life; for in these eight magical days and nights, I found another slice of nirvana.