In which we Burned the Man (again)

Wow – how long has it been since I’ve updated this thing? Between hunting for jobs, finishing up the last remaining residency requirements, conference season and successfully defending my thesis (yay!), I’ve been a bit busy. Here’s the beginning of an attempt to catch up!

Jeff and I were so fortunate to go to Burning Man again in 2014. I’m not sure what 2015 hold for us, so our plans to return to Black Rock City may have to take a small hiatus, but we’ll see. Our camp, Camp No Plan, named for the fact that we were taking only one virgin with us and none of us had adequate time or resources to plan something elaborate, was amazing. I couldn’t have asked for better companions. It was an amazing time, as I suspect it always is.

Our car - as clean as we'll be for the next week at some rest stop in Oregon

Our car – as clean as we’ll be for the next week at some rest stop in Oregon

To begin with – the drive down from Washington, through remote parts of Oregon and across the tip of Northern California into the Nevada desert is absolutely breathtaking. Jeff, Anna, Alyssa our virgin, and I left out Saturday mid-morning with the trailer and made it all the way to Klamath Falls, OR the first day.

We had spectacular views of Mount Hood outside Portland

We had spectacular views of Mount Hood outside Portland

We drove down through Bend in what I can only describe as desolate volcano country. It's eerily empty and beautiful.

We drove down through Bend in what I can only describe as desolate volcano country. It’s eerily empty and beautiful.

After a night in Klammath and the annual trip to the Fred Meyer to stock up on last minute supplies, we decided to try to a night approach to the line. That meant leaving Klammath in late afternoon so we hit the line entering Gerlach just perfectly at sunset. Our dear Jeep is running strong, but no one wants to sit in a hot, dusty line in the blazing heat without any air conditioning. This also mean we had fantastic “golden hour” shots of some of my favorite landscapes along the way:

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This is what the drive looks like from the backseat from Anna’s camera

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Always good to take a look back and make sure the trailer is still attached..

We hit the line around sunset and made it almost to the gate at around midnight. It ended up that we were three cars behind the gate when the fireworks began to celebrate the official opening of the event – so close! After we made it through, we found some of our friends camped in a great spot (9 o’clock and E) who offered us space. We had to decide at that point if we were going to set up camp in the dark or go out exploring – exploring won the day.

I got to hold this 30 seconds after our group making that decision:

A giant ballon string filled with tiny LED lights. Photo by David Hays from here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dav1d/4979419103/

A giant ballon string filled with tiny LED lights. Photo by David Hays from here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dav1d/4979419103/

Slightly terrifying – it’s all your childhood nightmares of letting go of a balloon multiplied by 1000 – but it’s tethered to a harness, so the chances of that happening are slim.

The other half of our group had planned to come the following day, so we went in search of some of our other friends but couldn’t find their camp. We have a tradition of meeting at the far side of the Temple at sunrise in the mornings as as the sky began to lighten we gave up our search and headed there. The playa was unusually quiet, but we chalked that up to it being still early on the first day. Unknown to us the gate had been closed because of rain which turned the gigantic prehistoric lake bed into an oozing sticky clay. We hardly saw anyone as we approached the Temple, but as we rounded to the other side we saw a small group of people standing under a “Finish Line” art piece/sign. Our friends! Some of whom we hadn’t seen since last year!

Finish Line art installation at sunrise

Finish Line art installation at sunrise. Photo credit: Alex Cahn

Our friends! Photo credit: Alex Cahn

Our friends! I’m in the leopard coat and neon green backpack. 
Photo credit: Alex Cahn

Catching up with old friends and drinking champagne - just like how all mornings should start.

Catching up with old friends and drinking champagne – just like how all mornings should start.

We all went to Robot Heart afterwards and got to dance to the smallest gathering there all week - it was great! Like having the best party place all to yourself. I also got to drink bloody marys with the owner which was awesome.

We all went to Robot Heart afterwards and got to dance to the smallest gathering there all week – it was great! Like having the best party place all to yourself. I also got to drink bloody marys with the owner which was awesome.

For comparison, this is what Robot Heart normally looks like at sunrise:

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Crowded, fun, chaos with great beats

After being up for 36 hours Jeff and I somehow managed to make it back across the playa in a rain storm, put up our yurt and crawl inside to sleep. Typical Burning Man. The other half of our camp managed to get in early Tuesday morning after being hampered by closed gates and rain.

Random pictures of excursions into the playa:

Biking down the 9 o'clock street

Biking down the 9 o’clock street

Climbing brightly lit plexiglass sculptures.

Climbing brightly lit plexiglass sculptures.

Watching the sunrise in front of a laser-cut wooden gorgeous Temple

Watching the sunrise in front of a laser-cut wooden gorgeous Temple

Hanging out with friends in a huge net-hammock seat.

Hanging out with friends in a huge net-hammock seat.

Comparing beard lengths

Comparing beard lengths

Dressing as Jeff with a beard - he was only slightly amused. I didn't keep it on for long because it was too hot!

Dressing as Jeff with a beard – he was only slightly amused. I didn’t keep it on for long because it was too hot!

Beard reprisal.

Beard reprisal.

Beard buddies

Beard buddies

Night adventures

Night adventures

Giant crocodile art installation

Giant crocodile art installation

Biking down a path towards the temple

Biking down a path towards the temple

Open playa

The Man - the tallest one they've ever built

The Man – the tallest one they’ve ever built

It was hard to get him into my lens

It was hard to get him into my lens

Surrounded by souks in the spirit of the Caravansary theme.

Surrounded by souks in the spirit of the Caravansary theme.

The Canadians filled their souk with useful items for rent.

The Canadians filled their souk with useful items for rent.

Meeting in front of the temple to drink champagne and watch the sunrise

Meeting in front of the temple to drink champagne and watch the sunrise

The Embrace sculpture you could go up into!

The Embrace sculpture you could go up into!

Looking through paper books in the library

Looking through paper books in the library

Getting ready to go out - camp style

Getting ready to go out – camp style

Because Burning Man is the only place a bear hat, hot pink tutu, geometric tights, moccasin boots and a leopard fur coat don't look out of place together.

Because Burning Man is the only place a bear hat, hot pink tutu, geometric tights, moccasin boots and a leopard fur coat don’t look out of place together.

My camera broke early on, so most of these pictures are stolen from Anna, Mary, Hannah and Alex. I was sad at the time, but it allowed me to truly live in the moment of being there. All too soon the week came to the final close and it was time to burn the Man:

Burn night

Burn night

Dusty burn night

Dusty burn night

Goodbye Man!

Goodbye Man!

Dusty friends

Dusty friends

We took one last shot of the best No Plan Camp ever…

Ben, Amy, Yoni, Alyssa,

Ben, Amy, Yoni, Alyssa, Anna, Mary, Jeff and I

…and headed home:

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Writing this post now so many months removed and just trying to spill all the pictures into place I’m remiss on too many things from that time to put on here. Burning Man stretches you to all the limits you knew you had and exposes you to new ones – I always come back in a weird state of refreshment and exhaustion and with a renewed hope in humanity.

This year I felt like I knew what I was doing (to the best you ever can); was integral to our (no) plan camp in ways I could’ve have been last year; and immersed myself in the community more (one morning I was one-handed biking through a dust storm, eating an Uncrustable sandwich on three hours of sleep to get to a volunteer shift at the airport and kind of felt completely normal about that). I hope life has many more Burns in store for us in the future.

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In which we Burned the Man (Part III)

The second major time I took out my camera in the dusty desert was to capture one of the sunrises we went to. Next year I’m resolved to take a lot more – especially of the art! Fortunately we still have a couple of pictures of us from other friends:

Tuesday was "Tutu Tuesday" where a lot of people dress up in tutus. I made Jeff's and mine on the car ride down using lots of tulle and elastic. Here we are in front of a huge sculpture of a UFO crashed in the desert. Photo Credit: Ashley Gonzalez

Tuesday was “Tutu Tuesday” where a lot of people dress up in tutus. I made Jeff’s and mine on the car ride down using lots of tulle and elastic. Here we are in front of a huge sculpture of a UFO crashed in the desert. Photo Credit: Ashley Gonzalez

Huge block lettering spelling out exactly what most of this place was.

Huge block lettering spelling out exactly what most of this place was.

We met an Australian who built a huge coat hanger on a hydraulic scissor lift and then drove it out into the desert. We could see for miles! And we were taller than the Man even.  Photo Credit: Ashley Gonzalez

We met an Australian who built a huge coat hanger on a hydraulic scissor lift and then drove it out into the desert. We could see for miles! And we were taller than the Man even.
Photo Credit: Ashley Gonzalez

While we were out one day we met the artist who encouraged us to write down our dreams and goals and add them to this sculpture.

While we were out one day we met the artist of this piece who encouraged us to write down our dreams and goals and add them to this sculpture.

I couldn't find ours, but it was so much fun to read all the other ones left

Later when I returned to take a picture I couldn’t find ours, but it was so much fun to read all the other ones left

Ashley made us take our picture in front of a wedding chapel piece of art. Photo Credit: Asheley Gonzalez

Ashley made us take our picture in front of a wedding chapel piece of art. There was a dust storm raging, so hence the facemasks.
Photo Credit: Ashley Gonzalez

Creepy baby head

Creepy baby head

Boys on Tutu Tuesday Photo Credit: Ashley Gonzalez

Boys on Tutu Tuesday
Photo Credit: Ashley Gonzalez

On of my favorite art cars that was parked near our camp

One of my favorite art cars that was parked near our camp

These huge sculptures that seemed to glide across the morning desert. They reminded me of neurons.

These huge sculptures that seemed to glide across the morning desert. They reminded me of neurons.

Cool honey-comb looking sculptures.

Cool honey-comb looking sculptures – great for taking breaks in the shade.

Dawn

Dawn

Just coming up!

Just coming up!

The sun rising over the mountains. Each morning crowds of people gather at the Temple to watch day break. Our crowd usually brought plenty of champagne as well.

The sun rising over the mountains.
Each morning crowds of people gather at the Temple to watch day break. Our crowd usually brought plenty of champagne as well.

Friends gathered for the morning

Friends gathered for the morning

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Photo credit: Alex Can

Photo credit: Alex Cahn

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The Temple is a quiet, solemn place in stark contrast to the insanity of the rest of the playa. It’s a space to remember those lost in the last year and takes some mental and emotional fortitude to enter into its heavily weighted atmosphere. Many people write messages and leave momentos to be burned on Sunday evening after the Man. I went inside briefly, just to see it; I was too happy that week to want to stay for long.

This year it was called the Temple of Whollyness and made completely of interlocking wood panels - no nails or screws to hold it together.

This year it was called the Temple of Whollyness and made completely of interlocking wood panels – no nails, screws or glue to hold it together.

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People are encouraged to write messages all over it.

People are encouraged to write messages all over it.

Inside the space people were crying and sleeping, hugging and whispering.

Inside

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Messages and photos

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Photo credit: Alex Cahn

A group of us outside.

A group of us outside.

Sunrise over the playa and all the bikes strewn in front of the Temple

Sunrise over the playa and all the bikes strewn in front of the Temple. That dragon looking thing in the distance is an art car that played really loud Dub-Step music.

Since I had my camera out that morning we walked over to another one of my favorite sculptures - Truth is Beauty by Marco Cochrane. He's completed a few others in the series and they're all so stunning.

Since I had my camera out that morning we walked over to another one of my favorite sculptures – Truth is Beauty by Marco Cochrane. He’s completed a few others in the series and they’re all so stunning.

To give you so idea of scale.

To give you an idea of scale.

She's put together with thousands of tiny welded points.

She’s put together with thousands of tiny welded points – many so fine they seem like a fabric skin overstretching her.

More pictures in the dawn

More pictures in the dawn

The making of this sculpture is told in the Burning Man documentary, "Spark" that Jeff and I saw at the Seattle International Film Festival this year.

The making of this sculpture is told in the Burning Man documentary, “Spark” that Jeff and I saw at the Seattle International Film Festival this year.

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You can go up inside it – and are fully encouraged to! There are hammocks on one end.

And so ends all the Burning Man pictures. Thanks to everyone in our awesome camp for embracing us newcomers with such enthusiasm. Many special congrats to Eric and Mel. Let’s plan to meet up on the playa again next year? K, deal.

Many describe Burning Man as a life changing experience (which to me always was a weird phrase – you’re malleable; every experience will change you a bit). Don’t worry mom, I’m not going to give away all my belongings and settle down in a Tibetan yurt (plus, the kind folks at SallieMae still think I own them some moneys). I was changed, but in a way that made me more me. I feel like I’m a better version of myself.

On Monday when we first arrived I rode around on my bike alone for a few hours and the whole place was just too overwhelming. Strangers wanted to hug me. There was enough nakedness to make the Fremont Fair look tame. People were constantly shouting and the ever present Dub Step music thudding through my chest was giving me an arrhythmia. I rode back to camp almost in tears and close to what I think was a panic attack. Six more days of this? Oh God.

Instead of crawling inside my sleeping bag I ran into some people who wanted to get snow cones.  On our sojourn across the playa they slowly taught me how to embrace the madness. There was so much goodness out there, lurking between the dust and tarps! I learned about all the art that was popping up everywhere. I broke my bike and someone dropped what they were doing to help me fix it. I rode on a borrowed bike while finding a new tire. I met a camp that had had their trailers of tents and supplies stolen the day before they left. Within 24 hours other Burners had replaced everything for them so that they could come and give out fried baloney sandwiches. I learned how to keep the dust out of my eyes. I embraced getting hugs. Nakedness no longer phased me. I realized my first mistake earlier in the day was trying to take this all in alone – this place was built to function on radical inclusion and community. I learned that the journey is always better than the reward. We never found the snow cones. And it was totally okay.

How am I changed? I go back to some of the 10 principles. I learned how to adventure better. Gifting: I learned it’s okay not to have anything else to give in return when you are given a special gift of a bike tire with working gears 300 miles from the nearest bike shop. Decommodification: I also learned that I could give someone what they needed in the moment and have no thoughts of what they could offer me in return. I am learning even small gifts are good enough, even if it’s just the time. I am embracing radical self reliance: I changed the toner in the big industrial copy machine at work yesterday. Past Elise would’ve found someone else to tackle that job for fear of breaking everything. Leave no trace: I try to pick up trash everywhere now, even if it’s not mine. Someone else might not do it. Immediacy: I’m trying to live in the moment. I won’t be a resident forever. It won’t just be Jeff and I in our little family forever. We may not be in Seattle forever, though we like it very much. This is a good moment in all it’s uncertainty and I will strive to go placidly amid the noise and haste.

I will remember that at last, when you’ve pushed all your limits, gathered your friends and built great things in an inhospitable desert, to be wholly content and enjoy the accomplishment. To then take a collective breath and store up the sweet memories. And then, to gracefully surrender and let it all burn:

From Reuters

From Reuters

In which we Burned the Man (Part I)

Last week Jeff and I went to Burning Man, the weeklong event held once a year in the northern Nevada desert to celebrate creativity, self-reliance and community. Trying to describe it is often compared with the attempt of trying to describe color to a blind person, but this BuzzFeed article comes close. It’s huge (68,000 people – temporarily becoming Nevada’s 3rd largest city), crazy (24 hours of non-stop music, light and people) and just simply wonderful. We went with 28 strangers in our camp who quickly became lifelong friends, bawled our eyes out at one of the most beautiful marriage ceremonies we’ve ever attended and learned to embrace the “Burner Culture” founded on the Ten Principles (which basically boil down to: “Get your shit together and also love everyone”).

The alkaline dust that coats everything is pervasive and corrosive, so I didn’t take my camera out much. The following pictures are the ones I did take in an attempt to document one my favorite weeks I’ve been alive, and due credit is given for the (much better) photos I’ve borrowed.

Tickets - check. Camelback - check. Crazy fur costumes - check.

Tickets – check. Camelback – check. Crazy fur costumes – check.

Our group right before we left. To be honest at this point I knew only one or two names. Now I love these people so much.

Our group right before we left. To be honest at this point I knew only one or two names. Now I love these people so much.
Top of truck: Tyson. Back row LtR: Ben, Mikey, Spencer, Me, Jeff, Josh, Andrea, Symon, Ashley, Matt, Phil, Amy, Mary. Front row LtR: Anna, Yoni and Eric.

Two of the Principles of Burning Man are Radical Self Reliance and Decommodification - Basically you've got to bring everything for the week with you, there is no food to be bought in the desert. As a camp we coordinated food for 30+ people for a week and signed up for shifts to cook it (Jeff and I had Thursday night: Chicken teriyaki with rice and veggies).

Packing and labeling the food
Two of the Principles of Burning Man are Radical Self Reliance and Decommodification – Basically you’ve got to bring everything for the week with you, there is no food to be bought in the desert. As a camp we coordinated food for 30+ people for a week and signed up for shifts to cook it (Jeff and I had Thursday night: Chicken teriyaki with rice and veggies).

We left Seattle on Saturday afternoon at 3:10p and arrived in Black Rock City at 5:30a Monday morning.

We left Seattle on Saturday afternoon at 3:10p and arrived in Black Rock City at 5:30a Monday morning. Our camp’s theme was Owl Town and “Hoot” was the adorable mascot for the Jeep.

Stopping somewhere in Oregon to try down the tarps. Our little caravan held 3 vehicles, 2 trailers and 15 people with enough supplies to last us a week in some pretty hard conditions.

Stopping somewhere in Oregon to try down the tarps.
Our little caravan held 3 vehicles, 2 trailers and 15 people with enough supplies to last us a week in some pretty extreme conditions.

The view when you're caravanning.

The view when you’re caravanning behind your friends’ trailer for hours.

We finally made it through the gate and into camp as the sun was rising. The first shape I could make out was a ship. Yes, a ship with masts parked next to our tent. It was the first of many "art cars" we would see out on the playa.

We finally made it through the gate and into camp as the sun was rising on Monday morning. The first shape I could make out was a ship. Yes, a ship with masts parked next to our tent. It was the first of many “art cars” we would see out on the playa.

I stole this picture from this flikr page (http://www.flickr.com/photos/thelastminute/7964064238/). There are three ways to get around Burning Man: Walking (it's realllllly far, and realllllly dusty); Biking (on your decorated bike of course); or by hopping on one of these art cars which are just amazing.

This is the ship I had my first glance of. I stole this picture from this flikr page: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thelastminute/7964064238/.
There are three ways to get around Burning Man: Walking (it’s realllllly far, and realllllly dusty); Biking (on your decorated bike of course); or by hopping on one of these art cars which are just amazing.

And then I put my camera away for three days because of the dust and constant running around and doing things. The art that people bring to display on the playa (read: large, flat, dry, dusty, prehistoric lake bed) is incredible and more pops up each day. We rode our bikes for hours trying to see it all and then when we’d get tired we’d sit and chat with people from all over the globe.

On Wednesday we had the really cool chance to go up in a plane with some skydivers to see the city from the air. One of the members of our camp had put us in contact with the members of Burning Sky, the camp that organizes planes to take skydivers up over Black Rock City and some observers along with them.

We met at their camp on the other end of the playa and a plane art car took us out to the airport. It's a temporary airport that exists, like everything else in the city, for only one week out of the year.

We met at their camp on the other end of the playa and a plane art car took us out to the airport. It’s a temporary airport that exists, like everything else in the city, for only one week out of the year.

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They fit all of the observers with parachutes as well with only two instructions: “If the pilot tells you to get out, get out. Next, pull the cord next to your heart”. I’d only been skydiving once – I really didn’t want to do it again.

All parachuted up and ready to go

All parachuted up and ready to go

Ready for the skydivers to exit the plane.

Ready for the skydivers to exit the plane.

Black Rock City from the air. It was incredibly dusty on the day we went up, so the picture quality isn't great. I was just amazing by how HUGE it is. Seriously, for one week it's the 3rd largest city in Nevada - and then a week later it all just disappears.

Black Rock City from the air.
It was incredibly dusty on the day we went up, so the picture quality isn’t great. I was just amazing by how HUGE it is. Seriously, for one week of the year it’s the 3rd largest city in Nevada – and then a week later it all just disappears.

To give you some idea of scale. Stolen from here (http://www.buzzfeed.com/kevintang/53-things-i-learned-at-burning-man)

To give you some idea of scale. Stolen from here (http://www.buzzfeed.com/kevintang/53-things-i-learned-at-burning-man).
The streets are laid out in a radial pattern – from 2 to 10 o’clock and then the concentric circles are alphabetized out from the center from A to L. We were camped at 8:20 and E – so just to the right of that 9’o clock line in the picture, about halfway out (kinda near the “9”). The man is in the center of the empty area known as the playa.

We survived our airplane trip without having to use the parachutes!

We survived our airplane trip without having to use the parachutes! Our plane art car made it back to the Burning Sky camp about the same time that the skydivers did!

More to come.