Skip to content

in which i explain burning man – day 1

October 12, 2011

it’s been just over a month since i cam back from the black rock desert. a lot of people wanted to know what burning man was like. and then all of a sudden it was september, and i was smack in the middle of real life stuff to sort out, and all of a sudden i was dealing with other emotional things, and burning man slipped to the back of my mind. because when you focus on sad things in your present, the glory of the sand that you just experienced fades away.

i let the present overtake the strength that i had just shown in the desert. i let my self worth plummet after i had established myself as a playa queen in the making. somehow, washing the sand off of my body and out of my hair took away my secret powers that i had developed in the middle of the dust storms and the white-outs. i made some hard decisions in september, and i also was – am still – really hard on myself. i’ll be moving home soon, and i’m not sure if it’s the best decision for me, but for now, at this moment, vancouver is a place of sadness, of heart hurt, and of great learning, i suppose. i think i’ve always been slower to develop. i’ve always been the last one of my friends to attain things – emotional highs, emotional intimacy, an ability to start to crack open the awful, awful battered facade that surrounds me and my heart. not that my facade is any thicker or more unique than any other young woman my age. but in times of night – when things are quiet and when my buzzing brain finally whirrs down for sleep – i think about things, about my very low self-worth. i wonder why people get into relationships to being with. i feel proud of the people who do. i marvel at their bravery. people are very resilient and very beautiful. human emotion is so interesting. how do people do it?

with that preface out of the way, you might now understand why i’ve been so reticent to talk about burning man. it has been so far removed from my brain. and i’ve been hearing a lot of jokes about it – “it’s full of hippies! i hate BO! why would i go there?” and i haven’t really been able to retort or rebut because my memories of the event – even though it was only a month ago – are smushed back into the recesses of my brain. but i’ve decided to give you a day by day break down of the event, and what i experienced, so that you can understand for yourself what it was all about. with that being said….


never mind that our sleeper coach down into the desert looked like a bangladeshi train car. i swear to god, i don’t know how 40 complete strangers crammed themselves into a greyhound bus. people were literally sleeping on top of each other. you know how there are overheard luggage bins in those buses? well, those were bunks. and shannon and i shared one. and since i had the inside, i slept in what was basically a coffin for nine hours. everytime we hit a corner, i threw my arm out around shannon – in my sleep? – to prevent her from rolling out of the bunk and falling onto the bodies that were strewn below us on a huge mattress.

our bus drivers were maniacs. already i was like… what in the hell am i doing here? nobody felt like a friend, and our tour leaders were not doing much to instill comfort in me. but somehow i slept. i guess the swaying of the bunks was soothing, and i’ve slept with shannon lots of times before, so that was familiar as well.

we woke up, muzzily, being pulled out of an odd, thick sleep, to moby’s porcelain playing over the bus sound system, and all of a sudden it was sunrise in the nevada desert. that’s a moment that i’ll never forget. we slid down from our bunks, sweaty and rancid and totally kind of car-sick, and suddenly everyone on the bus was fucking quiet as a mouse and sitting comfortably beside each other (what a difference a night of spooning strangers can make) as we turned onto the dust road off of the highway that would take us into black rock city.

that’s what they call it – the burning man city that pops up – black rock city. because it’s in the black rock desert. and it’s on a petrified lake bed, so the area of the city that has no tents and instead has the man and the temple and all of the desert art set up on it is called the playa. i’ll probably be throwing these terms around a lot.

it took a long time to get to the gates. you can only go something like 10 miles on the road in, so we watched the sun start to touch the tops of the mountain ranges, and we kept our eyes peeled for the tiny tiny man that was dancing somewhere on our horizon. occasionally, someone on the bus would shout “there he is” but i never saw the man. i was too busy going holy shit nevada you are so beautiful.

we had to stop at the gate to get all of our tickets together, and we got a chance to experience our first port-a-potties, and our first desert air. i was wearing sandals, and i was amazed at how fine the sand was. that sand — so fine. like talcum powder. and alkaline. it dried everything out – skin, fingernails, the tips of hair, nostrils, boogers, the soles of feet. that was the only time that i had bare feet on the playa. i’m a texture girl, and the feeling of the sand on my feet was too much for me – like walking through chalk. i didn’t like it. some people walked barefoot all week. some people were naked all week. can’t even imagine what sand in the bumcrack felt like.

standing at the gates.


it was cold, in the morning, and that should have been a warning sign to shannon and myself, but we were so happy to get off of the sweaty bus that we didn’t even care. or notice.

as we were burning man virgins (ha ha) we had to hit a gong and technically we were supposed to roll around in the sand and make a sand angel, but our miserly tour manager (“redbull” was his name i really did NOT like his guts) told us that we weren’t allowed to because we were going to get the inside of the bus dusty and i thought… uh well you’ve brought this bus to the desert, what the H do you expect? anyway. we had to smack a gong and shout “i’m not a virgin anymore” to the expanse of the desert. all of the newbies did it, and then we piled back onto the bus and ambled into camp.

the next part is a whir. a total blur. somehow shannon and i set up our tent, attaching it to the longest metal spikes we could find to prevent it from blowing away in the wind. while we were doing that, our tour company set up breakfast for the 200 some-odd people that were camping in our area and part of our tour. in the meantime, jay and chris appeared and of course i was ecstatic. chris was buzzing, dressed in a red crocheted belly top, bindis between her eyes and on her eyebrows. she had a bandanna tied over top of her already-dirty desert hair, and i’m fairly certain that i humped her as a greeting. jay was already tanned (damn his eyes) and had a baby hat shoved onto his head (note the trend – head coverings against the sun. i didnt realise this at the time) and had bindis on his biceps, and was wearing a pink shawl as a skirt. both of them were brandishing water bottles (another trend). we ate breakfast, we unpacked our tent with jay and chris sitting in there with us. i dressed for the desert (jean overall shorts, a two dollar hat from dollarama, a bandanna, a fanny pack) and we set out.

we walked into the playa. within a few minutes, we had found a sunscreen booth where we were slathered with sunblock. we found a mutant t-rex skeleton set up with a saddle, and we hopped in it for a few pictures. we sat in a yurt-like structure that was made all of old plastic bottles and trash, and that had beanbag chairs for sitting in and a box of cheerios to eat out of. we picked up a straggler from our camp – aaron – and we walked out into the desert, even farther. that first day was the day of dust storms – every other day afterward was clear as clear – so we tied bandannas on our face and screeched into the wind. sometimes the dust got so thick and was so churned up that we couldn’t see a few feet in front of us. we stumbled to the base of the man and stared up at him. people could climb up his staircase and stand on his platform, and look out at the desert, but that didn’t appeal to me.

at the base of the man

finally, i made my way to the temple. shannon and aaron came with, chris and jay headed back to camp for a nap. the temple was unreal, but i feel like that merits another post. i cannot describe the temple in this one paragraph. and the energy was so overwhelming that shannon and i both started to cry as we stepped inside. i havent seen shannon cry since we were seventeen. to see her cry in the middle of the desert was incredibly powerful. even at her mother’s and her grandfather’s funerals, she didn’t cry. some great release happened, and then after that –

we headed back for lunch. and we were tired. we were overwhelmed. shannon settled down for a nap of sorts, and i headed out to try and see some of the desert art.

and i don’t remember much of that. because as soon as i got out into the desert again, i had my lowest moment. i just remember crying and crying and crying as i walked around alone, because all of a sudden i became homesick and i thought to myself girl what are you doing here. i missed the space and quiet and aloneness of my apartment. i missed the boy i had been seeing back in vancouver, and most of all i missed my family, which was so amazing to me. i was in the middle of the wildest city in the world and i missed my family! i cried a lot. i wandered and i cried. i also saw beautiful things, and i got my first hug from a swedish photographer who wasn’t wearing any pants. it was very honest and very nice. and i realised how small i felt – how very fucking small. i was a tiny little speck and everything was so much bigger than me. i felt out of place. i felt like i wouldn’t make any friends. i felt like i was that homesick idiot back at summer camp when i was 12, the summer i had to be sent home because i was crying so much.

alone in the desert.

somehow, i stumbled back into the city portion, and i headed towards where i thought chris and jay were camped. i had no idea where they were, exactly, but i followed my gut, and as i turned a corner, chris appeared from behind a tent, pouring out water into the road, dressed in a beautiful blue dress. mirage! wonder! i fell into her arms and sobbed something, and she sat me down under her shade structure, and i met her beautiful, beautiful friends jacq and paolo – two gorgeous, sand-dusted people with clear eyes. jay appeared from the tent, and we went to centre camp to buy iced coffees (the proceeds go to the cities of the desert) and watch half-naked children dance around, and to sit on a hundred old couches that were dragged to the desert for people to find comfort in.

at centre camp.

we decided that we were going to go out that night.

we waited for the sun to fall away. we dressed up in layers, because the desert becomes so cold. we may or may not have taken drugs. we drank tequila out of jay’s water bottle and met up with two of chris’ friends. we wandered out onto the playa, which at night becomes a different beast all together – a trip, a moving, morphing vegas, a child’s mobile spinning glitter stars and glow-stick animals around and around and around. we saw a gorilla, an angler fish, bikes swerving. we ran to the trojan horse and basked in the lucent red glow of its lights. we ran to the opulent temple and danced, taking our shirts off, following jellyfish like they were our spirit animals. we chugged water and watched as paolo danced in his one-piece flannel camo jumpsuit. we watched as fire shot into the sky. we felt pretty lucky. we thought the specks of sand hovering in the air were ghosts. we laughed!

at the temple of opulence. apparently.

i walked home alone that night. 1 30 am was too late – or early – for me.

i didn’t sleep for the next 36 hours.

stayed tuned for day 2, in which shannon and i find a 7 am rave with police officers.

read about day 2 here.

read about day 3 here.

read about day 4 here.

read about day 5 here

read about my final thoughts here


7 Comments leave one →
  1. October 12, 2011 7:36 pm

    dude, i was pouring out WATER? isn’t that illegal in BRC? these blog posts TERRIFY me… with delight.

    ps. i most certainly did not take any of this “tequila” or “drug” you are ranting about! talk about some shoddy hunter s. thomspon reportage goin’ on here!


  1. in which i explain burning man – day 2 « everywhere leonine.
  2. in which i explain burning man – day 3 « everywhere leonine.
  3. in which i explain burning man – day 4 « everywhere leonine.
  4. in which i explain burning man – day 5 « everywhere leonine.
  5. the things i learned from burning man. « everywhere leonine.
  6. the resolutions. « everywhere leonine.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: