My first Burning Man is over, I’m no longer a “virgin,” the Man has burned, and suddenly after five magical days in Black Rock City with 50,000 other burners, I find myself back in the “default world” sitting at my desk trying to make sense of it all. I say that as if something like Burning Man can be untangled and made sense of, but part of the joy of the event is that it makes no sense and every kind of sense at the same time. It’s a manifold place, full of exuberant contradictions and surprises and discoveries and congruent incongruities at every turn. (And now the whole enormous city is just plain gone for another year!)
I took my new tallbike to Burning Man (more on the tallbike soon), and my camera. And I expected to do a little riding and a lot of photographing, wandering around to document the many wonderful varieties of bicycles and pedal-driven vehicles on the playa (as well as the art, and the people, and the scene).
But Burning Man really is about participating, not observing. That’s not just a trite saying, it’s a deep part of the community’s DNA. And so although I did go out and take photographs a few times, it really was much more gratifying to just ride around, participate, interact, and leave the camera at home instead of sticking it in peoples’ faces. Despite the many Burning Man photos on the internet, cameras are surprisingly few and far between in Black Rock City.
And much more than I ever expected, I found the playa a deeply satisfying place to ride just for the sheer joy of riding. There were huge open spaces, there were great art installations spaced widely apart at perfect biking distances, the air was constantly filled with beats to keep me energized, and there were other riders everywhere, dressed outlandishly, or skimpily, or not at all, and pedaling magnificent machines.
Truly everyone had a bike. Cars are forbidden–it is a pedestrian and cycling city–and the distances between neighborhoods, or art pieces, or theme camps, are measured in miles. The place is enormous.
Granted the conditions were sometimes less than optimal. Black Rock City is located three miles out into a dry lake bed, and we had occasional 40 mile-per-hour winds, so by the end of the week my bike was caked in dust, my bottom bracket was creaking, and every bike in our camp was starting to need various kinds of tender lovin’. I had at least two rides through full-on dust whiteouts, rides made possible (and even fun!) only by clear goggles and a good dust mask.
One memorable dust storm ride took place at midnight, racing across the open playa following a camp-mate who was dressed as a rocketeer and waving a blue lightsaber, as he disappeared and reappeared ahead on his trike in the darkness and swirling dust, heading for a circus tent dance club called Ashram Galactica, which was showing Lawrence of Arabia on a huge outdoor video screen by the dusty dance floor. You just can’t make stuff like that up!
I began my summer in Belize, with three days on car-free Caye Caulker, where bikes are the best way to get around the hot, sandy streets. And I ended my summer the same way, in car-free Black Rock City, where thousands of bikes roam the playa, decorated and lit and gathering dust as they convey their fantastically clad riders to the next adventure. It was truly an amazing and transformative time. Burning Man, it turns out, is a cycling event as much as it is anything else. I hope to ride with you there next year!
A few more photos are on Flickr.
A special shout out to my uber-groovy camp-mates from It’s Your Burnday camp, and thanks to Isaac for the bikes-in-dust photos.