How I Got to Where I was Going (Burning Man 2005)

The images on the TV revealed a nightscape that looked somewhere beyond a carnival and anarchy. Another cat jumped onto my lap to enjoy the stillness as I sat captivated by what I watching. Since I turned on the TV in the middle of the show I had no idea what was happening but I knew it was real. bm 1998

I would hang out with friends who had friends that would pack everything, and I mean everything, to go “camping” for a week. They would return looking haggard, dirty, exhausted, and unable to explain what had happened. Someone else’s cat bit me as I tried to make sense of their stories.

Years later, after leaving an abusive relationship, I felt the need to shed my layers. Do something scary. Whatever you want to call it, I wanted to change. In those year’s I finally began to piece together the fragmented stories that friends of friends told me of their camping trips. It clicked. I wanted to go where they were going. I bought a ticket to Burning Man.

Turns out, buying a ticket was the easy part. I needed to bring everything. Spend thousands of my hard-earned fast-food wages on survival gear for a week in the desert. Goggles, dust mask, camelbak, funfur jacket, vintage lingerie. Important survival gear.

As I prepared to keep myself alive physically, I realised I needed to prep my mental state. I had decided to go to Burning Man alone. I was craving catharsis and felt that would happen when I faced all of my fears and hopes alone. This was, perhaps, my first lesson in shared experience and inclusion. Going alone was going to be expensive. Going with others, less so. A friend offered me a spot in his car. Admittedly, this relieved some of my fear.

In the final nights before I left, those friends of friends, who had become friends and  comrades, emerged to ensure I had everything. Do you have enough chapstick? Sunscreen? How much water are you going to buy? Baby wipes? Ear plugs? The list of things to buy was never ending.

Alongside that was the advice on how to operate and what to see and do. I made notes like a keen student. One night, Slurree came over and gave me a wrapped present. “This is for that blue day. You don’t know when it’ll come but it will come.” Oh great. That doesn’t help my fear. In fact, I was terrified. What the fuck have I gotten myself into?! Too late. I leave in the morning.

The next lesson to be learned is that it is the journey and the destination. Steve, TrashPanda, and I travelled down together. Days of singing together, telling stories, staring out of the window for hours, and sleeping on the side of the road.The scene that played outside of the SUV’s windows kept changing. Rainforest, highway, pine trees. Everything becoming dryer and dryer as we sped towards the high desert.Modoc

My experience from solo traveller to friendship in a car, continued to expand. There were others making their way from the north. The three of us expanded to five as we met more people on the road. A caravan developed. Those that I met along the way, old friends to some but brand new to me, continued to grill me. Do you have a Leatherman? What kind of rebar did you bring? The questions got more advanced the closer we got. I was pretty sure I bought everything but when McFadden asked me if I had a pee funnel, I was stumped. He then spent 15 minutes extolling the uses and practicality of the pee funnel. I thought to myself, what else did I miss?

We were less than a day away from the playa and the excitement was building in everyone. We were playing ‘Spot the Burner’ and reviewing our shopping lists. On our last stop, as I got into the car, McFadden ran over and handed me a bag. I opened it. A pee funnel. Or an oil funnel, if you want to be precise about it. My first gift received. The ideas and hopes I had around gifting and collaboration were really starting to crack open. Another human can share with a complete stranger and it could feel as natural as breathing.

The music in the car changed as we drew closer. More electronic and heavy beats. The lyrics deepened. As we drove over hill after hill, TrashPanda would squeak and say, “That’s it!!” And it wouldn’t be. This ritual continued over every hill and around each turn. I stopped getting excited as I recognized the pattern. We came around one corner and descended down. The landscape had been desert for hours now. My two carmates stiffened and sat up a little taller. I didn’t notice and continued to stare out the window. It was Steve who couldn’t contain the joke any longer. “See that expanse over there? That’s it!” An explosion of excitement and fear flushed through me. My destination. I was about to be inside the thing that captivated me years earlier. I still had no idea what I was looking at.

We drove up to the gate, Underworld blasting through the speakers. In my mind I had rehearsed and reviewed what I was supposed to do. A beer was handed to me. In the lineup, I stepped out of the car and my feet hit playa for the first time. I can only imagine the shit-eating grin on my face. The playa was nothing I could have imagined. More of a talcum powder than sand. It was already spreading all over me. Embrace the dust, right?

Creeping towards the city at five miles per hour we arrived at the Greeter’s Station. A man and woman approached both sides of our car. “Welcome Home! We’ve been waiting for you!” All of us jumped out of the car to embrace the two strangers. I was wrapped in the deepest hug. As I stepped away, the greeter silently met my eyes, sighed, and embraced me again. The greeters were informed that I was a virgin. Their eyes lit up. Without a word, he took my hand and pulled me towards a scuba tank with it’s bottom cut off. It was hung like a bell. He handed me a long piece of rebar, looked me in the eyes, and said, “You’re Home. We’ve been waiting a long time for you. You need to let this city know that YOU HAVE FINALLY ARRIVED.” Without hesitation and with determination, I walked towards the bell, howling, and struck it with everything I had. In the moment, I transformed from an outsider to a citizen.

3 Responses to “How I Got to Where I was Going (Burning Man 2005)”

  1. squishelle says:

    Thank you for sharing your story.
    I am all teary eyed over here.

  2. Willow says:

    Fuck yer burn <3

  3. dingo says:

    Good read. Ahhh, to wind back time again, eh? I’m not sure that I could recall my experience so vividly.
    I don’t think I questioned anything beforehand. It was just go. Aside from when my fellow rookie n I went through the border crossing, and the guard called us on being burners. While he was asking us if we had drugs, we were interrupted by another guard who handed him a corndog. He then asked us if we had any corndogs in there. To which we hesitatingly said, uhhh, noo.
    Thanks for sharing.

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