For my 22nd birthday, a group of friends went in on a gift for me. At my birthday party, I opened a handmade card (courtesy Bequi) to find a ticket to Burning Man for September of 2001 (Theme: Seven ages of man). Six months later, I had a boyfriend (Dan) and was living in a new place and was so excited to be embarking on what would turn out to be an amazing trip.
Eight years on, I don’t think I can write a play-by-play of my experience at the playa. My photos, once online, appear to be lost to the ether. But I have snippets, things that stand out in my mind, memories of smells and tastes and sounds and sights.
*Braiding my hair in the car on the way up, small braids all over my head, to help minimize the likelihood of snarls when I knew I wouldn’t be able to wash it for days.
*The powdery ache on my feet from the alkali dust that didn’t dissipate even with the liberal application of vinegar.
*Having no hunger signals for days, then when presented with a fresh green salad literally salivating so much I drooled.
*The intense heat of the daytime sun and the relief brought by sundown
*Crawling through the 3-D maze, wishing I had more time to explore it more thoroughly and in-depth
*The profoundly moving experience of the Mausoleum
*Watching people get married, marry themselves, or otherwise participate in some sort of ritual of marriage
*Hanging out with teddy bear pants guy at the Burning of the Man
*Spending hours in a massage camp during one sweltering day for the shade and good energy
*Encountering a friend from preschool at center camp and spending quite a while hula hooping with him.
*Wishing I had the stamina to sleep during the hot day and stay up all night, and failing each day and night. I’m just not nocturnal.
*Getting advice from a guy sitting in Lucy’s Advice 5c booth
*watching my friend Ian spin lit poi for the first time
*the incredible gargantuan full moon
*After a late-night adventure, sleeping for a few hours in a stranger-turned-friend’s tent, then navigating a dust storm across the playa to get back to my camp.
And, of course, there was nothing like the cognitive dissonance of leaving Black Rock City, still covered in playa dust, and stopping in Reno to eat at a casino buffet. The amount of overstimulation was the same, but the purpose was completely different. When I got home, and undid my braids, and took what remains The Best Shower of my Life, I hoped my memories would remain acute. Like everything, though, they’ve since faded. I still have a few print photos (how quaint, right?). I went to Burning Man to experience it, to see and interact with the art and the people. I didn’t do drugs or drink (I think I had maybe one drink the whole 5 days). I didn’t dance all night, or have sex with a stranger, or witness anything that shocked me to the core. I’m sure lots of other people who went that year did, but none of those things were me or how I wanted to experience the event.
Every year, friends of mine still go to Burning Man. Oldest Friend, in fact, got there yesterday. Every year I briefly consider going, and every year other things take precedence, are more important financially or time-off-wise. It takes an enormous amount of resources (time, money, etc.) and a lot of preparation, particularly if you’re not in Northern California, to attend Burning Man. As I get older, I think more and more that my one experience at the playa was enough.