Saturday, September 12, 2015

Burning Man 2015

This is my long and rambling trip report for Burning Man 2015. 

This assumes the reader knows some burner lingo...

Click on photos to enlarge.  But beware, I took photos only of unique scenes you'll not find elsewhere on Facebook or Flickr.


I swore off Burning Man after 2007 and 2008.  I attended a few east-coast regional events after that, but eventually swore off those too.

To make it stick, I gave away all my gear (tent, rebars, tarps, water jugs, etc, etc) and got serious in another hobby (road bicycling).

Then last year, I was graciously invited to attend Burning Man 2015 and camp with the BMIR radio station team.  It was an offer I could not refuse.

I started buying new gear all over again...

Travel Overview

I drove myself out and back solo.  Packed my Honda Fit with a tent, bicycle, six boxes of gear, three of clothes, lawn chairs, accessories, etc.  No trailer.

5532 miles (8900 km) round trip.  150 gallons (568 l) gasoline. 37 miles per gallon overall in a fully loaded Honda Fit. Three days driving each way (home-Fernley) plus a few hours to the desert.

Three days each way is a long drive and crossing some states can get tedious.  But going solo means I can stop when I want, eat what I want, sleep where I want.  Or just keep going.

Oh by the way, the worst, most urgent drivers are on I-80 in and around Salt Lake City, UT.  Second prize goes to my own homeplace I-40 in Durham NC.

Best things done pre-playa

I covered the carpets and upholstery in my car with clear plastic 'carpet saver'.  It's like giant sticky saran wrap.  It definitely reduced the amount of dust which permanently infested my car.  Must remember next year.

I bought a small Springbar Scout 2+ tent (6 x 10 ft) (1.8 x 3 m).  Springbars are known for their wind resistance.  And the Scout 2+ model has no windows, just one door, which I hoped would keep out most of the dust.  In any other environment, this closed design would be useless because of condensation, but in the extreme low-humidity desert it worked great!

I tried something new which I learned about on eplaya.  I secured my tent to the ground using lag screws instead of rebars.  I brought a dozen long lag screws (3/8" x 14") (9 mm x 35 cm) and a cheap impact drill (120v).  It worked great.  Much faster installation, much more secure, and much faster removal.  But this worked only because I had access to generator power.  Next year, I'll test a battery-powered impact drill.

I just happened to pack along several pair of long pants/trousers and warm coats/hoodies.  Temperatures on the playa were on the cool side this year.  Highs in the 70s/80s F (21 - 28 C), and lows in the 40s (4+ C).  It was good to have warm clothes for chilly nights and early morning excursions.

I prepared a single-speed mountain bike (no shifters, no derailleurs) with moderately wide cruiser tires.  Painted it purple.  Added a basket (bought at deep discount from a bike shop in New Jersey which still had damaged merchandise from Hurricane Sandy).  Dry/wax lube on the chain (White Lightning Easy Lube), reapplied once mid-week.  It worked great.

I wore a few pairs of inexpensive leather work gloves whenever outside, day or night, all week (from Harbor Freight Tools).  They were great for doing spontaneous real work, and I think they also reduced sissy irritation on my hands from the playa dust.

I also brought my first pee bottle, to use in my tent.  Success!  Except I must bring a bigger bottle next year.  :-)

Other lessons learned from previous years still worked well:  Swallowable toothpaste.  Non-medicated infant nasal spray for rinsing out the dusty crust (not for inhaling). Non-medicated eye drops (to wash out the dust).  Lots of crunchy salty snacks, nuts, and chocolate pudding (normally taboo).  Insulated cooler bag with a shoulder strap holding 2 one-liter bottles for cold drinks and ice, perfect for touring.  Wore leather work boots all week, with frequently changed white tube socks.

Things *not* done pre-playa

In my previous burns, I always carried a handheld GPS.  Whenever a white-out dust storm hit, I could follow the GPS back to my camp (where I had earlier stored the location as a waypoint).  Unfortunately, my GPS stolen when the house was robbed earlier in the year, and I had not replaced it.  Mistake!  I got lost in a storm this year not 200 yards (200 m) from the radio station.  It was an adventure finding my way back!

I also forgot to bring a box of soft lubricated tissues.  Mistake.  Blowing nose hourly with cheap abrasive tissues became really irritating after a while.

Finally, I forgot to clean all my car's interior plastic surfaces with Armor All before departing from home.  It makes the playa dust stick less.  Drat, I forgot.  Next year!

BMIR Setup

I was invited to arrive at the event a few days early in order to help set up the BMIR radio station.  It was a ton of work.  But I was amazed at how the group steadily waded through the chaos.  Everyone worked as a team.  There were no slackers; everyone was great.  No drama.  Very neat.  (Photo thanks to Todd R)

The folks in charge of BMIR were also great.   They knew what results they wanted, they directed us well, no waffling.  They also actually listened to new ideas, then made immediate decisions.  It was enjoyable.

BMIR Volunteering

After the event officially opened, I volunteered for several activities at Camp BMIR.  I wish I had taken a few photos of these...

Love Team

Every day at mid-day, a team of 3-4 people would clean up moop around the camp.  A little came from our own campmates, but most blew in from elsewhere during dust storms.  Then we would check all our recycling and garbage containers, then go get fresh ice and water for the camp.

PSA (Public Service Announcement) Recordings

BMIR has a makeshift recording studio where people come to advertise their camp's events or attractions.  A team of 2-3 BMIR people spent every afternoon helping these folks design their announcements, then record and edit them until they liked it.   The workload was intense on Monday with a line out the door continuously, and blessedly tapered off throughout the week.  (Cindiana enters the PSA studio in this photo)


I got the unexpected opportunity to serve as a bouncer with three other folks at the BMIR bar on Thursday evening.  The Billion Bunny March met here, and BMIR was serving 'bunny punch' to the revelers in our lounge.  We had to card everyone, young and old, to avoid serving minors (and conform to Nevada laws).

The fun part was seeing so many drivers licenses.  People came from states and provinces all around the US and Canada, and from all around world.  Mini census!

But a 'growth opportunity' for me was physically blocking folks who had no ID.  Despite visitors being obviously old, the rules said no ID, no entry.  Most people without ID accepted the rules and I was apologetic.  But a significant number argued and tried to push their way in.

Most, if not all, crashers failed.  It was like playing high school football. It's been a few (ahem) decades.  Fun!

One large, athletic looking old guy was particularly annoying.  He had no ID.  I refused entry.  He kept coming back 4-5 times, each time trying a new schtick, sometimes mad, sometimes cajoling.  I was getting pissed.  Then the weirdest thing happened.  He stopped, paused, looked me square in the eyes, gently rested one hand on my shoulder, and softly said:  "Good job. You do this really well. Thank you", turned, and walked away.  WTF???  Was he an undercover cop testing me???  Who knows.  Irregardless, I'm glad Camp BMIR won that interaction.

Encounters & Vignettes

One morning exploring the city, I heard the sound of a steam calliope art car in the distance.  I followed its sound until I came upon the calliope parked right in front of a yoga class.  The calliope was blasting out lively circus music into the  crowd of stoic yogis doing their morning thing.  I couldn't tell if it was intentional event, or if the calliope had stopped just to harass the yogis.  So fun.

One afternoon, an RV motor home caught on fire in front of the BMIR studios.  It was a real disaster for the owners, and definitely not performance art.  But what surprised me was my own reaction.  As I walked toward BMIR, it was no big deal; I kept walking approaching, even climbed up onto our rooftop deck to get a better view.  Had I been at home and noticed a flaming RV, I would have freaked and sprung into action.  So weird.

Intersections in the city can be challenging to navigate with dozens of bicyclists going in dozens of directions.  One morning, a young woman held her arm out in a perfectly formed turn signal as she crossed in front of me.  I do it all the time biking at home, but this was the first I'd seen on playa.  I shouted out "Yay, hand signals".  She squealed, fist pumped, and kept yelling "Yay!" into the distance.

A spooky woo woo story, in two parts:
  • The first few days at camp, I kept seeing glimpses of a woman who looked absolutely identical to a coworker back home.  It was incredible.  The same appearance, gestures, swagger, even sunglasses.  Was she real or imagined?  I knew I was dehydrated, but was I fantasizing too?
  • After a few days, I got an opportunity to speak with her.  Turns out she was a real person, and she was not my coworker.  But when we shared our names, *she* became the one to pause and look at me spooky, because her husband's name was also Andy...
Social observations

Everyone at Camp BMIR had skills.  Some were geeks, some mechanics, some metalworkers, all creative and artistic with their crafts.  It was amazing.  Most were guys, and there was a fun male vibe.  The ladies were also great, and they fit perfectly into the bantering too.

I think I almost met more people from the east coast this year than I did west coasters.  There's a big contingent at BMIR who live in NYC, DC, and Richmond.  One of my campmates took me to a party at Big Puffy Yellow, where I met folks from North Carolina who I've chatted with for years by email, but never met in person.  So neat.


I experienced a lot more flirting going on all week at Camp BMIR than I experienced staying at other camps at Burning Man.  I haven't morphed into a rich guy or Fabio, so maybe it's the allure of the radio station?

One evening, I was casually chatting with a young woman visitor. After we finished, I asked her to remind me of her name.  She told me. Then stared up at me and purred 'And you can ask my name as often as you like'.  I melted.  Best flirt ever.

Another day, two lovely ladies sat for a spell in the blowdryer chairs at our mini art display.  They looked adorable, so I walked out to offer to take a photo of them.  We spoke briefly.  One lady was chatty, the other reflective.  When a mini storm kicked up, I invited them to climb above the dust on our rooftop balcony.  After a few minutes there, I said bye and turned to leave.  The quiet lady grabbed me, and hugged me for more than a minute.  Motionless.  In hindsight, I wish I had stayed and offered to continue as long as she needed, rather than breaking away for some silly thing I was doing next.  Lesson learned.

Also...  Dare I admit I received the best surprise goodbye kiss ever?  I'm not Fabio!


Early most mornings, I biked all the way out to the trash fence in deep playa to watch the sunrise.  Some were dusty, some gorgeous, and one was spectacular.  All were cold.  A few of the mornings had temperatures mild enough for a proper sun salute, but most days I huddled under a hoodie, fur coat, and blanket, and resumed biking as soon as possible simply to get warm.

Stupid bicycle tricks

The last time I visited Burning Man in 2008, I zen-biked along the perimeter trash fence with my eyes closed and eventually crashed into a fence post. The crash launched me over my bike handlebars, and drew 'some blood'.

This year, I did one better.

I came upon a camp which had built a bicycle see-saw and offered it for public use.  I stood by and watched a dozen bicyclists gracefully traverse it.  They effortlessly bicycled halfway up the ramp, the ramp slowly flipped over to the other side, and they effortlessly bicycled down the other side of the ramp.

I decided I could do it too...

So I effortlessly bicycled halfway up the ramp.  But the ramp didn't move.  Instead of my gracefully putting my feet down, my bike instantly fell sideways off the ramp, and body-slammed me into the ground.  Ouch.

I didn't just fall off my bike to the ground.   I fell off from 30 inches (.75 m) up to the ground.  I was all tangled up in the bike.  Arrgh.

As might be expected, I got beat up.  Road rash, bruised ribs, scrapes, puncture wounds.  Six contact points to be exact.

Luckily, no bones seemed broken.  After a few minutes, the blood flows slowed to drips, I could stand, straighten the handlebar stem and saddle on the bike, untwist the basket, and ride myself to the nearest medical tent, where I got a friendly teasing from the young physician who was more accustomed to treating drunks for this type of stupidity.  He even snarkily asked me to wait at least a day before trying it again.  Ha!


My absolute favorite art piece to climb was called Inflection.  (I'm still looking for photos.)  I only saw it at night.  It reminded me of a morph of an Escher drawing, spiral staircases, and a pirate ship.  It had a prescribed path of stairs made of various sized timbers, suspended by ropes.  The stairs changed width, length, depth, and angle as you climbed.  And the ropes came and went too.  At the highest point halfway in, the timbers had twisted completely vertical so you were walking on the tiny ends. Ropes only on one side.  Teetery!  I was climbing amongst a bunch of macho solo guys (whose friends chose to stay on the ground.)  At the highest point, I broke the ice and offered the guy behind me a hand.  He paused and stared at me for a few seconds, then grabbed my hand and jumped.  From that point forward, it was all teamwork.  Maybe that was the whole point??

Other adventures

I missed seeing a giant trebuchet launch flaming pianos across the playa.  Luckily, there is youtube...

I wanted to ride this inverted swing, but missed my chance.  I got up to 3rd position in line, then the guys closed it for darkness.  I never made it back.  Oh well

Routine activities

This was all mixed in with the usual day-and-night explorations of camps throughout the city, biking in the infield from one art piece to another, dancing spontaneously whenever the spirit moved, etc.  Yes, this is all considered routine.

Next year

This child-size princess trailer stopped in front of BMIR for the art tour.  It was adorable.  Next year, I want to make an adult-sized copy.  I think I should be able to find an adult princess to ride.  :- )

Post-playa humor

After I got home and took my third shower, I got mad that I couldn't wash all the grey playa dust from my hair.  Oh wait, crap, it's not dust, it's my hair...


I honestly can't believe I hauled all this crap cross country and back.  And that it all fit reasonably in my Honda Fit...

Tent cleaning

We finally had a clear dry day when I could wash and dry my tent.  I was actually amazed how well air and water (leaf blower and garden hose) cleaned this canvas tent.

For a quick smile, two short videos:
Next year: Must remember to clean out the inside of the tent *before* cleaning the outside.

Until next time

I've been home about five days now, and I'm almost finished cleaning everything up: laundry, car, bike, supplies, tools, lag bolts, lights, etc.

I'm getting bored with typing a few paragraphs every time I think of something, so with that, it's time to finally remove the bling from my wrists, and get back to the default world.  At least until someone else posts some more photos.  :- )

'Til next year...


Unknown said...

It sounds like on the playa, everyone has gray hair.

Unknown said...

Well, I can't wait to see what bicycle trick you're gonna do on the next Burning Man. It seems though like it was a swell of a time!

Recreation Space