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Out of the Blue: Creative mini-utopia rejuvenates the spirit

City of 60,000 comes together in the desert east of Reno with the goal of giving and displaying kindness.

September 06, 2013|By Billy Fried
  • Waiting in the line to get out of Burning Man - dust-filled and exhausted
Waiting in the line to get out of Burning Man - dust-filled… (Billy Fried )

The weekend before it began my van was packed so full of gear I had to buy a roof rack to accommodate more. Plus there were the four bikes hitched to the back.

I was headed to Burning Man for the fourth time, that annual pilgrimage in the parched Black Rock desert northeast of Reno known for its public nudity, radical exhibitionism and all-night drug- and sex-filled parties. It's all of that, of course, but much more.

Even with the past experiences, it never seems to get easier. In fact, with the added knowledge comes the desire to build a more elaborate camp. The first year you take an RV, protected from the elements, with a kitchen, AC and shower. But then you see how the real Burners do it, with spacious tents, shade structures, chill areas, solar showers, viewing platforms, and perhaps a custom decorated dance club, bar or healing center.

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You, too, want to join the fun and be more authentic and creative, and that means forgoing the gas guzzler in favor of radical self reliance, one of Burning Man's core tenets.

My tribe of 12 this year comprised a few professional craftsmen, including Lagunans Chris Prelitz and Nicholas Hernandez. That made for a crew with the skills to actually build something. We departed early Sunday morning on the 10-hour drive to Reno, where we would stay overnight, enjoy our last plumbing for a week, and then embark in the early a.m. in an effort to bypass the usual lines to get in to Black Rock City.

As one of the senior Burners, I led the caravan of three. We departed at 4 a.m. on the I-80 east for the 2.5 hour drive. I punched in my coordinates and knew what exit I was looking for. Only it never came.

Because it was dark and I had a van with precarious cargo lashed to the roof, I didn't look at Google Maps — until I was 60 miles past the exit. Not an auspicious start. We turned around, lost two hours, but eventually joined the line of cars that swelled the single lane road to Burning Man.

I had ample time to beat myself up over the precious hours lost. This, of course, is part of the Burner experience, the test of will and ability to surrender to any and all adversity.

We reached our camp in the afternoon, and spent the rest of Monday building our own camp-within-a-camp, with a shaded lounge, evaporative shower stall, kitchen and separate living quarters. Plus we had to decorate our bikes with LED lights and L-wire so we could be seen at night.

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