Monday, August 31, 2009

Burning Man - Depression

I woke up from the heat and was still ticked about the broken shade structure. Originally I had planned to use PVC and a parachute but ran out of time (Funny enough it would have cost around the same amount.) I decided to head into center camp so I found my bag but realized the zippers were all rusted shut. I had made sure a lot of things were in working order before leaving but I had just assumed that a shoulder bag sitting in a box with aluminum zippers wouldn't rust up. I threw it aside and just put my camera and notepad in my pockets and my goggles around my neck. (I later used my bike chain oil and a pair of pliers to free up the zippers but didn’t like the sweat it caused so never really used it.)

I was in a bad mood, by myself, and so far so much had gone wrong, so I started thinking of reasons why I didn’t want to leave. the two main ones that kept me there were 1. I didn’t want to spend a week in Utah waiting for my flight out, and 2. I had told a lot of people I was going to Burning Man, it seemed like a very “quitter” thing to do to leave early with only a bad experience.

With my mind made up that I was staying I headed into center camp to get some shade. Everyone else seemed in a bad mood too so I sat down on a couch by myself and these are the notes I took:


•No one really follows any of the rules set out. On arrival I found a couple pieces trash (or “moop”- “matter out of place”) from last year. There were also people with dogs, feathers, and fireworks.

•The creator says he is trying to change the world with the concept of Burning Man but a bunch of hippies partying in the desert for a week never changed anything.

•They promote it as an environmental event but half the art cars are belching propane fires, everyone has to drive in all these extra supplies to look weird and everything made out of wood is burned at the end.

•The concept of Burning Man is to create a space where everyone can be themselves for a week away from pressures of commercialism and society. But a week is not enough time to acclimate so what it really becomes is a week for everyone to be as crazy as they want to be.

•It is supposed to be away from the pressures of society but how come there are still fashion trends like fur leggings.

•All the hippies here depend on the over commercialism of society to provide them with cheap used goods, such as the RV’s and old cars to turn into art cars. If anything Burning Man is the perfect example of over commercialization waste.

•Like any other organized event the people in charge show favoritism to their friends so in this case there are camps/tribes that have reserved the best spots. (I later found out that is because they were also giving away the most stuff.)

Burning Man - Monday

To get myself out of the funk, and since everyone else was still setting up camp I decided to see all the art since that was why I was here anyway. But first let me explain how the city is set up:

There are miles of dry lakebed where nothing normally lives. This huge alkaline flat area is known as “the playa”. The people who put on Burning Man rent 5 square miles from the bureau of land management and put up a perimeter called the trash fence (to catch fly away trash). In the middle there is a giant 60 foot statue of “The Man” with the city set up like a clock around it. Every half hour is a road radiating out from 2:00 to 10:00 ring roads are evenly spaced and are named with titles A-L. This year with the theme of evolution the road names were Adapt, Biology, Chaos, DNA, Extinct, Fossil, Genome, Hominid, Inherit, Jurassic, Kinship, and Lineage. The Temple is at 12:00 and Center Camp is at 6:00. Themed camps that were allowed to arrive early took up most of the inner ring and as people arrive they fill up each of the ring roads consecutively. Since I got there pretty early my address for the week was 8:15 and adapt.

With that being said there is a 1/2 mile radius circle around the man, and the space from 10:00 to 2:00 where no one is allowed to camp. This is mainly desert but also where people put art.

You can get the GPS coordinates of all the registered art but there seemed to be just as much art that was just placed there so I was just riding my bike from art piece to art piece looking at them all.

After looking at the art and taking a nice long bike ride I felt much better and was willing to go back and fix my sleeping situation.

I rolled out the carpet under the tent. Used one of the poles that hadn’t broke and propped up the tarp so that I could more easily get in and out of the tent and let more air pass through. I also set up the folding picnic table and chair so I could enjoy eating. By that time some other people had arrived that I could talk with so everything started to turn for the better. Everyone I talked to around me was at some point in the progression of asking themselves why they had agreed to come out here to the desert this year. The returning people all had different timelines on how long it took them to forget why they didn’t want to come out to the desert and return to Burning Man.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Burning Man - Arrival

Driving through the desert between Utah and Nevada is actually interesting. You drive right through the salt flats, past Bonneville raceway. During the week I had been averaging 52 miles per gallon in the Prius, here on the Freeway it dropped down to 45. There were a few hills that were big enough that wore the battery down so the electric motor turned off and then the car felt like a little economy car engine but other than that it was great to drive.

They penalize people for arriving early by shuttling them into a standby lot so I planned it to get there after Midnight. I forgot about the time change going into Nevada but I also made more stops and got off later than expected so everything balanced out. I arrived in the small town of Gerlach Nevada at around 1:00 AM. (I left at 4:00 Utah time for a total of 8 hours driving.) For the next 20 miles there was a line of cars. I knew there was going to be a wait but not this long. For the next four hours it was a process of turn on the car, move 20 feet, turn off the car. I am so lucky I was in a Prius since it handles all that stop and go nicely.

On arrival at the front gate they checked my ticket, gave me the schedule of events and map of the city and art. For how long the line was, once you got to the front it was a big party. One of the people asked me if it was my first time. Being that it was, I was deemed a “playa virgin” where I had to get out and make a “playa angel” in the dust turn over and repeat then ring a giant bell. For all the emails I got saying they would check for certain items they looked into my car and said “my car looked full enough for a week full of stuff” and let me through.

Since I would be camping in a tent and I knew there could be strong winds I chose to camp at “8:00” to protect me the most from the wind. I drove up to an empty space at at 5:00 AM and asked around if anyone had marked off the area and started to set up my tent.

This is where everything went wrong. The shade structure I bought, I knew was cheap since I only planned on using it once. It was packed in a bag I knew I would have a hard time repacking so I never took it out until now. Now as I set it up it was like the old style tents where you could never get more than one leg up at a time. After a while I gave up on that and not to be deterred drove 4 stakes into the ground and put the poles over the stakes. As I was stretching the tarp over the poles one of the poles broke. As I was scratching my head on what to do next the people that were setting up a tent next to me decided to leave and an RV pulled into it’s place turned off it’s lights, turned on its generator with the exhaust pointing at my camp and would not answer the door when I knocked.

I was too tired from being up all night. The sun was up and the thermometer already said 90F degrees. I gave up. I asked myself what I was doing there by myself. I thought about packing up and heading back to Utah. I knew I was cranky from being dehydrated and tired but I could at least fix the dehydrated part so I grabbed a drink and started to think of what to do. I moved my car so it was as close as possible to the tent. I took the tarp I was going to use as the wall and closed two ends into the front and back door and staked the other two into the ground. This at least covered my tent with shade so I rolled out the sleeping bag, pillow and fell asleep instantly.

(It might seem like such a little deal but shade is valuable thing, almost everyone had either a geodesic dome, fast popup, PVC and tarp, or some sort of parachute or tarp structure over their tent. Those that didn’t slept in the center camp.)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Burning Man - Shopping for supplies

After buying my ticket I scoured the Burning Man website ( They had a webpage devoted to first time people with a list of all the things that were required and recommended. I started a list of things I needed and added to it when I read other websites of people who had gone. Since you have to bring EVERYTHING with you and there is no way to hop over to the store while there I had this nagging desire to be complete. Since I was flying in my space was heavily constrained, everything with an asterisk was bought in Utah after the flight. This is what I brought with me and the reasons why.

•2 chap-stick-dry air, need an extra if the first is lost.
•bandanas-dust storms, need to cover mouth.
•*batteries-made a list of everything I was bringing that needed batteries and had spares for them all.
•wide brimmed straw hat-1st line of defense against the sun.
•spare hat- high winds can take the first.
•*bike-The city is five miles across and there is lots of places to go.
•bike lights-out in the middle of the desert you don’t want to crash into someone at night.
•*bike lock-mostly there are people to stoned or drunk to remember which is theirs.
•bike repair kit
•bike pump
•*Spare bike tire
•dust broom-dust gets in the tent, what am I saying dust gets everywhere.
•bungee cords-used for keeping tarps from flapping in wind.
•*cable ties-attach tab A to slot B.
•*carpet-It is really nice to have somewhere to stand/sit that is not dusty.
•*coat-It can get down to 40 degrees at night.
•*Copy key-not cheap to get the car towed out.
•compass-The wind blows in SSE. Pitch tent accordingly.
•*foam pad-air mattresses hold in the days heat.
•*duct tape-just because.
•ear plugs-there is always music all around you.
•*eye drops
•*fire extinguisher
•first aid kit
•*folding chair-no reason to sit in the dirt
•*Table- no reason to eat in the dirt either.
•goggles-dust storms.
•*Gatorade- Need to drink one a day.
•GPS-A lot of art is out in the middle of nowhere.
•*hand sanitizer-There is only porta-potties.
•hiking boots-the dust is heavily alkaline and will cause cracking in sandals.
•kite-Attach a camera and take arial shots.
•leather gloves-Have in easy reach for setting up tent on arrival.
•memory card-no reason to not take a picture
•measuring tape-measure twice, pound stake once.
•MRE's-way better then camp cooking, and notice no need for cooking utensils on the list.
•Nail trimmers-dry air causes hang-nails.
•Rain gear-It just might.
•*parachute cord or extra rope.
•pen & paper- take notes.
•saline nasal spray
•shade structure-Your best friend.
•*socks (disposable)- a pair a day to avoid chaffing of dust.
•*vaseline-spread on feet every night and cover with a new pair of socks.
•*sun block-bring extra.
•*tarp under tent
•*tarp walls
•ticket-seriously, remember to bring it.
•*rebar stakes-The stakes your tent and shade structure came with are not good enough. The stakes need to be at least 12 inches long to deal with up to 70 miles per hour wind.
•*mallet-You are pounding into baked earth
•Sleeping Bag
•*Toilet paper-in case porta-potties run out.
•*trash bags-no one else is going to clean up after you.
•*unscented moist towelettes-to clean dust off.
•vice grips-rebar stake removal.
•warm hat
•*Water-required 1 1/2 gallons a day. Recommended 2 gallons a day.
•water bottle-and a strap to carry it by. Always have it on you.
•*ziplock bags
•*Large flat baking sheet-a way to evaporate water.
•*Lighter-because you are camping.
•*Pillow case a day for a nice clean pillow every night.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Burning Man - Flight in

So the original idea was to fly into Utah, visit with family, meet up my Brother-in-Law and head out into the desert together. As it ends up my Brother-in-Law got engaged and spent all his money on an engagement ring so it looks like I will be going by myself. It is understandable, after the cost of the ticket, flight, rental car, and supplies I figure I spent around $1000. Of course if I had been going with someone else, driving, or this wasn’t my first time, it would have been much cheaper per person. But, none of my friends could take time off and my wife didn’t have the energy to spend a week in the desert.

Out of the three projects I wanted to do I only finished one, the kite camera. I got so close to getting the L.E.D. shirt done but I ordered some of the wrong chips and I ordered new ones and had them shipped to Utah but decided it was better to visit with family instead while I was there. Instead of rigging up a PVC and parachute shade structure I just bought two cheap tarp shade structures on eBay with the intent of having the tent under one and my table and chair under the other.

I packed light since I had to fly in so that meant a lot of shopping at thrift stores and grocery stores while in Utah. We originally got a little Toyota Yaris as our rental car but it had a crack in the windshield so I turned it in for a Toyota Prius which allowed for everything to fit inside. (and made me happy since I had wanted to take a Prius for a test drive.)

I think I have started to think in east coast terms. I was amazed by the amount of parking downtown when I was shopping and I still ended up parking 2 blocks away because I saw a free spot instead of free spaces that ended up being right in front of where I wanted to go. I also noticed that while on the freeway any Ford Crown Victoria I see I assume it is a taxi until I see old people driving them and it shocks me back to reality.

So after visiting with family for a week and getting everything on my list, I said goodbye to my wife and drove off into the desert.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Burning Man - History

I have wanted to go to Burning Man for some time just to experience it. While searching around on the Internet while preparing for my trip I found that Burning Man started more than 25 years ago as an artist and hippy gathering in San Francisco on Baker Beach. They burned the art at the end because they did not feel like taking it home. After a few years the gathering got too big and they had to move it out to the desert in Nevada.

Currently up to 50,000 people gather every year and create a temporary city, named Black Rock City. The third largest city in the state of Nevada for that one week. Since the land is leased from the bureau of land management there is a strict “leave nothing behind” policy.

The culture has created some rules. Everyone is supposed to participate, “no spectators”. How you participate is up to you; be it volunteering time, building artwork, or offering something to other “burners” while there.

Everything is supposed to work off of a “gift” economy. Meaning you give of your time or things as a gift and expect nothing in return. If someone gives you a gift back then all the better.

The week starts on a Monday and people arrive throughout the week with the culmination of the Man burning on Saturday, the Temple burn on Sunday, and the event ends on Labor day usually with everyone going home.

The organizers feel that the city could serve as a model for changing the world for conservation, an example of less consumerism, and an influence for people to be more free about self expression. They help setup “local burns” to help propagate the culture and ideals of Burning Man.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Burning Man - Research

I bought tickets for going to Burning Man. With this being my first time going I decided to buy them through the official channels. Basically there are always people buying tickets that can’t go apparently so there are plenty on eBay and craigslist. By buying them directly I was able to sign up for a newsletter that gives me info and news through email. I think it is good because I figure that I could forget some stupid little thing that would ruin my trip.

The way the pricing for the tickets work is they have groups of tickets that are all different prices ($220, $240, $260, $280, $300) But since it is a general admission ticket it does not matter. On the day they start selling tickets all the people in the know buy up the cheap tickets so it encourages repeat visits. I bought mine about a month after they started selling so I got it for $280. They go back and forth every year on if they sell tickets at the door, this year they did for $360. The ticket price pays for renting the land, porta-potties, and things like medical service. Pretty much everything else is volunteer service. Seems like a pretty good racket and I’m sure they are pulling in plenty of money.

I am going to try to do three different projects. The first one is a camera that I will hook to a kite. If I build a timer so the camera takes pictures while in the air then I should get some good aerial shots. The second thing I want to build is an L.E.D. shirt. Basically a shirt covered with L.E.D.’s so that it is similar to a tie-dyed shirt only the colors move around the shirt. You are supposed to be well lit at night and I figure it will be a good contribution as art. The third one is to buy a parachute and create a dome using PVC.

I am not sure if I should drive or fly. If I fly I can take less time off but I will have to be very careful on what I do take. Driving pretty much allows for unlimited weight and a lower total cost but will require taking an extra week off work. I’m not sure if I want to use that much vacation time and I’ve already made plenty of cross country trips and have seen the things that I want to. I guess it depends on if I can get others to go with me or if it will be just me and my brother-in-law.

Summer walks

There are a lot of paths for walking and biking that are happily within walking distance of our house. (It has always bugged me driving somewhere to walk.) In all the paths we have followed we have found hidden parks, wandered past lakes, trees and go through people’s back yards. We have run into deer and once the trail was to narrow for the deer to run so it just stared at us. We gave it as much room as possible and it just stared at us the whole time. I just felt like it was waiting for us to turn our backs so it could mug us.
On one of our bike trips we we heard a strange knocking sound. I suddenly felt a pain on my arm. I realized there were acorns dropping from the trees. Every blow of the breeze would unleash another barrage. We just had to ride faster to stop getting hit.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Drive-in Movie

In the constant quest for new ideas of where to go for a date night I had come up with the idea of a drive-in movie. There were 3 within about an hour drive so we even had a choice of what to see ( we decided on the double feature of District 9 and The Ugly Truth). We came up with the idea of enjoying some fast food from somewhere close to there but the only restaurant that was anywhere near to the drive-in movie theater was a Red Lobster. So we decided to go all out and ordered lobster and crab to go, I bought some drinks at the store next door and we headed to the drive-in theater.
Now by drive-in theater it was really a grass field with large bumps that you could drive the car up on to so that your windshield pointed up to the screen. The first row was far enough away to be perfect and since we were in the Miata I didn’t want to get stuck behind an SUV. We put the top down and started enjoying our dinner when we were attacked by mosquitos. We had no repellant but the ever-prepared mom with kids next to us was spraying them down so we asked if we could have some too. It felt really awkward asking but it was better than getting eaten alive.
The sound for the movies was broadcast over low power radio so that each car could control how loud they wanted it. It was nice because we could make all the wise cracks we wanted to without disturbing the people next to us.