Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Burning Man 2014 - Journal of a Burn Virgin

"Radical Self-Reliance" was the first principle we learned while preparing for our virgin trip to Burning Man. After Tori and I purchased tickets in February with Kenny and Jill, our first thought was to take the easy route and rent an RV, but Kenny enticed us into building our own hexayurt shelters instead. This meant borrowing my brother's Chevy Tahoe so we could tow a 6' x 12' trailer I reserved from U-Haul. We started our yurt construction in May, spending many hot weekends over the summer taping up the 4' x 8' RMAX insulation foam panels into large fold-able sections we would assemble at our campsite. We soon realized that the reserved trailer would be too small for the yurts and all our gear so Kenny arranged to borrow a rusty utility trailer with broken lights, a leaky tire and no spare. The lights and tire were easily replaced but I spent over a month tracking down a spare rim that matched the unusual size and bolt pattern of the other trailer wheels. I finally found one among a guy's collection of used rims on Craigslist.

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

Originally, we planned on building two sleeping yurts that connected to a larger communal yurt but time was running short so we abandoned the third one. The two six-sided yurts were 16 feet across and 8 feet tall at the highest point so I would have plenty of head room inside. By the end of July, we had practiced erecting the finished yurts in Kenny's backyard and connecting them with a swamp cooler he fashioned in his garage. (A hundred watt solar panel would power the cooler, lights and portable shower pump.) The final month of August was spent online at Amazon and on countless store trips for supplies and costumes while checking and re-checking our packing list. Tori and I joked that we spent more time and effort preparing for Burning Man than we did for our wedding back in January.

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

On Friday, August 22nd, Kenny and I took the day off from work to load up the trailer so we could leave on Saturday morning. Loading the 70 gallons of water and yurt panels was quick but the rest of the gear took all day since Kenny and Jill had a lot of last-minute stuff to pack. Saturday morning, Tommy who had flown in from Florida, arrived in time to help load up the bikes and strap down the trailer tarps. At 11am, only an hour later than we planned, the five of us hit the I-15 North to Los Angeles. Traffic was not bad, but if we traveled faster than 55 mph the trailer would wobble. Above LA, we turned onto Highway 395 that shot all the way to Reno, NV. As we drove north, we spotted a lot of Burner vehicles heading the same way. Our friends, Wayne and Lisa, were a few hours ahead of us on the road. Just before Lone Pine while Tommy was taking his turn driving, one of the tires on our trailer blew. All that effort to acquire a spare paid off as we switched wheels and continued on our way. With all the service stations along Highway 395 now closed for the evening, we were worried about a second blowout. I called Pep Boys in Reno for an appointment the next morning and we crossed our fingers that we would make it. After a stop at a Nevada Walmart (Cobb Salad and Tire Emporium) for some late-night food, we arrived safely at the Homewood Suites in Reno. Back in March, I had booked a room with two queen beds but due to our midnight check-in, we were upgraded to a two bedroom suite that had three beds. Tommy lucked out and didn't have to sleep on a couch.

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

Sunday morning, we ate breakfast while Kenny took the trailer over to Pep Boys. It was fortunate that I made the appointment because all the walk-ins that morning had to wait till after 1 pm for service. Besides buying a new tire for the spare, we ended up replacing two more of the four trailer tires that were in sorry condition. We now felt confident with new tires as we hit the road again at 11am, this time following behind Wayne and Lisa's trailer. Thirty minutes west of Reno, we exited at Wadsworth for our last gas stop before heading north on Highway 447 to the Black Rock Desert ninety miles away. Halfway past Pyramid Lake we hit stopped traffic. At first we thought it was a few broken down vehicles we ended up passing that caused the backup of campers, trailers and RVs on the two lane highway but the line up continued the rest of the way. Lots of long waits while moving forward only a few miles at a time. Wayne told us that this was unusual. In past years, the waiting didn't start until the entrance line on the Playa. With no bathrooms, people were peeing on the roadside.

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Wayne Labat (Happy Dragon Photography)

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

As we neared the small towns of Empire and Gerlach, we could finally see the southern tip of the Black Rock Desert's alkali flats and the road was lined with hopeful people begging for extra tickets. Passing Gerlach, we saw the black volcanic formation that gives the desert its name standing at the entrance to the Playa. As we drove out onto the dry lake bed at 4:30, I noticed that it was narrower than I expected, bordered on both sides by mountain ranges. Because of traffic backup on the highway, the eight-lane entry line went quickly and we reached the Greeters Station in just over an hour. As Burner Virgins, we were invited by our Greeter to get out of our vehicle and roll in the dust. Fun! Wayne and Lisa had been to Burning Man before so we let them locate a good camping spot for us. We wanted to not be too far from our friends at Swing City but not too close to the loud sound camps. We ended up with a big vacant space at 7:45 and Kandahar. Our yurts went up faster than I expected with Dave and Lindsay dropping by from Swing City to help as the sun set over the Calico Mountains. We didn't need our flashlights until we were tying down the halo ropes on the second yurt at 8pm. (Perfect timing!) After Lisa cooked Gnocchi and Risotto in her trailer for everybody, Tori and I finished the night organizing the interior of our yurt before passing out after midnight again.

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

Monday - In the middle of the night, I awoke to the pitter-patter of rain against the roof of our yurt. Since I didn't notice any obvious leaks, I went back to sleep. It was still raining at 6am when I woke again to the sound of rumbling thunder and drops hitting my face from the swamp cooler vent we cut in the side of the yurt. We pulled the air mattress away from the wall and I noticed a slight leakage along the bottom from where Tori and I had forgotten to seal the ground tarp to the outside wall. When we went outside to check on the rest of our gear during a break in the rain, bright sparks blinded my eyes from lightening striking the windmill of the Snow Koan Solar camp down the road from us. After two more torrential downpours, the rain finally appeared to be over by 10am. As we walked over to Opulent Temple for breakfast, the saturated ground stuck to the bottom of our shoes in thick muddy layers called Playa Platforms. At the Dub Gypsies kitchen, I had my first encounter with Burning Man nudity as one of the cooks was completely butt-naked except for an apron. Occasionally throughout the week, the food servers would also be topless. The food in the meal plan was delicious but the portions were not large. Still a bit hungry, we headed over to the 9:00 Plaza where the Pancake Playhouse was handing out pancakes while next door, Scarbutt's had coffee for those willing to receive a spanking. We were.

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

The ground had almost dried by the time we made it over to the Swing City theme camp to visit the rest of our Trapeze friends (Dave, Lindsay, Darin and Tommy) and play on the traveling rings for awhile. Back at camp, Kenny and I spent the hottest part of the day constructing the shade structures over our trailer that contained the kitchen area and portable shower while Tori and Jill went to buy ice at Artica. The layout of Black Rock City is in the shape of a giant open semi-circle. The Esplanade runs along the inner circle facing out to the Inner Playa where the 105 foot statue of the Man stands at the center. Each concentric ring road behind the Esplanade is named alphabetically from A to L at the rear of the city. (The Assplanade.) The radial streets are named after times on a clock face, moving from 2:00 on the East side to 10:00 on the West side. After we completed the final touches on our camp, we all rode our bikes to Center Camp to register Wayne and Lisa's 2 year old, Tucker, with the Ranger Station. From there, we rode out along the 6:00 Promenade to explore the Playa for the first time. Continuing on past the Souk surrounding the Man, we headed out to the Deep Playa to see the Temple of Grace that was still under construction. A crane was lowering the golden dome on to the top of the spire when we arrived. Making our way across the playa toward dinner at Opulent Temple, we interacted with a lot of the large art installations on the way. Riding our bikes through the wooden tube of Cruz the Wave, bouncing in the Largest Known Hammock, swinging from the Musical Swings, requesting a Long Uncomfortable Hug at the Hug Deli, passing through the psychedelic Warp Detour and smiling at Big Al's gaping jaws erupting from the Playa surface.

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

After dinner, a surge of new arrivals began to fill the streets as the entrance road finally re-opened after the morning thunderstorm. As we got ready to go out to explore the city at night for the first time, our new neighbors told us they had to wait out on the highway for over 24 hours. Wow! With well-lit bikes and bodies, we rode toward 7:30 Plaza, exploring the theme camps along the roads. Stopping to play with Pachinko machines and bike through the Giant A at BloAsis Village, we worked our way towards Spanky's Wine Bar at 7:00 and A. It was Karaoke night and the performers were pretty great. One singer was doing a perfect Michael Jackson impersonation before the bar briefly lost power. Tori earned us some beers after she received a spanking from one of the camp members. Across the street, we received more drinks after working our way through a maze to the hidden bar at the back.

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

Prior to Burning Man, I thought I knew what to expect visually since I had seen many pictures of the event online. This turned out to be true for the daytime sights, but nothing I had found was able to replicate the sea of lights flashing across the Playa at night. Overseen by the towering Man, thousands and thousands of glowing bikes weaved in and out among the illuminated art installations and cruising mutant vehicles flashing lights and spurting blasts of flame into the sky. That first night was true Sensory Overload experience. Following the Esplanade, we rode on a merry-go-round, witnessed a giant pillow fight at Trifucta and climbed inside the spinning Convulsatorium. Drawn by the flames and sparks erupting from the Wheels Of Zoroaster, we plunged deeper into the Playa. Climbing towards the acrylic tip of the glowing Luz 2.0 pyramid, the quadriceps of my left leg cramped and I barely caught myself from falling through a gap onto the people standing inside. It was too painful to peddle my bike so Tori hauled me across the Playa while I sat on the backseat of Kenny's tricycle. By midnight, it was pretty chilly so Tori and I called it a night and headed back to camp. At the Firehouse, we stopped to warm ourselves while watching the blasting flame performance. I slept like a log that night.

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth



Tutu Tuesday - After breakfast, we biked over to Swing City where I met Mark and his girlfriend, Brit. Mark owns a trapeze rig in Florida that Tori helped set up several years ago. After swinging on the traveling rings for awhile, we all headed over to Center Camp with others from Swing City. It was entertaining to watch all the talented performers in the center ring while Tori and our friends practiced their AcroYoga. Since my leg was still really sore, Tommy suggested I buy an electrolyte drink to help my quadriceps instead of just drinking lots of water. With the gifting economy of Burning Man, only ice and the various drinks served at Center Camp are available to purchase.

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

After returning to camp, Tori and I rode out at sunset to explore the Playa again. We posed in front of the Zap! lightening bolt before crossing to the other side of the Man to check out the burlap-covered Paha'oha'o Volcano. We found the largest gathering of children we had yet seen at Burning Man waiting on the stairs to drop down the steep slide inside. Close by we could smell cookies baking in the tiny back kitchen of the Front Porch, an art car with the facade of a Prairie Farm House. Yesterday, we had seen the hugging figures of the Embrace from a distance so we decided to peddle over for a closer look. It was cool how the artists had shaped the wooden skin of this signature three-storey structure. At the base, a volunteer slave auction was being held. Biking back for dinner, we encountered the Christina Yacht parked near the fenced-off Temple of Grace where a group of volunteers were removing the last of the construction debris. To go inside the temple, we would have to come back.

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

After dinner, Tori and I went out onto the Playa with Tommy to fire up his sparklers before going to SlutGarden to meet up with Kenny and Jill for the booty-shaking contest. We got a free drink and danced for a little while. When they didn't show, we left because the music was way too loud. Crossing the Playa to check out the other side of Black Rock City, we encountered the El Pulpo Mecanico art car for the first time in all it's flaming glory and we rode through the towering light tentacles of LumenEssence. After reaching the 3:00 Plaza, we explored back along the Esplande toward our side of the city. We found the Death Guild Thunderdome covered with climbing spectators and stopped to watch the battles inside. Two harnessed fighters were propelled into each other as they swung padded pugil sticks. It was like an intense Gothic version of "American Gladiator". We saw one girl get a bloody nose but she wanted to keep on dueling. We finally left after watching two guys fight while wearing spacesuits. After watching a talented gathering of fire dancers, we made our way home to sleep.

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

White Wednesday - As we were heading to breakfast along the Esplanade, we encountered the exhausted runners participating in the Burning Man 50K Ultramarathon. After starting at 5am, they had only a kilometer left when they reached the turnaround point at the Ferris Wheel that had popped up on the Playa overnight. After eating, we got in line to take the first spin of the day. It was great to have an elevated view of the city for the first time since we arrived. We only rode the wheel once that week, but Wayne and Lisa went on it at least four more times for their two year old son, Tucker. On the walk back, Tori entered the Black Rock Bell telephone booth to "Talk to God". (Turns out God is a woman.) It was a hot morning so we stopped at Pick Heart for some shade and a cool drink before heading back to camp.

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

Yesterday, Jessica and Seth turned up at our camp to borrow a pen and paper so they could leave a note for her mother who was camped right next to us. It turned out that they belonged to Faux Mirage, the Dr. Bronner's Magic Foam Experience theme camp at 2:15 and E on the other side of the city. Seth said public showers are outlawed in Nevada so it is classified as a dance club where participants must dance while they are sprayed down between 1-4pm. Since I was eager for a good shower by Wednesday, Kenny and Jill decided to check it out with me while Tori stayed home to nap. We were invited to join an impromptu soccer game while crossing the Playa, but I wanted my shower more so I told them, "We have an appointment."

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

After being overtaken by a small dust tornado on the far side of the Playa, we found the plastic palm trees outside the large Faux Mirage tent. Before getting inside, we first had to play a couple games to win a token and then find another player holding the token with a matching design. In the shell game, Kenny guessed the correct cup hiding his token, but Jill and I picked wrong and had to move over to the Jenga station for another chance. As soon as I received my token with a rainbow on the bottom, I was immediately snatched up by a "rainbow top" who had been waiting a long time to find a match. Once inside the pounding music of the tent, we saw the large glass cubicle on the left-hand side filled with naked dancers laughing and screaming as they were sprayed from above by members of the camp. Originally I had planned to wear my underwear in the shower despite the instructions to strip nude, but with 95% of the people completely naked in that environment, I actually felt more out-of-place and conspicuous while clothed.

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Wayne Labat (Happy Dragon Photography)

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

After stripping down with everyone else, I danced naked past the small fountain stage at the center of the changing area to join the shower line. When the bathers exited the shower on the other side, my group was herded up the stairs, filling the long rectangular box as cold streams of water rinsed us down. Shivering and packed in tight, we responded to the sprayers' commands to dance as they turned on the hoses and coated us with thick layers of peppermint foam. Despite my best efforts to keep the soap out of my eyes, they began stinging as I scrubbed up, bumping and rubbing against my fellow nudists in the confined space. As the rinsing spray began, I was able to get the foam out of my eyes even as one of my contacts went screwy. It felt so great to be completely clean as we left the shower, but I wasn't able to enjoy it until I could fix my contact. Like everywhere else at Burning Man, people were eager to help as they made room at the small mirror for the naked man who rushed up dripping wet. It felt strangely normal to be surrounded by so many naked people at the same time. I will wear goggles next time, but this was definitely the most iconic experience of the week so far. After I redressed and found Kenny and Jill inside the crowded tent, we stopped at the nearby SPF camp to apply more sunscreen.

© Photo by Wayne Labat (Happy Dragon Photography)

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

Wandering back toward camp along D Street, we stopped at the Skinny Kitty Teahouse for a drink and Destiny Lounge for a "blowjob". (Sprayed with a refreshing mist while standing on a fan platform.) Meeting back up with Tori, Tommy, Wayne and Lisa, we all headed over to Swing City again to join their Sunset Ride out onto the Deep Playa. After the sun descended behind the Calico Mountains, we all joined hands and rolled up into a giant Cinnamon Roll hug. It was calm out there compared to the rest of the city. Before joining everyone for dinner, Tori and I rode out to the Trash Fence that marks the perimeter of Black Rock City. Spread out between the two mountain ranges, the alkali flats continue out of sight for almost 1,000 square miles. After eating, we all went back out on the playa to see Embrace lit up at night. We checked out the illuminated hearts inside the structure as we climbed the staircases into each head and looked out the eyes for a great view of the bright lights on the busy Playa. Before leaving, we learned that Embrace would be burned early Friday morning. Because of my sore leg, I watched as the rest of the group clambered around the spinning Eidolon Panspermia Ostentatia Duodenum (or ePod for short) before we found our way over to the giant military surplus spotlights blazing into the sky. The owner let us control them with his tablet before switching over to the eye controller of a Playstation 3 so Tommy could operate the lights like giant light sabers. Over at the 9:00 Plaza, we watched a talented guitarist before getting in line for grilled cheese sandwiches at MoonCheese. They were so delicious that I got right back in line for a second one. This has been my favorite day so far.

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

Thursday - In the morning, Tori and I biked over to a giant staircase erected down the street from our camp. From the tall platform atop the Jimdiana Jones Virgin Temple, we had a great view of our neighborhood along K Street. Since Tori skipped Faux Mirage on Wednesday, she used Kenny's portable shower after breakfast while I pedaled the tricycle to Center Camp for more ice. In my opinion, biking through the city's street intersections is probably the most chaotic part of Burning Man. There are lots of near-miss collisions as bikers, riding full-speed, converge on the four-way crossings from every direction. One camp set up traffic lights at their corner, but they only used them to induce more havoc as they directed traffic with their bullhorn.

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

Throughout the day, rising winds had started to billow dust across the Playa. Due to Monday's rain, we had not seen anything but the occasional dust devil up until now. For a better view of the Playa after picking up ice, I decided to climb the Cosmic Praise Minaret at the entrance to the 6:00 Portal. I am not afraid of heights, but after my leg cramp scare on Monday, I was nervous climbing the narrow metal ladder rising up the center of the tower. At the top, there was a wonderful 360 degree view of the city while out on the Playa, traveling clouds of white dust obscured the Man under bright blue skies. While admiring the view, a musician pulled out his flute and began to play. After I climbed down, I pedaled across the Playa on my way back to camp, stopping to take pictures of the art installations in the dusty conditions.

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

After Kenny made grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch, we joined Mark and Brit at 4pm to finally visit the finished Temple of Grace. Parking our bikes outside, we passed through the arches into the crowded courtyard of the 70 foot tall temple designed and built by the sculptor, David Best. Hand-written messages, signs and photos lined every surface of the intricately carved wooden dome. Inside, it was very quite and emotional as meditating observers sat in a wide circle around the main altar covered in mementos. The sun filtered through the perforated skin of the dome, revealing different light patterns as I circled the interior. Before we left, Tori and I sat down and wrote a private message on the outside of the temple to be consumed by the flames on Sunday night.

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

Riding down the Promenade to the Man, we entered the surrounding tents of the Caravansary Souk for the first time. Inside, the wooden effigy towered over us, anchored by thick steel cables. Normally, the statue has always been 40 foot tall and standing on top of a pedestal that matches the year's theme, but this year they did away with the pedestal and built him 105 feet tall instead. As frequent dust storms blew through, we explored the gifting marketplace among the tents, including a Library Souk filled with Russian books and the mirrors of the Bizarre Reflection Correction. At the gate, I saw two Federal Park Rangers taking each others picture in front of the Man. The first officer posed with a serious expression so nearby Burners attempted to tease him into smiling for his photo. He maintained his stoic pose, but his partner raised his arms and gave a big smile for the camera to appreciative cheers. On the other side of the souk, we found a large gathering dressed in orange costumes for the Countless Carrot March, a counter-protest to the Billion Bunny March.

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

Leaving the Man, we found a plastic Garden Gnome waiting in my bike basket. A zip-tied note around it's neck identified it as part of the Burning "G"nome Project. If we wanted to participate, we would need to show the gnome a good time around the city as we took pictures. Since Tucker finally woke up from his nap in the side-car of Wayne and Lisa's tandem bike, we spent the rest of our time before dinner chasing a well-rested toddler across the playa as we took Gnome pictures. The first sight that caught Tucker's attention was Mt. Infinity, so we climbed the wooden mountain before he ran off toward the Musical Swings. Tori swung with the gnome while it provided me good luck over at The Toilet Bowl where I bowled a strike on my first attempt. Unfortunately, my gnome was molded in a crouching position with it's head buried in the ground and butt in the air. Without a face, we had to be creative in how we posed with it. Back over at the Hug Deli, my gnome received a Bear Hug while Tori ordered off-menu, the Jump and Twist. Tucker's final destination was the Wind Sound Sanctuary where he pounded on the keys of the wind-powered organ and we witnessed a wedding. I was happy for the couple but it was a pretty pathetic performance from the officiant who gave minimal effort while smoking a cigarette.

© Photo by Wayne Labat (Happy Dragon Photography)

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

After meeting back up with Kenny and Jill at dinner, we all went back out to the Man to see it lit up at night and we climbed aboard the Scorpion art car sitting nearby. The vehicle's entrance was under the flaming tail where I got an unexpected eyeful of a naked dude standing above me on the ladder. I was now used to seeing all the totally nude men wandering around the city, but I still wasn't prepared for the close-up undercarriage view. Nearby, a troupe was preparing for an impromptu circus performance. After they finished setting up their aerial rig, Tori and Lisa climbed onto the trapeze bar to pose with the gnome. After watching the fire dancers, static trapeze and tissue acts, Tori and I headed back to camp with plans to sleep so we could wake early for the Embrace Burn at sunrise. As we were getting ready for bed, Tommy popped by camp and soon Kenny and Jill came back and joined us in our yurt. We came up with the name for our next camp, Thunder Spoon, before joining Wayne and Lisa in their tent for drinks while Tommy regaled us with his crazy late night adventures.

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

Friday - Since the Embrace Burn started at 7am, I decided to wake up extra early to catch the sunrise at 6:19 which rises from the flat lake-bed of the Playa. Tori lingered in bed while I peddled over to the tall staircase in the gray pre-dawn light for an elevated view. Due to the thin layer of clouds along the horizon, I had to wait a while longer with a small group at the top before it's delayed appearance. As Tori and I rode over to Swing City to meet up with Lindsay, Tommy and Brit for our ride out to the Burn, the rising sun turned the sky an intense shade of pink. After parking our bikes beside the Library of Babel, we made our way through the eager crowd within the large circle of parked art cars to the front of the Embrace. There was a half-hour delay before the first plumes of smoke erupted from the heads of the embracing couple. It took only 5 minutes for the engulfing flames to consume the dry wooden skin down to the ground, leaving only the internal framework behind. With the smoke blowing directly away from us, we missed seeing the four dust tornadoes created by the heat traveling toward the crowd behind the burning structure.

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

We watched for almost an hour as the dying flames slowly ate away at the two remaining towers before they brought in a loader to knock them to the ground. The taller framework resisted their efforts but we all cheered when they toppled the smaller one with a few whacks of the extended forklift arm. Before heading back to camp, we went inside the Library of Babel where benches and book shelves lined the interior of the golden-domed mosque. While a hippie prophet preached to a small gathering at the center, we read what others had written throughout the week on the blank parchment of the handmade books. In one corner, a couple seeking shelter had fallen asleep on a bench. The wind began to pick up as we rode back, covering the Inner Playa in a huge dust cloud that would remain for the rest of the day.

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

While our camp was mostly sunny and in a dust-free area, Opulent Temple was in the direct path of the dust storm blowing across the two upper arms of city. My hair turned white from the dust by the time we returned from breakfast. Because of the white-out conditions on the Playa, we relaxed at camp for most of the day while Kenny put on a cape and offered a Goggle Cleaning Service for passersby on K Street. (My Gnome received a ride on one of my favorite art cars, a tiny motorized flying carpet speeding past at 1 mph.) While on another wandering trip to Artica for ice, Tori and I saw our first and only shirt-cocker of the week. We had been warned about them before we arrived, but they were in scarce supply this year. Apparently the practice is dying out due to the only expressed prejudice I could find among this enlightened and open community. Except for maybe a cock ring, most men now walk around completely naked if they wish to lose their pants. While we rarely saw a completely nude woman, plenty go topless and we even saw a few shirt-cunters to make up for the lack of male equivalent.

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

At 7pm, we re-entered the dust storm along the Esplanade to pick up our food, but we didn't stick around to eat it there. Due to the cloud conditions on the way back, we had the most gorgeous sunset of the week. At the staircase, I stopped to take some pictures of the bright pink skies. After it grew dark, we went back to the staircase with Kenny, Jill and Lisa so they could check it out for the first time. It was cool to see the city lit up at night from that vantage point while fireworks exploded over the Playa. While up there, I was waiting for two women to move from a spot near the rail so I could set my camera down to take a long exposure shot. After several minutes, I started to grow a little impatient because it seemed like they were never going to move. Just then I realized that they were Lisa and my wife who hadn't moved away because I wasn't going anywhere either. Between my photo preoccupation and their goggles and dust masks, I totally didn't recognize them. Ha! Back at camp, I used the portable shower to rinse all the dust out of my hair.

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

Saturday (Burn Day) - The dust storm had died down enough by Saturday morning so we were able to eat over at Opulent Temple again. After breakfast, we decided to go return my gnome to the Burning "G"nome Camp. No one was home so we left it with a note and went off to explore more of the city with Kenny and Jill. Our first stop was Woo Woo Camp who were gifting cookies and displaying a table of various spanking implements. (My wife whacked me with the riding crop, but I doubt anyone would use the sledge hammer.) Some of the theme camps were already breaking down in preparation of an early Exodus, but most were still active. One camp gave us snow cones after we danced on their small stage while another offered me a warm Keystone Light from a bucket of hot water. Over by Rod's Road, a guy standing at an intersection offered us tequila so we stopped while he cut lime wedges and filled up the shot glasses from his backpack. After Tori manned a vacant kissing booth for me, we headed back to camp to escape the sun. While nighttime might be when Burning Man comes fully alive, I think I preferred the more relaxed daytime atmosphere even more.

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Wayne Labat (Happy Dragon Photography)

Our camp in the outer suburbs was in the perfect spot, away from the dust storms as well as a good distance from the major sound camps. While the never-ending pulsing techno beats still reached us, they were at a low enough volume that we never needed ear plugs to sleep. The Port-O-Potties were a bit of a walk away but they were always cleaned every morning and were never out of toilet paper. While relaxing in the shade, Dane from the Burning "G"nome Camp showed up to thank us for participating in his project and gave Tori and I gnome necklaces. He told us that he had 9 different gnomes circulating throughout the city. Near 5pm, the camp across the street, Lunar Disco, set up a bar in the street and started serving Irish Car-bombs and S'mores grilled with a propane flame thrower. I think I drank more alcohol on Saturday than I did all week. Lindsay and Tommy dropped by and we took some group camp shots before Tori and I went over to the BRC Post Office to mail postcards.

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

After dinner, we started getting ready for the Man Burn. Warned about losing track of our bikes in the gigantic crowd, we decided to walk out to the Playa instead. The huge circle of Art Cars around the Man dwarfed the number at the Embrace Burn as the city's entire population converged within. It had been dusty all day on the Playa, but the wind died after sunset and we had clear skies over the Man. As we passed through the line of mutant vehicles blasting music and belching flame, the Man began to raise his arms into the air. We waved to Dave and Lindsey atop Swing City's XyloVan as we found a good spot within the huge crowd nearby. As anticipation grew in the festive atmosphere, an Australian Burner and his friends shared their bottles of tequila and rum with us. At 8:30, a shower of yellow sparks erupted from the Man as flames ignited along it's right thigh. Like one long Grand Finale on the 4th of July, the fireworks continued to rocket skyward as the towering flames engulfed the Man's torso. As the head burned, the arms dropped, first the right and then the left. Like the Embrace Burn, it took a long time for the flames to eat away at the well-built structure. A fellow Burner told us that the Man collapsed atop its pedestal last year within 15 minutes while we waited almost two hours for it to burn. We all roared as the reduced skeleton finally fell face-first onto the Playa in a loud crash.

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

Sunday (Exodus) - To avoid a giant exit line and arrive home by Monday night, we decided to skip the Temple Burn on Sunday night and leave during the day instead. As soon as we woke up at 8am, we started breaking down camp. Packing went smoothly but it was 2:30 before the trailer was loaded and secure. We ended our time in Black Rock City with a MOOP Walk of our campsite. Following the last principle of Burning Man, "Leave No Trace", we made sure to leave no trash behind. We expected to be sitting in the Exodus line for 7 hours, but our good luck continued and we were off the Playa in only 2 hours. Traffic was great the rest of the way and we reached the Homewood Suites in Reno by 8:30. A shower never felt so amazing. It felt great to shave as well since my beard was just at the length where it starts to irritate. We all ordered pizzas and reminisced about the week before going to bed.



© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

Monday - After sleeping in and eating breakfast, we left Reno at 11:00 am. We had passed Mono Lake and Yosemite in the dark on the drive up so it was nice to see the scenic area for the first time in the daylight. At 8:30, we stopped for dinner north of Los Angeles at the Kramer Junction Roadhouse. (The chili was very tasty!) After a long day driving, we finally made it back to Kenny's house after midnight to drop off the trailer. Tori and I were exhausted by the time we crawled into our own bed at 2:00 am. On Tuesday, I went back over to Kenny's to help unload the trailer and return it to Dave's house. After washing the playa dust off my brother's Tahoe and returning it, our Burning Man adventure was complete.

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

© Photo by Noah Unsworth

Lessons Learned - Next time I go to Burning Man, I will need to bring a bike with a kickstand so I won't need to lie it on the ground every time. I also want to find warmer costumes for the chilly nights and bring more gifts to hand out. My feet survived wearing only sandals for most of the week, but I will attempt to wear shoes more often next time. The best items we bought for Burning Man were our Hydroflasks. Their vacuum seal kept the water ice cold all day even if it sat out in the sun. Our giant jar of pickles was also great! The acidity of the pickle juice tasted wonderful in the alkaline environment of the Playa. I would also repeat purchasing the Dub Gypsies meal plan since it saved a lot of time and energy that we used to explore the city.

Link to my complete 2014 Burning Man photo album on Facebook

Link to my new 2015 Burning Man post

Link to my complete 2015 Burning Man photo album on Flickr