After 2015, we decided we wanted to camp in a RV or travel trailer the next time we went to Burning Man. Camping in a hexayurt was fine for a couple years, but now we wanted access to our own shower. After skipping the Burn for two years, everything came together this year for our return to the Playa. Our friend who has been running Black Rock City Airport for several years, was put in charge of the Burner Express Air charter service and offered us volunteer positions with free Burning Man tickets. I also bought a new truck in January that could tow a small trailer. With those two pieces in place, I started looking for an used trailer to purchase. While there were a lot of long trailers available for cheap, all the shorter ones were being snapped up before I could buy one. In May, I finally managed to find a 2007 Fleetwood Mallard Sport 18CK that was the perfect size and weight for my truck. It was in good condition, but we still had to spend time and money getting it ready for the long pull to Northern Nevada. (New Tires, Batteries, Portable Generator and installing a Solar Panel on the roof as well as paying for Long Term Storage.) I was overwhelmed at first but I slowly learned all the different electrical, water and propane systems in order for us to live off-grid for over a week in the desert.
With all our supplies loaded, Tori and I started driving North on Thursday night to get past Los Angeles and avoid the Friday rush hour traffic. This was the longest I had pulled the trailer so I was nervous in the beginning, but I gradually got the hang of it. Driving up the long grade through the Cajon Pass on the I-15 was slow going, but not too bad. We planned to park and sleep in a Walmart parking lot in Victorville but we decided to push on to the Coso Junction Rest Stop where me met up with Kenny and Jill who were driving their RV. (I could barely keep my eyes open when we arrived after 2am.) We were back on Highway 395 by 7:30, driving through the Eastern Sierra Mountains and made it to Carson Valley Inn Casino by early afternoon where we had reserved spots in their RV Park. After picking up the last of our supplies at the nearby Walmart (Cobb Salad and Tire Emporium - Inside Joke) and filling our water and gas tanks, we had a relaxing evening with cocktails as we taped up the windows of our trailer with reflective screen to help keep out the desert heat. With only a few hours sleep the previous night, we went to bed early.
Since we had Early Arrival tickets, we started on the final leg of our journey Saturday morning instead of Sunday. Our friend, Wayne, who had been towing his trailer all the way from Texas finally met up with us at the gas station in Wadsworth. Except for Kenny's RV getting a flat tire outside Nixon, we had no delays on Highway 447 as we caravaned up to Gerlach and the Black Rock Desert. Normally we would spend 8 hours in backed up traffic on this road before reaching the Playa. Instead, we made it onto Gate Road by 1:45pm and only waited 4 hours in intermittent white-out conditions before we reached the dusty Box Office to pick up our Will Call tickets. It was sunset after passing the Greeters and pulling into the Black Rock City Airport to set up camp. It was a tight fit but we managed to squeeze our three trailers behind Dave's new 13' Kiiking Swing. Instead of having to fire up our small generator, I was surprised that we were able to plug into the BxA electrical grid. We felt pretty spoiled as we cooked the first meal in our trailer and hung out with our friends and played on the Kiiking Swing. The Kiiker is a standing swing that has solid metal bars instead of chains that allow the swinger to go upside down as they swing over the top. Since Saturday night was a Full Moon, Dave swung naked, per his tradition to fly in the nude either on the Kiiker or his Trapeze Rig back home in Escondido.
Sunday was the dustiest day of the entire Burn without a trace of blue sky overhead. I was grateful that we made it in the day before since the howling winds shut down Gate Road for several hours during the day. After working on our camp at the Airport, Tori, Jill and I headed out at noon to explore Black Rock City. Biking down 5:00, people were hard at work constructing their camps as the city slowly filled up. One theme camp was erecting a forty foot tower. Dust Storms were blowing across the Inner Playa as we passed a large line of art cars waiting to register with the DMV, the Department of Mutant Vehicles. Emerging from one storm on the inner playa, we came across two Train Locomotives facing each other down on the same track. Called the Great Train Wreck, they were destined to collide on Friday night in a big explosion. After posing with the Da Vinci Wings, constructed at Mountain Forge in Truckee, we played on the SW)*(NG created by Trina Medina and Mark Cadrin. With padded seats, it is the nicest swing-set I have seen at Burning Man.
The art piece that most drew our attention was the potentially fatal Night at the Climb In by Dustin Weatherford. I called it the "Car Kebab" since it looked like a giant skewer with seven cars and a small trailer pierced down the middle, but Dave kept calling it “Ready Player One” during the week since it seemed inspired by the Steve Spielberg movie. Despite the strong winds, we knew we needed to climb it now before it got shut down early in the Burn. (That ended up happening on Tuesday.) I made it to the top of 5th car in the scary stack before I met Tori and Jill on their way back down, relaxing in the back seat of the car above me. Tori had made it to the Travel Trailer at the top of the stack while Jill climbed the ladder into the higher crow’s nest. It was extremely windy at the top. I should have worn gloves because I cut my hands three times on the sharp metal surfaces. They were all minor nicks but I was happy I had an up-to-date Tetanus shot. Climbing down on the crowded structure was scarier than the way up.
Fighting the strong headwinds as we pedaled back to camp on Airport Road, we passed one of the coolest Mutant Vehicles, a chromed out hot-rod built by Mirage Garage. In camp, we helped Wayne erect his portable Aerial Rig in the center area between our trailers and the Kiiking Swing. (When the wind died down on Monday, we draped a large Aluminet shade cloth over the top of the rig.) Wayne climbed up and tested out the Trapeze Bar, facing the full brunt of the dust storm above the protective wind brake of the surrounding vehicles. Tommy and Tori played around on the Static Trapeze for a little while before we all sought shelter within Wayne's tent. Waiting out the storm with friends and drinks, we could tell Jill was starting to regret asking Tommy to braid her hair from the pain on her face. Ha!
After 6pm, the winds began to die down and we left camp with Dave and Lindsay as they drove their Electric Tricycle out to join their former camp-mates for the Swing City Sunset Ride in Deep Playa. Wayne provided fire safety for Kevin’s Fire Breathing as we watched the sun disappear over the surrounding mountain range. Due to my aggravated hip injury earlier in the summer, I didn't join in with the rest of the acrobatics, but I did base Tori in Bird on Hands. Leaving the Playa at twilight, Kenny met up with us as we arrived at Swing City's camp (9:00 and I) to swing on their Traveling Rings. After watching for awhile, I took my first ever swings on their scaffolding rig. I had a painful shoulder from Flying Trapeze my first two trips to Burning Man so I had never attempted the rings before. It went better than I expected. I also tried the new Trebuchet, a round metal platform with a tall pole in the middle that rocked in all directions with a heavy counterweight underneath. (Imagine a stripper pole that swings around and tries to throw you off like an angry bull.) It was scary the first time it tipped almost horizontal, but I soon learned to shift my weight quickly as the pole whipped to the other side. On our way back to camp, we stopped at Random Acts of Cupcake (5:00 and B) to don the Mystical Goggles of Enlightenment and spin the Double Discs of Deliciousness. Blindfolded, I guessed the correct frosting flavor on my mini-cupcake but I was wrong on the topping.
After cooking dinner in our trailer, we headed back out into the city at 11pm. Reaching the Playa, we had our first encounter with the ever changing faces of Moon Dancer, a wonderful art piece by Lekha Washington. The illuminated balloon, painted deep black on one side, mimicked the different phases of the moon's cratered surface as it rotated in the air. My short video of the dancing moon almost colliding with the Vapor Vette is the most popular thing I have ever posted on Instagram with almost 3,000 likes and over 30,000 views. Everybody loved the piece with many people commenting how they got disoriented trying to use it as a directional frame of reference, not realizing that it was being towed by around by a bicycle. Our group stopped at the Lodestar, created by the New York artist, Randy Polumbo. Built from an old military jet tilted upright onto its nose, it had an observation deck where the tail belonged. It had a huge line so we didn't attempt to climb to the top. Roaming around, we checked out several more art pieces, including the rotating light barrels of The Heart and the Hollow by Chad Rice. We ended up at Center Camp where the Eye Robot stood guard outside, a beam of light emitting from its single giant eye. It reminded me of Sauron from the Lord of the Rings. Since Tori and I had to work our first shift early the next morning at the Airport, we headed back to camp at midnight.
Monday morning, we woke up early for our first shift at Black Rock City Airport for Burner Express Air. Tori was Escort/Baggage, guiding passengers and their bags safely from their planes to the gate where I was the Customs Fixer, checking arriving passengers against the flight manifests and making sure they had their Burning Man Tickets before sending them on to the Box Office. One passenger did not have her ticket, flying in with just her email confirmation instead of the actual ticket. Helen spent several hours stuck at the gate hanging out with me as she waited for her courier to deliver the physical ticket to the San Carlos Airport so one of our charter pilots could fly it in. When her friend arrived on a later flight, I had my first encounter with a celebrity. My wife and I had recently watched Big Little Lies on HBO so it was strange to be chatting with the star, Shailene Woodley, as she kept Helen company at the gate. They were both relieved when the ticket finally arrived at 1pm, an hour before my shift ended. When we got off work, Angela and Victoria helped Kenny and I cover the aerial rig with the Aluminet shade cloth. They were camping right next to us at the Airport so we helped cover their tent with a shade cloth as well.
After Sunday’s heavy dust storms, we had beautiful blue skies on Monday. At 5pm, Tori and I joined Dave, Lisa and Tommy to explore the Playa, taking a short cut through the Walk-In Camping Area to reach Black Rock City from the Airport. Our first stop was A Tribute to Larry Harvey by Mischell Phoenix Riley. Larry, the founder of Burning Man passed away at 70, four months before this year's burn. Tori photobombed my attempt to take a serious art photo. Bad and Wrong! Ha! Passing a dance party formed around a mobile bar on the playa, we reached the giant puppets of the Step Forward - Joining Minds art project. An aerial contortionist, Irina Kazakova, was rehearsing for her sunset performance, suspended in straps next to the female puppet, Euterpe. You can witness her amazing flexibility in the video below. (@sunallure)
Further out on the Playa, we stopped at the Great Train Wreck, two 40 foot train engines built out of wood by "Collaborative Artisans Reno Sacramento". Tommy performed a handstand atop the Reno Locomotive as a puff of smoke emerged from the stack. At first, I thought it was shooting out dust which would have been awesome! Tori and I attempted a Flag Pose aboard the Sacramento Special Locomotive. I felt stable on the narrow platform, four feet off the ground, but Tori was hesitant to let go with her second hand. Tommy hung from his legs out the window and it reminded me of the old 1926 silent film “The General” with Buster Keaton and all of his dangerous train stunts.
Beyond the trains we reached a life-size replica skeleton of the Velafrons Coahuilensis, a dinosaur that lived 72 million years ago in the Cretaceous period. Called Ichiro Sacred Beings, the art piece was created by Marianela Fuentes, Arturo Gonzalez and Sarahi Carrillo. The dinosaur was decorated with the art of the Huichol, an indigenous tribe of Mexico that lives where the dinosaur once roamed. On a platform behind it, a fierce T-Rex was transporting forward in time to attack the Playa through a magic portal. Riding on, we visited the simple but sweet Honey Bear III by fnnch. During a brief dust storm, we found a woman resting under RadiaLumia, a geodesic dome with white petals that slowly opened and closed. She ended up finding my picture on Instagram and asking for a full resolution copy.
Towering over the Playa stood a 34 foot high Polar Bear on his hind legs. Made from white car hoods beaten into shape, the Long View sculpture was created by Don Kennell and Arctic Burn 505. After visiting the Chilopod slide shaped like a huge spider, we took turns swinging on the art piece that caused the most injuries on the playa, the Seesaw Wave Machine by Nick Geurts and Ryan Elmemdorf. For a safer ride on one of the 21 seasaws, make sure to hold the rope securely before getting on and off the wooden seat. Many people were smacked in the face by the wood seat when their partner on the other side, jumped on or off unexpectedly. Nearby was Singularity by Rebekah Waites, a farmhouse sitting within a broken birdcage. Inside, we found a series of shrinking cages trapping smaller and smaller houses. We had fun crawling through the multiple nesting layers.
Since it was getting close to sunset, we headed out into the deep playa to meet up with the Swing City Sunset Ride. Along the way, we found a circle of Do Not Enter signs re-purposed with a positive message called, “We are the ones we have been waiting for” by Scott Froschauer. We also enjoyed climbing up onto Paul’s Chair, created by the artist, Star of Peace Quinn. The giant chair reminded me of the hours Tori and I spent screwing together two Adirondack chairs for our deck. There were a million pieces! As we met up with Swing City, we found Victoria already out there and we practiced some AcroYoga. I took turns counterbalancing Tori, Tommy, Victoria and Lindsay in Low Flag and I also worked on basing Victoria in Hand to Hand. Lindsay got to fly with two of her former Swing City camp-mates, Chris Filkins and Lux. Despite the poor quality due to low light, I loved watching Tori and Tommy bounce on a trampoline full of bleating rubber goats in the video below on our ride back through the city. Ha!
Monday night was the last evening to play on Night at the Climb In before it was closed for the remainder of the Burn. After cooking dinner back at camp, we went bar hopping with Tommy in Black Rock City. After a few drinks and getting butt stamps, we headed toward the Esplanade. In front of the Sextant theme camp, we watched buzzing lighting bolts arching between two 32-foot Tesla Coils, the bright sparks competing with the Full Moon and Military Searchlights to provide the most light on the Playa.
Suburbia at the 7:30 Portal was playing Tori's favorite music so we hung out there for awhile before going out on to the Playa. Our first encounter was with BAAAHS, the Big-Ass Amazingly Awesome Homosexual Sheep. We had seen this soundcar many time before but this was our first time waiting in line to slide down into the Sheep's Pink Anus. Once inside the converted school bus, we made our way to the dance floor on the roof where the DJ's were spinning records. After midnight, we began making our way back on the long journey to the airport passing Observerman on the way. I loved this neon version of the Man mounted onto bikes instead with movable arms.
For our second shift at Burner Express Air on Tuesday morning, Tori and I switched jobs as she moved over to the arrival gate to be the Customs Fixer while I worked with the rest of the Baggage/Escorts along the flight line. After the Ramp Marshalls guided the taxiing planes to their parking spot and the propellers stopped, we would pull the baggage carts out to the plane and greet the passengers and guide them safely back to the terminal without losing any stragglers. It was a fun job since most of them were excited to be arriving in Black Rock City, many for the first time. Letting the Virgins know about the Daft Punk concert out at the Trash Fence was an important service we provided as well as teaching them Radical Self-Reliance as they loaded and pulled their own bags back to the gate. To shelter from the sun between flights, we rested on a former amusement park shuttle bus (Busch Gardens in Van Nuys) that was used to pick up passengers from the helicopters which land far from the gate.
After our shift ended at 2pm, Tori took a nap while I went over to the BRTA Camp located at Black Rock City Airport (88NV) along the Trash Fence at Point 5. Black Rock Travel Agency is the theme camp for pilots, airport volunteers and other visitors to the airport who want a drink and listen to live bands. I climbed the narrow scaffolding to the Crow's Nest at the top of the Starport for a bird's eye view of the Airport. In the panoramic photo below, you can see the layout of the airport. We were camped in the cluster of RV’s in the upper left of the picture behind the two Burner Express Buses. The large brown tents were the departure terminal and the orange structure with the solar panel roof was the arrival gate with the striped Airport Control Tower next to it. Beyond the Trash Fence to the right were all the parked private planes. Many pilots camp in tents right next to their planes. All day Mutant Vehicles would drive up to the airport to pick up their camp mates arriving by plane. Those without a Mutant Shuttle ride, either waited for the Burner Express Bus to take them into the city or ended up taking the long walk down Airport Road.
While our friend, Wayne, towed his travel trailer out from Texas, his wife flew in like a Sparkle Pony on Tuesday afternoon. After Lisa arrived and settled in, she went for a bike ride with Tori and me as we tried to find a fellow Burner who had offered to carve a wooden sign for our camp. This was our second attempt to locate his camp and though we failed, we did find What’s your Sign? Camp at 2:30 and I instead. Since so many Black Rock official street signs are stolen, the camp's mission was to paint new signs to help replace them. We had fun making signs for the Airport and the name of our own camp, Camp Thunderspoon.
After returning to camp, I went for a sunset photo ride out on the Playa by myself. Along the way, I stopped at the Unnecessarily High Five located at 4:30 and D. I was able to slap the third highest hand, but I could not reach the top two. I discovered a mannequin's hand is not exactly the softest thing to slap. My first stop on the playa was Baba Yaga’s House perched on mechanical chicken legs. Created by Jessi Sprocket Janusee and the Baba Yaga’s Book Club, the witch’s home is poised to run at a moment’s notice. I climbed the ladder and went inside, but it was too crowded so I didn't wait to climb up into the loft at the top. Nearby, I stopped at Tell me Yours, I’ll Tell you Mine by the artist, Emma Shield. Confessors can either enter the private Confessional Booth or speak publicly at the lectern.
As the sun descended toward the mountain ridge, I could hear the Spanish-accented voices of Euterpe and her grandfather, Alberto, as they walked across the Playa, commenting on all the art installations and mutant vehicles that crossed their path. As I circled the two giant puppets hoisted by telehandler forklifts, I was asked if I would like to help operate the puppets. They took care of my bike for me as they handed over the rope controlling Euterpe’s left arm. Operating the left arm of Euterpe as she strode across the Playa was the highlight of my Burn. Whenever she spotted a cool art installation, I raised her arm to point. As the sun set, she howled. Walking backwards and holding onto the heavy rope was quite a workout. I am so glad I got participate just a little bit in the Step Forward - Joining Minds art project by Carros De Foc.
After the sun set and I relinquished my line, I reclaimed my bike and headed over to The ORB! This giant art piece from Denmark was the main point of reference for most people trying to navigate the playa this year. It was very cool, but I wish I could have seen it before the collecting dust obscured its mirror-like surface. Heading out towards the Deep Playa, I passed one of my favorite Mutant Vehicles at the Burn this year, Auto Disco Dance Bot. "Oh, look at them! So Shiny, So Chrome!" I was drawn towards the skeleton wearing the giant set of Mongolian Armor. Created by Lu Ming of China, Desert Guard stood 50 feet tall and weighed 10 tons. Further out, I found Crypto Forest by Geoff Landrum. After I took a few pictures of the three lighted trees with a BitCoin symbol at the top, a fellow Burner came up to me and we discussed what we thought the artist was trying to express with this piece.
During the two years we skipped Burning Man, I had heard about the Boeing 747 that was slowly being transformed into a mutant vehicle. This year, I found Big Imagination 747 towed out into the Deep Playa on its giant landing gear. While I have ridden in a 747 many times, this is the first time I have seen one close up from ground level. Even with its stubby wings turned into outdoor balconies, it towered over me as I slowly circled the aircraft. I wanted to go inside but they were still closed as they prepared to open at 11pm for an all-night dance party. As twilight faded, I started riding back to camp but I stopped to check out the colorful Rainbow Bridge by Josh Zubkoff. The walkable bridge was 30’ high and 75’ long and the stairs on each end were very steep.
I made one final stop at an art piece on my return trip across the Playa to the airport. Made of hundreds of recycled plastic bottles, RE-CYCLONE was assembled into the shape of a tornado. While it was supposed to rotate, the creators could not get it vertical enough to spin. It was still a mesmerizing light show of ever-changing colors. After dinner, we were all sitting around camp when we head a loud buzzing sound. Investigating, we found our neighbor, Glenn, carving a wooden portrait of a fellow Burner with a Chainsaw! After he finished, Lindsay posed for Glenn's next one, wearing earplugs for the noise and a protective cloak to help keep off the wood chips and sawdust flying in her direction. After carving her portrait, he used a roofing torch to darken the wood and highlight the wood grain. After wire brushing off the excess ash, he applied a protective lacquer to seal it off. Because a chainsaw is pretty loud, Glenn’s camp was located next to ours out at the Black Rock City Airport. He also carved the Bird Brain sculptures displayed in front of the terminal.
Since we didn't have to wake up early for a work shift at the airport on Wednesday morning, Tori and I slept in and made some tasty breakfast burritos in our trailer. While Jay french-braided Tori's hair, I hung out for a bit with Kenny as he worked on splicing together two 30 Amp Extension Cords. A little before noon, we headed out to Center Camp to practice our AcroYoga. Along the way we passed the roped-off Night at the Climb In that was closed the day before. The sagging red car in the middle of the stack looked like it was slowly splitting in two. Along the Esplanade, we also stopped to check out Twist Hanger, a three dimensional game of Twister with handholds for players to climb on.
Back in 2014, Tori and I saw AcroYoga being performed for the first time in Center Camp. We were so impressed that we started learning it as soon as we returned home. Sadly, I aggravated a muscle injury before Burning Man 2015 so I had to take it easy and rest my hip during the Burn. During the two years that we skipped Burning Man, we spent countless hours practicing and we were happy that we could finally play in the same spot that inspired us. While we warmed up and stretched, we watched a guy practicing his one-arm handstands while several other couples flowed around the circle performing Contact Improvisation Dancing. The ground was much harder than I was expecting so Tori and I worked on our more confident AcroYoga poses and washing machines that didn't need a safety spot. It was nice to receive a compliment from a fellow burner watching us after we finished our hour of practice.
Hot and sweaty from AcroYoga, we headed straight for Foam Against the Machine at 2:30 and G. Along the way, we ate a Red Bean Bao from Bao Chicka Wow Wow camp. The line outside the Foam Showers was pretty short as we joined the other dusty Burners eager for a spray down. We made it under the dome within 15 minutes, but because they were having technical difficulties we ended up spending about an hour standing around naked in the crowded tent before it was our turn. It was worth it! Wet Wipes and a spray bottle of vinegar water can’t compete with the powerful blasts of Foam at this awesome camp. On our way back to the airport, we saw a modified version of a Kiiker Swing. Instead of the swinger needing to pump themselves over the top with leg muscles alone, the operator on the left helps them by turning the crank.
At 6pm, Wayne and I headed back to Center Camp to join Trey Ratcliff's Sunset Photo Walk across the Playa. I have been a fan of his photography skills since my first burn in 2014. While Trey gave his initial talk, the Lamplighters performed their fire-lighting ceremony before heading out to hang lanterns along the streets of Black Rock City. We stayed with the walk during the first two art stops, but Wayne and I ended up splitting off since the Photo Walk was following a route I had already visited many times. Chasing after the Lamplighters, I got a good shot of them hanging lights along the 3 o’clock road. Nearby, I found Notorious B.A.D., a metal dragon created by Canadian Kyle Jensen. It had a sign that said, "Do not Climb, Free Tetanus!" I took a couple of great photos as the sunset gave the wings a golden glow.
As I was taking pictures of the Notorious B.A.D dragon, a nice girl rode up to me and asked if I could take some pictures of her wearing her Unicorn Headdress. My amateur attempt at a fashion shoot was fun and I did my best but I am more comfortable capturing candids. Ha! After she thanked me, I headed toward BEBOT filled with climbers watching the sunset. This friendly robot from England was created by Andrea Greenlees, Andy Tibbetts and Josh Haywood. (After the burn, Andrea asked me for a full resolution photo of her installation that I captured below.) Turning around from the waving BEBOT, I had a great view of The Man back-lit by the setting sun.
Across from the Man was Robot Resurrection that stood 30 feet tall and was made from reclaimed airplane parts by Shane Evans of Denver. From the cockpit within the chest, the operator can articulate the arms and shoot flames from its hands and mouth. (I like the little 🐦 sitting on his shoulder.) I also stopped at the Traveling Sound Museum to listen to the six Sound Barrels filled with ancient sounds from around the world, including the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Italy during the Roman Empire. Out in the deep playa, I watched burners swing on the Kinesios pendulum created by the ND Collective of Nashville. I also circled the Temple of Galaxia, admiring the twenty wooden trusses spiraling up to converge at the peak, but I did not go in since I wanted to return later with Tori.
I rode my bike through the 200 foot long Ocean Tunnel, painted with murals of marine life along the interior. This art installation from San Diego shows a healthy ocean at the beginning and depicts the slow degradation due to over-fishing and climate change along its length. At the far end, the tunnel mouth frames a view of the 40 foot tall Bloom jelly fish, created by Peter Hazel from Reno. I climbed the stairs to the lower deck concealed by the tentacles where I saw a skateboarder being towed by an art car. Climbing the ladder, I reached the top observation deck covered with glass bowls wired into the frame where I watched the activity of the surrounding Playa as the pink sky faded.
Riding my bike back to camp, I passed BEBOT waving to the Man in the darkening twilight. As I stopped to take a picture of Transcendent Souls, a great flaming ball of propane in the distance illuminated the sky and revealed a couple making out on the swing hanging beneath the giant hands clasping a heart. Near the Esplanade, the strong winds blew a horizontal sheet, flapping and snapping in the breeze.
Entering the city, I passed the Clay Men of the Five Deserts pulling their large Color Wheels out onto the Playa. Tracking the flashing lights, I turned down a side street to find noisy Propane Cannons lighting up the night with their powerful twin blasts of flame. They were super loud! (This was one of the hardest pictures I tried to capture since it was so hard to get the timing right.) After dinner back at camp, we all headed out again to visit Swing City and go bar hopping along 9 o'clock road. Like every Burn, we made a stop at Moon Cheese for grilled cheese sandwiches. We went back in line for seconds.
Looking for port-a-potties, I led everyone out to the closest ones on the Playa along the 9 o'clock road. On the way back we stopped for Hugs at Mikey’s Hug Deli. I ordered a “Warm + Fuzzy” with a side order of "Spanking" and had to pay with three complements. Back on the Esplanade, we ended up for the rest of the night at Kostume Kult, the New York-based theme camp with its Empire State Building, Chrysler Building and Brooklyn Bridge. It played my favorite dance music in Black Rock City. We danced until Tori and I headed back to sleep at midnight.
After a lazy Thursday morning lounging around our camp by the airport, Kenny rolled out his huge evaporation tarp and opened his Hair Washing Salon. After three mostly dust-free days, the winds picked up and I got some great photos where it was hard to tell where the playa surface ended and the blowing dust began. His blue tarp looked like a magic carpet flying through the clouds as he washed our camp mates' hair. At 2pm, I went out to explore with Trapeze Dave and Lindsay. At the 3:00 Plaza, we met the friendly Washing Machine roaming the crossroads with its power cord trailing behind. On our way out to the Playa, we passed Rearing Horse, a mechanical steed created by Barry Crawford of Elko, NV.
Entering the playa, we headed straight for Lodestar since it looked like there was no line at the normally crowded art installation. We found no line since the interior was closed until sunset. We did climb the short spiral ladder and peak inside the door of the old military jet tipped up onto its nose cone. I got a cool picture of the observation deck above from directly below the tail. I loved the shadow cast onto the playa surface by the tall structure.
Criss-crossing the playa, we visited the porch swing hanging from the Transcendent Souls art installation and Euterpe standing next to her giant chair wearing her third costume change of the Burn. Beyond, we bicycled to Uncle Charlie’s Red Hot Cock which has the body of a Rooster and the head of a Jackal. At night, this steel teeter-totter would howl flames while it rocked back and forth. On this blustery day, we had a Tandem Windsurfer speed past us and disappear into the dust.
One of our last stops was Moment of Indecision by Henry Washer. The slouching statue appeared to reference Atlas from Greek Mythology who was forced by Zeus to hold up the Celestial Sphere (aka the Sky). An Interesting Factoid: The Atlantic Ocean is named after this Greek Titan and means “Sea of Atlas”. I also took a few pictures of the playa dust blown into little dunes on the surface of the dry lake-bed.
On the way back to the airport, I made one of my many stops at the Fresh Squeezed! theme camp along 5:00 road for Lemonade and Vodka. Back at camp we hung out under the shade cloth of the aerial rig while Tommy demonstrated his Mermaid routine on the Static Trapeze bar. He used to perform as an acrobat in the Pirates Voyage show in Myrtle Beach and once he had to fill in for a female performer after she fell sick. With the wig and mermaid tail, the audience didn't notice the stand-in. Ha!
Late Thursday, a group of Burners from China arrived at Black Rock City Airport with expired Will Call Tickets that had already been redeemed. Since they were still trapped behind the gate when the airport shut-down at 6pm, we took our Snack Food Glory Hole over to cheer them up. (They never quite grasped the concept of the glory hole, sticking their hands through instead of putting their mouth up to the hole for treats but they had a fun time and gave us sodas in return.) Their camp-mates already in the city brought out supplies for them as well. Since they refused to board a bus back to Reno, they ended up spending the night in the tiny airport terminal. I never found out the exact details but I learned that their ticket situation was cleared up in the morning before I woke up and they were able to enter the city. Good for them!
During sunset, I captured a great picture of the Electric Dandelion glowing at the center of Black Rock City Airport. This 27’ LED sculpture was created by Abram Santa Cruz / Liquid PXL from Los Angeles. We spent most of the early evening playing on the Kiiking Swing. Trapeze Dave brought two swings to Burning Man this year, the 11 foot swing he erected at Swing City and his newest 13 foot Kiiker mounted on a trailer at the Airport. Many people who successfully make it over the top of the 11’ swing, struggle with the extra length of his newest swing. Less than 20% of those who tried the new one made it over the top without exhausting themselves first. One guy brought his whole camp out to the airport to try it. They loved it! The video below is Tommy using his skills and leg strength to go over the top.
During all the Kiiking, John and Jay demonstrated Shibari ("to tie decoratively"), a type of Japanese rope suspension bondage called Kinbaku ("tight binding"). Jay hung from the trapeze bar while John tied the intricate knots that suspended her above the ground. At 10 pm, we all headed over to Black Rock Bardello where a few of our fellow Burner Express Air volunteers were camping. They had invited us to The Great Canadian Beaver Eating Contest. We only stayed to watch one round but it was quite the Burning Man experience, watching two young couples compete head to head on stage to assume the most acrobatic position possible while snacking down.
On our way out to visit The Man Pavilion for the first time, Dave crashed into an unlit couch in the dark with his Electric Trike. After some emergency repair on a bent wheel, we were on our way with no worse the wear. The Man was 40 feet tall this year standing on fortress-like structure with steep stairs on either side. Individual art pieces matching the iRobot theme lined the upper walkway. My favorites were Squidartha by Alexander “Wolf” Griffin, Mel’s Makerbot by Leland Johnson and Creu Hudol (Magical Being), a wood and glass sculpture created by Kelly Smith Cassidy.
Heading out to the Deep Playa, we all visited the Temple of Galaxia, constructed of twenty wooden trusses spiraling up to converge at the peak. I loved the contrast between the interior temple light and the personal lights of the burners surrounding the base. This temple was designed by architect Arthur Mamou-Mani and was built in Reno and Oakland before being assembled on the Playa. There were so many cool angles in the interior. The night sky visible through the roof reminded me of the Black Hole at the center of our Milky Way Galaxy.
I spent Friday morning hanging around camp and firing up my small personal generator for the first time all week. Up until Thursday night, we were plugged into the Burner Express Air electrical grid but with more and more people filling the camp during the week, it started to overload the capacity of the giant generator. The nice thing about using our own generator was now we had enough power to turn on our trailer's AC during Tori's mid-day naps. One of the drawbacks of a trailer is that it doesn't stay cool like the insulated yurt we camped in before.
After taking pictures of Tommy going over the top on the Kiiking Swing in his Rainbow Speedos, Lisa went out to The Man with Tori and I to take some AcroYoga photos. As I was basing Tori in High Foot to Hand, Tommy found us out on the Playa with Brit and his sister, Jen. Together, we all headed over and posed as a group on the giant word sculpture created by Laura Kimpton and Jeff Schomberg. This year, their distinctive metal letters spelled out Ha Ha... with three little dots.
Over at the Rainbow Bridge, we had fun posing under the tall arch. It was the first time I ever based Tori on my shoulders in a Two High without a spot. If I could do the photo over again I would stand closer to the camera instead of standing directly under the arch. The stairs on each end of the bridge were very steep but we had great views of the playa and the nearby ORB from the top. When I returned home, my brother told me his friend was hurt when someone slipped off the stairs and landed on top of him. Ouch!
I visited the giant Desert Guard again but this time I came closer and found the big surprise hidden under the skirt of his Mongolian Armor. I had really enjoyed visiting the 40 foot tall Bloom Jellyfish on Wednesday so I led my friends over to check out the observation deck under the glass dome, glowing like a shiny jewel in the desert.
I had seen others swing on the giant Kinesios pendulum, but this time we all stood in line to take a turn. Once we climbed aboard, we all had to work together to make it swing higher and higher. It was very fun! The two steel pillars on either side of the pendulum were stamped with binary code on one side and chaotic symbols on the other to show the contrast between man and machine. Nearby, we checked out, TBD, a hand-formed steel sculpture built by Michael Christian of Berkeley. The flowing mesh bulbs reaching 15 feet high reminded me of his Brain Child piece we saw at the 2015 Burn.
While Tori went back to camp for her first air-conditioned nap of the week, I headed over to Swing City with Dave and Lindsay. Out front, a slackliner was balancing over our heads on the mid-line while the Traveling Rings were busy. I took a bunch of pictures trying to get the ringers and slackliner in the same shot. Dave starting strapping people into his Kiiking Swing and a line quickly formed with Burners attempting to go over the top. Daniel showed Dave all his new tricks, letting go of the bars with his hands while upside down and also proving he could pull down his pants while spinning around and around. I edited that naked part out of my video below. Ha!
While I waited in line for my turn on the Traveling Rings, another slackliner was practicing her straddle splits while balancing on one shoulder right over my head. Lindsay filmed me as I swung out on the rings in my little Zebra shorts and had my cleanest run of the Burn. I am glad my shoulder is finally healthy enough to play on the rings. After the camp gathered to take their group photograph, I took one of Modern Tarzan and Travis Brewer Ninja performing a Standing Hand To Hand atop the tall scaffolding. Lots of Trust, right there!
Leaving Swing City, I went out for my final exploration of the Playa during sunset. My favorite time at Burning Man! Passing the Black Rock Roller Disco, I saw a skater in a red skirt who was really talented, spins and everything, while naked skydivers came in for a landing nearby under their colorful parachutes. We saw a lot of them getting ready to board the jump planes out at the airport. I followed the Monaco art ship as it set sail across the Playa and I watched the sun set into the mountains under the arch of the Rainbow Bridge.
As I rode out to the trash fence on the outer perimeter I stopped for a quiet, contemplative look at the Sonic Runway that becomes a frenzy of activity at night. Created by Rob Jensen and Warren Trezevant, the lights of this 1000’ art piece visualize the speed of sound traveling down its length, most dramatically when a Sound Car pumping music is parked in front. On the other end, I came across In Every Lifetime I Will Find You by Michael Benisty for the first time. Since I am a bit of a romantic, I think this 25’ stainless steel sculpture polished to a mirror-like finish may have been my favorite piece.
Heading back to camp, I finally stopped at Perpetual Consumption Apparatus constructed out of interlocking shopping carts by Clayton Blake Art. I kept spotting this piece in the distance when I was exploring the Playa but it took me ‘til Friday before I made it over to check out. Approaching Cosmic Voyager from the back, I had no clue what the piece by Martin Taylor actually was until I made my way around to the front and saw that it was a sculpture of a sea turtle. I laughed when I realized I had been taking several artistic photos of its butt. Across the 6 o'clock road was Free Squirt by Abraham Raphael. Squirt was a Giant Underground Octopus (Translumina Octopoda) that lived under the Playa before being caught and trapped in a jar. I had a nice chat with him about his desire to escape captivity. Surrounding All Power to All People by Hank Willis Thomas of New York were several speakers playing powerful speeches from the Civil Rights Movement. This giant Afro Pick combing the desert reminded me of the scene from Space Balls. "We ain't found shit!"
Friday was the night of the Great Train Wreck so we rode out after dinner to watch the two 40 foot wooden locomotive engines set ablaze and collide in a blaze of explosions and fireworks. We parked our bikes in front of the Baba Yaga’s House perched on it’s mechanical chicken legs so we wouldn’t lose them in the crowd afterwards. I took a picture of another Bike Parking Lot gathered around Anahad - Limitless Sound as we walked past. The multi-colored bike lights helped illuminate the 20 foot wind sculptures constructed out of copper pipes to create the effect of Giant Oak Trees. There was a large circle around the locomotives that were about to recreate the head-on crashes staged for the public during the California State Fair between 1913 and 1917. In the video below, you can see the wooden trains being pulled together on their small shared track. It was awesome to see but I think they accidentally mistimed the big explosion since it went off a split second before the trains met in the center.
After the Giant Train Wreck, we were pulled towards the sight of The Color Wheels controlled by the Clay People of the Five Deserts. These spinning Teknostructures were created by the French Performance Group, Compagnie Off. One of the giant wheels was connected to a forklift but the rest were wheeled around by mud-covered performers wearing loin clothes while loud dance music reverberated across the Playa. Dancing withing the strobe-lit wheels as the constantly spun and interwove among themselves was one of the highlights of my Burn.
Heading back in to explore the city, we watched a Flaming Guitar performance at Kamp Suckie Fuckaye within the 4:30 Portal. It reminded me of the Doof Warrior playing his flame throwing guitar in “Mad Max: Fury Road”. We took turns leading our crew around the city in search of fun, stopping at Gypsy Nebula Village to enter Madam Zelda's House of Mirrors and Reflections and ride the biggest cock on the Playa. Jill worked the Robutts Speed Bag shouting, “I’m like a Kitty Cat. Meow! Meow!! Meow!!!”
When it was my turn during our game of "Follow the Leader", we ended up at Black Rock Gladiators (3:15 and F) where competitors tried to knock their opponents off the raised wooden platform to the air-filled crash pad below. While they hit each other with a variety of soft weapons, my favorite were the giant boxing gloves that were called Traditional German Hand Boots by the announcer calling play-by-play with funny and raunchy commentary.
We had an early shift at the airport the next morning so we headed back to camp at 10:30pm. On our way out of the city, we stopped to climb the Tower of Slackjaw (a.k.a. The Sputnik) at 3:00 and K. It was three geodesic domes stacked on top of each other in the shape of a rocket ship. I am 6’2” so it was a tight squeeze for me to make it up the last few ladders but it had the best view of Black Rock City. The power went out in the tower as we sat at the top so we had to climb down in the dark. Crossing the dark and quiet walk-in camping area behind the city on our shortcut to the airport, we came across a small Movie Screen playing "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" with a Popcorn Machine out front. What a great idea!
Saturday was the first of three busy shifts for us at the Airport for Burner Express Air. Lots of passengers were still arriving in the city for Burn Night but Exodus had also begun and there were a lot people flying out early. I was Escort/Baggage again but Tori moved inside the Departure Terminal to work the Check-In Counter for the first time. This was my third shift of the week and I was starting to get better at identifying the types of propeller planes by name, with the Pilatus PC12, Quest Kodiak K100 and the Beechcraft King Air being the most common. A Hawaiian Island Hopper from Mokulele Airlines was pressed into service as a Charter Plane at Burning Man this year.
After our shift, Saturday ended up being our laziest day of the week and we never left our camp at the Airport until it was time for the Man Burn. My wife started dressing up for the event at 6pm and I took some cute shots shots of her twirling around in the Walk-In Camping Area nearby.
At sunset, I climbed up to the Starport Crow’s Nest at Black Rock Travel Agency (BTRA) for the second time. This time, it was more crowded and I had to share the small space with others watching the sun dip below the mountain ridge.
After 8pm, we started to head out onto the Playa to join the large circle around The Man. This time we parked our bikes around Transcendent Souls and walked the rest of the way. We arrived early enough to work our way forward to a good spot, but I wish I could have watched from one of the small crane platforms suspended high into the air.
The Fire Conclave started performing in an inner circle around the Man as he raised his arms into the sky in anticipation of the burn. I like the video below since it gives a sense of scale to the giant crowd circling the Man.
After the fire dancers completed their performance, the Man Burn began with intense fireworks as the flames quickly spread and engulfed the wooden figure. My favorite parts are the giant explosions that send huge fireballs shooting into the sky. I turned around and took a great photo of the flames illuminating the faces of those watching the Burn.
In past burns, we waited until The Man collapsed, but this time we left as the giant effigy was still crackling and burning. Outside the circle, I loved the view of the flames and smoke rising high over the surrounding Mutant Vehicles. One of the outside vehicles was a mobile bar and I took some great shots of people sitting on the bar stools enjoying a drink as the Man burned in the background.
Since Sunday is the busiest day of Exodus at the airport, both our shifts started before sunrise at 6am. I was scheduled to work the Check-In Counter but I was able to switch with someone in Escort/Baggage who wanted to work inside instead. I was so happy because I was able to watch my first sunrise of the Burn as it slowly rose over the flight-line. The tent terminal, nicknamed the Spider, was crowded all day, as we led out a steady stream of passengers to their departing planes. I must have heard the pilots' pre-boarding speech at least 20 times with each of them strongly emphasizing the use of the sick bags if any of the passengers felt nauseous. Trapeze Dave, who had been wearing his Unicorn Helmet all week, found a girl who was willing to trade her Furry Bear Hood for it. He kept it on even during the hottest part of the day.
Since we started so early, our shifts ended at noon and I was able to go out and explore the Playa for one last time while on my way to buy a couple bags of ice from Artica. I said goodbye to Euterpe and her grandfather, Alberto, and watched a Silver Crab scuttling across my path as I made my way out to the remains of The Man. Trodding carefully over the blackened surface, I joined the other burners shifting through the hot ashes. I kept a couple of long wood screws I found. Outside the Burn Scar was a Tiki Bar serving Mai Tai Cocktails with a Hand Cranked Blender. After the bartender added the ingredients, it took two of us to hold the blender steady while the third cranked the handle.
Working my way back to the city, I found a couple eating lunch in the shadow of Pacha Mama. The woman-shaped tree growing out of the fallen robot symbolizes the Inca Earth Goddess or Mother Nature. It was created by Juan Manuel Ramal of Los Angeles. Further on, I stopped at Luz created by Red Deer of Orange County. The name of this clear acrylic pyramid means light in Spanish. It reminded me of a separate pyramid I almost fell off of during my first burn in 2014.
Returning from my detour out on the Playa, I stopped at Center Camp to watch some AcroYoga before complete my main mission to get ice. Our trailer's fridge worked great all week but we still needed lots of cubes for drinks. On the ride back, I could not get too distracted or my ice would melt away.
Back at camp with the buzzing sound of taxing airplanes behind us, we made drinks with our fresh ice while we packed up most of our loose gear in preparation for our own departure on Monday. Afterwards, we climbed up on top of our trailers and hung out with Mimi, Elena and Maria as they took turns removing the braids from their hair. Elena was like, "Just cut them out! I don't care!"
At 6pm the last flight left the Airport and the busiest day of Exodus was over. Left behind in the Check-In Terminal was a large table full of costumes abandoned as passengers attempted to get their luggage under the 25lb. weight limit. We all had fun scavenging through the pile to find things to keep. Tori made out like a bandit and I found two pairs of pants, one with a cool snake skin print.
While I left to watch the Temple Burn, Tori and the rest of our campmates stayed behind. After John and Jay taught them a few basic Shibari knots, they played with wrist binding and counterbalance poses out on the Playa.
The circle was starting to form around the Temple of Galaxia as I arrived with Dave and Lindsay for the Sunday Night Burn. We were joined by Amanda and Franklin, who we worked with all week at the airport. We ended up sitting in the front row next to the Emergency Water Truck, with a Temple Volunteer facing us to guard the perimeter. After the temple was ignited, it took less than 10 minutes for the wooden spiral trusses to collapse and shoot flames high into the sky. Except for a few long howls and shouts of "Larry!", it was mostly silent as we listened to the wood crackle and pop while the smoke drifted straight up on a windless evening.
While I was watching the Temple Burn, Tori was having fun back at camp basing Lisa in some Therapeutic AcroYoga poses. It is tougher when the flyer’s wrists are tied together, Shibari-style.
When I came back to camp, John was firing up the grill next to the Kiiking Swing so we could all cook the rest of our perishable meats and veggies on our last night. (I threw on a steak!) Our friend, Circus Mark, who was so busy running Burner Express Air all week that we barely got to hang out with him, came by and swung on the Kiiker. We all had a fun time celebrating the end of Burning Man. Tori spent most of the night, leading Mimi around by the wrist.
Waking Monday morning at sunrise, we had one last shift at Burner Express Air before leaving Black Rock City for home. While Tori worked the Check-In desk for the Burbank and Oakland flights, I was sent to Whole Plane where passengers booked an entire plane instead of individual seats. I was paired with Heather who checked in the Whole Plane passengers while also managing the flight manifests for every BxA plane leaving the airport. My main job was keeping track of all the arriving aircraft so Heather could fill them and send them out again. Each arriving pilot would check-in with me and I would record how many seats they had and which airport they were flying to next. After Heather completed a manifest, I would give it to the correct departing pilot. I also applied the wrist straps to the Whole Plane passengers, a burner from Russia gifted me a Lollipop in the shape of a Rooster, a caramel Cock-Sucker. Ha!
My shift ended an hour earlier than Tori's so I was able to start on hooking up our trailer and stowing our bikes and remaining gear while she worked to 2pm. After one final MOOP Walk and saying goodbye to all our friends, we were on our way. By 4pm, we were stalled in the Exodus line as the wait for the next surge lasted over two hours. We pulled out our camp chairs and read our books in the shade as we waited for the line to start moving again. A friendly T-Rex on a hoverboard came by to give us a hug. When the Surge finally started again, we made it off the Playa in one swoop and hit the pavement by 6:30. On the main highway, Kenny's RV blew another rear tire but since it was half of a dually, he decided to risk it and keep driving all the way to the Carson Valley Inn Casino where we were staying the night again. We made it safely to the RV Park by 9pm, showered, ate dinner and passed out!
After a late breakfast on Tuesday, we headed south at 11am while Kenny and Jill drove to the nearby Discount Tire to buy all new tires for his rig. We reached Mono Lake by 2pm and stopped at the Visitor Center outside Lee Vining. This saline lake is an important resting and eating spot for migrating shore birds. It is too salty for fish to live in but the birds can feed on the trillions of brine shrimp and alkali flies that live off of the algae blooms. The lake has two contrasting islands, the small black volcanic cone is Negit Island and the larger Paoha Island was formed by a volcanic eruption in the 17th century and is now covered with a white sediment. The lake is most famous for the Tufa Towers that line the shoreline. The limestone formations grew under the surface around the calcium rich springs and are now exposed as the lake shrank. Most of the water in the last century has been diverted from reaching the lake by the City of Los Angeles which has lowered the water level substantially. After a legal battle, LA is now required to partially replenish the lake. After checking out the exhibits and walking along the short trail overlooking the lake, we were on the road again within the hour.
The last stop on our drive home was Wild Willy's Hot Springs (aka Crowley Hot Springs) a little south of Mammoth Lakes. There was a two mile dirt road to reach the springs but I scouted it out first with Google Maps Street View to make sure I would have enough room to turn around with my trailer at the end. (The road was pretty narrow so I was lucky we didn't encounter a large vehicle coming the opposite direction.) A raised boardwalk weaved through a pasture full of cows until we spotted the two heated pools hidden below the nearby ridge. It was nice to soak in the hot water and chat with the others enjoying the natural pool while thunder clouds slowly darkened the long valley between the Glass Mountain Ridge and the Sierra Nevada's. We left at 5:30 before the sky grew too dark. If we didn't have such a long drive ahead of us, I would have liked to stay longer.
Driving south, we stayed just ahead of the full brunt of the thunderstorm but we saw lots of lightening. We finally made it home to San Diego by 1am. What an awesome trip!!!!
Link to my complete 2018 Burning Man photo album on Facebook
Link to my 2014 Burning Man post
Link to my 2015 Burning Man post
Link to my 2019 Burning Man post