There are constant reminders of the pecking order in our chosen place in the world. We are often reminded that we are absolutely here at the good grace of mother nature and all her wishes and whims. Should she decide we are no longer welcome we are buggered. It’s a constant challenge where we maintain our gratitude and respect for her and she does as she pleases. So far so good.
We are in that tangibly muggy purgatory period as the dry season changes to wet. The humidity is real and there are occasionally some dramatic thunder, lightning and strong rains for an hour or two. We wait for the big rains to come, the rivers to rise from the dirt, the trees to fall and the roads to wash out. So far is it is a somewhat dry wet season.
Our project to capture more photons to fill our batteries has progressed well. The frame we designed is awkward and heavy and requiring of hours of painting, drilling and further painting. It’s location is very carefully argued. There is only a few hours of morning sun that breaks through the canopy available to us. Holes are dug and concrete mixed and a bunch of mates with muscles summoned for erection day.
It went OK. The half dozen awkward heavy panels are eventually slotted onto the frame and after some fiddling and essential swearing are successfully bolted down in a very sweaty and inelegant process. In order to protect the new structure from any future hurricane conditions safety ropes are installed to trees and planks of wood cut to length to hold up each corner. By adding these props and tie downs we have a fair chance the thing will not blow away.
It’s early days, but by capturing sunlight for those few precious hours in the morning to top up the couple of hours when we are currently collecting in the afternoon our batteries will potentially last twice as long. This gives Brian (our generator) a much needed rest. There is also now the possibility, should the sunbeams align, of turning on our air conditioner. This is a game changer. We have had no air conditioning for six years. It’s an interesting realisation that we have been at this for six years now.
Jayne heads to Canada to spend time with family and enjoy a break from me and our jungle world which is heating up noticeably. When she returns we will have but a few days before heading to Burning Man.
The humidity is brutal. With my new jungle solitude comes an opportunity to submit closer to the new natural pace of life. I make a conscious decision to allow myself a period of doing very little and releasing myself to what may come. This involves a lot of naked sweating, blatant prevarication and delicious guilt free laziness. I even find the time to read an actual book for the first time in an embarrassingly long time. After a couple of weeks I realise that there have been very few things that have persuaded me to leave the land. I have been effectively a surprisingly content hermit. There are a number of essential jobs that I manage to complete, but entirely in my own hot, sweaty and slow, time and space.
It’s been a year since I have left Mexico so the familiar process of preparing for another month dedicated to what Burning Man may bring is a little strange. I finally unpack from the corners of my luggage all the dusty bits and bobs from last year’s stormy, stinking hot and covidy burning man and replace them with fresh nonsense. Who knows what we will need.
Last year’s Nevada adventure was so extreme with dust storms and extraordinary heat that we made do with a few bikinis and goggles. I think I broke my own dubious record for living in the same pants for the longest time. This year we just don’t know so pack something for every occasion along with way too much make up and far too many costume options.
Our logistical burden is considerably eased as last year, in the confusion of dust and covid, we somehow managed to persuade the “org” (those with power and influence at Burning Man) to pick up The Growler (our trailer) and store it for us. Theoretically it will be waiting for us as we arrive on site a week or so before the event starts. It’s practically impossible to rent a truck with a tow hitch in Nevada so we have always had to blag a truck in Reno to tow our very old sun baked, graffiti covered living box from its storage spot near Pyramid Lake the 50 miles to site. This involves getting registration, a full set of working lights and risking the ancient tyres for one more trip. We also get to pass every overeager state trooper (at 29 miles an hour) with what is effectively a “bust me I’m a hippy” bait trailer. This stress maybe a thing of the past if we play our cards well.
So we fly to Reno and meet up with all the people. After a few days of relaxed organization (one trip to Walmart and two to Trader Joes) we arrive in daylight to be met with the welcome sight of The Growler. We start the process of cleaning and nesting so we can start work building a fun camp for the communications team, construct our infamous viewing deck and raise Media Mecca. This is the interactive meet and greet space from where the flock of over enthusiastic drone pilots, journalists and media folk are carefully and expertly managed. We are organised and have a handy bunch of buggers on our crew so it shouldn’t be difficult.
We are settled in and we have a plan. We arrange a pre-build meeting and prepare ourselves for the challenge of a few intense build days. Then our good mate mother nature appears to further remind us who and where we are.
It is Sunday around midday and it starts to rain. In 2004 it rained a little as the event started and the chaos was unforgettable. The salty dust crust on which we live turns to a ridiculously sticky wet clay which grips to your feet and will suck down a vehicle in no time. Nothing can move. The lines of traffic trying to get into the event were stranded. The only solution is wait for the sun to dry up all the rain so itzy bitsy hippies can move their trucks again.
There is much more rain than 2014. A lot more. It’s a week before the event and we are surrounded by water and seas of glue. It’s impossible to open the container where all our wood and equipment is waiting to be transformed. If the old dried out wood gets wet we are buggered. So we wait. We share food and resources and make the best of it. No one is going anywhere. There are only a few thousand folk here and our stocks of all supplies are not worried. It’s an exercise in patience and self-care. We are very good at caring for ourselves and each other so it’s just fine. After a few days of exhaustingly intense selfcare we dry out and prepare ourselves once again. This time last year we were pretty much done with build and we haven’t even started yet. No pressure.
It’s midnight on Tuesday and Wednesday appears under an impressive star filled sky. We drive an art car out into deep playa and arrange a game of petanque (bocce) with brightly coloured lit up balls under the moonlight. It’s a beautiful night. Someone on crew has a “one wheel” on which one’s balance skills and delusional confidence are tested. An electrically powered single wheel attached to a modified skateboard propels the rider who is balanced above it at speeds up to 20 mph. The playa is flat and smooth after the rains and moonlight visibility is clear. It appears an ideal space to give it a good go. We do not have any protective helmets or pads but that doesn’t seem to be an issue. I am forcefully advised by my less confident selfcare assistant that it’s not a good plan for me as we have a long few weeks ahead and the prospect of me smashing myself up is not ideal.
I return to my flashing balls game as my mate Josh, who is currently awaiting his selfcare assistant to arrive, takes off on his first attempt unhindered by wise advice. He is pretty good at it. He arrives back at speed, wide eyed with growing over confidence. It does look like fun. Until it doesn’t.
On his fourth attempt he is now flying around us. He swoops past the art car and then instantly the wheel stops. Josh does not. There is a crunching noise and worrying cloud of dust.
When I get to him it does not look good. He is winded enough that he is struggling to breathe at all and his eyes are looking distressed. It was something of a relief when he started moaning and stubbornly refusing to lie still. I felt his shoulder pop back in place and noticed a particularly squidgy bit on his collar bone. By some mad twist of fate, in this desert void way out from the event space, there happened to be a real life ambulance just cruising around. Ironically the one wheel was dispatched to retrieve the crew who within minutes pick up Josh and take him to Rampart (the newly built triage & EMT center.) Thankfully Burning Man provides excellent EMT facilities to service a fair sized city.
Josh becomes the first passenger of the year on an emergency medical evacuation flight to Reno. Although he has a broken collar bone, cracked scapula and bust ribs which are all inconvenient and irritating he has not broken his neck or damaged his brain (much). He is incredibly fortunate although perhaps not feeling so lucky.
The next day we are confident enough to open the container and the hard stuff begins. More crew have made it out and there are enough willing hands and built up enthusiasm to knock everything out in just a couple of days. Everything looks just about perfect as the gates open.
Josh or “One Wheel” as he is now called, turns up just before the crowds arrive. He is all fixed up after an operation in Reno and has decided that burning man is the ideal place to heal and caught a lift back. His selfcare assistant is at his side so it’s much more likely to happen. He is stubborn enough to not miss his first burning man entirely. He has one good arm so he can get back to work.
It’s Friday when we hear that more rain is potentially forecast. We watch as vast sand storms skirt around us but mostly they are near misses and we remain dry. Until we are not. We are caught on the outskirts of the city visiting friends when it becomes clear that the rain falling is a substantial downpour and will most certainly be changing everyone’s lives significantly for some time. The water settles in vast shallow lakes moved around by the wind. The radio broadcasts endless corny rain themed songs and strict warnings to rest in place until further notice.
Some bloody idiots just can’t bear the thought of doing as they are told (it is the land of the free you know !!) and try and make a run for it. As predicted they are buried up to their axles within a few meters. It’s chaos, but no matter who you think you are, we are all in the same muddy puddle. It’s another lesson in patience and helping others to stay warm and dry and just a little drunk.
We are grateful to be taken in as refugees in a very well-resourced camp. A large red carpeted tent full of perfectly bemused strangers gets slowly overcome with water. At one end is a tiny bar that has notably high end booze offerings. The guy who introduces himself meekly as bar manager does not appear confident. He tells me he has been drafted in but doesn’t drink and has no experience at all. He opens a fresh bottle of outstandingly expensive whisky and deposits half a pint of the amazing stuff over a cube of ice and hands it to me nervously. I congratulate him on a very decent pour.
Remarkably, attached to this tent is a separate fully equipped kitchen with stand up freezers and large stocks of food and wine. Chefs wade through the puddles and deliver freshly made pasta and meats to soak up the dozens of bottles of cheeky Bordeaux’s and the odd Pinot Noir that are being rapidly consumed. No booze less than toppest of shelf or deepest of cellar is even considered. We have certainly hit the best refugee camp on Playa. We are wet and cold and only a little tipsy after a few cheeky bottles of red and only a couple of pints of whisky. We all cram into our mate’s trailer that offers warmth and a tiny dry corner to attempt to pass out while listening to the rain hit the roof. It’s a long night but we are amongst the fortunate ones.
The next morning after a final flush of morning rain we are absolutely surrounded by miles of muddy water. I climb out the trailer and monkey climb my way from table to chair to the big red tent. Its red carpet now under a few inches of water. There is no one around except for one muddy soul sitting on a soggy coach smoking a joint. She smiles at me. No words are necessary. The floor is strewn with full bottles of Krug champagne and the remains of the excellent red wine stocks. I help out by collecting an armful of each and returning to the trailer to present my hunter gatherer breakfast.
After breakfast we are suitably refreshed to try and brave the mud and return to camp. What would usually be a half hour stroll is far more of a mission. We encase our feet in duct tape and plastic bags or go commando. Bare feet is my preferred way to go but it’s a much slippier option. It takes well over two hours to arrive close to where we live. At some point we eventually arrive back and exchange tales of our overnight survival.
What happens when you leave your mate alone for too long
And then we find out that the world is taking an interest in what is happening. The previous week when a few thousand of us were trapped for days was not really news worthy. Now around 70 000 folks being told they can’t go anywhere is proper news. There are some amazing rumours.
One news outlet is declaring that there is an Ebola outbreak that no one can escape from. Our comms team has to send out a declaration that no communicable diseases have been reported. We are all waiting for the sun and all will be well in a few days.
We get all the messages from deeply concerned family and friends on the outside. You are on the news! Are you Ok? Has anybody drowned in the mud or resorted to cannibalism? It’s actually only been 24 hours of further self and community caring. That’s a good space to be in. We are just fine. Everyone who gets it are just fine. There are some people who consider their need to be elsewhere important enough to bugger everyone else up but not too many of them. They will be the last to be rescued.
Media Mecca is effectively the communications center for the whole place so we have ways to communicate. This gives us access to all the world wide news reports which we find a little disorientating. What we see are extraordinary images that suggest an entirely alternative existence that in which, apparently, we are currently living. A drone photo of a mess of RVs all stuck trying to exit on gate road is shown on US prime time. We are concerned and send a copy to our mates who are out there and they tell us it’s make believe. It’s a creation of AI. Then we see other published images of what we are going through. Nothing authentic at all. AI has created a story in pictures of what it has decided is happening and publishing it to the world as fact. It’s stunning that you really cannot trust much anymore. Even, bizarrely, your own eyes. The following images are all AI creations. Extraordinarily… none of this happened and none of the people exist.
Eventually some bloke called Joe Biden sends his thoughts and prayers so we can all relax . We are saved.
Our world dries up. Things start moving again. The man burns a few days late as does the temple. Both are extraordinary as most people have already left. It’s way more intimate and a whole heap less hectic. The man burns after a spectacular pyrotechnic display. The temple burns in silence as we watch from the flatbed of our truck that we have driven to the perfect viewing spot. It reminds us of many years before when not as many people were aware of this place.
Our clean up and tear down takes a bit longer to ensure we are not storing mud for future years but it’s just fine. Everyone who remains does their bit and leaves the place exactly as they found it.
We indulge in a few very slow recovery days in Reno. We find Guinness and sushi and try unsuccessfully to blend into casino life. Our bags are packed and we head South back to the humidity. It’s going to be a few well deserved weeks of prevarication, laziness, sweating, sleeping and the odd tequila. Can’t wait.