Burns Camping Travel

Our Week at a Carnival of Mirrors

By on October 16, 2015

G’day from Brunswick Heads, NSW, Australia!  We’ve been so on the go since we arrived in Australia, we’ve already fallen behind in our posts.  We’ll be bringing you up to speed soon on our adventures in Oz and the amazing people here, but today we thought we’d focus on where our RTW launch mentally occurred in many respects:  at the Carnival of Mirrors, which was the theme for this year’s Burning Man.

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Burning Man 2015 was only a little over a month ago but already seems like a blur.  What a whirlwind trip it turned out to be!  With all of the preparations for leaving on our RTW trip, our trip to Black Rock City (BRC) for Burning Man snuck up on us before we knew it.  We didn’t even start preparing or packing for the trip until about two days out.  We threw our gear into the truck and hit the road, planning on supplying ourselves with groceries and other items in Reno.

We made it as far as Ozona, Texas, before we had to stop at the local hardware store for straps to secure the rugs on the roof of our camper shell.  Straps that we had plenty of at home of course.  In our hasty departure, we hadn’t secured them well enough.  After some delay, we started out again and ended up spending the night in Roswell, New Mexico –well short of our intended first night in Albuquerque.  Night two found us at a motel called the Atomic Inn. A nice funky little place we recommend if you ever find yourself looking for lodging in Beatty, Nevada.

The next day was Saturday, and we rolled into Reno mid-afternoon.  We had arranged a place to stay via CouchSurfing with a fun guy named Marty who happened to be from the Texas Rio Grande Valley, in our neck of the woods.  He was a great host, and we had a lot of fun going out that night with him and his cool girlfriend Marcie from Lake Tahoe.

On Sunday morning we were off to stock up on supplies.  Quite honestly, it’s a little disenchanting to see how much business the Reno Walmart does leading up to Burning Man, but we have to admit, we were part of it.  Apparently, more stuff is required than should be the case to “survive” nine days in the desert.  After leaving Walmart, we had a chance meeting with an Aussie at a random liquor store in Reno.  After chatting with him for a few minutes, we learned that he is one of the organizers of the upcoming Burning Seed in Australia that we would be attending soon.  His friendliness was just a hint of what was to come at that international regional burn.

After exiting from IH-80 and starting the trek on the last 100 miles or so to BRC, we soon found ourselves in one of the longest traffic jams we’ve ever experienced.  It ended up taking us about 9 hours from there to our camp.  That’s just part of the journey to BRC, though.  Of course, we made friends with the people in the vehicles near us during some extended stops.  One group was from a camp called Roasted, which serves coffee at sunset:  right up Bev’s alley, but unfortunately, we never made it over there to see them again.

Around 10 PM that Sunday night, we finally arrived at our camp, BRC3PO.  After a few greetings with fellow camp mates, we proceeded to unload the truck with some much-needed help from our friends Swerve and Sandino.  Dirk was nursing an old back injury he had aggravated, and the assistance was greatly appreciated.  After setting up our bedding and putting on some warm clothes, we headed out for a quick walk on the Esplanade.  The Esplanade is the main drag at Burning Man, and the festivities were already in high gear.  Exhausted from a very long day, however, we headed back camp relatively early and crashed.

Upon awakening on Monday morning, we proceeded to set up our personal camp among our BRC3PO neighbors.  Again, we had some much-appreciated help from several campmates.  BRC3PO stands for Black Rock City Post Office #3 and is for all intents and purposes a fully functioning post office at BRC.  The organizers of the camp do an amazing job with it.  It has to be one of the most logistically difficult theme camps at Burning Man.  We were humbled by the amount of effort some of our camp mates put into making this camp happen.  They have a special arrangement with the post office in nearby Gerlach, Nevada, and a camp mate traveled to Gerlach once each day to pick up and drop off mail.  People are able to send mail to BRC to be delivered to their camp.  They also are able to stop by and mail a postcard to either another camp, or to anywhere in the world.

Because of the cost of postcards and stamps and the very high volume of pieces mailed, the post office camps are the only camps allowed to “horse-trade” for mailing a card.  One of the 10 Principles of Burning Man is Gifting, so there was no shortage of cool items offered in return.  Sometimes it would be singing a song, telling a joke, or some other fun exchange. Maybe even just a smile or a hug. We had a great time during our time in the post office, and ended up with some really cool items.  A couple of our favorite tangible items were a beautiful rock from Lake Baikal in Russia and a small container of amber from Turkey.

The hype preceding this year’s Burning Man centered on an unusually high bug infestation due to recent heavy rains.  For us, this turned out to be completely a non-issue.  As in previous years, we didn’t see one bug in seven days.  The dust storms were a different story, however.  2015 turned out to be a very dusty year with heavy dust storms on Tuesday evening as well as Wednesday and Friday afternoons.  We were at the temple on Wednesday afternoon with our friends Neon and Lujhane when it hit.  The dust was heavy enough and the visibility so poor that we had to walk our bikes back to camp by following the lampposts back to the man and then our camp.

There were many highlights for us over the week.  As always, it was great to see and camp with our friends Swerve and BB, who we have camped with on all three of our trips to BRC.  We know them from wilderness paddling trips, and they introduced us to Burning Man.  We really enjoyed having grilled cheese sandwiches with Guerrilla Cheese Camp (GCC) a couple of days.  GCC originated in BRC, and in the past couple of years we have co-hosted GCC at Burning Flipside and FreezerBurn in Texas.  It was good to see friends from Texas and those from the Bay Area who host it at BRC.  Also, some of our camp mates from Burning Man in 2013 had formed a camp called Bacon Oasis.  We were glad that we found them and were able to hang with them at their camp a couple of times as well.  The party at our friend KC’s camp Plunderground was also a great time.

Most of the music at burns is electronic, but we ended up seeing a great live band on Thursday night.  It’s a rotating group of excellent musicians from all over who only get together a perform for a few nights each year at BRC.  As one who doesn’t care for electronic music, the ubiquitous sound of it at BRC can be quite a challenge for Bev.  It was such a treat to get to hear so many different genres being performed live by this great group of musicians.  They had a huge crowd of all ages, which (sidebar) goes to show that a greater variety of music would be and is welcomed at burns.

Another highlight for us was meeting Scott from Australia.  Scott was visiting family in Lake Tahoe when he heard about Burning Man and decided he really wanted to go.  He somehow managed to obtain a much-coveted ticket and bought a Honda motorcycle for the journey.  Dirk saw him sitting at an intersection on the bike just kind of looking around.  He had made it inside the gate but did not know where he was going to camp.  There was space next to us at BRC3PO, so Dirk offered it to him.  Scott ended up being a great, wise-beyond-his-27-years guy who was a true Aussie cowboy.  He works on a ranch in Australia, and we hope to connect with him on our RTW trip.

The best highlight of the week came on Friday afternoon.  With our 10th anniversary coming up at the end of October, we decided to do a vow-renewal at the nearby Elvis Wedding Chapel.  This was a funky wedding camp just a couple hundred yards from BRC3PO.  As luck would have it, we scheduled it at a time that ended up being the largest dust storm of the week.  It would have been nice for the weather to have been better, but it turned out to be totally surreal.  Because of the lack of visibility and difficulty moving around at that time, the attendees were limited to some of our BRC3PO camp mates and a hearty group of friends from Bacon Oasis, including Scott and Father Dan who had no easy trek on their scooters to make the ceremony.  They can’t possibly know just how much we appreciated them braving the dust and making it there.  We had a blast, and it was a moment we will never forget.  Sarah from our camp fashioned a gorgeous dress for Beverly out of a piece of cloth that was hanging in the chapel.  Our wedding party consisted of Swerve to walk us down the dusty aisle, Sandino as best man, Hrieth as ring bearer, and BB as media. Neon and Lujahne got stuck carrying our bucket of mimosas to and from the event.  The support we received was overwhelming and unforgettable.

That night, while wandering around checking out some of the great art-cars, we ended up following one in particular that was playing some electro-swing.  Combining swing dance music from the 1920’s and 30’s with electronic dance music, it’s a great blend that is a lot of fun to dance to.  We were thrilled to have found yet another venue for music that we BOTH loved and could dance to!

In general, what we love the most about Burns is the people we get to meet and interact with. For many it’s just about the party and/or the spectacle. We enjoy those aspects too.  If you’ve spent any time around us at all you know we love to party.  And not to diminish the art, which is amazing.  Some of it downright mind-boggling.  For us, though, Burns are probably more about the interesting people we’ve been able to meet and get to know. Working one of the windows at the post office made this especially easy. There are people at Burning Man from all over the world who come from many different cultures. Hearing their stories and having intimate conversations on deep topics and not-so-deep topics is fascinating and always a learning opportunity.  Sometimes this happens with camp mates you get to know over the course of the event, and sometimes this happens with seemingly random strangers you run into.  The atmosphere at a Burn that receives the most media attention is the sensational, but as we’ve mentioned before it’s the moments of camaraderie and bonding with others that we cherish. Our experiences at Burning Man and other Burns is that no man or woman is left behind.  People are proactive about pitching in to help, to offer food or other gifts, and to take a few minutes or several days to have real conversations with you — if you’re open to it.  That’s hard to replicate in the “default world.”

Also, although it takes some resources to prepare for and participate in the social experiment that is Black Rock City, once inside it’s a way to experience a different type of community altogether if even just for a few days or a week.  A world without the use of money, no advertising, no logos, and not even any trash cans at these leave-no-trace events.  There are great lessons to be learned when experiencing a community this way.  Art for the sake of art and gifting for the sake of gifting are a refreshing departure from the status quo.  Along those lines, there is a grassroots movement in South Africa called Ubuntu Contributionism that is promoting a new blueprint for society without money that very closely resembles the 10 Principles of Burning Man.  We have been watching it for a couple of years now and are looking forward to visiting their community named Stone Circle Ubuntu Village when we are in South Africa next April for AfrikaBurn.

Our original plan had been to leave BRC on Sunday, following the Saturday night effigy burn; but, with the launch of our RTW trip just 2 1/2 weeks away, we decided to pack up and head out before the big burn on Saturday. We said our farewells to those who were nearby and started out around 6:00 PM.  Ground that took 9 hours to cover on our way in only took 3 hours on departure.

After a late motel stop in Hawthorne that night, we found ourselves in Las Vegas the next afternoon.  How could we not stop for a night?  We secured a room via Hotwire at Paris hotel and had some fun hanging out in the Eiffel Tower there and at Bond, one of our favorite lobby bars in town at the Cosmopolitan.  We’re quite sure the valet attendants were glad that our over-loaded, dusty truck was too tall to fit into the parking garage.  We found the surface parking lot and backed up to a chain link fence as much as we could.  The mountain bikes on the rack were secure, but because of them there was no way to protect the hatch to the camper shell (which didn’t latch well to begin with).  The back of our truck was jam-packed with gear and the food we had leftover from BRC.  Of course, we took our clean clothes, electronics and other valuables with us to the hotel.  Good thing, too, because the next morning we discovered that the camper shell of our truck had been broken into.  The thief took some (but, thankfully, not all) of our food out of the cooler, a bag of trash that we had hauled away from BRC, and a duffel bag full of LED icicle lights (which we are sure he/she thought contained more useful booty).  As we were about to check out of our hotel room and get back on the road home, our friend Mark asked us on Facebook to put $20 on 10 Black at the roulette table.  Dirk made just one bet, and it hit for $700!

The following day, which was a very long day with lots of ground to cover, we had a blowout in Arizona.  Luckily we had AAA, so it was the AAA guy who got to change the tire in the cold rain.  Dirk tried, but our jack was broken and proved to be useless.  We were wiped out and glad to have help with the tire!  We finally arrived home the following night, the blur behind us.  Two weeks and lots of items crossed off our to-do list later, we embarked upon our RTW trip.  It’s also been a blur of activity, which is why we’re so far behind in keeping up with posts to our blog.  But more on that later.  The beach is calling…

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