4 days at Burning Man

When we decided to go to Burning Man, I was both excited and nervous. On one hand, it's a massive festival that promotes self expression in all forms. You're surrounded by sculptures, art cars, music, and open minded people. On the other hand, Black Rock City is an uninhabitable part of the desert with frequent dust storms. Temperatures at Burning Man can range from 90's during the day to low 40s at night. Whatever the outcome, I knew it was one for the books. It has been lingering on my bucket list for many years, and the time had come to experience this phenomenon in the Nevada desert.

At Burning Man, you're expected to leave no trace. All that you bring in, must also be taken out. There are no trash cans, no water, no food besides what others might be generous enough to gift you. You have to come fully prepared. It's an amazing thing to see 70,000 people come together in the desert and never see a trace of litter on the ground.

We left in an RV for Black Rock city at 9pm from Los Angeles. We only stopped twice during the 12 hour trip, and made it to Black Rock City at 9am Wednesday morning.

Day 1: Wednesday

Miraculously there were no lines to get into the city. At times it can be up to a 6 hour wait. We parked in the suburbs since we weren't part of a camp. You can pay to join a camp where meals are provided in exchange for volunteering for a shift to help out the inner community. 

I wanted to sleep, but instead we immediately hopped on our bikes to check out the scene. Bikes are a must at Burning Man. The pop up city gets larger every year, and you can easily bike miles and miles each day to all the events going on day and night.We went to a few camps serving cocktails to start off the experience. There's no money exchanged at Burning Man, only gifts. Most camps provide some sort of gift or event for the residents, so during our entire stay we were able to visit these events, workshops, and parties at no additional cost. We stopped at a friend's camp serving drinks and rode around on the bikes for a while getting to know the lay of the land.

We were so sleep deprived we went back to the camp and tried to nap, but it was scorching hot midday. After some tossing and turning, and even icing my back with frozen bacon, we went back out. We biked to the Burning Man in the middle of the playa, a massive stretch of land filled with dusty sand, art installations, and art cars. We marveled over the massive structures: multi-headed dragons breathing fire, bikes and buildings covered in colorful lights like a carnival, fire dancers and cage fighters. We ended the night at one of the large stages and were happily surprised when Major Laser hit the stage. We missed Skrillex who played at 3am.

Day 2: Thursday

We finally got some rest overnight and got back on our bikes to roam. It was a fun-filled adventure. We had a few drinks, then fought through a dust storm to see a Phish cover band. Next we stumbled across a camp serving micro brews, then found some snow cones at the peak of a hot day. After that we went to a sangria and salsa dance party. We left the sangria party to find a place called DISTRICT. When we reached the location, it was clear this was the mecca of all parties! DISTRICT is a an outdoor club with hundreds of burners dancing at sunset. I had died and gone to dance party heaven. The energy of the crowd was vibrant! And so were their costumes!

After the sun went down, we went back to the RV for an enchilada dinner. After napping, I decided to stay in to get some good sleep while most of my friends went to see Diplo and stayed awake for their first sunrise party. This made me have some regrets later. I dreamt in #fomo.

Biking across the playa.

Day 3: Friday

I woke up the next feeling fresh, and heard tales at breakfast of the night before. My friends had visited the Temple, where you must enter in silence and pray, meditate, or leave trinkets in remembrance of loved ones. At dawn everyone flocks to the outer playa to watch the sunrise together. I was convinced that tonight I would stay out all night and participate. 

My friend's mom was DJing at noon so 3 of us went to support. It turns out her set got moved to 4pm, so we wandered around to take photos with some of the installations.

E "art" h installation on The Playa.

Rocking my Red Fox Spirit Hood

After some time, we went back over to watch the set at 4pm, and headed out across the playa to DISTRIKT for some more dancing.
 

Reflections.

After sunset, we started back across the playa for dinner. We were in the middle of the open desert when we got hit by a dust storm. We stopped in our tracks to stick together and weigh it out. Goggles, handkerchief, body and bike lights are key in these moments. If you're stuck without them you'd be inhaling dust or in danger of getting hit by a bike or an art car. To be honest, I thought it was exhilarating. Since we were prepared I was taking in the rare moment and the interesting elements of the planet we're shielded from most of the time. After some waiting, we made it back to the RV some 45 minutes later for a tamale dinner and a nap.

We woke up and got ready at midnight. The first thing we did was hop on an art car that looked like a ship and danced to some beats. We danced at the large DJ stages, then got on our bikes to make a loop around the playa and see what gems we could find. It was peaceful on the rim of the playa as we cruised along with our bikes lit up like Christmas. We found an art exhibit, then a trance bar with a fire sculptures. We were just hitting a tired patch when suddenly, out of nowhere, a "Booty" popup was before us. For those who are unfamiliar, Booty is a San Francisco and L.A. mashup dance club that goes off! They were playing some great upbeat music and it was just the pep we needed at about 4:30am. The highlight was when the DJ played "I Just Can't Wait To Be King," while we were all wearing our fur animal hoods.

Midnight painter. Photo by @chelseagildea

We biked at dusk to the sunrise celebration to find thousands of people flocking to see the colorful glow pass over the vast expanse of the desert. 

The Playa at sunset.

The Playa at sunset.

Day 4: Saturday

I think I finally get the Burning Man schedule, or at least what works for me.

  • Sleep mornings from 9am to about 1pm, then eat lunch.
  • Go to events from about 2pm to 8pm, then eat dinner.
  • Sleep from about 9pm to 1am.
  • Go out at night from about 2am-8am, then eat breakfast.
  • Repeat.

After our post sunrise morning nap, we got on our bikes to head to a party. Near it was an entry into a small popup party. It was humid inside the tent as we entered but the ambiance was beautiful. It had an old french circus feel, chandeliers, pearls, and costumed dancers. Eclectic music played as we swirled around the dance floor. This is the kind of magic Burning Man brings. We stayed until it was too hot to handle then left for, you guessed it, DISTRIKT. It was crowded per usual evening scene, art cars full of dancing people, and a Cara Delevingne sighting. 

Sunsets at Distrikt

We were back in the RV eating dinner, when another dust storm formed. I actually thought the Burn might be delayed to the next night because the wind and visibility were so bad. After about an hour of drinking wine and listening to the radio it started clearing up. We walked out to the playa for the show.

Thousands of people lit up in strings of light, hundreds of fire dancers, and hundreds of art cars circled the Man in what seemed like a mile radius, each blasting their own beats. The stimuli was all consuming. Something to marvel over at every glance. And then, the burn. I've never actually watched a structure burn to the ground before. It's memorizing. Also, it was the greatest fireworks show I've ever seen! I'd add a video of the burn here, but it wouldn't do it justice. Add this to your bucket list pronto and see it live for yourself! It was so much more spectacular then I could have ever imagined! 

The Burning Man, inspired by the vitruvian man. Photo by @chelseagildea

Burn night was our last night on the playa. Everyone was out after the burn, 70,000 lit up souls navigating the numerous mobile art car dance parties. Each car was bumping music. We danced on a friend's car and could hear the pulsating rhythms of at least 3 more DJs. 

We ended our first burn with a Carl Cox DJ set. 

Carl Cox DJ Set

If I could describe Burning Man in one word it'd be "surreal." In fact, the whole festival feels a bit like stepping into a Dali painting. I admit, I was skeptical even through my first day and half of being there. Now I'm convinced it's one of those experiences that you'll covet forever.