When I made my second trip to Burning Man in 2005, my friend Ken Lake brought along stick horses— the type that are popular with five-year-olds— to put on our bikes. They served as decorations and a way of quickly telling our bikes apart from the tens of thousands of others that reside in Black Rock City. If you pinched their ears, they went clippity clop, clippity clop, neigh, snort. Naturally, we had to name them. Horse with No Name popped into my mind. I would be riding through the desert on my horse-bike, and I’ve always liked the song written by Dewey Bunnell. There’s more. Bunnell was inspired to create the haunting music by memories of his childhood travels through Arizona and New Mexico, a Salvador Dali painting of the desert, and a strange horse depicted by M.C. Escher. The fact that I am a fan of the Southwest, surreal art, and Escher was frosting on the cake.
The seven squares miles covered by the event requires a bicycle, so I’ve been riding Horse with No Name on my trips to Burning Man ever since. I suspect I’ve put on several hundred miles during my 11 trips into the desert. The bikes have changed, and the stick horses have changed, but the name has remained.
As I’ve noted before, my primary reason for going is to see the art. It’s located everywhere. Even with a bike, it’s difficult to see it all— and I always miss pieces. This year, I had to skip the first four days because of forest fires threatening our home. I only had three days to cover what I normally do in seven. I was on the bike a lot. My tail was complaining loudly by Sunday. (For those of you who have been following the saga of the burning forest, we are out of the woods, so to speak. Level 1, 2, and 3 evacuation notices have been dropped.)
There are other things to do at Burning Man besides look at art, of course. For example, you can party 24/7 for a week if that’s your thing. Bars ‘gifting’ free booze are located on almost every corner. You can also dance the night away, or day. I saw people dancing country along the 6th street route I followed into Center Camp, and I could have gone elsewhere to learn to Tango, had I been so inclined. The most common music, however, is the type that goes thump, thump, thump in the night, industrial strength stuff. World renown DJs come to Burning Man to play it for free. The music will keep you awake if you allow it. I have a very loud, battery operated fan that serves as a wonderful noise maker in addition to keeping me cool, however. Let it thump away. (The secret of sleeping through the desert heat, BTW, is to wear a wet T-shirt and let evaporation do its thing. It also works for daytime naps. The fan speeds up the evaporation and makes it cooler.)
Dozens of classes are offered for those who want to learn something new. They range from the ecology of the Black Rock Desert to sensuous massage: BYOM. (Bring your own mate.) You can also take a class in bondage. I’m normally too busy to be tied up for an hour, however. (grin) Many classes come with an Eastern/New Age twist such as meditation and Yoga: BYOM applies here as well. (Bring your own mat.)
There is entertainment galore. Twirling fire is big at Burning Man. As is creating magic with hula hoops. If you want to see something truly sensuous, watch a talented hula hooper. The Center Camp Café always has something going on, both planned and impromptu. One moment you might be listening to a lecture on physics and the next surrounded by several hundred large rabbits, or at least people wearing rabbit ears. But you can be anywhere in Black Rock City or out in the Playa and find entertainment.
People watching is always big. Some folks develop elaborate costumes and almost everyone makes some effort to look different, even if it’s only putting on a tie-dye T-shirt. Scantily clad is a Burning Man trademark. While total nudity is rare, topless is not uncommon, for women as well as men. I think of it as eye-candy. Staring is rude but appreciative glances are okay. You’d have to wear blinders not to notice and be a robot to not enjoy the views.
A major reason people give for going to Burning Man is to share the experience with friends. Over the years I’ve always been accompanied by folks who are close to me, people who have joined me on backpacking and bicycling adventures as well as in fighting for environmental and health related causes. Some of them have been friends for decades. This year was an exception. Only one, Don Green, could make the event, and he bailed on Wednesday, the day I was driving in from Oregon. I was left alone. Not that I am overly worried about being alone. Remember I took off backpacking on two wilderness trips this summer by myself. Still, it felt a bit strange. Fortunately, a group from Nevada City, California camped next to my van and befriended me.
“Curt, you have to join us for dinner,” Baley insisted. “We have way more food than we can possibly eat.” Blaine had already stuffed me with watermelon in the morning. Miriam had shown up with fresh pineapple and cookies in the afternoon and stayed to chat for an hour. Both her parents were Italian but she had been raised in Tahiti and Fiji. Now she was living in Brazil. She’d come to the US to trim marijuana buds for Blaine, who is a pot grower— a now legitimate profession in Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada. (Half of the traditional farmers along our road in the Applegate Valley have added marijuana as a crop, including the guy who had a large Trump sign on his property.)
They were cooking up a batch of ribs, tri-tip and sausages. Given that I had a hotdog waiting for me in the van, I quickly joined them! “You need to eat salad, too,” Ashley admonished me. She wanted to assure Peggy that I was eating my veggies in her absence. I gave each one a copy of my book on my Peace Corps experience in Africa as a thank you.