“Burning Man is the most creatively decadent week of the year. Burning Man is the wildest party you’ve ever crashed. Burning Man is a playground for the wide-eyed wanderer. Burning Man is a real life social network for dreamers, doers, and dancers. Burning Man is a vision of the way the world could be. Burning Man is, again and forever, whatever you want it to be.” –Alex in Wonderland
Great things come to those who wait. Better late than never. Patience is a virtue. I plan on hiding behind all these expressions as a reason for my laziness. But really, let me first start off by apologizing for the delay in this post’s publication. I’ve been back from my two-week hiatus for over a month now but hadn’t sat down to actually write about what I experienced in the two weeks I was gone. To catch everyone up, I spent a week at Burning Man and the following week at Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, Zion National Park, and Las Vegas before returning.
I could write pages about the second week of my trip. About how amazing those national parks are. About how I encourage all of you to explore them. About how you should never pretend you’re in Amsterdam before you get on the bus. About how the climb is always worth it in the end, (right Seif)? I will say, there is something about being out in nature, away from technology and the everyday hustle and bustle that really allows for you to focus on what truly matters.
It also feels incredible to go on a 20 mile hike with your close friends and spend time being together with no diversions other than “Do you see this view” or “Look at that Moose.” Personally, I was a much bigger fan of the Grand Tetons and Zion than of Yellowstone, but in truth all three have beauty in different ways.
As needed as the National Park leg of the trip was for me it wasn’t what I was most excited about before my trip.
Since returning I’ve had a lot of people ask “How was Burning Man?” Lucky for me, I was saved having to answer this same question over and over again when a friend (thanks Adam) sent me the following link:
Honestly, I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed that video when I first watched it. My friend Zoran and I were sitting in the RV outside Old Faithful, waiting on our group, when I got the link from Adam. We laughed so hard we were in tears. That video may be over the top, but not by much. It honestly does a great job of capturing how difficult the experience is to describe and even to ask about.
Each time I’ve tried to explain what Burning Man was like I’ve done a terrible job, which is why it’s taken me so long to finish this post. I know before even starting that I’ll fail at describing what Burning Man is, which is why I’m not going to. Burning Man is different things to different people. All of which are super personal and hard to describe. Instead of telling you about Burning man I’ll do my best to explain what I took away from it.
Before I start, let me answer one question that I’ve gotten a lot since I got back, the “Can I handle Burning Man?” question. The answer is, I don’t know. People think there’s a certain “type” of person that goes to Burning Man, but there isn’t. The playa is full of every type of person you’ll find in the world (seriously watch the How was Burning Man video). I know that may sound cliche, but it’s the truth.
So if you’re wondering if you could handle a week on the playa I’ll say this:
You must be open minded.
You must be okay getting dirty (that includes not showering for days).
You must not mind nakedness.
You must be okay with being made uncomfortable.
You must enjoy eccentricities.
You must be willing to go with the flow.
You must learn to appreciate the moment.
You must be willing to explore.
You must want to take advantage of everything the playa provides.
If those all sound like things you can do, then I highly suggest you check it out.
I’ve done quite a bit of stuff over the years. I’ve backpacked Europe, scuba dove the Great Barrier Reef, worked on a cruise ship, attending many a music festival, and even toured my personal version of heaven (the Jameson distillery in Dublin). Even after all of that, I will not hesitate to admit that Burning Man was one of the most unique experiences of my life.
I’ve written about this topic before. When it really comes down to it, every experience we have is completely personal and unique to us. Which makes describing them difficult, especially if there’s no real point of reference for the audience. However, the reason I write is to share my experiences in a way that somehow they help someone else.
So let’s get started.
All the things you hear about Burning Man are true. It’s huge (7 square miles), there are naked people everywhere, some burners are on drugs, the art is incredible, there’s an air of mystery every time you leave your camp, you have no idea what’s going to happen next, and the people are amazing.
But there’s just so much more you can’t understand unless you’ve spent time on the playa, getting lost in a dust storm, unable to see or move, when all you were trying to do was swing and chat with the nice girl from LA in the bedazzled bra and spandex. Instead of describing what Burning Man is like, the better approach is to focus on what I took away from it.
1. Everything is Temporary- Learn to accept it
The biggest thing I took away from Burning Man is the need to not only live in but truly appreciate the moment. At Burning Man, everything is temporary. To be happy you must cherish the moment and learn to let go. For me, one of the hardest things in life is letting go. Of people, of the past, of truths that no longer exist. It feels like defeat. It feels like failure. Which has never been something I was good at accepting. I’ve always struggled with letting go of things because they were outside my control. Chalk it up to one of my many flaws.
Burning Man doesn’t give you the option of holding on. The desert doesn’t care what you found or who you met. Things are taken away from you without even realizing it. You tell yourself you’ll see her again (Julia Lopez if you’re reading this I haven’t forgotten you) or you’ll find the “Shitty Drinks, No Ice” bar (yes it’s exactly what it sounds like) again, but you won’t.
It wasn’t until the middle of the week that I truly realized this. Let me reiterate, Burning Man is big. Fucking huge. It’s 7 square miles, 65,000 people laid out in a C-shaped grid. You use times and letters as coordinates. For example, my camp was near 6:45 and I, meaning that you’d have to find that intersection to be near my camp. However, even if knowing the proper intersection didn’t guarantee you’d find what you were looking for as there are tents, RVs, cars, and camps spread out as far as the eye can see.
The third night of Burning Man I wandered away from the group.
For those that know me, this will come as no surprise. Three years of solo traveling has ruined any patience I might have had. I couldn’t handle sitting around hoping that all eight of us would be ready to go at some point. An altered state of mind only increased my desire to explore the playa. My logic is that we’re adults capable of doing our own thing and having a good time without having to hold each other’s hands the entire time.
***End of Justification***
I thought it was a great idea to ride my bike across the playa to the light tunnel which I hadn’t seen yet.
20 minutes later I’m still riding my bike and I hear a “thunk thunk.” I look down and realize that the chain has come off and my bike has bent. I’m properly fucked. I’m miles away from camp. In my altered state I know I have 2 options. Start walking back to the RV or walk around the playa and try to make the best of everything. I choose the second option.
A couple of hours go by and I realize it’s time to start walking back. I’m nowhere near my camp. A few more hours go by and I’m still searching for the RV. The desert is cold at night and I’m starting to freak out a bit. I finally remember that we’re near 6:45 and I. Next thing I know, I’m literally standing staring up at the sign for 6:45 and I with no idea where to go next.
So close but so far.
At this point, all I want in the entire world is to just lay down. I truly believed that when the sun rises I’ll be okay. By sheer luck, I came across a hut that had neon psychedelic paintings hung all over, cushions, and blankets. No one was around so I sat down.
The playa provides.
I wait until the sun rises and 4 minutes later I find my camp.
The point is that random hut with the amazing neon psychedelic art may have saved my life, or at the very least my sanity. And I couldn’t find it again if my life dependent on it. It was within 1,000 steps of my camp where I spent an entire week and I have no clue how to get back to it. Someone took the time to create it and I’ll never know who or why.
But that’s Burning Man. People spend so much time and effort creating art and relics only to have them be burned down at the end of the week. It truly is a lesson that it’s about the journey, not the destination.
2. Say Yes.
One of the 10 principles of Burning Man is “Participation.” The best thing you could ever do is get off the sidelines. Say yes. Not sure if the Burning Man Choir is for you? Start signing. Unsure if you can handle the zipline? Mount up. Worried about meeting new people? Play 1-minute games with a group where you rotate partners after each round.
The point is, saying yes only increases the more chances you have at discovering a new passion. Something that you had no idea you liked, but now can’t live without. Saying yes increases the chances you return home with an unbelievable story. Saying yes increases the chances of making a new friend.
If something no matter how weird, random, or obscure catches your attention pursue it. If you don’t go to that stage now you’ll never go. If you keep riding your bike and don’t stop at that tent you’ll never see it again. If you don’t stop at the pop-up bar you’ll never know what the specialty drink is.
You can’t be afraid to explore. You can’t be afraid of doing your own thing. You can’t be afraid to say yes. You never know where you’ll end up if you approach things with an open mind and a desire to experience as many things as possible.
3. Don’t just talk about it. Be about it.
This became the unofficial motto for our group. Burning Man isn’t a place you go to brag about once you get home. It’s a place where you learn to live. A place where you put your money where your mouth. A place where you don’t talk the talk unless you’re willing to walk the walk.
Anytime someone would drag their feet someone else would call them out a casual “hey don’t talk about it, be about it.” which was code for less talk more action. Once we heard that each and every one of us would be a little more willing to go outside our comfort zone. We’d be more willing to say yes to something completely crazy.
It was a great reminder that talking accomplishes nothing. If you want a great story, to grow, or create change, you must be willing to take action. After all, words are wind.
Each of these lessons is applicable to more than just Burning Man. If more of us learned to let go while living in the moment, embraced more opportunities without fear, and followed up our talk with action, we’d find our lives transformed.
At the end of it, that’s what Burning Man is really about. Transformation. It’s about teaching us you don’t have to be in the desert to live by these rules. The best thing each of us can do is enjoy everything as it comes and cherish the memories you create while always looking out for the next adventure.