Chapter 1 – A Journey of 6200 Miles Begins with a Decision.

Originally published 9/30/2008

This journal is all about my trip to Burning Man in August 2008, the 6200 mile round trip and the 7 days I spent in the desert.

If you haven’t already done so, read the Welcome page first to get a feel for what this Journal is all about.

My journey actually began 2 years earlier, when my co-worker Rob showed me a website with some fascinating pictures of an arts festival in the desert where they created massive pieces of art and the entire festival was one big continuous celebration of art, freedom, performance and participation. That first glimpse was interesting, but, not something I would ever do.

After all, spending a week in the hot desert, with only the food and drink you take with you, and not being able to really re-supply while you were there? That was for other, younger, more self-confident, camping-oriented people. How could I go to a place like that, with all those people and hope to fit in? I’m not the outgoing type and meeting new people is not my forte.

Six months later, however, I revisited that website, and looked through those pictures, then read others stories, stories of people who challenged themselves to make the journey and experienced the kind of spiritual and comfort-zone changes that are legendary at Burning Man.

The more I thought of that challenge, the more I realized that it was just what I needed. Going there would be something different, not the same old vacation experience, and something that anyone who knew me would never believe I would ever do. And of course, the idea was to drag Donna and Wes along too!! So I became a man on several missions.

My first mission would be to go to Burning Man, meet new and different kinds of people, and make new friends. Not that year, of course, there were only 6 months before the next Labor Day, but the next year. That would give me 18 months of preparation time, planning, and saving up.

Illumination, Navigation, Celebration, and Community Participation!

Having made the decision to go to Burning Man, I decided not just to go and participate but to volunteer to work for the city, as a means of giving back to the community. On the Burning Man website I read about the Lamplighters, one of the most revered groups there, who light the 1000+ kerosene lanterns along the main routes in the city. I knew immediately that I wanted to volunteer, as part of the city infrastructure, as a Lamplighter.

So, my second mission was to volunteer, help light the city each night and in doing so, I found I could also camp right there in Lamplighter Village, close to the city center. I no longer had to worry about where I would be able to set up camp and I had a new, instant ‘family’ I looked forward to meeting and spending time with. I could even get to know some of them ahead of time over the internet.

It’s All about the Art and the City and the People and……

Looking through all those great pictures of the city and the art installations, I thought about how great it would be to take photos as good as or better than the great photographers who had their images posted on the Burning Man site, and to have my pictures published there the next year. So my third mission was to document as much of the art and city as I could get to and get my photos accepted and posted on the Burning Man website.

Because I have eclectic taste in music, I was also looking forward to discovering new music and new groups there. There are many theme camps with large domes or stages, set up as dance clubs and some even combine a dance space with artistic space for fire spinners, hoop artists and acrobatic use. So my fourth mission was to find new music and groups.

Other missions would present themselves when I arrived in Black Rock City.

That’s the ticket!

January, 16th 2008 rolled around, the day that tickets were to go on sale. I worked that day and ticket sales started at 10am. At 10:06am I went to the ticket site to get two tickets (Wes had decided that starting school on time was more important than going along). When ordering tickets they queue you up first come first serve. Tickets are sold in tiers of 10000. Each tier costs a little more than the previous tier and each person queued up can only purchase 2 tickets. At 10:06 I found this message in the window for the waiting queue -

There are approximately 6,050 orders ahead of you.

That would make it 1000 orders per minute. At two tickets per order that would put me about 2100 tickets into tier two, a $15 dollar per ticket difference if I remember correctly. With the window updating every 60 seconds and the number dropping slowly, I finally purchased tickets at 4:19 that afternoon.

Lessons learned: Get on ticket site as close to start time as possible!

Best Laid Plans and All

So, the stage was set, the tickets purchased and now to reserve an RV and collect everything I needed for the trip. The original plan was – drive to Reno, pick up RV, go to Burning Man, return RV, drive home. The plan, however kept changing, Donna did not want to leave her parents alone for the 16 days it would take to make the trip. So we changed it to driving to Vegas – and she would fly out and back from there, get the RV there and so on.

Shortly before I actually called to reserve and RV, however, Donna’s father took ill and was placed in Hospice care at home. The future of our trip looked uncertain, so no further plans were made. Later, Donna suggested that I go on my own, but with no RV reserved, my prospects for shelter at Burning Man looked bleak.

I found a group http://www.playatech.com/ who were creating alternative shelters for homeless and third-world folks and who were planning on testing those at Burning Man by offering to rent them to participants, complete with knockdown plywood furniture, to try out and critique. The shelters would then be given to homeless folks in the Reno or San Francisco area. However, at the last minute I received an email saying they would not be ready this year and would only be setting up a demo unit.

Donna’s father took a turn for the worse and again it looked like the trip would be a no-go. Shortly thereafter, her father passed. After the funeral and other proceedings had been taken care of, Donna had already determined that she would stay and look after her mother. So I had to make a go / no-go decision only weeks before the event.

I was still not prepared, and still had no shelter if I went. I decided to try, but only if I could find something to live in. I went back to plan A, I called the RV rental company and they had a unit, in Las Vegas, slightly larger than I originally wanted, but still less than the same unit if I were to pick up in Salt Lake City. So, I decided to go for it. Las Vegas would add some 500 miles to the trip, but the savings would be worth it, right?

After several weeks of making eight-page checklists, buying supplies and needed equipment, and selling my spare ticket on EBay,  I had two rooms of ‘stuff’ prepared to pack into the car to go. It was time to start my journey.

Next is Chapter 2 – The Journey Begins

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