BurningMan #2 in the Books

Last year, I had hands down the best week of my life at my first Burning Man. Hype can be a dangerous thing, where was I supposed to go? I just re-read what I wrote about it, and there are a few things I felt like should clarify.

I never really touched on how difficult the conditions were, even in a pampered camp with an air conditioned RV and a shower. It slipped my mind. This year, I was surprised on the first day when my hands were so dry they bled. I forgot that when you blow your nose, dust and blood were going to come out. I didn’t remember what dehydration felt like. That you might not eat for many hours in a row. That you might  attempt to take off your camelback, fanny-pack, and dinosaur onesie, while trying to figure out why you are dressed like a dinosaur in the first place, all so that you can try to poop in a port-a-potty while tripping.

I also didn’t really mention many of the ridiculously awesome things. First off, the spectacle is enormous. When you are on the esplanade at night, in every direction you are entirely surrounded by art cars, exhibits, bikes and humans lit up with LED flashing lights, and  fire breathing octopi. The 360 degree view out there is unparalleled. Aside from getting to experience some of the overwhelmingly positive people, my favorite thing to do at BM is to stop, pick a bright light in the distance that is calling you, and bike towards it. And the sheer number of these completely outstanding exhibits is mind blowing.

There are 70,000 people, the overwhelmingly majority are trying hard to be the best version of themselves. In two years, I came across only one person who was being a true asshole. And as far as assholes go, he wasn’t so bad.

Even for someone not interested in a psychedelic experience, getting to see one of the more outrageous things in the world gets my full endorsement. And who knows, you might accidentally learn something profound about yourself.

I hadn’t planned on doing a big write up this year, but I  still need to include an answer to “How was Burning Man” rather than link this youtube video.

On Monday evening, a group of us went out and took mushrooms. Eventually, our group was at a crossroads. Some wanted to keep admiring the illumicone while I had the strong urge to explore. 2 of the 7 team members decided to continue on with me.

 We stopped to dance at an art car. Nibbles and I start dancing as crazy as possible, while Mrs. Nibbles laid down and watched. Dancing turns into pure euphoria. I grab a beer out of his bag, shake it up, and it make it foam all over both of us and pour it on both of our heads. It doesn’t sound like much but this moment was the highlight of my burn this year. Goddamn, we were both so happy.

Tuesday

The next morning, I think about the experience. While it was cool that I was able to experience such bliss, I wanted to be able to have myself in such a positive state without the aid of any performance enhancers. A very large group went out intending on taking MDMA, I decided to try to put what I learned on mushrooms to use and stay sober.

 I was failing spectacularly. We go to the lighthouse to see live music, and an hour after they were scheduled to play, no one had shown up.  My attempt to mobilize failed because our group was too big. A didn’t want to leave without B. B couldn’t leave without C. C needs to tell A how special he is. All I can fixate on is how much more fun everyone is having than me.

A meetup is scheduled at 1am outside of the temple. I head there a bit early and try to meditate. After a few minutes, I feel a bit better. Since I am already at the temple, and sober, it seems like a good time to check it out. I go in hoping for an emotional reaction. I’m inside for 90 seconds, don’t feel anything, and walk out.

A friend walks up to me and tells me, “Hey, if you ever wanted to talk about your Dad, I’m always here.” “I really appreciate that, but it was 9 years ago. What’s there to say at this point? I’m good.”

About 20 seconds later, I start crying. A lot. It was the first time since last year’s Burn. It was surprisingly refreshing. [1]

I had been on the fence about going to PCA this year. Obviously avoiding the resort where your dad passed away seems obvious, but given the high opportunity cost, the idea of skipping it caused some guilt. If you can save a life for ~$3200 and I can play a bunch of high stakes poker tournaments, how do I not withstand the mental anguish to literally save multiple lives. It felt unbelievably selfish, almost immoral, to me.The experience at the temple made it very obvious to me that I had no obligation to attend to try to make money.

We finally break into smaller groups. My group starts biking towards one of my favorite exhibits, the sonic runway A friend asks to stop, and is talking about having a bit of a come-down from the MDMA. We stop in the middle of deep playa. Now in a blissful mood, I cheer him up. We all hang out for a bit until the rest of the gang decides to go to sleep. I decide to stay up until sunrise.

I check out the Catacomb of Veils. Having all the time you could want to investigate art was incredibly nice. I tried to figure out why the artist would have holes on some of the walls. [2] Why the number 12 kept appearing in various paintings. [3]I keep exploring until the sun looks ready to come up, and I bike out to Robot Heart. I watch the sunrise with a Wandering Bear and recapped our nights.

Wednesday

I’m riding my bike around for some casual day time exploration  and I feel something wrong with my bike. As I pull over, the entire front wheel falls off from the bike. Somehow I land on my feet, completely unharmed. I am outside of “We-Scream” camp, who was hosting a make your own ice cream party. I decide to make some coffee flavoured nitrogen ice cream while I think about what to do with the bike situation. I don’t have to think very long, someone on the line saw what happened, had an RV across the street, and put the wheel back on for me. We have a good conversation, he invites me to an espresso martini party that night, and I continue on my way.

I end up at a naked foam party which unsurprisingly was super fun. I met a girl there, and I asked her if this was the craziest event of her Burn. She responded by laughing; clearly she meant business. She invited me to one of their parties, “If I could handle it.” Challenge accepted.

On the way to the party, I ran into a friend telling me about a massive group meditation going during the same time as the party. It kind of felt like a test from the universe. Do I go chase the girl, or do I follow my lessons from the night before and seek enlightenment? I must have been leaning the wrong way, because the Gods of the Playa smited me with a 90 minute dust storm and I missed both events.

We waited out the storm. At 9pm, there was a plan to watch a documentary premiere. The group is going slow, so one friend and I rush ahead to make sure we get there on time. We don’t find the tent, and miss it. Oops.

Missed documentary turns into some 1 on 1 adventuring. One of my favorite parts of the trip was getting lots of time in with two people whom I previously did not know very well. After this trip, they went from acquaintance I would be happy to hang out with in a group to good friend who I would encourage to stay at my apartment for a couple days any time we were in the same part of the country.

Here are some of my favorite exhibits from the night

  1. Shortly after smoking a joint and getting the munchies, in deep playa we stumbled upon an Australian diner that served grilled cheese and vegemite sandwiches. [4]
  2. Hiding out in a giant ball pit and ambushing the first person who came in
  3. I don’t want to spoil details, but this may have been my favorite exhibit. If you ever come across it, it’s worth the wait.
  4. Elite steamed dumplings at Bao chicka wow wow, every day from midnight to 4am.
  5. Had a conversation with a professional musician. Even though things had been going very well for him, he has always felt a bit insecure for not going to college. He wondered what could have been. He says he had a mushroom trip where he finally was able to put that feeling behind him. Those kind of experiences seem to be uncannily common at Burning Man.

Thursday

A group of us waited for the sun to go down and decided we were going to take acid. The plan was to explore for a bit and stop by a party at around 10pm. I took half of a tab. We stumbled upon the Black Rock Observatory.  There’s a line to go in, so we just lie down and stare at the stars. In the darkness, some guy jumps out. He tells us all that he has a PHD in astrophysics and wanted to talk to us about the universe. [5]

He starts going off about the big bang. How collisions happened. Something about elements. I start tripping balls. One of his assistants comes up to me and hands me a rock. He tells me it a 4.5 billion year old meteor (!!!!!). In a good way, I am totally flipping out. We listen for a bit and start heading towards the party, stopping at various colorful lights.

We get  there and to me it immediately feels wrong. Socializing for me is just strictly less fun than riding your bike and looking at trippy light shit. I also was self conscious of people seeing me while I trip my balls off.  I recruit two buds to leave the party and head back out into deep playa to look at cool things.

I start thinking about the astrophysicists. 6.5 billion years old is a long time. And 7 billion humans in the world. In a completely non depressing way, I am thinking about how insignificant my life is. A debate breaks out involving whether or not we are in a computer simulation, [6] and whether or not we have free will. [7]

About 5 hours after taking the acid, we smoke a joint. Just for reference, goddamn I was tripping way harder after hitting the joint than a couple hours earlier when I thought I was peaking.

We are 11 minutes away from the meetup time, so we start biking towards the temple. I forget to take off my bike lock, gets all tangled up. My chain becomes loose. I try to fix it, but this would be a difficult task for me sober. On acid, LOL no chance. Fortunately one of the other team members was somehow functional enough to fix it. We make it to the meetup spot at the temple, relatively on time.

The group aspect is still slightly overwhelming.  People start talking about what a dumb meetup spot the temple is. “It would be so easy to get negative ideas.” I think about my experience at the temple the other night. “DON’T HAVE A BAD TRIP DAN.” I lie, down, focus on my breathing. The feeling is intense, but I get through it. The rest of the gang finds the meets up, everyone heads on to the next stop. Our smaller team breaks off again.

We continue to explore for a few hours until we finally meet up with the rest of the gang. We share stories of our wild night. We catch the burning of the catacombs and a great sunrise. Finally, it’s time for sleep and I take 1/4th of a Xanax to help me pass out.My head was still spinning over the fact that life has no meaning. That free will isn’t real.

Friday

Lola ate my journal pages on Friday afternoon[8], but as usual I explored and saw some cool shit. The general highlights 1) roller blading on a rink 2) attempting to do those circus-y rings at Swing City Camp 3) crazy dance party to some mashup DJ

 Saturday

All 70,000 people and every art car circle the Man while we wait for him to Burn. This year the act of burning went much better than last year. This man was smaller than last year’s, so the act of it Burning went more smoothly and quickly. After the man Burns, it becomes pure pandemonium. All the street signs get ripped down. And because it’s the last party night, no one holds anything back.

Around midnight, I take 150 milligrams of Molly and we party until party sunrise, with some really great bonding along the way.  I take advantage of a few friends on drugs and make them promise to come visit me while I’m in San Diego this fall . I meet Tim Urban from waitbutwhy and try to pick his brain for a little bit on the meaning of life.[9]

My brain still felt like the pieces hadn’t been put all together from acid; the combined aspect of life is meaningless and yourconsciousness is literally everything to you, is a total mind fuck. At some point during the night I decide the point of life is to just be the best version of yourself you can be, and that allows me to sit a bit more comfortably. We catch one last sunrise together.

Sunday

I chat for a while with someone who I developed a moderate man crush on. We have some ideas for a charity project. On paper, I feel like we have a slam dunk idea. Currently, I am in the process of running it by accountants and lawyers to determine if this is something that is actually feasible.

I have some time before the Temple burn, and I happened to ride my bike past Zendo. Zendo is a project run by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies to try to help people having difficult trips. I am intrigued, and was considering MAPS as a charity source. I have a feeling that even though most people never go to Zendo, the fact that it is around helps people have a more positive experience.

I end up chatting to a very impressive psychologist. I had recently been dealing with an old friend who I found stealing from me. When I uncovered that story, I realize that it was not  an isolated lie, and that my dear friend could be a pathological liar. I try to understand more how his brain works so that I can relate to it.

She asks what I wanted to do, and I explain how I want to generally get him on the right path. She points out that I can’t force someone to change. “Of course I can. I will send him an outline of things to do. I will set him up with a good therapist. I will get him on a meditation routine. Exercise, eating well.” I kept listing off things to do, and she points out that I can’t make him change. Writing this out, it feels obvious, but it was something I needed to hear. I wanted to make a plan, and fix the problem. Sometimes there is nothing that can be done.

She turns the tables on me, and asks why I am so committed to helping this person who wronged me. She suggests that I have the typical fear of dying alone. I look at my watch and realize that I am late for the Temple Burn. I missed both groups who left, so I go on my own. It felt symbolic.

The man Burning is a rowdy affair, but the temple Burning is very solemn, and signifies the end of Burning Man.

What did I get out of Burning Man 2016?

  • That I want to get more out of meditation. Push my comfort level. Look into retreats
  •  I have been less motivated by poker as of late and was looking for another project. I might have found it. Even if it falls through, I feel like I have a better idea of my personal 5 and 10 year plan, which I find very comforting
  • Unbelievable bonding experiences with old friends and new friends
  • The opportunity to see the best version of so many people. It’s amazing that Burning Man works. Social pressure convinces people to be nice to each other. People buy into the idea of leave no trace and carry their MOOP [10] with them.
  • Most importantly, that I desperately need to get a spray tan.

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Thanks for reading. I would appreciate any feedback, even if it were just on technical things in my writing to focus on improving. I enjoyed writing this both years, and would be open to suggestions on future blog topics.  I would also be very interested to hear about any experiences people had on a meditation retreat, 10 days of silence feels like a very long time.


[1] Like a junior mint

[2] It wasn’t anything artistic, people just climbed the walls and damaged the sides. Derp.

[3] Burningman’s theme this year was Da Vinci’s Workshop, so I assume Da Vinci had something important with the number 12, but I never figured it out

[4] I thought I disliked vegemite but apparently Americans put way too much on.

[5] I believe him, but I am slightly concerned some Burner was playing a prank on us. He claimed to have an east coast – west coast rivalry with Neil deGrasse Tyson.

[6] I am now officially on team simulation

[7] nope

[8] What a bitch

[9] I was probably too high to articulate my point.

[10] Matter out of Place. AKA garbage

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BurningMan #2 in the Books