Saturday, November 7, 2009

Our Final Days at Burning Man

Friday we woke up and it was my 64th birthday. Phil's 64th birthday was on the following Monday, so both of us enjoyed one of the most unique birthday's either one of us had every experienced.

Janet was kind enough to gift airplane rides to myself, Phil, Sara and David, giving us all an opportunity to see Black Rock City from the air. Plus I had the opportunity to photography Janet and a few other guys leaving the airplane for their skydives. The city from the sky was an awesome site, well worth the ride, although Sara was tempted to jump with Janet!

That night, jumps were scheduled and the Rocket Ship art had a big pyro planned. Sara and I were out on the Playa helping with crowd control for the landing area, Phil and Janet were at the airport setting up runway lights and David was out on the Playa. Unfortunately after what seemed liked hours of standing around in near zero visibility the jump was canceled due to high winds and dust storms. (Good thing, we wouldn't have wanted to jump in those conditions!) After helping keep the crowd in the correct place we  were in a perfect position to see the huge Rocket Ship pyro display. Apparently they were not able to do everything they wanted due to the wind, however it was still spectacular.

Saturday was another day of enjoying the sights and sounds of Burning Man. David volunteered to drive the Burning Sky art car which took skydivers and FireFlys (people going for an observer ride in the plane) to the airport. After three hours of hanging with skydivers he came back a changed man. (Ask David for details!) The rest of us ventured out into the dust and walked around the city and playa. Wandering around in dust storms with only 20 feet of visibility was quite a surreal experience. Needless to say we all came back covered in dust!

The big event Saturday night was the burning of the "Man".  On our way out to watch the burn, the dust storms were so severe we actually returned to the camp for a while, sure the burn would not happen. Since we couldn't see anything in the dark and dust we were concerned we would get totally lost wandering around the playa. Fortunately the weather improved and we were able to head back out. (By now you have got the idea, a lot of dust, and walking around!)

On our way out to the Man (for the second time) we stopped to watch and listen to a very unusual musical pyro device. This guy had designed a device that made a most unusual sound, a bit of a cross between an organ and a didgeridoo. The music was made by huge flames that shot out of the top of the pipes. It was very unusual and interesting.

When we got out to the man the entire 45,000 population of Black Rock City was gathered around the Man in a circle, including all the art cars. There was a lot of music, cars with lights, and people of course in crazy costumes. The normal position of the Man with his arms down by his side had changed to a position with his arms up over his head. The burn started with a huge fireworks display, and a lot of large flame explosions. After the display finished portions of the Man, and the structure around him were on fire. Eventually everything was burning, and finally the structure and the Man burned to the ground. The energy and mood of the crowd was very vibrant and electric, a huge party atmosphere.

Sunday was a work day for John, Sara and Janet. Since we were staying at the Burning Sky camp it was appropriate to volunteer for some of the work that has to be done to run a skydiving operation. We had the task of briefing, rigging and loading people into the jump plane. It was good to help out, although five hours of hot dirty work. As it turned out Sunday set a new record for the number of plane loads. By the end of our shift we had a really good system going.

While we were working Phil was also out at the airport taking pictures of the different planes. At one point a very rare plane flew in, and the pilot announced he was giving away free flights over Black Rock City to any naked ladies. Needless to say there were a number of women happy to get naked for a ride in such a rare plane. The plane was a Sikorsky S-38, known as the "Air Yacht". It is the only one in the world still flying. Since Phil was in the right place with the best camera, he got the task of photographing the naked ladies in the airplane. Check out his pictures here Sikorsky Photos.

After we finished with our airport duties we had the task of breaking down all our camp structures and packing everything in the RV ready for our 4am departure the next morning. Note for next time, if you leave shoes outside they fill up with dust!

That evening (Sunday) the weather finally cleared for the night jumps. These were definitely the coolest night jumps we have ever seen. We could see each jumper in freefall since they wore jumpsuits covered in lights. Each jumper also had some sort of pyro device they ignited and hung below them after the canopies opened. This created a huge bright sparkling trail behind them. There was a bit of tense moment when Phil radioed us to see if we could see the plane, he and Janet were waiting at the airport again setting up runway lights. After about 10 minutes of wondering where the plane was we found out George had decided to return to Reno, instead of trying to land in a pitch black desert! Can't say we blame him at all, it was very dark, and the runway was hard to find even on the ground.

The entire Temple burned down much faster than the Man. The mood was entirely different. There was a sense of reverence, and you could hear a pin drop. The Temple burning concluded our Burning Man experience. We did manage to get up at 4am the next day and leave without any problems. We will spare you the details of the two day drive back in the RV, the day and half of unloading and cleanup, and the several weeks of dealing with the aftermath at home!

Check out the photos from the last few days. Click the image below to view the photos in full size.

Final Thoughts
Are we glad we went to Burning Man? Absolutely! Would we go again? Absolutely!

It was without question one of the most unusual unique events we have ever experienced. Is it for everyone? Of course not. It would definitely take a lot of people out of their comfort zone. However we will always look back on our Burning Man experiences with great fondness and many indelible memories.

For now we are left with a strange sense of peace and calmness. Sara says she feels unusually calm, and serene. Was it the dust, the sleep deprivation, or the overall visual impact of the event? Who knows, you will have to go and decide for yourself.....