Looking at the back of one’s Burning Man ticket, the opening disclaimer reads;
THE TICKET PURCHASER OR HOLDER (“YOU”)
VOLUNTARILY ASSUMES ALL RISK
OF PROPERTY LOSS OR DAMAGE,
PERSONAL OR BODILY INJURY,
SERIOUS INJURY OR DEATH.
After 7 years, I failed my saving throw against common sense by trying my untrained feet at the Black Rock Roller Disco on the very first night. At this theme camp, the only shoes that would fit were inline skates, which I had never worn before. Needless to say, my cavalier personality prevailed. I strapped them on and started off.
Lulled into confidence by a few successful revolutions of the dance floor, I came around a corner and whanged my own left knee with my right skate. I stopped, crawled to the racks, and hobbled with friends to the Shipwreck Tiki Lounge where I lessened the pain with a Mai Tai. Back at camp, I made some grilled cheese sandwiches in the back of a box truck, and upon plating my late-night sustenance, I turned around, at the knee mind you, and fell to the floor screaming.
That moment, now 13 weeks ago,
has been a defining moment in every moment since.
I stumbled through the rest of Burning Man using a cut-off piece of PVC as a walking stick, taking care of my knee as best as I could – visiting both the med tent and the Hee Bee Gee Bee healers, icing it when possible, taking tons of IBU, and vaguely trying to keep my weight off of it. At the same time, it was my burn, and wasn’t about to let it impact my enjoyment of experiencing the playa. One of the most painful consequences – emotionally and physically – was my inability to dance to Discofish or go on walkabout wearing bouncy stilts. Even with Acupuncture, it’s now three months later and I continue to take stairs slowly and my knee clicks in a rather disconcerting way.
You might think that counts as a failure, but it was still a great burn. That’s just the way the playa is – harsh, but worthwhile. After walking up to the Temple of Transition for the first time, I wrote the following in my journal;
“It is stunning this year. Beautiful. Moving. A perfect blend of several architectural styles. It brought tears to my eyes. Hobbled with a staff, I felt like a monk as my friends followed me. Suddenly, I asked for a marker and made for a section of wall lit from below. With emotion and conviction, I scrawled “MISS YOU MOM“.
Needless to say, the Temple was powerful. Every time I set foot near it, emotions welled up within me. The music of the Gamelatron would weave through my thoughts.
The best night may have been the very last. Sunday is usually one of people leaving early and the stressful anticipation of Exodus for the rest of us. It’s always a choice – watching the temple burn or leaving and hoping to avoid spending 8 hours in traffic. For me, there’s never a question. Tears streaked down my face during the burn;
“It was the most perfect burn ever. Each temple structure created its own vortex of flame that shot up into the heavens. As the temple burned, fire devils spun out and danced around, propelling everyone’s wishes skyward.”
What made this year’s burn even better was what happened afterwards. We and a number of our excellent campmates had biked out to the Temple with warm clothes and extra blankets. After the fire had died down we rode out to a perfect spot in the shadow of some christmas trees, threw down our sleeping bags, and had a sleepover. In deep playa. It was awesome. We got to enjoy our second desert sunrise of the week before packing up and returning to camp in order to head home.
There were many things that made this year a great burn, and most of them involved the exceptional people that we shared the week with.
The people, the art, and the freedom are the reasons we go.
It is that very same freedom that enabled me to walk up to a rack of skates in the middle of the desert and cripple myself. Throughout the burn, and every day since, I have hobbled on a weak knee because I lost bets with gravity and centrifugal force.
Was it worth it? Absolutely.
(Related photos of Burning Man 2011 can be found here.)