On being a stilt-walking nomad at Burning Man

Posted by Ted on Sep 19, 2010 in Burning Man

This year was my sixth and most laid back burn thusfar. For most, Burning Man is anything but relaxing. Given the need to haul food, structures, and clothes in and out of a featureless desert, those who call it “recreational moving” are not far off the mark. However, after a summer consisting of biking around Lake Tahoe, exploring gold rush country, a trip to Thailand, a wedding in New York, and preparing for an extended trip throughout Southeast Asia, relaxing is just what was needed. We packed up our trusty hatch-back and drove out to the playa via North Tahoe – a much prettier place to spend the night than Reno.

Easy going doesn’t mean uneventful, though, and there are always a number of highlights;

  • Camp Nomadia – Even before we arrived on playa, a yearly ritual is stopping at one of the many Indian taco stands along Rt. 447 north of Reno. In a shining moment of serendipity, the couple we sat across from turned out to be Cherie & Chris, whom I had already been conversing with over email for a vagabonding case study. I stopped by their camp for a ‘Nomadic Happy Hour‘ a few days later and met some exceptional people.
  • Bliss was stunning. Beautiful. Sensual. Awe inspiring. I experienced the barest sense of what a DJ must feel when spinning a good set while playing with Syzygryd one night. The Temple of Flux challenged one’s idea of what sacred space could be, and when it burned it was a volcano of flame reaching up to the heavens.
  • Late one morning, a breath of fresh air as two of Liz’ friends from New York that she hadn’t seen in six years stopped by for a visit. Their bubbly warmth was a wonderful way to start the day.
  • Summer Camp! – It was absolutely the best group of old and new faces with the best theme that we’ve ever camped with. There was enough infrastructure that the kitchen was usable and well laid out, with sufficient shade structure during the day, and completely set up by Sunday night. I enjoyed sharing music and cornbread with everyone, in camp and to passersby. Our most successful event was a letter-writing day with 300 cards being sent, including one to Liz’ mom and to our awesome subletters.
  • Incoming mail! – Not only did we send out mail, but we received a postcard from our good friend Rich back in Boston! Receiving mail on the playa is awesome!
  • After 5 years in a tent that heats up too early and blocks neither light nor sound, we built a hexayurt this year! It took 7 pieces of 8×4 insulation and a bunch of aluminum and “bi-directional filament” tape, but we built something that kept us cool and dark. However, a completely new weather anomaly in the form of RAIN during the first couple of days did still leak through seams and underneath. This frustration was rewarded by THE MOST AMAZING DOUBLE RAINBOW EVER.
  • With some purple nail polish, I re-intentioned a bottle of San Pellegrino with “Potential” at the WaterZone water bar.
  • One afternoon I took some time for myself and rode my bike out to an edge of the city I had never been to – the trash fence out past 2:00. Ostensibly I was looking for the elusive Black Rock Airport. What I did find was the edge of “open camping”, an the area of open playa beyond the end of the last street where the most remote denizens of Black Rock City pitch their small camps. Like my first year, I hopped the fence to enjoy a stolen moment outside the city walls (about three feet tall) and was rewarded with endless playa running up to the mountains and touching the sky.
  • Then there was the CRAZY WEDNESDAY. We woke up mid-week to watch the sunrise, and left camp around 7am. We then drove back to the Bay Area, arriving around 2pm. After a quick shopping trip, a load of laundry, and showers, we drove into San Francisco so that Liz could attend a final exam potluck. We then left at 7pm, and arrived back at camp by around 2:30am. We stayed up to watch the sunrise again, and it was almost as if the day never happened.
  • Perhaps the most unexpectedly awesome thing was STILT WALKING! Borrowing a campmate’s Powerisers, I took to them like a natural. After about 20 minutes of walking 5-10 feet, I was strolling down the streets with my trusty unlit fire staff in hand, stopping at bars and posing for pictures along the way.

For a relatively quiet week, there are still so many wonderful memories, even just hanging out in camp, or spending a couple of hours riding an art car and listening to Alternative/Christmas mash-ups.

Burning Man continues to be a unique and worthwhile experience which celebrates both the absurd and the creative.

An adventurer at heart, Ted Beatie is at his happiest when he’s off the beaten path. His deepest passion is sharing the world through photography and writing, found at The Pocket Explorer. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.


Brian Setzer
Sep 19, 2010 at 6:39 am

Great meeting you there Ted. Even though this was my first Burning Man I had similar experiences. Nothing over the top crazy, but enjoyed every minute of it. So many new experiences to be had and cool people to get to know. Good luck with your upcoming journeys!


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