Losing a Bet with Gravity at Burning Man

Posted by Ted on Nov 28, 2011 in Burning Man, Events

Looking at the back of one’s Burning Man ticket, the opening disclaimer reads;


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“.

Temple of Transition

Temple of Transition

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.

Playa Sunrise

Playa Sunrise

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.)

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Photo Friday: Temple of Transition

Posted by Ted on Sep 9, 2011 in Burning Man, Photography

Many burners would agree that one of the most important structures at Burning Man is The Temple, often more so than the central effigy himself. A tradition started in 2000 by artist David Best, each year’s temple is a massively collaborative project with dozens of workers spending weeks to build it, giving thousands of participants an opportunity to write notes to loved ones in the spirit world, let go of emotional baggage, or simply express wishes and hopes for the future. Whereas the burning of “The Man” on Saturday night is a big party, the burning of “The Temple” on Sunday night is more solemn and contemplative. In 2003, the first temple I saw was Best’s “Temple of Honor“, a paper mâché structure that burned fast and bright.

I have connected with some temples more than others over the intervening years, but this year’s Temple of Transition was something truly special. I approached it the first time at night, expansive and elegant. As I neared, details revealed themselves in the masterful blending of multiple architecture styles and the intricately cut panels which framed the large open doorways. When close enough that the six towers loomed overhead, I could hear the soothing melody of the Gamelatron emanating from the central structure.

We spent a lot of time at the temple this year, honoring parents and pets passed away. Even more powerfully, we found clarity in what our near-future goals are, which will be a path of hard work and compromise, but one in which we anticipate great rewards. On Sunday night, we biked out to the temple, and watched through tears of awe and hope as it burned. Its very design – tall open cylinders with plenty of air circulation – created columns of fire that rose up into the heavens.

Afterwards, our group of a dozen or so campers biked to an area of the open playa, laid our sleeping bags on the ground, and enjoyed our last night, talking, wandering, and waking up to watch the sunrise together.



China – Day 5 & 6

Posted by Ted on Jul 24, 2009 in Travel

The lesson of the last couple of days is don’t brush your teeth with tap water when travelling.

On Thursday, we woke, had breakfast, and walked through Puji Temple, the main temple on Putuoshan, behind our hotel. It was beautiful and crowded, and featured a huge gold Buddha, gleaming in the darkness. We then walked the grounds of the Botanical Gardens, killing time until 9a when we could use the business center at the Xelei hotel to review and digitally sign the offer letter on a house back home.

Afterwards, we took a bus up to the northern part of the island, to the cablecar that goes up Mount Putuo. It afforded a stunning view of other islands in the archipelago, as well as an even bigger temple complex than any we’d yet seen under construction. At the top, we enjoyed the cooler temperature and different smells. We walked down a few paths, one ending at a scenic overlook with a small gazebo, complete with two sleepers, escaping the morning sun. Then we took the long way down the south side of the mountain, via a beautiful stone stairway, through a forest of trees, occasionally opening up into vistas across the island and towards Guanyin in the distance. We passed a number of devout Buddhists on their ascent, stopping every few feet to bow in supplication, touching their foreheads to the cool stone steps every time. We stopped at the bottom for lunch, having the best dry sauteed string beans.

Afterwards, we took a bus to Puji Temple and began our long trip back to Hangzhou, via boat, bus, train, and taxi. We arrived back at the West Lake Youth Hostel around 11, feeling like we’d come back home. It’s a lovely hostel, traditional in architecture, set in the woods south of the lake, and staffed by friendly kids and an exuberant puppy.

Yesterday morning is when the painful lesson was learned, as I woke up to the classic travelers’ sickness. Thankfully, with the help of some Cipro, the worst was over in a few hours.

Taking the rest of the day relatively easy, we went to the Seal Engravers Society, and Liz picked out a chop to be made for her. While we waited, we had some tea at the nearby Sunrise Pavilion, overlooking the lake and the green hills beyond, sprinkled with classic Chinese architecture. With chop in hand, we then headed to the Museum of Traditional Chinese Medicine, where Liz got to see pictures of some of the major contributors to the art over thousands of years.

Conveniently, we were also near Qinghefang, a pedestrian street filled with medicine and curio shops, and a small alley of food vendors where we picked up some pineapple fried rice, and had a lovely conversation with a Chinese woman from Belgium, traveling with her mother and aunt. Afterwards, we continued our walk, but soon became weary of seeing the same stuff for sale, and caught a cab back to our hostel.

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China – Eclipse Day

Posted by Ted on Jul 21, 2009 in Travel

Another truism about pilgrimages is that one never knows what lessons they will learn along the way. A few that we learn again and again are to forego expectation, meet setbacks with creativity and grace, and to be content with what one is given.

We woke early this morning to an overcast sky. We ate a leisurely breakfast of congee, hard boiled eggs, and steamed buns, and walked out to the 100 Step Beach, and then along a beautiful walkway down to the southern tip of the island to the foot of the 33-meter high statue of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy to whom the island is devoted.

There was quite a crowd gathered in anticipation, wearing sun viewing glasses and burning large amounts of incense. We hooked up with a fellow eclipse-chaser from California and his family, and joined the assembled in sharing the special moment in a place of spiritual significance and serene beauty. The clouds remained thick, but allowed the occasional glimpse of a blazing crescent. Totality itself was completely obscured, but was no less magical. The world turned truly dark as night, the Bodhisattva illuminated from below. True to Chinese mythology, a Dragon came and ate the sun, only to be scared away by the beats of drums. While it may have been the longest eclipse of the century, the five and a half minutes were over all too quickly, and the world brightened again. While we saw none of the totality, the experience was well worth the expense and effort.

Afterwards, we explored the temple and monastary, relaxing and enjoying the ocean breeze. We walked back up the eastern path, past the purple bamboo forest, and stopped for lunch just as the first torential rain of the day fell outside. When it abated, we left and walked through the grounds surrounding Puji Temple and to the local hospital where we barely negotiated the prescribing of Chinese herbs to help with my insomnia, only to get stuck waiting out another torrent of rain.

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