Sam Bauman: My 10th pilgrimage to Burning Man



By the time this appears this senior should be back from his 10th Burning Man pilgrimage to the gathering on Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, up by Gerlach. This year’s gathering opened late due to rain and very slippery conditions on the playa.

Seniors may wonder about why an aging skier would want to subject himself to blinding whiteouts, sun without shade and a melee of celebrators on a desert playa. I do it to refresh my life and get new thinking. Next year, if you’re a senior, give it a try. It’s only as strenuous as you make it.

This was my 10th encampment along with the 65,000-plus who lived in Black Rock City for most of a week. I limit myself to three days.

It was 10 years ago when I loaded my car with sleeping bag, a case of drinking water and what I could eat without cooking. And yes, I slept in my small SUV.

Next I took a tent and slept with the sand and sun. Better but it wasn’t until a local guy shared a folding trailer with me that I got off the ground. Next year I was in an aged but comfy RV. That’s the way I go now, perhaps foregoing the rough life of tenting or sleeping in the open. I’m joined at Burning Man by rich folk, who truly forego the rough life and fly in, are met by a limo and enjoy a personal chef. (I’ve never met them.) That seems to go against the idea of BM — no money except for ice and coffee — and I always have some small gift for fellow Burners.

Parking an RV is the midst of the 65,000 Burners can be a problem, but recently we’ve joined up with the Journalists Camp, somewhere in the middle of the Black Rock City. There were all kinds of dedicated areas — family land, nudist camp, etc. All kinds of places.

As always, there was the statue of the Burning Man, standing 65-feet high above the desert. Not too far away was the Temple — a non-denominational structure in the shape of a Thai building, of unpainted 2x4s, where there’s a place to sit and think and listen to vaguely Buddhist chimes and bells.

At the Temple Burners are encouraged to write messages on the bare wood with markers — words to lost loved ones, to heroes and books, philosophy of kinds.

And as always, there is the City Cafe, a huge tent that houses the coffee line and smaller works of art, most created just for BM and mostly not destined to survive the week. This all wound that last week of August, with the Man going up in flames Saturday night, preceded by an astounding fireworks show. Burners sat in a big circle around the Man, kept back from the flames. A crowd of volunteers carrying torches ran around the Man doing acrobatics. The Man went up in flames, along with the many other buildings. Sunday the Temple and art works on the extensive playa burn.

After the crowds leave, usually Sunday morning (including me), hundreds of volunteers will start cleaning up the playa.

Some columnists who have never spent a day decry BM, saying it’s making money on public property. They also object to kids — and there are plenty of them — seeing few nude men and women. In Europe, such thinking would be labeled as Victorian. So who uses Black Rock Desert during the year other than the Friends of the Black Rock Desert?

But BM does more than adjust your thinking. It has paid for wifi in Gerlach schools, and helped spruce up sleepy (most of the year) Gerlach, and distributed money to area schools. And if business is your criteria, Reno’s airport figures visiting Burners pump $50 million in its coffers, not to mention how the rest of the area such as Carson City benefits. Capitalism strikes back!

Next week: Now hiking can be real fun and pain. I recently found out that the treadmill is not enough if you want to enjoy Dead Man’s Creek or Prison Hill climbs.

Sam Bauman writes about senior issues for the Nevada Appeal.


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