I’m sitting on a bright red sofa high-up on a three-story scaffold.
Me with two strangers that I met last night.
We are facing east. Which seems appropriate because none of us have slept yet from our evening of dancing and shenanigans.
Sunrise is coming.
I turn to my new friends sitting there with me, they are wearing purple faux fur coats and covered head to toe in dust “I rode my motorcycle here from Canada.”
They both look towards me, bright eyed and bushy tailed, two twenty-something sweethearts from San Francisco area, “No way!”
The girl passes me a Pezz candy from a Donald Duck dispenser.
“Yeah. I rode in on Monday during the dust storm. Took over three hours to ride five kilometres.”
They giggle over my reference to metric –Americans. Gotta’ love them.
“Seriously, man. Wow, that’s intense.”
I reflect on these words, “Yeah, it was the most intense motorcycle thing I’ve ever done.” In my heart, I know it’s true.
If only they knew.
But they don’t need to know.
This moment is not about that–it’s about us.
We smile at one another and look down at the incredible vista below us– Burning Man. An arts festival in the middle of a Paleolithic lakebed nestled high in a mountain desert of Nevada, fifty thousand of us making a city in the middle of nowhere. Radical self-sufficiency, radical self-expression, radical inclusion and a gifting economy; the whole philosophy of Burning Man is just radical unto itself, but somehow the magic works.
We look toward the Black Rock mountain range; a golden finger of light is creeping over its shadow, illuminating the playa like a misty ocean full of lost ships. The wreckage of art is everywhere, beautiful and huge, amazing installations built by world-class artisans, but with the morning light coming up it resembles Davy Jones’ locker. A world of water and not sand, the mist above the earth is really the dust from all the activity of the night. For this one moment the carnelian heart of the sun, as it rises for the day, casts a spell over the three of us. Three new friends sitting on a red couch high on a scaffold designed especially for this sunrise session.
The boy beside me repeats, “Whoa man, that must have been seriously intense. Like whoa, that dust storm was just – whoa! And a Canadian chick on a bike. Dammmmn!”
I smile at him. He’s so young.
So impressed. But it was only five kilometres.
And that’s the irony, isn’t it?
A measly five kilometres and after riding five thousand you’d think it would be simple.
But nothing about Burning Man is simple. The intense heat, the high alkaline dust, the freaky poetics of everything around you–you are challenged. You push your limits and you push others. Surviving in the elements is the biggest challenge for most. For me, I know I am pushed to the edge when I actually have to pray.
Praying for help when you’re riding a motorcycle–not recommended.
The “ride in” starts like any other riding day except that the destination of my journey is fast approaching. With every corner on the twisting desert highway the dream of Burning Man is coming true. The beautiful winding long stretches on a two-lane highway with the sweet smell of sage wafting in my helmet and the peacefulness of this journey, so poignant. Now, normally this is a biker’s dream but presently I have joined wall-to-wall vehicles all heading in the same direction, driving on the same two lane highway, taking their sweet two-lane time, so it is official –I have joined the pilgrimage and now it is time to practice patience. Not my strongest suit. So, tens of thousands of vehicles and me all focus on the scorching flat plane, this being our resolve for the day–to arrive at one of the most amazing arts festivals in the world. On an even deeper level, I have the simple gratification of knowing I rode my motorcycle here all the way from Canada. Plus, I know my purpose: I am here to firedance. I am here to play. I am here to heal. I am here to remember who I am and accept it.
Now, to let this migration of freaks arrive safely.
A BMW blessing, hell yeah! Thank goodness I am on the F650GS. The dual sport is essential in dealing with the dirt road that is fast approaching. The shift from pavement to dirt is fine, the bike’s amazing in all road conditions, but what distracts my attention is the funny sort of cloud laying low along the playa ridge. I can’t believe it–there is a dust storm brewing from the south. To add insult to injury, the mass parade of vehicles coming into the event is kicking up an insane amount of dust. I am forced to ride upwind to the right of everybody, narrowly hugging the fence line while my tire is wobbling deep in the playa dirt. The normal densely packed road surface had been disturbed by all the traffic resembling nothing more than fresh powder, I stand up off my seat and ride in motocross style only to witness the wrath of a full-on playa storm heading our way.
Now, here’s the real problem. There is no going back. Tens of thousands of people are heading to this arts festival, I am riding a motorcycle and compared to all the semi-trucks, RV’s and art cars–I am a speck. A tiny speck in the big scheme of this massive passage. They are all going forward and so must I. Go!
I barely have enough time to tighten my pink camo-hankerchief around my mouth and nose. I secure my goggles, tighten the strap on my helmet and zip my leather gear up tight –there can be no more ventilation. By the time I complete these tasks, my open face helmet has filled up with the playa storm. This is when I swear under my breath and accept the dust that is filling up in my ears. Wow. Every breath I take is a violation to my lungs. I desperately try to pull the scarf tighter but this is Hell–and that’s all there is to it.
It’s about now that I start to panic. I can’t see ahead, beside or even behind me. Once in a while a huge RV sails by like some ghostly pirate ship brushing gently by my shoulder. The fear on the passenger’s face in the RV is enough to make me scream out loud, “WTF!”
At least I have my bearings. In order to move forward, I find the fence line and know that it follows the road into the event. I am now PULLING– yes, pulling myself along the fence line in order to gain safe entry. I probably have another four kilometres to go. Time for a meditative breath and a little prayer to the Universe.
My dust mask sucks, I have pulled it so tight that I can’t feel my face. My goggles and motorcycle leathers are the only thing keeping my body together at this point. I am holding on so tight to my left grip that I can’t feel my arm and the constant reaching to the next hold on the fence line is totally exhausting.
I surmise—maybe another three kilometres? Then, another shadow of an RV gently skims my shoulder. There is no frickin’ doubt–this IS one of the most dangerous things I have ever done.
The calm in the storm.
I can barely see a foot in front or behind me when a weird phenomenon happens. A wind tunnel hits, clearing a perimeter of about one hundred feet, I am now in the eye of the storm. This moment of suction allows me to take a deep breath. I fill my lungs with precious oxygen and then check out my proximity to others. I must be dreaming. Surrounding me like ghostly apparitions are thousands and thousands of vehicles of every shape and size to the right, left, in front and behind me. I almost scream.
Suddenly, like magic, another motorcyclist appears behind me–a white rider on the storm racing a BMW R1200GS. No way! He speeds towards me and rides my tire. We both know we are in the eye of the storm and need to take advantage of this pause. We ride as fast as we can JUST to make headway. I gun it. He follows suit. I’m shaking like a leaf, the ride is exhausting and I’m freaking out with all the danger around me. I go forward like some bat outa’ hell–faster pussycat faster! The GS rider is riding just as ferociously, but it doesn’t last, the white gloves of the storm wrap around us again and I can barely make out the rider in my mirror, but I know he’s close. We start grabbing at the fence line again knowing it will eventually take us where we need to go.
I honestly don’t know how long this took. The whole damn thing was a shape shifted time warp of meditative breathing, a few prayers and some serious cussing, but eventually we landed at The Gates. The Greeters Gate. Here, I am approached by a man covered head to toe in white playa dust, sparkles, a full beard, a pink tutu and an industrial style dust mask. He smiles and hugs me. I almost fall off my bike.
The other GS rider pulls up beside me. We both start screaming and hollering, we even high-fived! Man, we probably would have hugged except for the fact neither one of us dare let go of our handlebars.
“That was insane!”
“That was the craziest thing I have ever done!”
“God we almost died, dude!”
Can we actually enter? We have already come this far so like the dusty rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland,
I take the leap and head towards the red beacon high in the sky, close to Centre Camp.
I go this way. He goes that way. Miraculously I find my way to my camp. My mates at “The Bordello of Dust” greet me with costumes coated in white powder and hand me a nice stiff drink. I literally fall off my bike into their arms.
I look twenty feet in front of me and glance up. There in my own camp is the red beacon that showed me the way.
A bright red sofa on the top of a three-story scaffold. Playa magic. MMM
Check out more of Lesley
Gering’s art and words on her website www.motorgirl.com and for more information about the Burning Man Festival go to www.burningman.org. Oh, and dust is not a condiment. Namaste.