Vote Charlie!

The journey to Burning Man

Posted at age 25.
Created . Edited .

In early February, I decided to buy some tickets for that impossible to fully describe event called Burning Man. Despite prevaling wisdom, I actually think I had a pretty good idea what I was in for. I knew it is a city that rises on an ancient lakebed within a week and then in even less time diseappears entirely. I knew it is about acceptance and free expression. I knew it is not for the feeble.

What I did not know was how being freer than I ever have been would change me. Realizations, new experiences, new friends. It was undoubtedly the most awesome adventure of my life, even though I know I barely scratched the surface my first year. You really do need to experience it, though hopefully writing about it can help me better live it every day.

The process of getting there was a bit silly, involving registering a week in advance for an account and attempting to purchase at a set time while competing with thousands of others. Frustration and lots of waiting set the tone for many, but I lucked out and made my purchase within minutes. As “Nicholas Gorichanaz” (a long story involving a favor to a friend), I bought two tickets for $785, and my mom did as well. The tentative plan was to go with Brad and hopefully with some friends as well.

Over the next six months, Brad’s plans to attend wavered quite a few times, and mine did, too. We have yet to work out our periodic frustration fueled meltdowns, but things have gotten better between us as the year has passed.

I put off thinking about Burning Man for a long time, as it’s been a busy year. My trips to Spain, France and Japan made time fly, some random camping trips took a few weekends, beginning a serious workout plan ate a lot of time, and work has been pretty insane all year. It has been exhausting, so I did little planning for the big desert adventure till the few weeks beforehand.

It wasn’t until about two months prior to Burning Man that I sold one of my tickets to Eric, and his friend Danny organized a small camp called Big Girtha. We quickly expanded to almost 30 people, but most of the members didn’t meet each other till Burning Man itself. Everything worked out great, though, and we are going to register as on official camp and be more organized next year.

Brad and I mostly planned to be self contained and not rely on Her Girthiness for food, water or gear, just in case. We ordered most of our supplies on Amazon, using a list Matt H. gave us as reference. Brad ordered a cruiser bicycle from, and I ended up picking one up at the Walmart in Santa Rosa, though I tried Target first with no success. I didn’t plan anything for costumes and, using this being my first year as an excuse, aimed to be fairly minimalist.

Sunday, August 25

We planned to carpool with Mike and his friend Joey in an SUV that cost about $450 to rent for the eight days. So I woke up at 7:15 in order to shower and get to National Car Rental at 8 with Mike. He was running late, though, so it was more like 8:30. After waiting in line 15 minutes and searching for the car after searching for the parking lot, I drove to my apartment and loaded the gear Brad carried to the lobby. Mike tried and failed to get copies of the key after refueling, and on top of that, he dented the front corner on a pole at the station. Oops.

Then we went to Mike’s house to fill our many 5 gallon collapsible water containers and attach the bike rack. That was a challenge, thanks to the car being made of plastic and the directions being for some other bike rack model. Eventually I secured the contraption, and we loaded everything into the car, strapped Mike and Joey’s yurt to the roof and were off.


It was a pain to get the bike rack mounted on this vehicle since the back was mostly plastic lined, and I had to work hard to find secure mount points.

But first we stopped at Subway, and then my house, to get a battery charger I forgot. After the trip was officially underway, our attention turned to how we would survive the drive. I put on a lengthy audio article about the CEO of Yahoo!, but eventually it was decided we would play games and music instead.


Word of excessive ticketing got around, as many people made efforts to avoid being pulled over for obscured license plates.

After a number of hours, we passed through Reno and Sparks, and then stopped for gas at the final town before leaving I-80 and heading north on Nevada Highway 447. It seemed like the last chance to refuel for a long way, and the gas queue indicated everyone else thought so, too. We picked up some soda, hot dogs and other pseudo food and continued on to Gerlach as the road got narrower and the scene more rural.


The road into Gerlach lined with burners

We stopped at a roadside sale to pick up some dust masks, and ended up spending a few hundred dollars thanks to abundant colored fur clothing.


We stopped to see what was for sale


Mike learned from the vendor how to better sew fur costumes


I always knew Brad was an animal

The we forged on, and smooth driving soon became a slow crawl in a long line of cars.


I wonder if anyone in this line was unaware of Burning Man and wondered why there was so much traffic in the middle of nowhere

Eventually we got to Burning Man, hours later than expected and after dark, and we passed through a number of check points. We were somewhat concerned about a police encounter, as we’d heard plenty of stories of increased police activity this year. Apparently it often began with being pulled over for something silly like a license plate partially covered by a bike rack. It turned out all right, and our vehicle wasn’t even searched by Burning Man organization members. We may have lucked out a bit, as a guide pointed us to a specific entrance and said all the police in that line were currently engaged and were therefore less likely to target us.


We finally reached Black Rock City at 8:30 p.m., plenty nervous about the police searches about which we heard so much.

Once inside, we relaxed a bit, though it’s hard to do so driving not one mile more than 5 miles per hour. We headed for 7:45 and G, and located the Big Girtha camp. Brad and I got out and started erecting the tents, and Mike and Joey went down the block to Glamcocks camp to assemble their yurt. They ended up waiting till morning, though, as it was dark and their friend had extra space.

Brad and I were all set up sometime around 11, and then we went with Mike and Joey to explore a bit, but only after rigging our bike with electroluminescent wire and flashy LEDs. We were pretty tired and thought we would only be out for a while, but we somehow occupied outselves till sunrise! It was really amazing to see all the colored lights on “art cars” and stationary installations. The temperature was also perfect, staying quite warm all night. It only started to cool closer to sunrise, when we headed back to camp and went to sleep. Brad and I slumbered a few hours, but we woke up by 10 because the tent got super hot and uncomfortable as the sun rose.

Entries in this series:

  1. The journey to Burning Man
  2. Lazy days of building mind, body and soul
  3. Radical self expression takes hold
  4. Burning the Man
  5. The ultimate burn