Vote Charlie!

Lost at night, seeking joy

Posted at age 28.
Created . Edited .

Thursday evening, we went out much as we did Tuesday. We were all hopelessly slow to mobilize again and again, but I have come to appreciate those dynamics at Burning Man. That place is endlessly amazing, but it also teaches you to be self satisfied and to enjoy each unexpected moment. Just after we were finally moving, I was almost “condemned” to a night on my own when my bike malfunctioned. Dave stopped to help, and we got lucky the group hadn’t gotten too far. Not long after that, my yurt group ended up separated anyway, so we resolved to enjoy the night on our own. Joy can be an elusive thing, though. I was not sure the music differed much from Tuesday’s, but two of us were not enjoying it and eventually gave up searching. I still had a good time being on the playa and being with friends, despite injuring my hand! After they all retired for the night, some loneliness struck again and propelled me out into the desert once more. I returned still solo, not terribly disappointed but mostly just tired.

This entry is No. 9 in a series of 14 entries.

Around 20:00 or 21:00, Oscar and Scottie wanted to go out already, but I hoped to have at least an hour to prepare. I ate some treats in the yurt an hour before my yurt mates while getting ready. Others in camp were also delayed. Erik tried to fix Phillip’s back pack light but ended up using the “emergency light”, the one he used last year. I switched the circuit board from my coat back to my hood. Dave was trying to fix his kickstand. Danny and the others slowly mobilized.

There was some confusion over use of the shower I built. I said it was fine to use and I could help put up water, but I didn’t have any shower bags immediately full and ready. I think it was Dillon who was waiting to shower, but when I asked him, he said he showered by Danny’s truck.

Then a bar pulled into our camp. After checking IDs, some fun, lovely lesbians dispensed from the cooler attached to their bike some concoction they were apparently thoroughly enjoying themselves. I got a drink and hung out for a few minutes before retreating back to the yurt. They spent a good half hour dancing and talking with various members of our camp while they scurried about getting ready.

It had been getting colder each night, a trend slated to continue. I initially went out with a silly patchwork of furs made into a vest under my red shawl coat. I threw my gold hoodie in my backpack.

Once we all assembled, we headed out, again with the vague goal of finding the Mayan Warrior.

Breakdown, losing the group

I almost lost the group just blocks from home when my bike got messed up, forcing me to stop while I was already trailing the group that itself was barely a long thread and not a single mass that would notice a member fall back. Dave somehow did notice, and he biked back to help. I am not sure of the exact sequence of problems, but I suffered a cascade of individually minor issues that have a way of snowballing at Burning Man.

I kept the batteries and circuit boards for my bike lights in a small weather resistant bag I had secured under my seat with a cable tie. I thought it got loose and was dangling too far, for it seemed it was caught in my rear wheel. I thought if I kept riding it might break my lights and maybe the wheel. Upon inspection – using my hood’s flashing red and blue lights to see – I convinced myself it wasn’t possible for the bag to hang so far it would get caught. The wheel did seem to spin unevenly, but dust buildup can cause that. I mounted the bike again and tried to pedal, but then I think the chain had fallen off. Looking closer, I noticed the culprit.

I had a tall stick supporting a strip of lights attached to my bike’s rear rack. The stick was actually two fiberglass poles taped together, for extra length, but they drooped low enough it negated some of the point of using a tall pole for identification. I tied some paracord between the pole’s midpoint and my bike rack and tightened it till the pole was nearly vertical. Well, the pole itself was still firmly in place, but that paracord had come untied from the bike rack and was dangling into the bike’s rear derailleur. This resistance was probably what made me stop in the first place, though it might have only got caught while we tried to examine the wheel.

In any case, we were able to start moving again within five minutes, but that’s far too long to be missing at Burning Man and still maintain hope of finding your group. I am sure Dave recognized this, and I thanked him, not just for the help, but for helping without much concern for how it would affect his night were we unable to rejoin the group. I think Dave believed, or probably he knew, he would have had just as wonderful of a time regardless of what happened. Still, I was very grateful.

Breaking again before Esplanade

As Dave and I continued toward Esplanade, and by some miracle we spotted some of our campmates crossing the street to ride down a giant slide. The group was a bit split up but generally hanging around a camp serving sake and where I think Danny was trying to connect with some friends.


Thursday evening I went out with camp again, but we first stopped at a camp near the 9 plaza to regroup, which took an hour or two. We are not a decisive, quick moving bunch!


I'm glad I put lights on my bike so I could find it… which one is it again?

We were there more than an hour, during which time I went next door to Broken Compass and found Erik getting a drink. It was apparently not so much an open bar as a place to get a drink and sit down and talk philosophy, so I asked Erik if he’d like to sit with me while he drank, and he said yes. I probably would have gotten a drink there myself had I already tried to get one at the camp next door, which I later found was not simply pouring into patrons’ cups but serving the sake in traditional tiny sake cups, at the counter. It looked very nice, but clearly I was not getting drunk there.


This is Broken Compass, a bar for talking philosophy. I sat down with Erik for a while after he got a drink while waiting for our campmates to assemble.


This is Broken Compass, a bar for talking philosophy. I sat down with Erik for a while after he got a drink while waiting for our campmates to assemble.

Before mobilizing again, a bunch of the group wanted to make a trip to the porta potties, but it was unclear where the nearest ones were. I think I tried to argue the closest ones would almost always be down the radial street, but some of them ended up walking down a letter street. I think I got on my bike and went to pee myself.


While camp was in a long process of regrouping near the 9 plaza, Erik, Phillip and some others went across the street to a big slide.

Separation again before first destination

Once everyone was back, Danny emerged, and we agreed to meet at the Man. The group biked out onto the playa, and it was great! I was still getting to know everyone’s lights, but we seemed to be doing fine. Until Dave noticed Matt was far off riding in the wrong direction. I’m not sure if he knew we were heading to the Man. Dave pursued him, and when that was taking a while, I attempted to bridge Erik and Phillip with Dave such that they could all hopefully see my bike light. Dave returned with Matt, and we all headed to the Man.

Once we got there, we couldn’t find any of our group. I wasn’t confident we looked everywhere, but it seemed likely they had either gotten distracted along the way or already moved on, or perhaps were looking for us! The five of us decided to head out on our own. Really, that was the only choice, and what we did was accept it.

Right away we noticed a building burning in the distance, so having no other goals, we approached. I found out from someone at the scene it was a library, but I hadn’t seen it before it burned. We watched for a few minutes and then resumed our journey. Such is life at Burning Man.


In between dance destinations, we were drawn to something burning. I found out is was the library, which I did not even know existed till I saw it burning! We watched for a few minutes and then resumed our journey. Such is life at Burning Man.


In between dance destinations, we were drawn to something burning. I found out is was the library, which I did not even know existed till I saw it burning! We watched for a few minutes and then resumed our journey. Such is life at Burning Man.

A quick search back in the default world revealed that burning building was the Cascadia Serapeum and inspired by the Library of Alexandria:

Inside will be walls of books, sculptures, things to play and interact with, a secret room, and more, all centered around a flaming chandelier. Once inside the secret room, one will encounter a podium atop which sits a giant glowing community book for all to inscribe. Just like the Library of Alexandria, part way through the week, the Serapeum will burn to the ground, leaving ruins behind. In the center of these ruins, the podium and Community Book will sit, appearing unscathed by the fire. Beauty and community will continue on, altered but unmoving.


In between dance destinations, we were drawn to something burning. I found out is was the library, which I did not even know existed till I saw it burning! We watched for a few minutes and then resumed our journey. Such is life at Burning Man.

Seeking joy

Matt seemed to be having a great time, assisted by the large bottle of rum and Coke he graciously shared with us. I was still unsure how sober I would remain and was thus glad to partake. Dave seemed content. Erik and Phillip had trouble getting into any of the music we encountered, and as I feared, that was a curse that proved even stronger than the almighty Mayan Warrior.

I remarked I thought the music was about as enjoyable as Tuesday, if a little different. Perhaps it was something inside us inhibiting excitement. I recalled being totally sober earlier and still having a great time, seemingly because the others were having so much fun and it was infectious, but maybe it was because I allowed it. We can all feed off each other for better or for worse.

I know Erik was always concerned about Phillip’s experience despite Phillip’s insistence Erik not be. I can relate, to both; I have played both roles at once. During each of my last two burns I felt this tension, which was amplified because it wasn’t just my partner getting to know the playa but it was also my partner and me getting to know each other. You meet someone new and grow close to them, and of course you want to share with them this indescribable experience of expression and discovery, to share with them this part of yourself. But it is a huge investment, a huge risk. In recognition of this, I was content to go solo this year, to get all the work out of the way and then sit back and watch the others grow. Any growth of my own would be a bonus.

Still, being without a partner doesn’t mean there is no one to care about. It is still possible to find yourself caring for others while rebuffing their care for you. On and off playa, I have taken initiative to enable others’ happiness even though it can be draining and can hinder my own. Someone noticing this can make it worse even though it should not. When someone takes notice of what I hoped would be a behind the scenes effort, it no longer feels so humble. It can feel as if somehow recognition and the inevitable gratitude negates the effort, and as added insult, throws a wrench in my own process of opening up and being happy.

Of course it is natural for each of a couple to care for one another. At a place like Burning Man, when one takes on the great burden of bringing the other into that crazy world, I totally understand the instinct, the compulsion, to look out for the newcomer with paranoid concern. It is impossible to know if someone who has not been really knows what he is in for, whether he will be able to keep it together, whether he will have fun or even just be OK. I cannot even be confident I will be OK.

Becoming a martyr does not guarantee happiness. Taking on responsibilities you can barely handle does not prove you are responsible. It may not even help. It surely takes courage to give of yourself to others, but it takes wisdom to know when not to give. We might hope our sacrifices will one day be repaid or at least accounted for in some final ledger at the end of our lives. But then how selfless could those acts have been? How much meaning can be derived from sacrificing selfishly?

I hope to give because giving in itself makes me happy. I hope to let go of all my concerns for what others think, and perhaps of all my concern for others. I hope to recognize when my giving would come with expectations or would make me resent myself, and I hope to find a way to let go of those feelings. And if I fail at that, I hope I have the wisdom to not give at all.


Burners feed off the raging Mayan Warrior. Fire and dancing is such a magical combination!

We sighted BAAAHS, and though earlier in the week we declined to spend much time dancing gayly around that huge homosexual sheep and instead pursued the Mayan Warrior, we now hoped for at least as good of a time as that which we earlier fled. This was Matt’s first encounter with the wooly beast, so he and Dave climbed the staircase that led into the anus. At the top, a woman was stationed to give the all clear to enthusiasts before they jumped down the slide and into the bowels. Once inside the sheep, they made their way to a steep staircase that led to a platform above the sheep’s body. I followed. And somehow ripped some chunks of skin off my left wrist in the process.

On the roof, Matt and Dave looked at the construction of the art car, and we looked at the nearby art. We were also watching Erik talking to Phillip down on the ground, and after a while it was clear we would not all be staying to dance. We saw Phillip mounting his bike, and then Erik ran over to the sheep. The three of us assumed those two were heading back to camp, and Erik was trying to let us know. We tried to save him the trouble by yelling down that we could see him, and it was OK. It turned out Erik intended to stay with us despite Phillip heading back on his own for some needed alone time.


This is Helios by Kate Raudenbush. I had trouble getting it in focus since I was dancing on a giant sheep.


HYBYCOZO - Heart of Gold


More ghosts from Pac-Man

The four of us biked over to Slut Garden, and I went to pee while they danced a bit. Upon my return, they were ready to return to camp, as I feared. We went back, but Erik said he would come back out with me. Once at camp, some of the others returned, and we sat around the fire Phillip had started with some difficulty since he needed to find and read the directions for lighting my blowtorch. He said it took 10 minutes to figure out, but he did it.

Another failure to go out with the group

Again we all took forever to mobilize. I was in my yurt at the time Danny and some others finished getting ready, and thus they headed out before I knew they were ready. I assume they were just as anxious as I was to make the most of the night and were all too aware the camp tends to suck you in for the night despite your intention to make a quick pit stop.

I wasn’t sure if I was feeling up to heading out alone, so I felt it out by first heading to the porta potties. Once there, I realized I didn’t have the little green combination lock I had purchased on a whim but had since grown affectionate toward. I assumed I left it at camp somewhere – I never did find it – but in the meantime went back to grab one of the spare locks with keys from our bike bin. I biked back into the night.

Too quiet for serendipity, or too timid

I was perhaps hoping to happen upon a cute boy just as lost as me, and so I rode around the gayborhood, which was quiet. Then I headed out to the playa to explore, though without my camera for once. I was pretty sober by that point, but thought I might be able to find some trance music and zone out. I passed by The Black Rock Lighthouse Service towers and noticed two young guys, apparently a couple. I biked around and saw they were Asian and cute, but I didn’t know if I was up for approaching a couple without being too obviously seeking companionship myself. After another pass I watched them join their friends, a large group, and then I gave up hope of talking with them and kept biking.

I watched the Mayan Warrior for a while from somewhat of a distance. One man biking by yelled into the night, “You have a million dollar art car and all you play is [indistinct]?!” I biked around more, ending up all the way over by Disco Chateau. I had never been to their cuddle puddle full of giant teddy bears, but I was curious what it looked like at this late hour. Last year I remember it was prominent and abutted a street, but this year their cuddle area was somewhat secluded in the back. I thus couldn’t see if it was packed or empty or who was there, but I watched from across the street pondering checking it out. It’s the kind of thing that should be pretty innocent, but still I feared going it alone. While I weighed my options, half a dozen girls approached, just back from partying and seemingly looking for more based on the energy level revealed through their voices, though I couldn’t hear the words. They all parked and headed to the cuddle puddle. I went home.

It would have been quicker to cut up to Esplanade and across the playa till 7:30 Street, but I was perhaps longing to find something I hadn’t yet found, and I followed the long curve home along K Street. It was very dark, not just because it was after 05:00, but because only the rare camp out there had any lights. I barely saw any people, though that did not surprise me.

The umbrella was still glowing strong, and it welcomed me home. I ate a ton of trail mix. Then I went to sleep, but not before considering going to see the catacomb burn that was to start at 06:00. I thought Matt and Dave were planning to go, and I heard them stir, but thought they didn’t actually leave. I later found out at least one of them did go, but I had decided my spending extra time exploring on my own that night instead of seeing the catacomb burn was a worthwhile trade off.

The story continues in Joy, right at home.

Entries in this series

  1. Unpacking Burning Man 2016
  2. The journey ‘home’
  3. Social apprehension
  4. Race prep by day drinking
  5. Third ultramarathon fastest yet
  6. Feeling astonished, validated, home
  7. Recovering, welcoming
  8. Lost at day, seeking friends
  9. Lost at night, seeking joy
  10. Joy, right at home
  11. Man burns, desert chills
  12. The Temple
  13. Return to default world
  14. Bonus: The golden stool