This post will not be about New York, but my six-week jaunt out West! See, I was hot and bothered with summer in NYC, but more importantly, I had tickets to Burning Man, a wild art fest in Nevada, and I wanted to see more of this great country. My first stop was Boulder in order to see my good friend Jenna. I met her in the place where I first caught the travel bug: Viet Nam. We spent a semester together four years ago and have kept in touch ever since.
While in CO I spent a week biking, hiking and beer tasting, but this was only a pre-cursor to the real reason of my trip: Burning Man! For 25 years, this festival has brought stunning art, creativity and people from all over the world to revel for a single week. Since 1996 it’s been held in the high desert of Black Rock City, Nevada. This year was the biggest yet, with over 52,000 swept across a five square-mile site.
Between the outrageous costumes, phenomenal art cars and mind-blowing structures, it had the makings of what can easily be called the coolest party in the world. But what did I contribute? I helped to set up and staff a sculpture that a friend of mine, Liz Medina designed and built. It was a giant, interactive, inflatable gumball machine filled with balloons. People could climb inside and bounce around. We offered people gumballs as entry gifts. It was an honorarium art project, which means that the Burning Man organization paid for it to be there and they gave us a special place on site to set it up.
But it’s so much more than just a party. For example, radical self-reliance is a major principle of Burning Man, and this means that you have to bring everything with you in order to survive. Water, shade, food, clothes and anything you wish to share or trade, because no money changes hands at the event. In fact, the only things you can actually buy on site are coffee and ice. Another one of my favorite principles is radical self-expression: be whoever you want to be! Dance, sing, bike, create or participate…even make up a new name for yourself. Some of my favorite Burning Man names included Parable, Uh-Oh, AwesomeSauce and Surprise Party.
But the burn can only last so long…unless you skip your flight back home, which is exactly what I did! I lost my ID on my way out and it brought me to a realization: not only could I not fly back to New York, but I didn’t want to. (At least for a short while.) With a new-found sense of self-reliance and not-yet-quenched thirst for adventure and exploration, I kept on trucking; I visited Salt Lake City, Denver, and Fort Collins, CO, where highlights included bacon caramel brownies at a bacon-themed party, the Tour de Fat Music Festival, a ghost tour at the Stanley Hotel of Estes Park, CO and visiting the world’s largest and most productive open-cut copper mine. I even went back to Black Rock City for Restoration. Restoration lasts for roughly one month while the site is restored to pre-event conditions.
I was invited to take part for only 3 days, but it was an incredible experience. Not only was I thrilled to help clean up after one of the largest parties in the world, but I got to hang out with the most devoted people at Burning Man: the Department of Public Works. This rag-tag crew are some of the most hard-core people I’ve ever met. They spend at least 2 months in the desert & participate in the most intense building and breaking down of the city. Suffice to say, they dont do it for the pay. But, their integrity and camaraderie meant I was welcomed as one of them.
I hitched a ride back to SLC and hooked up with some great Couchsurfing friends for aCanyoneering/Beer-Tasting weekend in the Goblin Valley area of Utah. For those who don’t know, Couchsurfing.org is an amazing community of 3 Million members around the world. Couchsurfers will host you on a bed, couch, futon or floor in exchange for good company, gifts, a meal, a drink or just because we can! In fact, a majority of my CS interactions don’t even involve a night’s stay. Couchsurfers just like to go out and do cool stuff!
But in the end, my time (and money!) ran out, and I booked a flight back to New York. It was nice to see my city cooled down after a hot, dry and crazy summer. It was even better to see friends and family, my beautiful borough of Brooklyn and all of that…but the West will call again, and when that happens, I promise to return for more adventure.