I step onto the playa, my bare feet digging into the Black Rock Desert, close my eyes, open my ears and take a deep deep breath. The dust enters my nose and a potpourri of images, feelings, expectations, desires and memories hijack my mind. My brain does a rollercoaster ride like never before and a million impressions are breaking in. I am here, where I planned to be for nearly seven years now. For someone coming from Europe and working in a job where holidays are hard to plan, it’s not easy to organize a trip to Black Rock City. But I succeeded at last and I am desperately curious if all the images I have from reading, watching, assimilating, preparing and organizing will come true. The dust enters my lungs, proceeds through the maze of bronchial tubes and finally settles on the surface of my alveoli. Black Rock Desert is now a part of me where it wasn’t before. Or am I part of the Black Rock Desert now? Whichever it is…I am home! (more…)
PedalBump is a fantastic theme camp that’s been hosting interactive madness on the Esplanade in Black Rock City since 2013. They welcome Burning Man participants to enjoy (as in, smash the shit out of each other in) custom built pedal-powered bumper cars on a circular track beneath a big top circus tent. Hell. Yes.
And that’s all well and good, of course, but they’ve taken it a step further — they help teach other Burners what it takes to run an interactive theme camp at Burning Man. The result? Everybody wins.
Here’s their recap from this last year, check it out if you’re prone to the oh so foolish idea of running an interactive theme camp on playa (we kid, it’s awesome):
We wanted to let you know that our endeavor to teach some folks about running an interactive installation was a smashing success! We will have slots open again this year for some intrepid groups to learn how to run an interactive installation, including joining in our build process, so stay tuned for our 2015 press release! Meanwhile, here is a quick 2014 RECAP of the Guest Hosting crew endeavors.
At the start of the 2104 Burn, the first time that we handed over the PedalBumps under the big top circus tent to a guest hosting crew, our founding group walked away and looked at it from afar with a broader perspective. It was like handing over our baby. We spent every single day and night running it last year and rarely had the chance to step back and watch the show.
It was hard in a way to entrust it to others. Giving up control over something you’ve created with a tight knit group is never easy. The installation encompasses our heart’s work and each bumper car was fabricated to have an individual personality. The host crews needed to step up to wrangle and entertain several hundred people on the Esplanade, while caring for a truckload of equipment during each shift of the public races. But we knew that having these host crews totally take over was definitely the best way for them to learn the ins and outs of an interactive installation of this scale. As a group they had to figure out how to divvy up jobs, support each other, communicate in a chaotic environment, keep the party going, troubleshoot on the fly and close up shop when done.
The crews we interviewed and selected for this awesome opportunity showed up in full force, ready to go and gave us peace of mind to let the mayhem roll. It was well worth it to share this knowledge in a completely experiential fashion. They all created new styles and wacky traditions we may have never thought of for PedalBump. We gave each hosting crew a bunch of pre-instructions via email and all our tips and tricks in person on playa to running this crazy installation. At the start of each shift, we got them started going over all the details but once we stepped away they were fully in charge. By all reports they had a blast. The number one comment they all made was how exhausted they were creating a massive spectacle for four hours straight and that they would do it again in a heartbeat! Here’s a quick rundown of what went on when the 2014 host crews took over.
Steampunk Saloon: It was a lovely, music oriented evening at the races with these beautiful DJ’s and magic-makers. Their witty, polite announcers got the crowds to play lightly with a bump and run style that had riders giggling and showing off. The cameras were out in force. It was a primping and posing night on the track reminiscent of the Preakness. They emphasized delight and the vibe carried into a dance party under the tent after the races ended. The next day we found all the PadalBumps in near perfect condition. The track and surrounding environs were spotless. People came again the next day to show off and pose with the bumper cars.
Gate Crew: This crew came in HARD! They amped up with some growling music and immediately began verbally heckling riders and spectators. They brought their own orange cones to set up lanes within the track (ala the lines at gate) and spun riders around for complete directional mayhem. They created duststorms by slamming giant pillows on the ground and then incessantly hurling these massive dusty bombs at the riders—who loved it! Their pit crew searched and harassed riders and constantly ran them off the road and caught rides on the bumpers. Impeded by cones, pit crew and dust bombs, riders could not even get enough speed to make it around the track more than a few times before collapsing and rolling off the cars to practically crawl off the track in sheer hysterics.
Kids Day: The kids showed up hours before their scheduled slot waiting impatiently to run the races before most of our camp was even awake. You know kids…. Our original crew helped them set up, got them used to the microphones to announce and showed them how to manage the line. The small-fry got both kids and adults racing for hours and our mechanics helped a few learn how to turn some wrenches to fix a few loose screws and flat tires left over from Gate crew the night before. At first glance, you’d think that adults are going to overpower kids on these things but it is exactly the opposite. The kids have boundless, endless energy and clear lungs for the crazy cardio that pedaling requires and can out maneuver almost any adult within one lap.
Mystikal Misfits: This talented performance group took the demolition derby aspect of PedalBump to new heights. The next day after these Misfits ran it, all our cars were so smashed and bashed we needed to re-weld over half of them and two of the older models were damaged beyond repair. They invented a new tradition called stilt cocking at the races where a naked stilter walks over the racers before they take off from the starting line.
The Eds: A small but energized group from our own camp took over Friday afternoon. They were new to the whole performance aspect of running the races, but they did have a real life fireman on crew so we trusted everyone was in good hands. By Friday day, word was out that PedalBump is a blast so they had a steady stream of happy people to entertain. The shady tent became a fun oasis for their races. They put on a great show, cracking tons of jokes in matching PedalBump Pit Crew T-shirts and their sheer enthusiasm kept everyone smiling like crazy.
Camp Absofuckinlutionists: They were Canadian and they make awesome homebrewed beer. At first, they were so timid and polite that the spectators were out of control, cutting in line, jumping on cars and climbing the tent! We gave them some coaching and some whiskey and emphasized that they were in charge and had the right to kick out any assholes. Soon enough they were heckling everyone within earshot and ordering people around like pros.
A special shout out goes out to several individual volunteers, especially Viking, who showed up to help at random times and jumped in to announce, wrangle and fix the cars! They brought a zing of new energy and had a blast! A few of the crews did not make it to their scheduled slots due to the rainstorm and entry delays at the beginning of the week. But those that missed out will be on the roster this year if they want to try again.
We’re sure our 2014 guest crews and volunteers will take their first-hand knowledge to creating more interactive art at their own camps this year!
Watching from afar confirmed our commitment to bringing in new crews to host the races and gave us new energy to improving PedalBump for its 3rd year! We’ll be having some build days and pre-playa races in L.A. this summer for anyone who wants to get involved in advance and we’ll be taking applications once again for hosting crews and volunteers to jump in at the Burn in 2015. Again, stay tuned for details.
I had wanted to attend BM for MANY years — 15+ — but had to play my cards carefully to NOT annoy or offend my wife. I live in Truckee and have friends and acquaintances who have attended since the early 90’s. Every year I think “it’s too late.” “It’s changed”… I know it has. But in 2012, I went with a good friend, and I was floored. I HOPE I will never be the same. (more…)
In 2010, I met a girl named Coco at Burning Man. Coco had flown from Paris to Reno, made her way to Black Rock City, and then sauntered into our camp. I was sitting on a mattress in my U-Haul trailer (a “poor man’s RV”) when she arrived.
“Hi, I’m Coco,” she said. Noticing the mattress, she continued, “Is this a real mattress?”
People talk about a lot of odd things at Burning Man (i.e., art, camping, music, and sex) but as far back as I can remember no girl ever started a conversation with me by asking about my mattress. Yet, it was definitely happening now.
Loren: “Yes, it’s a real mattress.”
Coco: “It’s your bed? Are you with anyone? I mean is anyone else sleeping here? Can I sleep here?” I took a look at Coco. She was wearing running shoes, shorts, and a top that seemed to reveal more than conceal.
Loren: “We can talk about it. Come on in.” (more…)
Kelli Hoversten was a tireless and fearless adventurer. She’d ice climb during the Colorado winters, rock climb in the warmer months, and travel the country in search of her next challenge. She was also an avid reader, devouring four or five books at a time when she wasn’t working on her family’s Missouri cattle ranch.
But not anymore.
At Burning Man 2014, Kelli — you may know her as Ranger Halston — was working with her fellow Black Rock Rangers as a “Sandman”, the caretakers of the inner circle during the Man Burn. While the citizens of Black Rock City watch the Man and the Fire Conclave performances in the Great Circle, Sandman Rangers keep their eyes on the crowd, ensuring nobody makes an ill-advised sprint toward the flames.
That was when Kelli’s life was instantaneously and irreversibly changed, when somebody in the crowd pointed a handheld laser at her face, permanently blinding her left eye. And then one mounted on a Mutant Vehicle partially blinded her right eye.
Some Burners think it’s “fun” to aim a laser at the Man, or at the people around them — it’s the functional (and intellectual) equivalent of tagging, I suppose. It used to be no big deal, really. Back in the day, the only lasers that could actually harm somebody were big, unwieldy and expensive, but with recent technological advancements, the $20 laser you picked up and stuck in your pocket can reach 3-10 miles, and it could blind anybody who catches it in the eye. And facing the crowd as they do during big burns, Black Rock Rangers are especially vulnerable.
Since the accident, Kelli has been forced to relearn everything she’d come to know in her life, and to reconsider everything she’s taken for granted. “I had no idea how important depth perception is. I don’t think anybody does, until they lose it,” she tells me. She no longer rock climbs or ice climbs. “It’s too dangerous with one eye, and the risk of another injury on top of this? If I lose my other eye, well …” She leaves the sentence hanging in the air. She’s lost her job as an arborist because they can’t insure her now. She’s got enough vision left in her right eye to still be allowed to drive, but just barely, and she’s rightfully worried about losing that privilege. “There’s a black dot in the middle of everything I see.”
Don’t use handheld lasers in crowds, don’t ever aim them at people, and make sure nobody around you does either.
It’s too difficult and painful to read as much as she used to, but low-vision therapists are helping with lighting systems that will help a bit. “Reaching out to pick up a water glass now requires thought. Even cutting my food is a challenge. And God, shaving my legs is like a bloodbath,” she laughs. “I sure didn’t see that one coming.”
I hear sadness cutting through the laughter, and I’m struck by her strength. She’s angry, and she has every right to be. Her future was stolen through somebody’s ignorance. But she’s not bitter. More than anything, as she comes to terms with the fact that she’ll never have her former life back, she’s most concerned about making sure others are aware of the dangers of modern handheld lasers. Makes sense, really. She’s a Black Rock Ranger.
Kelli is raising funds to cover the lost wages and medical bills she’s accumulated since the injury, carrying her over until (and hopefully beyond) her Workers’ Comp claim gets processed by Burning Man’s insurance company. Please join with us as we help her, if you can.
But more importantly, don’t use handheld lasers in crowds, don’t ever aim them at people, and make sure nobody around you does either. And don’t bring them to Burning Man ever again — it’s just not worth the risk to the livelihood of another human being. Share this story around. That’s what Kelli really wants. That’s what Burning Man wants.
You know what? I fucked up. I told her, “Don’t worry about your bike.” I honestly thought we’d be able to keep our eye on it. But come on, brother. It was the middle of nowhere out there, and I know better.
Still, seriously, what the fuck, right? Don’t take the material advice of some dust-wizard in the dark of night.
I’m catching a ride out with a friend whose plans are less like clockwork and more like cats chasing a laser pointer. So once we started talking about “when we’re going to leave” I started making some rounds, telling people “this might not actually be the last time I see you this year, but it also might be, so let’s make the formal goodbye now.”
I was at BMIR: my home away from home on the playa. I said goodbye to Kanizzle. I said goodbye to Decibel, and to Ben, and to Mao, and even to that one girl who keeps sneaking up behind me and cupping my ear. I don’t know what her deal is, but she’s definitely been part of my experience. We all hugged it out in tender, sad, moments. None of us have ever seen each other outside of Burning Man.
Then a guy I didn’t recognize looked up from a coach. “Oh no!” he said. “You’re LEAVING?”
I felt pretty guilty about not recognizing him, but I don’t actually have a great head for faces or names, so I know there are people who I should recognize at BMIR but don’t. “Well, sort of,” I said. “I might be back later, but I don’t know for sure, so I’m making sure I hit everybody …”
“C’mere,” he said. He stood up and gave me a passionate embrace. I hugged him back. He was obviously so affected by whatever moments we had shared.
“Listen,” he said. “Don’t ever forget that what you do is so, so, important.”
“Making this radio station run … a gift for every listener out there on the playa … it’s just such an amazing thing you do …”
I paused the hug. “You … you don’t actually know what I do, do you.” (more…)