Fun in the mud at burning man

Yes, I survived Burning Man 2023. I was not washed away by flood waters, forced into cannibalism nor did I contract the Ebola virus.

Fake news all. 

But, I and 70,000 Sparkle Ponies, Burgins, and other Enthusiastic, Eccentric Participants, did get stuck in the mud. Sticky, slick and ankle deep. 

For those that came prepared, physically and mentally, the circumstances added to the adventure. The weather was in charge and we mortals could do little but make the best of the situation. Bonus points to those who found a way to have some fun.

My trip to northern Nevada started out normally enough. The earlier rain and mud that delayed the building of Black Rock City had passed before my arrival on Thursday. After setting up housekeeping at the aptly named Janky Camp, 5:15 and E, with my traveling companions, Stagr Lee, Brew Bunny, El Leon, KK, Divya and Queen of Something, I joined in the festivities — riding my bike around the playa, admiring amazing artwork of all kinds and chasing shadows with my fellow Burners. I was on vacation don’t you know.

Highlights included joining the Pinhole Project on a photo safari, watching the Super Blue Moon rise over The Man and riding on The Intergalactic Transporter art car, among other antics. 

This all changed abruptly on Friday. A rain squall blew in from the southeast, and before it was done, near.y an inch of precipitation would fall — a Burning Man record. We were advised by the Org via radio to shelter in place and conserve food and water. We had plenty of both. 

The next morning I ventured out on foot to survey the neighborhood and make a few pictures. What greeted me was standing water, mud and good humored Burners as far as the eye could see.

Of course there were a few who did not share that rosy outlook. On Sunday renegades began heading to the exits. Most did not make it far. Stuck vehicles began to clog all routes out of the city. News crews and satellite trucks soon arrived, and then . . . the rumors. 

Living inside an ongoing International news story offers a unique perspective. One breathless CNN on air talent lamented the smelly Porta-Potties! News flash, they always stink. 

And then the conspiracy theories began, filtering in from the default world in fragments via sketchy cell connections. “Cannibalism at the trash fence.” A “quarantine” ordered by FEMA. Evil forces were trying to get rid of “spiritual people,” to touch on the major headlines. 

While the outside world speculated on what the bodycount in Black Rock City might be, I was eating Salmon curry and drinking Northwest IPA’s in my cozy camp while singing songs to acoustic music. A rainbow appeared over The Man. A nearby camp posted witty sayings on their marque like “Burning Man is canceled, all hail our new God The Drowning Woman” and asked “But did you die?” It was all surreal and hilarious in the extreme. 

By Tuesday, things began to return to normal. The Org announced that The Man would be burned. Art cars and the hardcore Burners who remained gathered on the playa, howled at the moon and watched the best fireworks show in Burning Man memory.

For my part, I felt invigorated. A challenge had been leveled, the test passed and a bond with my fellow Burners forged.

But perhaps to fully understand, you just had to be there?

Burning Man saves the best for the wee hours of the night,

Chris Pietsch is the director of photography for Gannett Newspapers in Oregon, The Register-Guard in Eugene and the Statesman Journal in Salem.

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