How long until the Man burns this year?
Field Trips by Ellin Beltz

Burning Man 2005 flames logo

Burning Man 2005

Sometimes what you least expect happens. So it was with my Burning Man virgin year.
A friend called me back in January saying, "You have to buy a ticket to Burning Man today!" So I logged in and the computer went blip halfway through the process and I ended up with two paid tickets, each one in its own phrenologically stamped envelope.

I asked everyone I knew to go with me; but all had heard of the harsh conditions and the craziness and all declined. After the kinetic sculpture race, I overheard her majesty Shaye the Rutabaga Queen say how she would so like to go to Burning Man. "Say the magic word," I thought and asked her, "Would you go with me?" She said, "Yes!" so fast and jumped for joy.
So clean!
Shaye, the bikes and the truck look so clean!.
Meanwhile a really old friend of mine, came up for a visit to make a piece to take to Burning Man. When Jack heard we were going, he invited us to join his friends in the Kazbus Camp. He and Mo would join us on Wednesday. He assured us the Kazbus camp would be happy to have us for two days before his arrival.
loading round 2
Shaye and Marcus load up his van.
We were joined for our cross country trip by Marcus, a kinetic sculpture racer, who was taking a human powered rickshaw to the festival on top of his minivan.

Up and down, round and round the curvy mountain roads we went, finally in the dust of a couple of road toasters on the Road to Burning Man itself. All the way Marcus stuck to us like a limpet; helping load and unload the truck at Alturas while we hauled water for ourselves and some last-minute virgins at a different camp.
The back bumper of my old Ford was about 10 inches off the ground when we pulled into the entrance gate at 12:13 a.m. on Monday, ten minutes after the gates were opened to the public. The entrance road was lined with poetry, like giant Burma Shave signs. I only wish they'd done both sides so I could have reread the words on the way out many days later.

We were asked to take the bikes off the homemade racks and open the truck at the stowaway check. When we finally got our gate open, the man said, "Well if there's anyone in there, he's a compressed midget by now."
True that. By now we had a 32-foot geodesic dome, ground and top cloths for same, welding gear, some plywood, a spare tire and tools, two tents, clothes and personal gear, four tiny folding chairs, 20 white sheets, two tubs of food, two coolers full of block ice and fresh food, one 12-pack of Coca-Cola (I was an addict), and 70 gallons of water in various containers in the back of a truck which unloaded weighs 4100 pounds. Our final weight was nearly three tons.

We closed the gate, tied it shut, hoisted the bikes back on for the fifth time in 16 hours and crept forward through the whiteout to the the next sail-like lighted gates. The wind blew playa dust into us and onto us as we opened the car doors into full blasting whiteout when directed to by a couple of people who looked like dusty extras for a hypothetical movie called MadMax collides with the Bangles.
As much as I'd have loved to take pictures the first night, the whiteout covered our windscreen in dust in about 3 seconds and we didn't dare take our cameras out.

Cameras will survive Burning Man we learned. Basic care plus an easy to use covering case kept both of ours alive all week.

Point of Information: Cameras that take movies must be registered before use with Burning Man media.
When they asked, we cried "We're virgins!" in unison and were hustled out of the car for the traditional ceremony for first-timers to Burning Man. I made my wish but was so tired from all the packing and 11 hours driving uphill that I barely remember getting to our friends' camp. They were asleep anyway. We three sacked out in our vehicles in the whiteout and tried to get some too.

And the next morning, we awoke to a lovely clear day. Dropping off the extra 50 gallons of water, we found our camp by going to Center Camp and putting "Kazbus Camp" into the locating computer. Center Camp never looked this empty again; by even one hour later it was a non-stop hub of activity.
What portapotties?
The whiteout resumes as the winds hammered camps all over the playa. This guy just put his bike on his tent and gave up. I took this picture from inside the back of my truck. You can see two bungee cords holding the cap door open against the wind.
No sooner had we gotten to camp, but the wind picked up again and we spent an hour or two helping our hosts tighten down the cook-tent and their easy-ups and tents.

Then it blew up harder and there was another full whiteout. I put the center and the top two rows of the dome together before falling asleep, dead to the world.

When I awoke, an impromptu team from our new camp, Phoebe, Panther, Allen, Marcus and Shaye were busily finishing the dome frame! The cover went on so easily in the gritty wind you'd think we'd done it before (we hadn't). In fact, all week our neighbors kept remarking that they couldn't believe we got our dome up so fast - and in "That Wind!"
And there was food! The camp had agreed to cook communally and tonight's designated chefs served dinner and we met Lucky and Cheetah, the mastermind and creators of amazing art-car the Kazbus
I first saw the Kazbus at twilight, coming out of my heat/whiteout stupor and thought I was dreaming. I pinched myself but this vision was real. And it was in our camp, that had adopted us as children of the storm, Burning Man virgins, compatriots in adventures expected and adventures unknown!

Lucky had taken an old Ford schoolbus and totally transformed it; he and Cheetah welded on six inches of interior headroom and a full exterior rack to hold the upper deck. The whole thing was covered with the most incredible airbrush art of the Casbah, strings of rope lights and under-lit by blue neon. The design and implementation of the airbrushing was done by Arthur Rodriguez. Click here to see how the Kazbus was converted into a work of art! There were two sound-systems - one upstairs and one downstairs which also had a full bar in the plushy pasha's lounge.

We went for a ride that night and had our first glimpses of the incredible art on the playa. We cruised slowly, not stopping at the Man or the smaller pieces but heading for a bright light and a ball of black fuel haze that dominated the top end of the playa.
the Kazbus
First night on the Kazbus. L-R: Allen, Panther, Shaye, Lucky, Phoebe and Cheetah.
The head of the Angel of the Apocalypse by the Flaming Lotus Girls is to the left in the picture. The body was large pieces of driftwood, later burned, and the wings were intricately cut welded metal covers burning gusts of propane. You could walk around amidst the wings, although the partially burned fuel made it really hard to breathe. Day and night, it was the easiest landmark to make out on the playa and one revisited many times both on the bus and my endless nighttime bike rides.
Angel of the Apocalypse

Angel of the Apocalypse by the Flaming Lotus Girls of San Francisco
Angel of the Apocalypse-detail
Angel by Caroline Miller (1) Angel by Caroline Miller (2)
Two really fantastic pictures of the fire at Angel of the Apocalypse sent by Caroline Miller.
And the next morning, we passed our Department of Mutant Vehicles inspection with flying colors and got our permit to drive out on the playa - day and night. Our next stop was Center Camp where Lucky, the Kazbus creator, gifted the Kazbus to Burning Man's official art agency - the Artery, to be used for day and evening tours of the fantastic art on the playa. And of course - we went along for the rides!
Lucky and his Kazbus
Lucky he is to own the Kazbus and all he surveys... Selena and Shaye in the background.

Lucky relaxes on the upper deck on the Kazbus' first day at Burning Man. On our way to Division of Mutant Vehicles (DMV), dozens of people came running out of camps taking pictures or hitching rides as we slowly drove through Black Rock City, speakers blasting Middle Eastern dance music, bellydancers shimmying, flags flying and Kaz-mah-politans flowing in the downstairs bar. Party!
Shaye at Burning Man
Shaye holding Lucky's glass with the Man over her shoulder.

With up to 70 passengers, our little crew of six to ten was busy serving "Kazmopolitans" and dancing on the upper deck.
Marcus and Panther
Marcus and machine ready to get ice from Center Camp with Panther. Marcus became an official rickshaw driver.

Meanwhile camp life went on; the daily ice fetching was wonderfully done by Panther using a wide variety of vehicles!
The Dreamer
The Dreamer lies half buried in sand reminiscent of Ozymandius, Magritte and post-apocalypse science fiction movies.
The Man and Headspace
The man overlooks the art dotted playa. The Wheel of Collective Consciousness and the multimedia Headspace are in the foreground. At night some installations were invisible, while others glowed or burned brightly.
Night and day people pulled the heavy stones around and around on The Colossus; some climbed to the tops while others merely watched from the sidelines. The upper spikes moved up and down in response to the speed; here relatively slow - so the arms point upwards.

Coco, one of our happy repeat riders on the Kazbus.

We saw about three dozen people regularly, some even signed up for multiple Artery tours because they had so much fun on the Kazbus the first time!
The Machine
The Machine was built and destroyed by the community over the span of the week. You never saw it the same way twice because as different people interacted with it, the gears produced a new external configuration.
I don't have photos of my own personal favorite playa moment, but I know dozens of other people do!
Before the Wednesday Artery afternoon tour the bus couldn't get into Center Camp for all the people. I was dressed, courtesy of Black Rock Boutique and my camp mates, as a proper bellydancer, all red and black and spangles. My favorite song came on our loudspeakers and I realized I could dance to it without anyone in the way - and the bus wasn't moving, either! I wriggled and slithered to the front of the bus, overlooking The Colossus almost as in the picture above - and began to dance. I looked out at the playa and towards Center Camp at first, but was consumed by the long intricate song. I was whirling and shaking out of pure enjoyment all by myself in the middle of nowhere - or so I thought. All of a sudden I heard the characteristic "click-whirr, click-whirr" of expensive SLR cameras, right at eye level! I opened my eyes and saw the giant purple articulated bus full of Artery guests passing within feet of the Kazbus. By the way, just about everyone with a camera or a video on the upstairs deck has great pictures of my "solo" dance at Burning Man!
Artery tour
One of the Artery tours was meet the artist on the playa. About half of the artists joined us and spoke about their creations and their visions for pieces at Burning Man.
Dicky Box
The Dicky Box came from the artist's first trip to Burning Man where he felt isolated from the community. This year he isolated himself, relying on everyone for his needs besides food and water. On burn night there were isolated shouts of "Save the Man; Burn Dicky!"
La Contessa
La Contessa, the handmade Spanish Galleon which overlays an ordinary schoolbus sails the playa like a ghost ship.
The Artery Tours were a lot of fun. We got to see the playa art day after day and even on one nighttime Fire Arts Tour where the various fire-burning and propane art on the playa lighted up and performed as the art-cars ferried people around. We put orange glow-collars on our riders and mounted Marcus' propane cannon in the front of the Kazbus so we could blast right back at all the other fire-breathing dragons, art-cars, bicycles and pushcarts. It was wild.
There were firedancers and fire jump ropers, each surrounded by a crowd. There were impromptu performances and people in brightly lit attire everywhere. After stopping for the Mother and Child which still wasn't quite done, we went to the Angel, saw the Fire Pendulums whizzing around, and the Fire Pod both in full eruption and with people packed into it and flames shooting out over their heads. It was beyond wild.

After all these night rides, I was too wound up to sleep. So when the bus went back to 3:45 and Dementia to park, I got out my bicycle and went for nocturnal rides. The first night I rode a descending spiral from H, to G, to F, and so on to A and the Esplanade, finally spiraling in on the playa to the Man.
EL Wire stick-figures
EL wire stick-figures dance to our beat. We were the refuge from techno for many playanauts.
The next night after a long and interesting evening, I wove a bicycle path dream-weaver across the playa getting so disoriented in the process that I was got lost within two blocks of camp. I was stopped by pink-haired and brightly lit twins K8 and her friend from the Orient theme camp back where the darkened bus was parked! They'd run out of water; I couldn't find home. They helped me get home, filled their water bottles from our jug, gave me a blinking lei to wear while biking and left. My eternal gratitude to them for staying calm and collected; I hadn't realized how many more camps arrived that day and how different the neighborhood looked!
EL Wire Abstract
A dancing man's hat and jacket covered in el wire yielded wonderful abstracts!
Over several evenings' time, I saw The Temples of Dreams; a 30-foot high clock tower with welder's tank bells; the Quixotic Windmill Burn, a full-sized Rube Goldberg Mousetrap game; an interactive video bed; a dome full of grass with a platform on the top; dozens of creative camps and geodesic domes; innumerable lit, unlit and interesting playa art pieces; Headspace in full audiovisual and of course, the Man. From dusk to dawn the playa was a sea of brightly lit art-cars and free-moving machines including a giant pink and purple striped cat, several MadMax escapees, a long petaled flower that extended 10 meters up in the air and seated three in the flower, a floating carpet, two articulated buses, the playa-go-round, Starwheel - a rolling star powered by its occupants, and a moving wood-burning fractal device.
At one stop I saw the Chairway to Heaven which lifted a seated occupant high above the playa. Nearby people were climbing The Hypha a tall metal column you could climb but which wouldn't let you fall more than a foot or two. From Hypha's top you could see all over the playa. The legendary Thunderdome was back complete with dance rules and fight rules and people hanging all over the dome to watch the events inside. There were dozens of all-night nightclubs thumping out "Dance, dance, dance" to their denizens and people unlucky enough to believe in sleep at Burning Man.

I gave up on sleep at night. It was too noisy and too fun to ride around all night long. So I slept mostly in the day times and thus missed out on the early morning activities and the midday heat. By 2:00 p.m. each day we were at Artery for another tour.
I have lots of pictures from the bike ride but you'll just have to use your imagination! Shaye and I were ferried on two rickshaws, Marcus' and that of a young man from Edinburgh, Scotland we'd met on the fire-tour. He and two friends arrived in the US a week early, built a dome and two rickshaws from online instructions and had the predictable situations of failure with each. After we helped fix one of the rickshaws, Rob showed up to ferry us through the Critical ride. Marcus almost flaked at the last minute; later he said it was one of the best parts of the whole week!

Unfortunately, all the dust kicked up by the bike ride got to me. I was wearing my dust mask as well as a yashmak, but the dust still got into my lungs and by the end of the week I was breathless and nearly voiceless.
Another Burning Man tradition are the Critical bike rides on Friday. In late morning about 200 men peeled down and biked, followed in the afternoon by probably 1,000 topless women riding their bikes across the playa, through the neighborhoods and to a goddess party sponsored by a camp of males who then catered to our every desire. Real life should be like this!
Finally Fire Friday yielded to pre-burn Saturday and an air of anticipation swept the playa. People started to pack up their stuff and some of yesterday's "landmarks" disappeared. At dusk, flags flying and theme music blaring, the Kazbus set off for the playa and front row center seats for the 2005 burn.
Firedancers and the Man
Firedancers ring the Man prior to the burn.
There was a cacaphony of sound, blazing lights and bobbing colors on the glow-sticked and EL Wired crowd. Firedancers started; first a few, then many. Finally, the Man was ringed by firedancers, whirling and twirling, the light of their poi bright enough to take still photos without flash. Art-cars and the crowd
Nearly everyone in Black Rock City ringed the Man for Saturday night's burn.

Burning Man 2005 - 1
Burning Man 2005 - 2 Burning Man 2005 - 3

As the burn began Burning Man lifted his arms over his head as firework wings sprouted. Next a giant explosion wiped out the maze and masked the Man with a white-hot blaze from which burst the most amazing fireworks.
The Man lurched and then fell into the embers of his substructure while the flaming wings of the The Angel of the Apocalypse rose through the skeletal superstructure - symbolically rising from the ashes of The Burning Man.

The crowd was whooping and applauding the destruction of the symbol of the city; very quickly the art cars left the burn and started cruising the playa and a free-for-all party atmosphere ruled the night.

It was the only night the bus stayed out incredibly late and I met many interesting denizens of the city including The Artful Dodger whose phone number I regret not getting before he and his glowing vest hopped off the bus on the other side of town.
Burning Man 2005 - 4
The Angel of the Apocalypse appears to rise from the embers of The Burning Man.
A lot of people leave right after the burn; those who remain pretty much pack up on Sunday before the Temple Burn.
The Temples of Dreams Burning
The Temples of Dreams burned more slowly - at times they appeared coated with liquid fire.
Unlike burning the Man which is a party, The Temple Burn is a solemn affair where lives are recollected, the experience recapitulated and transmogrified to a committment to action. It's silent, solemn and exhausting. Mo and I, and probably countless thousand others, cried dry pebbly tears in the gritty wind of a growing whiteout as we clung to each other under a borrowed fake fur jacket while the most beautiful thing on the playa ran with liquid fire on every beam. It finally collapsed, piece by piece, in an allegory of old age and decrepitude but it was a thing destroyed at its moment of glory, cherished perhaps more than the Man because of its spiritual strength.
Temple Burn-2 Temple Burn-3
After the Temples collapsed, the 11:11 Diamond Portal was moved onto the burn field and green laser light shot from it. As it burned, it looked to me as if the world was on fire.
Almost everyone on the Kazbus was exhausted after the burn, emotionally drained and just wanting to crash. As we drove back to camp, we passed dozens of other burns: the clocktower disappeared with a crash of bells, containers both decorated and pedestrian held the ashes of countless offerings to Pyrrhe.

What did I learn to take away? Let me count the things, but bore you with only a few:
  1. I learned the difference between real friends and people who only want you for what they can get for themselves. The former are there for you no matter what and the latter abandon ship like the rats they are.
  2. I learned to let go and not worry about what I was doing, to turn off the "what do you think you are doing?" soundtrack that our fear-to-do-wrong culture runs in our brains like one of Bladerunner's flying advertisements.
  3. I learned to take a burning incense stick and toilet paper to the portapotties and leave a little clean paper behind for the next person.
  4. I rediscovered that soda (to which I'd been addicted) tastes terrible and I gave it up.
  5. I watched one of our camp mates blossom from uncertainty to enjoyment; seeing therein not only Dicky's conundrum but mine as well. It was only after I could digest the experience when Black Rock City 2005 no longer exists that I could wrap my brains around it.
  6. Wait til next year!
The Road to California
The road to Alturas slowly grades over two 5,000+ passes; the second one is over 6,000 feet.
We did so much in just a few, short days.

And then, it was time to go home.
Clean truck again!
A free FFA carwash in Titusville divested us of most of our external playa dust. All that remains is in our brains.

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Ellin Beltz /
Originally posted: September 6, 2005
Updated: January 10, 2008