This is my first post, it's about my first experience, and it's likely to make me my first enemies - I have mixed feelings about it, very powerful ones, but I'll be back for at least another year to try to fix how I approach it.
Coming to Burning Man was always a far-off dream of mine that I knew I'd one day have to experience, and I guess I built it up way too much while at the same time having no concrete expectations whatsoever. I came with a friend from college, a fellow virgin, and it was just the two of us.
As I was on my way to my friend's place to pack his car to hit the road to BM, he called me to say that his car had stalled out and no longer worked. I didn't have a car of my own at the time (had been living overseas), so needless to say we were in a bit of a bind. I asked around, I wheedled, I cajoled, and I borrowed my brother's car about 12 hours later. We hit the road on little sleep and made the drive from Colorado starting at midnight, getting in line at sunset Monday.
The scene getting into ticketing was great - I loved the whole atmosphere and everything involved with it. Because the traffic was so stop and go, we just turned off the car, put it in neutral, and pushed it along instead of wearing it out. We chatted with other people in line, got a few helping hands pushing from incredibly friendly folks, and turned down several offers to fix our "broken" car. Great times!
After a pretty quick welcome, it was time to find a camp site. I had vaguely chosen the 8:00 spoke as a general compromise, but my plans to go around and scout out a location during daylight were foiled by our 12-hour delay. After a few not-so-fruitful attempts to go around asking people in various camps if there was any space nearby, nerves were running thin and my travel partner just wanted to sleep. I wanted to resume the search in the morning, he was afraid everything would fill up. And so we went out to Kindergarten, which seemed fairly appropriate for virgins, and which clearly had room. After we set up the tent, he went immediately to bed while I went out exploring.
The long walk in the darkness with my paltry few feet of EL wire set the stage for a lot of wandering the whole week. I made it all the way to the temple, traveling in no certain straight lines, and was on my way home before anyone said anything to me (thank you, random man biking through the sandstorms!). Most of the experience, I felt a bit shy and had a hard time striking up conversation, even though when I managed to get talking to people they were nearly always friendly.
Went to the naming booth on Tuesday, where my description of the night before and its feelings of separation and watching others have incredible experiences led to my name. Had some great experiences meeting people at a few events, wandered in the whiteouts and found some amazing art. Spent inordinate amounts of time walking everywhere, as I lived at K and didn't have a bike (had to leave them at home because my friend's bike rack didn't fit my brother's car).
High points were meeting people in line, getting named, tracking down an old friend from the real world as he lead a discussion held in his amazing theme camp's common space, running into him again later by accident at the sound camps, getting a free half-melted otter pop randomly on the road, singing in the 90's singalong, the amazing bartending 101 class, reading the walls of the temple, hearing the music of the temple, and wandering around all the art in the wilderness. Low points were accidentally walking to 4:00 and K instead of 8:00 and K when I needed to get home (and the walk times in general to ANYWHERE from K), getting bled on by a nonsensical naked bleeding geriatric who had fallen off his bike as I helped him home, having a girl open and end a conversation by asking how old I am and walking away when she didn't like the answer (I can't age any faster! And what's it matter, on the playa? is that really the most important thing about someone?), the initial suspicion with which people seemed to regard me as a lone male walking around, and especially not being able to break out of my shell as much as I wanted to.
I still have no good answer for when people ask me "what's it like at Burning Man?", but I've learned a lot about what it takes to survive there and what not to do. I've learned that I need to try more to be less shy, and that I should join a bigger camp to help with this. I've learned that I need to be closer to the center. I've learned that I really, really need a bike. I've learned that I need to bring more and varied things to share. I've learned that cooking on the playa for only a couple of people isn't really worth it, just because it takes up more time than it works. I've learned that I need at most half of the water that I brought. I've confirmed that full showers are unnecessary if you have no-rinse shampoo and the right kinds of wet-wipes (Gatsby Ice, you make me tingly and fresh!), though a little rinsing with a wet rag is nice. I've confirmed that tents get way too hot in the sun, that rebar covered in pool noodles works excellently to hold them in place, and that shade structures are heavenly. I've confirmed that homemade peanut butter rice krispies treats are incredible on the playa.
Lots of experiences, good and bad. Frequently in the moment I felt pretty miserable. But looking back I'm glad I went, and I'll be working to make the next one ten times better.