Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Random Photo # 2


2010's version of the Man a few days before the main gates opened to the public.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Portland Decompression: 2010 Edition

This year's theme was "Metromorphosis" and I can only assume that a good time was had by all, especially since I've only been able to track down a handful of blurry YouTube videos online after an extensive and exhausting five minute search. I was out of town over the weekend and wasn't able to make it down there.

Until those who did attend start sticking their evidence on the internet, there's always this nifty video from the 2009 event:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Random Photo # 1


Learn more about "Bliss Dance," one of 2010's highlights, over here.

A Report from the First Annual Burning Man Ultramarathon

Sho Ikeda was a first time Burner this year and, rather than sit around taking in the sites, sounds and smells of Black Rock City, he ran a 50-K Ultramarathon. He lived to tell the tale and the words below are his. You can find out more about Sho over at or Rennie's Landing Restaurant and Bar in Eugene, Oregon.

I had a few friends who were veterans of Burning Man and I decided that, with my 30th birthday earlier this year and a planned return to school, this was a good time to check it out for myself. A place full of transitions for a time of transition for myself.

Now, I thought I would do a little running while I was there to stay on pace with my training schedule for the a Portland Marathon. While I wasn't planning on doing the 20 miles that was scheduled, I was thinking I'd do a few short runs and maybe a 10 miler.

Then I found out about the inaugural Burning Man Ultramarathon. I can't remember how I first heard about the race. It may have been through Twitter or a Wired article, but I found the Facebook page for the ultramarathon and checked out the details for the 50 k (31 mi) race. At first, I figured I'd just volunteer and help out some fellow runners. Then I thought I would run about 20 miles and then volunteer the rest of the time. Finally, a few days before we left for Burning Man, I decided that I would try to run and walk the whole thing.

Race details can be found here.

So, fast forward to the morning of the race. It was a Wednesday, the third day of the festival. I had done pretty good job refraining from alcohol and other substances and got a few hours of sleep despite the thumping bass from a distant dance-club-themed camp. At 5 am, with my fuel belt full of Heed and my trusty Garmin, I ran out to the center of Black Rock City (the name of the city that is built around the Man) to meet the other runners under the Man himself.

There was a group of about 30 of us huddled around the race director, Cherie, while she showed us a map of the course. The map had been available online, but I had forgotten to print one out and it hadn't looked very complicated anyway. However, it was still very dark outside and the second turn supposedly indicated by a group of tiny flags. Flags, which Cherie mentioned may have been removed by the Department of Public Works (the Burning Man infrastructure crew) over the night. I figured I would be able to keep up and follow all the runners, especially since most of us were wearing headlamps and other lights.

Needless to say, once the race got underway, I quickly fell to the back of the pack. Ultramarathoners--*surprise surprise*--are in excellent shape and rather fast. I had to keep a faster pace than I had planned in order to keep everyone's lights in sight. Soon the first turn came and I tried to keep an eye out for the flags for the next turn, *if* the flags were still there.


At this point, I silently asked the Burning Man gods and other deities for any kind of guidance, or at least to make sure I didn't end up completely lost in the desert. At the very least, there was a trash fence that made up the perimeter of Black Rock City, and that would keep me within range of the course. It was at this point I came upon a fellow runner who seemed to be looking at--yes!--a map! I ran up to him and asked if he knew where we were on the course. He wasn't quite sure, but with the map and a bit of orienteering, we figured out a mostly-in-the-right-direction path for the second turn despite not seeing any flags.

This young man, who called himself "Windy" (which is appropriate for the duststorm-prone Black Rock Desert), and I ran together for a while. He was dressed in a long skirt (skirts are rather popular on both men and women at Burning Man; very comfortable) and Vibrams, and was a veteran of a few marathons and ultramarathons. He stayed with me for the first full loop so that I could get my bearings, even though I was a much slower runner than him.

After the first loop (of five), which was about 6 miles, we stopped at the aid station where there were loads of goodies donated by fellow runners (I donated some water, myself). This included some peanut-butter-filled pretzles, which quickly became my favorite of the race. Windy and I then went our separate ways so that he could run his own, faster pace. Now that the sun was starting to rise, I could more easily find my way around the course and I saw that the little flags *were* there; it had just been so dark that most of the runners had missed them.

As the race continued, I would see hungover burners heading back to their camps, many of whom seemed either confused or bemused that there was a marathon--no, an ULTRAmarathon going on. A lot of passersby would cheer me on or give me a high five. There was even another aid station that wasn't associated with the organizers; a group of folks just wanted to help out! One ammusing group of guys manned a booth that contained a loudspeaker, and they shouted insults and taunts at everyone who passed by, including us runners.

The really great thing about Burning Man is that there's really no boring part of the course. There's tons of art, colorful tents, colorfully dressed people, music, etc. The first half of the ultra actually seemed to go by rather quickly. During the second loop, I made a quick stop at a medical station to add some tape to a blister that had developed the day before from wearing some rarely used hiking boots. The blister wasn't bothering me at all, but I wanted to make sure it stayed that way.

So far, the race had been pain free, but right at about mile 18, I had to take my first of many walking breaks, which really added time to the race. My left shin began to ache along with other parts of my legs. My pace went from a jog to something more like a shuffle and I had to walk more and more often. This was where I just had to grit my teeth and keep going. Why? I don't know. There was no shame in quitting; I had heard from the aid station that some experienced runners had dropped out. This wasn't a race that I had as a goal; unlike the Portland Marathon.

It was just that, at mile 26, I knew I had completed a marathon. I only had five miles to go, and I would be an ultramarathoner. Someone who was at his first Burning Man *and* who had finished his *first* ultrmarathon; the *first* Burning Man ultramarathon. There was no doubt, I had to finish.

On my last loop, I passed by the group of hecklers one more time. As I was wearing a Japanese rising sun bandana, much like the one worn by the Karate Kid in the tournament, the guy manning the loudspeaker shouted, "Hey Daniel Caruso, why don't you come over and get a drink!" At this point, alcohol probably would have been a terrible idea, but I figured I may as well say hi to these hecklers. To my suprise, they cheered when I started to make my way over. One heckler poured me a tall glass of what I think was a screwdriver. "This will probably kill me," I said. The bartender replied, "Running will probably kill you." "You're probably right," I said, "might as well." So I chugged the drink and gave the group my thanks. Suprisingly, I think the drink may have helped by numbing a bit of the pain!

With one mile to go, my eyes focused on the ground in front of me, pushing through people going about their day, I noticed someone to my right. It was Matt, my friend who convinced me to come to Burning Man. Apparently, he had been riding his bike next to me for the last minute or so and I hadn't even noticed. He and my other friends from my camp had gone to buy ice and had seen me running, so they came up and cheered me on. With that final boost of motivation, I shuffled along the last stretch of the course and came close to the base of the Man, where Cherie and a couple other volunteers were waiting.

Cherie gave me a big hug and a handmade medal made from a round slice of wood, sharpie pen, and ribbon. Never had such an simple medal looked so valuable to me. Unsuprisingly, I was the last finisher of the race; but, the important word of that sentence was that I was a *finisher*.

With a smile on my face, I wobbled to the base of the Man where I rested and sipped on some water, blissful and happy that I was done. Then, it slowly dawned on me: I still had walk back to camp.

So, I guess I ran and walked *32* miles that day!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

An open letter to the organizer's about that whole "pulsing" thing this year....

To Whom it May Concern,

On Sunday, September 6th, myself and thousands of others who attended this year's Burning Man Festival began "Exodus", a much-maligned annual tradition. I maneuvered my car into a long line reaching up to the highway around 3:30 PM. It was a nasty day weather-wise and I and my colleagues spent the morning and afternoon watching sand storms from our office over at the Black Rock Beacon.

There was a brief break in the weather in the mid-afternoon and I made a break for it. When I pulled up to Exodus, the line was at a total standstill. I had been through this before and knew I had a long-wait ahead of me. I turned on BMIR for information and, much to my annoyance, there was a hip-hop show on the air hosted by several DJs who couldn't have cared less about what was happening over at the front gate. The volume on their mikes was higher than the buzz in their collective skulls. They prattled on endlessly about having sex with each other and all the yummy drugs they had ingested the night before.

Hey, this is Burning Man. People talking about getting laid and stoned on BMIR? This is par for the course but not during Exodus. Attendees turn to that station looking for information and nothing useful was trickling through the airwaves that afternoon. Just tons of self-indulgence, broken up with the occasional bit of music. Signs greeting visitors at the main gate tell them to tune into 94.5 FM for vital information and tips and, yes, it makes sense for DJs to goof around when there's none to relay but this was absurd.

After an hour wait in the heat and dust, I was starting to get antsy. The line hadn't budged. Something was wrong but no one on BMIR was talking about it. Finally, a member of the Black Rock Rangers showed up at the station to deliver a message but the DJs refused to let him on the air. I could hear him arguing with them as they jokingly demanded to see his credentials. He showed them his badge as he irritably told them he needed to grad a mike. They finally relented once he pulled down his pants and mooned them.

He revealed that the main gate was in total lock-down due to a missing child. OK, no prob, but that would have been nice to know AN HOUR PRIOR. Everybody in line for Exodus could have kept an eye out instead of becoming steadily more and more frustrated with the wait. 20 minutes later, the gate opened and inched forward about 50 yards.


Other attendees in the cars around me were getting cranky, very cranky. One guy wandered from car to car, desperate for information. Someone else trotted a few feet from their car to relieve themselves in full view of us all and onto the playa floor. Others started drinking to kill time, always a bad idea before a long drive through the desert.

I had read about the new "pulse" system the administration had planned to trot out this year. Despite their noble intentions, guess what? This plan stunk worse than a Port-a-Pot after a virgin Burner has tipped it over while puking their brains out. The only thing that could have made this year's unbearable Exodus more tolerable would have been updates on BMIR, every ten minutes, at the very least. After two hours of waiting and with my bladder on the verge of exploding, I drove under the flag divider and pointed my car towards the highway, stopping only briefly during a white-out.

I was disgusted when I reached the turn-off to discover only a handful of volunteers running Exodus. They were confused and overwhelmed. A naive guy, no more than 21, bounded out of his Rangers truck to stop me at the gate. "Who are you," he demanded to know. I calmly explained that I was tired of waiting and had a family emergency. I absolutely needed to make a call in Gerlach, ASAP. "Ok, go ahead," the young Ranger spat at me with a sneer. "You're special. Very special!"

Of course, there was no emergency, other than that I had a long drive ahead of me and, if I had fallen asleep at the wheel, it would have resulted in one hell of a family crisis. Not that he knew this. That said, during future Burns, I will be using this devious tactic to avoid the nasty, irritating process that is Exodus.

You can cry "but what about radical self-reliance" until your lungs bleed but there HAS to be a better way to execute Exodus. Rather than merely moan and groan, I'd like to offer this suggestion.....

Continue with the pulse plan but in smaller groups so the line moves more than once every hour. Yes, it's an excellent concept that prevents engine idling and tons of carbon from drifting into the atmosphere. I think we can all agree on that. Also: snag professional volunteers to man the boards at BMIR on Sunday afternoon to keep the tired, cranky crowd at Exodus informed. We could have also used more Port-a-Pots out there. Many, many more. As it stands, the pulse system is deeply flawed and led to drinking, confusion and endangered the safety of thousands of Burners.

You can do better. We can all do better.



Why the $@$%!@#! did I start a blog about Burning Man?

Well, dang, I don't really know. It seemed like the right idea at the time.

Why? Because no one else out there is doing this, I suppose. And, if they are, where the hell are they? Sure, there's the organization's blog, The Burning Blog but it lacks a certain degree of, how do you say, snark. You can find plenty of excellent photos and information over there but it's all the "official line." No criticism, no bad words, everything is fine here, yes sir, continue along now, there's a good chap, stop thinking and go enjoy some $5 coffee at Center Camp!

So, for example, on The Burning Blog you're not likely to find a post about 2010's deeply flawed "pulsing system." Or the word "shit." I quite like the word "shit." It's a word that I heard no less than 500,000 in Black Rock City this year. At least 95,000 of those shits dribbled from my own lips. And among those 95,000, 42,000 were uttered when I discovered my $325 "All Conditions" REI tent crumbled in a heap next to a campmate's car after a nasty dust storm the weekend before the front gates opened.

The tent was fine and, because I am a poor, widdle college student these days, it has since been returned to the REI location in NW Portland. If you would like to adopt the tent, I'm sure it will be up for grabs during their autumn "Used Gear Sale."

Some will tell you that the Burning Man Project is tired and irrelevant in this new decade- that it will never again be as cool or as exciting or as radical or as....whatever as it was back in 1990 or 1996 or 2001 or 2006 or five minutes ago. This is a cliche as old as the festival itself. With growth comes a certain need for safety so people don't get killed and all that. While you may no longer be able to shoot a high-powered pistol while having sex in a rented limo with Jane's Addiction blasting at top volume....well, actually, you can still do that out there....but without the guns.

I, myself, have never had sex in a rented limo at Burning Man but I have flown a plane over Black Rock City. And I've worked for fine folks at The Black Rock Beacon/. And I've helped build a large fire organ. And I've managed to squeeze myself into a pair of borrowed size-2 panties for an evening. And I once saw a blimp...but not on the playa though.

The only thing that I would say is tired about Burning Man is the Man himself. The festival always culminates in the destruction of the city's centerpiece, a giant effigy. It's boring, it's predictable and the show is as scripted as a fireworks display at Disneyland. I'm not the only person to have muttered or screamed "burn that bastard on Monday and get it over with." Ask Adrian Roberts about this sometime.

My name is Brandon. I'm a student at Portland State University. This year marked my second Burn. And I think the world needs a blog, er, a log about Burning Man. So here we go....

Also: yeah, I know that starting something like this in October makes about as much sense as putting up a Christmas tree in the middle of February but.....meh! Uhhhhh.....uhhhhh....RADICAL SELF RELIANCE!

Johnny Five is....alive?

Welcome to a log. You know, like a ship's log.

Think the Starship Enterprise. And, yeah, the little cartoon fellow in the logo has a log in his hand.

Yep, one post in and I'm already resorting to lame puns. What is this, the fourth grade?

More to come.....