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Getting ready to go on a camping trip

About 14 years ago I read an article about a project called the “Talk to God” phone and it was at this event called Burning Man. Someone rigged up a payphone in the middle of the desert that people could use to talk to someone filling the role of God. I read more about the project and the event, and it was fascinating. But seemed far out of reach for me.

At some point, I think when researching VoIP systems (before I had a cell phone, I set up an 800 number I could call from payphones to make calls to random numbers, with some presets for my family) I stumbled across a Pacific Hell payphone

Then years later in 2007, I saw photos of Big Rig Jig. It was crazy - to build something like that. And haul it out to to the middle of nowhere. And it wasn’t the only big project. People built a temple out there too. I have to experience this first hand. But while I’ve been camping, this is a whole other level - a week in a particularly unfriendly environment. I can’t do that on my own. (Really now having done it I’m sure I could, but at the time, I didn’t trust myself) So it’ll be a dream for someday when I find people to go with. I got taunted many times since then with glimpses into the world, but who would I make the journey with. And would I be welcome when I got there?

Some friends had expressed interested. But nothing more. Of course who wouldn’t be at least curious to go to Burning Man. (I know there are some people, and it’s not something they should go to.)

About two years ago, I found people to go with. I don’t know where the discussion came from, but mingswly & I decided to go to Burning Man together. A former co-worker is part of a theme camp, and he had told me they are pretty welcoming to newcomers. Being part of a camp and having a guide of sorts tool away a lot of my anxiety about the endeavor. I had someone reliable I could ask questions to, and I’d be making the trip with someone I feel I can trust.

But I messed up on getting tickets :|

One year later, I still failed to get tickets, but Ming succeeded in getting hers and an extra. So did a couple friends of hers. Finally, we were set.

...until we were a little late in booking an RV. But I know Aaron and Keith had done Hexayurts before, and making one seemed like fun. The group initially decided on buying one, but the seller seemed too shady - a contract offering zero buyer protection and requiring us to wire money - no PayPal or anything with buyer protection. No way. The only option left then was making one. So we did that, with a some help from ycysusan.

(The 4’ x 8’ panels don’t fit in the elevator, so we did a sort of bucket brigade to pass them up one floor at a time in the atrium, then used rope to lower the completed pieces down later.)


(Pictures from outside the yurt taken by mingswly

Aaron had told me that even if in general I like walking, at Burning Man, I’d want a bike. The consensus on the Internet is the same - you want a bike at Burning Man, and finding a working shared “yellow bike” is a long shot. Only I haven’t learned to ride a bike. When I was in elementary school it didn’t offer much benefit, and my attempt to learn didn’t go well. When I was in high school, I had trains and buses. There was never a real inspiration to learn. How would I learn? Constance mentioned her family had some bikes - maybe I could learn on hers, or her dad’s.

On one on her visits to SoCal, I met up with her in Orange and learned to ride a bike. At the advice of the Internet, I started with a gentle hill in her quiet suburb at night, not trying to pedal, just focusing on balance. Learning to turn towards the way I’m falling, not away. After at least an hour of that, I was starting to get the hang of it. Switched to a flat street to practice pedaling and trying to steer well enough to stay on the street. Eventually turning. It was probably a little over two hours in total. A good night, and I feel like it was the best night with Constance all year - slow, relaxing, productive, and sharing an important experience together.

Almost there! ...and then the weekend before, I got sick. Really sick. Bedridden and miserable for days, with a fever that went over 104 at it’s peak and didn’t return to normal until the Friday before Burning Man. (Lots of coughing and a little vomiting in the fix too) I haven’t been that sick since around Christmas 2012, and even then I bounced back faster. For awhile, I thought it was my apartment making me sick, because when I left to finally visit a Dr on Monday after two days in bed, I seemed a lot better. It seems somehow getting out and in motion helped me, despite feeling so beat, not that it was anything in my place affecting me. Sitting around in a park and eventually I was back to coughing.

It took a lot out of me, there was no way I could leave as planned on Saturday. My dream was falling apart. I was a bit unusually emotional. Drama ensued :(. But eventually, things started turning around. As a side effect of the drama, someone else dropped out, which meant we had a spare vehicle pass. So I planned to fly out to Reno, rent a car, and fly back. Somewhat limited by available flights and making sure I had 3 full days fever free, I got my flights with a planned arrival Monday night, about 8h after Ming and Amanda would be arriving.

I helped pack the van Saturday and did a lot of last minute shopping Sunday. I had planned on shopping the weekend before and getting in some bike riding practice, and preparing more through the week. But my final shopping and prep was less than a day and a half. That included building some self-illumination devices.


Originally, the plan was to make my quadcopter cosplay the flying spaghetti monster, but I didn’t get approved. (only 30 flying machines were allowed at the nearly 70,000-person event) So I repurposed what would have been the eyes into goggles, inspired by an Adafruit tutorial. I planned to control both the googles, and some LED strips, but the controller I was using didn’t have enough memory to do both :/

The most important bit of prep I made for myself was making prescription polarized goggles, using cheap CPL filters and taking lenses out of an old pair of glasses. With all the dust, I wore these pretty much all day every day.


All prepared and healthy enough (still coughing a lot), I was ready to embark on my journey. I boarded my flight, made it to Reno and got my car. I met someone looking for a ride at the airport and offered him a trip. We picked up some water and started on our way. (I let him contribute to my rental fees - I should have just let it be my first gift to someone at Burning Man.) I remember first getting a glimpse of the strip of colored lights in the distant desert. Am I really finally here? I was.

I made it through the gate, then to the greeters. Upon informing them it was our first time, we was asked to make a dust angel. I’d heard of the tradition and eagerly obliged. Moments into burning man and I was covered in dust. (Not the best choice for keeping the rental car clean, but it’s going to get dusty anyway, right?) Followed by ringing a bell with rebar and then I was on my way into Black Rock City.

TL;DR: I made it to something I’ve been longing to visit for a long time.
I’ll leave the rest to another post. This is lengthy enough.


This is really interesting. I'm definitely not Burning Man material, but I can appreciate the preparation and the work put into going. (Last year Rich's roommate went and he almost went along and I told them good luck and try not to die)

I'm glad you got well enough to go, and man, learning how to ride a bike at the last minute like that is a lot of pressure. Can't wait to read about the rest of the trip.