Saturday, June 9, 2012

15 days and counting

15 Days and counting…..

I bought my first ticket to Burning Man 2 weeks before the event in 2004. While I had no intention of making that purchase a “life changing event”, strange as it is, buying that ticket changed my perspective in ways just as quantifiable as when I hung up my ski boots. Only this time, it was all good.

Sometime around August 2004 my good friend and his gal decided they were going to go to a Festival out in the middle of Nevada called Burning Man (BM). They asked if I wanted to go and I said “Sure, but I’m not taking any time off of work to go out to the middle of Nevada to party with a bunch of hippies”. I ended up going to BM on the Friday before they burn the Man. I originally thought this event was a big drunk & drug fest that ended when a straw man burns. On the way out (about 2.5 hours from Reno) I thought I probably would not go again. I felt I was quite odd and I would not connect with anyone there, especially my camp mates whom I met just a week or so earlier. I mean, I’ve always felt I am just super weird. I rarely meet people who think like I do. I rarely meet anyone who “goes for it” like I do, and lastly, at that point in my life I was still stuck thinking the good parts had already been lived. Therefore, nothing good would come of this.

I spent less than 40 hours at the event. I did not sleep more than about an hour. I took no drugs and drank only the last night I was there. I saw things you could not explain.  The last night when they burned the man our camp marched out to the center of the event and sat down. There is a ceramoney of fire dancing before they burn him. Then they start the fire works and burn him. I was so overwhelmed with emotion, I ditched all my stuff with a camp mate and ran up to the still burning remains and circled them a few times. I was alive. I was living for the first time that I could remember in so long.
Photo by Scott London Burning Man 2011

Upon leaving Burning Man in 2004, I said to my friend, “this was not what I thought it would be, I need to go back”. I got home and called my mom and I told her the last 40 hours changed my life. I told her I'd never felt more "normal" in my life. This was a big deal, I'd always sought to just fit in. Suddenly I was not the weirdest person I knew, in fact I met a lot of strange birds out there.....and I learned to appreciate every one of them. Weird or odd suddenly became so awesome. I started to think being outside of the norm was not such a bad thing afterall.

Within a month, I had sold my car to buy an SUV so I could carry tons of …well crap, out to the event the next year (a tradition that still holds true today!). I was accepted into a circle of people (my campmates) who I am proud to say are still some of my best friends. I also immediately started planning for my next “burn” a mere 11 months away. I found a happy place those days on the playa that I had not had for a decade. I realized for the first time in so long there might be more to my life than what I’d already experienced. There was something so pure to what I was feeling, I guess it was bliss.

I’ve been to the event every year since; in fact in 2005 I lived out there in my Saturn Vue for 2 whole weeks! I met a girl there in 2005, we’ve been together ever since and we are getting married in 2013. That will also be my 10th consecutive year at the event. Through the years I’ve come to really love those “odd” things about me, they make me who I am. I like to push boundaries...all of them. Mine, yours, authority, you name it I'm going to push it to the limit. I’ve learned if you celebrate what is different you’ll actually find there are a lot of people who also celebrate that same thing or at least respect it. Once you find each other it’s that “different” that bonds you. It’s not unlike Ultra running in that regard, we are a bunch of people who love to run really far and it’s the celebration of that action, where we bond.

As the years passed my annual pilgramage out to Black Rock City (BRC is the name of the city we build out there) became my purpose in life. That is not to say, I slacked on my responsibilities, just that if I was awake on some level I was thinking about the event. Every year on the way out I had this thought, crazy as it was, but I really wanted to run there. I’d always appreciated the huge undertaking the participants in the event have to deal with when they must travel for day to get there. I’ve often felt that my experience was somehow limited because I did not have to suffer like so many to get there. For years I dismissed this as crazy talk. Yet, every year on the way out, I longed to be running out on the side of the road.

These thoughts led me to start doing a lot more hiking with my dogs and a little running out on the mountain behind my house. I resumed running with a friend on Sundays and before I knew it I was thinking hard about running that race I saw on TV again. My back will always be a work in progress, I really can not sit upright for very long and instead opt to stand or lay down as often as possible. Multiple times a day everything from my neck to my hips crack like knuckles. As long as I stay upright or parallel to the ground I am good to go.The funny thing about the running, no pain. Walking and sitting, I have some amount of pain, but running, nothing, nada, no dice!

I spent the next couple of years doing my thing out behind my house sometimes with my dogs sometimes alone. I even made the goal to go to the top of the mountain behind my house. It's a 14 mile round trip and about 2500-3000 feet of climbing. The first time I did it in 2007 it took me almost 8 hours. In March of 2009 I got an email which resulted in me finally taking action and deciding I was going to run the Western States 100.