So, I Rode a Bike to Burning Man

I.

“The desert has welcomed me with open arms, wide fields, juniper & sage, towering bluffs, red rock, howling coyotes, drifting hawks circling, and an infinite road with no shoulder.  I’ve been searching for parallels in memories of landscapes past but truly I’ve seen nothing like it.”

– excerpt from journal, Aug 26 2015

It was this time last year when I decided I’d be attending Burning Man.  In spite of my somewhat obvious virginity, I knew enough about the festival and the people that there was an importance in going big.  Yet, somehow, when I asked myself how I was going, the biggest thing I could come up with was a bicycle.

Yes, the one with pedals.

The thought excited me, however, and not because I was going to save on fuel.  Cycle touring had been blossoming as an idea for years, the seed first sewn in the head of nineteen-year-old me.  I was in Nicaragua then, where I came to meet a self-identified peanut-butter snob who had cycled thousands of kilometers from the Yukon, his entire life packed into a small cart he pulled behind him.  Patagonia, the southernmost point of South America, was his ultimate destination.

Wow, I remember thinking, people can do that?

I still don’t know if the pedal-powered peanut-butter snob made it all the way, but do remember seeing him again in a hostel near the Panamanian border in Costa Rica.  Not only had he traveled a few hundred kilometers from where we’d originally met him, but he had gotten there first.  It was then the magnitude of his incredible ambition set in and I became inspired enough for the inspiration to stick.

For those who were nineteen once, you’ll understand how big that is.

Fast-forward five years.  I’d no ticket, no bike, and not enough money for either.  This didn’t deter me from planning for the adventure, of course, nor from telling myself and others that it was going to happen.  That it was my year to go.  Whether comforted by positive affirmation or totally deluded is irrelevant because, as it turns out, I was right.

I told myself I’d leave on August 9th, giving me exactly three weeks to get from Vancouver, BC to the ephemeral Black Rock City in Nevada.  The estimate was based off nothing more than a trial run from years before, where I decided to ride a shitty hybrid from Vancouver to my parents’ house in a nearby city and back.  150 kilometers over two days.  That was it.  Almost ten times that distance stood between myself and Burning Man.

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cherrypicking

Fast-forward five months.  I was headed to the sweltering Okanagan valley for a cherry-picking job after a grueling, bug-infested treeplanting season in northern BC — both of which prepared me as mentally as they did monetarily.  Long days, repetitive physical activity, and total emotional exhaustion were what I considered to be sufficient training for the ride.  Sure, I could’ve spent more time training on a bike, but truthfully, the thought of not having to cope with black flies again was enough for me.  Besides, I didn’t even have a bike yet.  Or a ticket, for that matter.

Like any true product of this generation, I turned to social media.  A friend promptly linked me up with a man named Hjeron, the mastermind of a dynamic theater performance group called Mythmaker.  Both he and a dedicated team of fire-spinners had been accepted to participate in Burning Man’s legendary Fire Conclave.  This meant Mythmaker would join dozens of other select performance groups on the eve of the burn, showcasing firey talents of choreographed wonder around the Man himself.  An incredible, albeit unbelievable, opportunity.

hjeronmythmaker

So when Hjeron told me there might be space for me as a drummer, depending on his numbers, I bulged with excitement.  He was a busy man, however, responsible for the going-ons of the conclave as well as two touring bands, and our communication was sparse.  Most of July I waited with bated breath, suspended in the limbo between yes and no while living and working off the orchard with a staggering amount of French-Canadians.  (Example below.)

Two and a half weeks before my intended departure date, I received an email confirming my ticket.  It was official.  I was going to Burning Man.  And better yet, I was going to Burning Man as a performer.

Thanking the stars (also known to some as Facebook), I promptly registered with Reverbia, a huge live music theme camp I knew of through the regional community in Vancouver, and focused on the next priority.  Getting a bike.

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But even the acquisition of the bicycle was serendipitous in nature.

I had begun spouting off my adventures-to-be during the last week of the treeplanting season, in another camp ours had merged with.  Overhearing my plans, a French-Canadian planter from the new camp offered to sell me a touring bike he’d used to travel Vancouver island.  He was unable to bring it back to Montréal, and was intending on selling it once the work season was over.  Then I showed up.

Steel-frame, lightweight, installed rear-rack, aluminum wheels, and within my budget.  I didn’t know much else about it other than it was a yes.  All I had to do was take his word and make my way to his aunt’s house in Victoria where it was stored.

The journey was becoming real, and when I returned to Vancouver with only two weeks until departure, the journey became reality.

Victoria was the next stop, where the investigation of the bike and it’s purchase was successfully combined into one swift motion.  At that point it seemed necessary to begin training, so I attempted the ride back to Vancouver with the hot sun beating down on me.  With little to no water, little to no food, and little to no experience riding highways, my legs gave up sixty kilometers in as I crossed the Alex Fraser bridge.

I took the skytrain back into the city, satisfied.

The last roommate I’d lived with in East Van, in either an expression of generosity or of pity, gave me a place to stay while I got my shit together — his central locale an ideal platform in which to bounce around the city like a madman.  For a week I expertly balanced between my preparations and social life while I worked on acquiring the last few things.  Namely, everything that was coming with me.

Before I knew it, my panniers had been packed, my gear strapped down, and my general route planned.  I left in the afternoon on the day I intended, a friend cycling alongside me for the first 30k, with the dawning excitement of a dream coming to life.

partII