I’m already back and the adventure has come to an end and it is time to bring the blog up to date. Burning Man is going to require more than one post. It was absolutely amazing. Before I start, I want to thank Marcel Stieber who has provided an entire series of photographs that he made when I gave him a ride over Black Rock City (BRC). Thanks Marcel!
I departed Susanville California at about 7:15 in the morning on Monday, August 26th. The flight to Black Rock City (BRC) took about an hour. Each year there is material posted on the airport website regarding operations at Black Rock City Airport (88NV). An “ATIS” code is provided to let the unicom station at 88NV know that the incoming pilot knows the procedures for that year. The inbound code this year was “Shiny Wings”.
About 10 miles out I contacted the unicom station for an airport advisory, “White high wing 8 miles south inbound for landing with shiny wings”. They replied, “White high wing calling Black Rock, winds calm, runway 25 in use, altimeter 30.12. Welcome Home”. The city came into view soon after and it was a beautiful and bizarre sight. Like something out of a science fiction movie. But it was real and watching it come into view was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. A city that exists for just a week and has a population of over 60,000! In a few weeks there will be no trace left of Black Rock City. Only dust and memories will remain. Think about that, you can come home but you can’t stay very long.
I had a little trouble finding the runway although I figured it out pretty quickly and made perhaps one of the best landings I had made in Niner-Zero. Perhaps a result of all of the warnings about how difficult landing on a dry lake bed can be. The runway can be seen here under the cloud of dust from an aircraft that is departing. The vertical line at the bottom is the “trash fence” that defines the limits of BRC and made for a nice alignment aid for final approach to runway 25. In the background are the entry lines for those who arrive by ground. On the morning I landed the line was about 8-10 vehicles wide and stretched back to the mountains in the background. On seeing that I realized that at least this one time, I was doing something right the first time! This was confirmed later during the week when I heard tales of line waits in excess of 10 hours. When asked about my wait I would just tell them that my flight from Susanville took about an hour and on landing I parked and was taken by golf cart to the gate to check in. No lines at all. The only way to do it.
The airport was located at the edge of the city and the airplanes were parked outside the fence. The airport “camp” is just inside the fence. There is also a terminal with box office, passport control, customs and a lounge and check in area. There are several charter operations that fly people in from Reno. After landing and securing Niner-Zero I attended a briefing for incoming pilots that was required before being allowed to take off. The result was a shiny green wrist band (more on this later) and a new ATIS code, “Dusty Wheels”.
While I was setting up my tent under the wing of my airplane a golf cart appeared with Thomas and Jill from Austin Texas. I had arranged for them to bring me some water as there was no way I could carry it with me. they arrived with three large boxes each containing two containers of water. I opened up two of them and placed a container in each corner of my tent. Extra security against the winds and left the other one outside the back door of my tent where I could easily access it. At Burning Man they sell ice and coffee and that is about it. Everything else has to be brought in and everything carried out when leaving.
There was no way I could bring all of my food in either so I made a donation to the airport galley camp which solved the food problem. We all took turns as volunteers with kitchen and clean up duties. The meals were superb. Here is a batch of vegetarian paella being prepared.
An even bigger batch of non-vegetarian paella. We even had some of this available for breakfast and lunch the next day. It was gone by dinner so we had to settle for grilled sirloin and a vegetable stir fry.
Arrangements were made to have fuel shipped in in 55 gallon drums. I bought 15 gallons and that proved to be insufficient. Burning Man operates as a “gifting economy”. There were bars, restaurants, entertainment, you name it and it was available. Even a few things I had never imagined before were available. Ever played . . . oh never mind. All provided as gifts between participants. I gifted airplane rides over the playa. As it turned out, more rides than I imagined I would give when I decided 15 gallons would be enough fuel. I was able to buy ten more gallons from a pilot who had ordered too much and I was in turn gifted fuel so I could give more rides. Ten gallons from Sailorman and ten from Murph. I can’t thank them enough as they allowed me to give more rides and every burner I gave a ride to told me that it was the high point of their entire experience. I was able to gift 27 rides off the playa. The most rewarding flying experience of my life. I was even able to fly one “burner” out to a remote hot spring for a much needed soaking. I gave her a quick flying lesson after takeoff and she handled much of the flying to and from the hot spring. She did a really good job, must have had a good instructor.
Who did I gift rides to? Just about anyone who asked at the right time. I only flew in the morning and quit around noon as the winds picked up and the dust started blowing. I had met Ted on Monday evening and he agreed to show up at the airport at 7:00 the next morning. And he did, along with Morgan. They both got rides around the city. I found out later that they were up all night, easy to do at Burning Man, and still made it out early for their flights. Morgan looks a little tired, don’t you think?
The big attraction of my airplane is that it can be flown with the doors open. I would brief each passenger on how to open and close the door before take off. I must have not been clear of my intent early on because after climbing to altitude I would tell my passenger to open the door. “Now, while we are in the air” would often be the response. Once opened the view was absolutely incredible. I did not take any photos from the air at Burning Man so If any of my riders are reading this, please send me some of yours. Thanks to Marcel’s thorough photographic documentation of his ride I may devote an entire post to his experience.
A large film crew from France was filming at Burning Man and I took Yaan Arthus-Bertrand, the director, for a flight so he could take stills. When I showed him how to open the door while we were on the ground, his response was, “Magnific!”. A couple of days later his film crew showed up wanting to know if they could get a ride to shoot movie footage and if so when. I said, “How about right now”. I took Bruno, on the left, up with a Red Cam and I think we got some great footage. I can’t wait to see the results. It was a really awesome experience to fly with them. Laurent, on the right, came by the airport later with a couple of bottles of wine, from France, go figure, and a DVD of Yaan’s film “Home”. I watched it yesterday and it is beautiful. I highly recommend it! By the way, that is me in the middle holding the Red Cam.
A nice little bar serving Margaritas, chips and salsa, called the “Auger Inn” was located at the airport camp and I usually headed there after an exhausting morning of flying. I am not exaggerating either. Six flights in two or three hours off the desert floor left me pretty wiped out. There were always interesting burners willing to buy me a drink or two. Just kidding, the drinks were free. These burners were from South America. Columbia and Argentina If I remember correctly.
We even had music even if it was only from a “boom box”. The airport, like most airports, was kind of out in the middle of nowhere and not close to much of the action but art cars and mutant vehicles, like this one, often came out to us. All sorts of performers also came out to the airport. In normal circumstances it would seem like we had plenty of interesting things going on but this was Burning Man and there is NOTHING like it that I have ever seen or heard about. What happened at the airport just scratched the surface.
In order to get into town I either walked, hitched a ride on some sort of bizarre vehicle or was able to borrow a bike. This was taken as Nikko and I biked into town. She has been to something like nine burns and has it all down to a science. On Friday night, when the man burned, she found me a bike and we headed into town. We had a great time and sometime in the early hours of the morning we went to center camp, sat down to listen to a musician and we both feel asleep before the first song was over. After we woke up the ride back was long and exhausting. But, much better than walking. I took a lot of videos that night but, sorry to report, no pictures.
Actually, I took very few pictures when I was in the city as I was too involved it what was happening all around me. Burning Man can’t really be documented. It has to be experienced. It can be WHATEVER you want it to be and you can be WHOEVER you want to be. For me it was a life changing experience. I won’t even try to explain what I mean by that. I can’t. If you do make it, head out the the airport. Try to make it early in the morning, right after I’ve had my coffee and perhaps I’ll take you for a ride.