So how was Burning Man?

Heading back home to the “Default world” as they call it, I’ve hesitated to answer this question when asked by friends or strangers, since my return.

You don’t always get the Burn you want, but the Burn you need; another saying by past veteran burners.

Burning Man to me is a Wonder Machine. You go there and experience otherworldly feelings of awe and adventure. It’s a Serendipity Machine that brings all sorts of surprises and excitement, birthing a new faith, in that the “Playa will Provide.”  I go back each year for the art, deep connections and a reinvigorated sense of wonder and inspiration.

The ten principles of burning man act as a foundation for a positive, loving and self-reliant culture. I find my trips out to the desert to be a great recalibration ritual for my soul. I took on more challenges this year that I’m still reflecting on so this note is more of an immediate first thought, and I’ll process the learnings in a later post.

The Burn of 2018 has been the most challenging and painful one yet, out of the three consecutive times I’ve gone, ranked lowest on the enjoyment scale, highest on the learning scale. Fortunately, learning is one of my most important life metrics so I am extremely grateful I went through this, but it has been difficult to secure myself on the emotional rollercoaster I’ve been on from my mind going off the rails.

I took on the mantle to lead a camp of 37,  called Camp No Boundaries and as a man drawn to challenge, I brought on 30 first-timers, an 81% ratio. I most commonly hear the term crazy when I talk to other camp leads about this move. Also, I tripled the scale of our infrastructure, while managing a logistics move from Las Vegas to Reno. It led to hundreds of hours invested in prep and learning, many sleepless nights, days where I eat only 1 meal for the day because I was so focused on executing. During the time of the Burn, I was stuck in camp fulfilling my obligations for so long that much of my experience is describing the process and what it took to make the camp run.

One of the ten principles of Burning Man is gifting. In the dash to make sure things would take off, I realized this was the first year I didn’t bring something to gift, although it doesn’t have to be something material. Thinking about it more, my gift was towards my camp mates. I helped take 36 people to Burning Man, 80% of which were Burgins (Virgin Burners/First-Timers). I also hustled to miraculously acquire 15 Burning Man tickets for them, which was extremely competitive this year, but we got the whole camp was covered in 2 weeks time. I implemented a delivery program to reduce the friction of getting camper items to the desert and worked with my co-organizers on educational material and other resources to prep them.

So my gift this year was to bring this amazing, grand experience and community to my fellow campmates.

With that said, I was making a lot of big moves in parallel that added a lot of work and complexity that a large segment of the people wouldn’t be able to effectively contribute to. I aimed to shoulder most of the burden. Unfortunately, the remaining workload fell on the shoulders of an only a handful of dedicated camp mates while others decided to have a more relaxed Burn at the cost of the sweat and ache of others.

A part of me was blinded by my vision & ambition, a part of me was also very aware of the closing window of opportunity I had to capitalize on having a location to send inventory and other materials to while our HQ was still in Vegas and test out infrastructure that would be vital the following year and iron out kinks now. Regardless, I had signed up for a challenge with a difficulty of the highest caliber in my adult life. I would essentially be building a mini-village.

I was co-creating a monster that I would have to tame in real-time. A beast asked a beast, so you like to learn?

It would be a three month period, in which I’ve worked almost harder than any full-time job I’ve been in within a similar time-frame. And so it begins.

Use project management system to manage full life-cycle of camp logistics.

Co-Develop Team Structures to operate the camp once in the desert.

I taught myself Sketchup to learn 3D modeling to design all aspects of camp.

I would research to create an inventory list of parts I would need. If a model didn’t exist for a part, I would need to draw it from scratch, with usually meant eye-balling an image and drawing it in the 3D program SketchUp to scale.

Much of the free-standing infrastructure I designed and drew by hand.

Once I drew the frame from the shade compound to house the tents, I had to draw the actual shade and the materials I used mattered, 80% Black on the top for more direct sunlight blocking and 70% Aluminet on the sides for strong sunlight reflection but more wind permeability so that heavy winds wouldn’t put too much pressure on our metal conduits.

Learn carpentry basics to design pieces and be able to communicate with a professional.

I worked with a talented carpenter to iterate my design even further to utilize a metal slide in hanger design for the lumber supports with minimal screws needed, easily disassembly for good reuse and portability.

Learn basics of electrical circuitry. Learn enough about plumbing systems to iterate on other designs. Repair and prep multiple generators to power camp. Learn enough mechanical engineering in case emergency servicing on generators was needed. Learn how to read wind pressure and sun directions to optimally layout camp and design robust and cost-effective shade structure resistant to 70 mph winds and can cool an area of 3,000 sq ft exposed to 90 degree plus low humidity conditions, to shelter majority of camp. Design infrastructure and layout to be used on 19,200 sq ft of open desert space.

Strategically scout land for the camp.

Oh ya….. all that infrastructure… It needed to get built.

But first redo the whole layout on the fly as the wind predictions have all changed and the land positioning needs to be flipped away from the sun and a random couple has parked a tent and car right in the middle of your layout (befriended and convinced to move) and also go ahead and redo the electrical layout.

Work with multiple vendors to secure vital infrastructure components, over 700 gallons of water and waste management services.

Build automation system to handle the majority of the backend, administrative work, including email automation on approvals, declines, payment integration, and automation into QuickBooks for camp dues and other expenses, delivery and storage notifications and team signups,  etc.

Create a system to manage parts logistics and ordering for thousands of dollars of transactions across multiple vendors. Deal with random crucial infrastructure parts being canceled and find backup vendors last minute. Manage and execute on delivery and storage program unboxing and processing hundreds of infrastructure and camp member deliveries. Manage procurement and logistics for 2x 26’ Trucks and storage unit migration from Vegas to Reno. Buy new fridges and freezers for your camp’s food storage in a race for time through Craiglist hustling only hours before your trucks need to depart.

The number of roadblocks and obstacles we faced was seriously impressive. It was like some other supreme being was playing a game and thinking to itself, let me f!$k that up for you. Despite the many challenges, we pushed forward and adapted.

Some campmates went above and beyond to help build the camp; I am truly grateful to them. I am also very grateful to my co-organizers Kara & Andriy who helped a lot behind the scenes to make the camp work and were crucial for helping me not burst at the seams before we even got to the desert.

My childhood friend Francis came as a first-timer and put in an insane amount of work to help make sure we succeeded. He would not sleep if I didn’t sleep. He wouldn’t eat if I didn’t eat. If I was working, he was working. There were periods where we would be awake for two days straight still working, no sleep. Days where we didn’t eat. I remember a moment, when he told me to look at my feet, I had been dragging my feet along like an elderly zombie, willing myself to work, while my body had already started giving up. Have you even laughed historically out of pure exhaustion?

I’ve known him for 17 years; I’m happy to have him as a brother. We’re the Beast Duo.

For the actual Burn, the weather this year was the best in recent years, which helped make build conditions less brutal and was a gentle enviornmental welcome compared to the inferno in 2017. The ground was well conditioned so bike rides were very pleasant. I didn’t get to go to any workshops this year, and I missed my annual Camp Costco visit, but I did get to see most of the art this year. Burning Man hadn’t lost it’s luster to me, although I was experiencing a different category of burn intention. My body was on its last legs before I got to explore, but I someone still managed to stay up for over 16 hours to catch a sunrise.

The camp took a lot of hard work and tested me on a mental, physical, emotional and spiritual level. I sacrificed a majority of my time at the Burn to pull it off, my burn started Thursday, even though the event kicked off the Sunday before. I basically escaped from the camp, but I did get to experience a lot as seen in my photo journal in 3 days. The above photo with Francis was the same day I left camp to get lost, and still somehow ran into him. I willed my way through and with the help of some awesome campers we pulled it off to make the camp succeed.

I picked up a couple of new skills. I learned a tremendous amount about myself. I’ve discovered new edges of my personality when in a new tier of high-stress circumstances. I was able to let go and get lost because of the limited time I had left to explore, there was no time for plans at that point, and it led to some high-quality connections and experiences. My leadership abilities went through a hyperbolic time chamber. My capacity for gratitude, connections, and love increased significantly as I battled consistent rising feelings of frustration, detachment, and resentment.

It takes a lot to give up an already short and fleeting experience. Going through photos and overhearing stories from my campmates has reignited me with joy and gratitude. I would have loved to spend more time with them individually or even with the groups. But I am so happy many of them have enjoyed their experience and have created many strong bonds, friendships, and memories at this years burn. The stories will live on and spread. Burning Man for the right individuals truly can be life-changing. My first Burning Man trip in 2016, I went with the intention to heal from depression. It was a Burn year where I had limited to no responsibilities. This year’s burn was for others. I had most of the responsibility to burden, but I had created the space for others to explore the burn for whatever motivation or intention that guided them. Adventure, Wonder, Lust, Sorrow, Pain, Gratitude, Exploration of Consciousness, Getting Lost to Be Found, having the environment strip you of your ego, or you stripping yourself to be bare and to be free.

Being Camp Lead was a major act of service.

I would say this has been one of my biggest growth periods in recent memory. I feel I’ve reached a new baseline. And as I continue to recover and reflect on the experience, capturing learnings, I’m curious to feel and be aware of the kind of person I’m growing into. I feel like I’m constantly preparing something grand, I don’t quite yet know what it is, but this journey I’ve been on sure makes life interesting, and I ‘ve met and worked with some interesting and awesome people.

So I got the Burn I didn’t know I needed. I’ve survived the Camp Lead baptism of fire. I would say the camp went well despite all the challenges. My mind records a lot of fine details so I have a long list of improvements to iterate on and will write about my lessons learned. We made the necessary investments that will make 2019 significantly easier. A big intention of mine next year is to work less and smarter, explore more and bond on an individual level with each of my campmates.

Guess I’ll have to see what next year brings. Yes, I’m going to Burning Man again. 🔥