Desert. Dust storms. +-50,000 people. A city for a week. Art cars and bikes to get around the city. An airport? I didn’t realize burning man had an airport, yes an airport with small passenger planes, until I returned from my 2nd burn in 2008 and was looking through a friend’s facebook photo album. She had gorgeous photos of the city from the air and funny captions, implying the pilot wanted her to join the “Mile High Club” to have the experience.
I said to myself, “Next time I go to burning man I’m going to the airport and riding in an airplane, somehow.”
A few months before the event, I felt ready to experience the creativity, intensity and unexpected of burning man. I didn’t say anything, not even to my boyfriend, my desire to find the airport and take a ride in the sky. I KNEW I was going to make it happen but had no idea how.
We arrived on a Monday in the afternoon and after 2 hours creeping in line with dust storms welcoming us back, “welcoming us home”, we passed through the gate. Home, at last. We radioed our camp mates to find our camp location and within a few minutes the sky greeted us with wet kisses. Rain drop kisses.
We started helping our mates set up camp (our camp mates are quite elaborate with creating a home on the playa) and half an hour later, when the sky poured, we decided to seek shelter under one of the shade structures already built. We chatted for a while until the sky cleared. The sun poked behind the clouds and I was beckoned to capture the beauty of a double rainbow. Mud caked on the bottom of my flip flops, before we knew it, my guy and I were roaming on the playa admiring the artwork and rainbow. A rainbow the first evening, a good sign an omen of what’s to come for the week. Roaming around at dusk and watching the sun set brought a sense of freedom, wonder and joy engulf me.
Most of the week would pass before I thought about getting to the airport. Friday morning at sunrise, after staying out all night roaming around and hoping art cars, I mentioned to my guy, “I wonder what direction the airport is?” A couple overheard us and gave us the cross streets. “You want to go now?,” my guy asked. “No, it doesn’t have to be now but sometime before we leave.” That was that.
Friday came and went.
Saturday we awoke and packed a bag with snacks, sunscreen and a lots of water and went for a spontaneous ride on our bikes, the best method of transport for experiencing the city. By mid day or maybe afternoon, neither of us had a watch or an instrument to tell time, we found ourselves on the outer city limits at cross streets 3:00 and K. “Want to find the airport?” My guy asked.
“Yeah, Let’s go!”
With the airport in sight, we rode on dusty and bumpy terrain as fast as our bikes would ride, me trailing behind with my dilapidated bike. We made several pit stops to chat, admire the dust encircling the center of the playa and notice how far we the outskirts really are. Tents are scattered outside city limits and I wonder why anyone would feel compelled to be “so far away” and then i remind myself:
this place is to test yourself, test your mind, your spirit, your ideals, your beliefs, your wants, your needs. A place to be free and allow yourself to let go. A place to be whoever you want to be
We arrive at the airport. There’ s a simple seating area of wood chairs and benches and a photo gallery of the history of aviation against a wall. I go up to the gate and read a long sign that basically states, “If you pass this gate without a pass, you wont be able to come back in.” Hmmm, this isn’t what I expected. I notice a older man who seems to be in charge but I dont’ bother asking him questions because I can only assume he’s likely been asked, “How can I get on an airplane,” a million times already.
I sit down and wonder, how am I going to get on a plane? After some time, my guy suggests we leave. I’m not ready to go but agree. A group stands up and head towards the gate. I notice, they all have wristbands on. hmmm.
A moment later, a woman sits down behind me. She has a wristband. I ask her, “Do you need a wristband to ride? How did you get one?”
She eagerly explains a camp, Burning Sky, is having contest all day and gifting flights. Cross streets 5:00 and Detroit.
“Thanks… ” I say. Soon after, my guy and I leave with dust storms ahead.
We ride back into the city passing interesting camps along the way. We hit the corner of 5:00 and Detroit and notice a long line of people waiting for… ICE CREAM. (and this is a “no money” city except for buying ice and coffee, everything else is on a gift economy)
I get some ice cream and then head across the street to win my plane tickets.
I find out about the contests and am surprised they have contests every 20 minutes or so.
Within 2 minutes of learning about the contest, they host one. Contest: Who can stand on there head or do a hand stand. I know I can’t but I try anyway.
2 people win.
10 minutes later they hold another contest, to my dismay the contest is, “Hand or head stand”
hmmm, I’m going to be here a while.
My guy returns soon after and he recognizes a good friend and his girlfriend standing at burning sky camp (sky divers camp). What are the chances? In a city of close to 50,000 people- Both at the same location at the same time (mind you, there is no mobile phone service)
Next contest: there are 4 seats available! ( a good sign already)
the woman starts announcing the contest and quickly changes what she’s going to say,
Contest: Whichever group brings back the biggest ice cream in the fastest amount of time, wins.
There are 12 hopefuls dividing into 3 groups of 4.
Without saying anything to our group mates, we all dart off. I didn’t knew I was capable of running so fast as I head for the back of the line. Mid way, I realize I don’t have time to wait in line, I got to get creative.
I find my group and there digging threw a trash bin looking through a container. I grab one out of there hand and dash off to a neighboring camp and ask for water. A man offers and generously fills up my blue chipped cup. He probably thought I was super thirsty. I thank him and run off to regroup.
My group has dispersed and then I find them near the front of the line with a clean oblong container. My guy goes behind the ice cream dispenser asking the man, Can you fill this up full?” and his friend chimes in, “It’s for a bet.” The guy doesn’t bat an eye and hands it to the woman dispensing ice cream. His friend runs off to get spoons and comes back with 3. He creates an airplane- 2 spoons for wings and one for the tail. Without any discussion we all run back in a line and I hear, Vroom vroom, vroooooom and realize I’m leading the group and I put my arms out and chime in Vroom vroom as we fly into camp!
The woman smiles and has a glitter in her eye. We came in last but had the biggest ice cream and by far the most creative entry and airplane ice cream bowl.