Burning Man · The highs and lows of a week on the desert

How was your Burn? The truth is my experience at Burning Man was a mixed bag. I wished I could say it was earth shattering, life changing and transformational, but that wasn’t the case.

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While it took me a month to recover from my antics on the playa last year, I made a conscious decision to set a different intention. I wanted to explore more, party less and return home healthy and well. The intense elements of the Black Rock Desert alone can wreak havoc on the body; after all there isn’t much living out there. The only bug I saw was the one that hitchhiked a ride in my bag. The alkaline dust is so harsh it cracks open your skin and aggravates your lungs. Add that to multiple nights of dancing and little rest it can add up.

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“I felt raw and alone in a way
I hadn’t experienced in long time.”

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But the desert is also a place of great beauty. The vastness and magnitude of the landscape, the infinite sky stretching across the playa and kissing the surrounding mountains. The sunrises and sunsets create stunning hues of oranges and pinks and offer a light show that is truly magical.

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The weeks leading up to Burning Man were stressful, I fretted about food prep, outfits, shelter and getting my work done. In the end, deadlines were met and meals were delivered. All I needed to do was surrender. But my pre-dawn exodus was rocky. As I raced to load the car, green goo spilled onto the woven rug in my mudroom as containers of guacamole slipped from my fingers, leaving the mess for a week wasn’t an option. I was already late to meet a friend I planned to caravan with. In the end, she grew tired of waiting and departed without me.

Frazzled, I ended up on the highway heading westbound, (definitely the wrong way to the playa from Truckee) and halfway there realized I forgot my bike lock. Eventually I made it to camp and set up. Sleep came easy even with the thumping bass of a nearby camp shaking my tent.

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There were a number of things I wanted to do, meet a friend of friend, see someone who had grown up in the community I’d lived and explore the playa on my own. I ventured out to meet the friend of a friend, a pilot and photojournalist who drove a Polar Bear named “Sutra,” but he wasn’t at his camp. And in was one of those crazy random moments I met someone from Orlando. He had visited both ashrams I’d lived at, met my former guru, knew my ex-boyfriend, my sister-in-law and her family. I had been to the store he owned in Winter Park. They say chance encounters are the norm on the playa and yet I was still amazed.

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I managed to time my adventures at the exact period of each daily dust storm. For most of the week I looked like I’d been dipped in a vat of talcum powder. My skin white and parched after only 24 hours, my blond and red locks matted, the one and only time I washed my hair it was a one-hour battle. That was when I decided Playa hair wasn’t so bad. Sleep was elusive as the day’s heat wrapped around me like a large python squeezing me awake.

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I padded out to camp in my pajamas with a cup of coffee when a Polar bear rolled up to camp. “Want to go for a ride?” the driver asked. And who in their right mind would turn down an opportunity to take a ride on a Polar bear?

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I grabbed my pack and hopped on the large, white furry creature and rode off into the city as music blared from the bear’s belly. White clouds formed off in the distance, winds whipped and soon the pilot, his friends and I were ensconced in a sea of white powder. We journeyed into the storm. The Man hung upside down and headless as if waiting for all 70,000 participants to arrive.

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Lord Snort ruled the playa, Medusa’s eyes glared as if watching our every move, the Space Whale glimmered and orcas swam in a sea of sand, and a bear made of pennies waved us on. A cylindrical outpost beckoned us to visit. Here you could write the things you wanted to do before you die. The four of us grabbed sharpies and made for the wall. During a stop for coffee we picked up some passengers and made our way to a 747 buried in the sand (here you could check your emotional baggage). It made sense a pilot would want to check out a plane that looked like it was plucked off the set of Planet of the Apes.

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It was an emotional roller coaster filled with extreme highs and lows. I danced. I played. I saw the sun rise. The temple stood majestic holding the pain and loss of family and friends. Pyramids rose from the sands of time. A quiet moment from a nearby perch during sunrise, a night sitting in a crazy forest of trees with guardian rats, watching mushrooms breathe and listening to live music in center camp were moments that stood out.

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Although surrounded by thousands of people and camping with friends there were numerous times I felt raw and alone in a way I hadn’t experienced in long time. The times I roamed the playa alone I was reminded of the things that are important to me in my life. Something inside me churned, aching to emerge. It was time to reprioritize and finish some unfinished things.

I looked around and realized I was done here. It was time to go home. I would not see the Man burn nor would I see the temple burn. I had come and experienced what I needed to experience and was grateful to return home.

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Priya Hutner
Priya Hutner is a writer, personal chef and meditation teacher. She writes feature articles about music, art, food and recreation. Priya loves to immerse in story. Whether jumping from a plane, eating obscure foods or hitting the Tahoe-Reno music scene, she is always up for adventure and experience. Having moved to the mountains from Sebastian, Fla., she embraces the Tahoe lifestyle and loves to ski, hike, paddle and swim. Priya is the owner of the Seasoned Sage, a business that prepares organic meals and facilitates workshops that promote a health-conscious lifestyle. She is currently writing a memoir about her experience living on an ashram and working on a series of cookbooks. | priya@tahoethisweek.com