5555 Miles Away

EVEILEB - by Andre Gehrz

I step onto the playa, my bare feet digging into the Black Rock Desert, close my eyes, open my ears and take a deep deep breath. The dust enters my nose and a potpourri of images, feelings, expectations, desires and memories hijack my mind. My brain does a rollercoaster ride like never before and a million impressions are breaking in. I am here, where I planned to be for nearly seven years now. For someone coming from Europe and working in a job where holidays are hard to plan, it’s not easy to organize a trip to Black Rock City. But I succeeded at last and I am desperately curious if all the images I have from reading, watching, assimilating, preparing and organizing will come true. The dust enters my lungs, proceeds through the maze of bronchial tubes and finally settles on the surface of my alveoli. Black Rock Desert is now a part of me where it wasn’t before. Or am I part of the Black Rock Desert now? Whichever it is…I am home!

I open my eyes and am finally ready to explore: the desert, the art, the people, my mind. Taking my first real step on the playa I think about playadipity. I read something about that weeks ago. And I also heard something about how “the Playa provides.” Perhaps not always what you are wishing for, but it provides! I prepared for this nearly seven years, reading everything I could find about Burning Man. I watched documentaries, lost myself in huge image libraries and finally, a few days ago, I stepped on the train in Berne, my hometown in Switzerland. Exactly 5555 miles away from The Man.

The train was the start. After three flights, a bus, a cab and a rental car, I would finally reach my destination. Previously, I had talked to a lot of people about going to Burning Man. Most people didn’t know anything about it. Some people had heard of this “hippie festival with all the naked people dancing in the desert” :-). But I never met anyone who had actually attended. Maybe because all my friends who I thought would be fascinated by a festival like this couldn’t come because of health-job-family-or-not-interested issues. So I decided, after thinking about it for 8 nanoseconds, to explore this world all on my own.

The train was crowded. Just like my backpack was, with all the stuff I needed for my trip (or thought I would need) so I left all the passenger cars behind and chose to step into the car for the bicycles (a very common thing in Switzerland). Besides some bikes, it was empty. I sat down, gazed out of the window and started to think about my wife and daughter at home. The first tear drop of my trip ran down my face. I came back to the real world a few minutes later, discovering that a young couple had entered the bike car with their big suitcases. We sat there for a couple of minutes, feeling the vibration of the train. Nobody said a thing. I rummaged around for my Reno-To-Buy list which I had printed at home. The Burning Man logo smiled up at me when I went through the items on the list.

I blink my eyes when the second tear drop runs down my face, mixing with the playa dust the second it leaves my eye. Home! My mind asks me how it feels, and every single cell in my whole body starts screaming. I am not able to understand what they are screaming, but I feel it’s something overwhelmingly good. My friend pats me on the back, emphasizing how beautiful it is to be here together. I smile. We launch our bikes across the expanse of desert, riding towards a strange epiphany on a UFO appearing out of the dust on the horizon.

The young woman on the train watched me for quite some time. I realized that from the corner of my eye. Out of the blue she asked me if I am heading to Burning Man. Wow…she got me! I was surprised and happy at the same moment. Finally I had found someone who knows Burning Man. I told her my plans and revealed that my journey had just started a few minutes ago on this particular train. She was excited to hear that and asked me who was coming with me and in which camp I was planning to stay. I admitted that I was on my own, that I didn’t have a camp and did not know anybody out there. She smiled and nudged her boyfriend. Then she told me that from now on I was no longer on my own. They were also coming to Burning Man and would be pleased if I would camp with them. It was their second Burn and they were going to camp with Burners who had invited them two years ago. I was stunned.

My bike is squeaking as we approach The Man. I am not alone in the desert. I found friends. I found family… a playa family. A magical week impends. A week where I will experience teaching a Canadian girl the slow Foxtrot at a white party; being gifted with homemade grape jam while giving away lingerie with my playa family; getting to know a charming slightly squinting woman, who left me speechless with her guessing abilities while filling up on champagne and being spanked by her campmates; waiting at Truth Is Beauty realizing that sometimes Black Rock City is the loneliest place on earth even when surrounded by tons of open-hearted people; looking ten years older after staying in a white out for more than an hour; being served with ice-cold tapped beer in deep playa when overwhelmed by the city; eating canned food being boiled on the roof of my car because the camping stove broke down and biking to the French Quarter each day to use the wifi signal to write my family, letting them know I’m still alive! (Don’t judge Burners for looking at their mobiles. Sometimes they only miss their wife and daughter 5555 miles away!) And lastly, finding out that the boyfriend of the young lady on the train in Berne had sold me the tiles for my house only a few weeks before. The one I was building for me and my family.

I never knew anybody personally back home in Europe who attended Burning Man. But starting out on that train, 5555 miles away from Black Rock City, the playa provided: friends, a life beyond, a mind being able to carry on after bad things happened, gratitude, a compelling desire for my family, a grilled cheese sandwich at the perfect moment and a playa family. I don’t believe in fate but sometimes coincidence is a strange thing. Sometimes, like an omnipotent deity or some beneficent grace, the playa provides long before entering the Black Rock Desert. Or perhaps it’s just playadipity :-)!


by Andre Gehrz

About the author: Tales from the Playa

Tales from the Playa

Tales from the Playa are dreams and memories of events that took place at Burning Man, as told by participants. Submit your story here.

6 Comments on “5555 Miles Away

  • Zimbo says:

    >…my bare feet digging into the Black Rock Desert

    You should be careful about that, or you’ll get playa foot. It might feel good at first, the fine dust between your toes… But it gets under your toe nails and becomes very abrasive. I lost a toenail out there my second year and could barely walk. You see campmates dealing with deep cracks on the soles of their feet – the dust gets in those little wrinkles and splits them open after a few days.

    I started wearing boots and changed my socks everyday, but your covered feet are the only part of your body that retains sweat – all other parts the sweat immediately evaporates. So what happens is your feet start to stink like they’ve never stunk before.

    I recommend soft leather loafers without socks. They breathe nicely. Dump a bit of Gold Bond powder in their and you’re good to go all day.

    Report comment

  • Shameless says:

    Thank you for that beautiful story.

    Report comment

  • GroupWguy says:

    this is the kind of story i love to read. there must be a part 2, a continuation. tell me more about your experience.

    Report comment

  • Andre Gehrz says:

    Thanks for the love :-). There is at least a part 2 of the story (or 3, 4, maybe 5)…but how do you decide the beginning and the end of a story?

    Report comment

  • GroupWguy says:

    you don’t, you just write as if you were talking. telling a friend about your experience. its that true life experience within the world of burning man that is intoxicating. that draws us to it….me anyway ;-)

    to hear about one persons experience from their eyes is the most interesting part of this blog, this site.

    Report comment

  • Boyscout says:

    Love hearing about such a random encounter at the start of the journey resulting in a few playa family :) Magic moments such as that are just wonderfully precious!

    Report comment

  • Comments are closed.