It has been a long night.
No one is stirring in camp. It is dark and quiet. As quiet as things get, anyway. The dance still rages on in all directions, but it sounds faint now that you’re home again.
The stars have moved a lot. The wind is chilly. Your legs ache, and your eyes are heavy. Take a slug of water. A few drops spill on the dust. Take another swallow.
You pan through the darkness with your pale headlamp. There’s your tent, just like you left it, rainfly flapping around unzipped. Pop a squat on the fold-up camping stool that wound up becoming yours. Your feet feel glad.
Time to untie those boots again. The laces have hardened and caked with dust, as have your fingernails, but you manage to loosen the knot. You work the laces free. Grab onto your right boot with both hands and yank, harder, prying the heel off first. Feel your toes in your stiff socks slipping out. Peel away that sock and throw it in your tent. Forget about it for a few more days until it’s time to pack up and go.
Now the other lace, the other boot, the other sock. Your grateful feet feel the wind. You turn on your stool and slip into your flip flops, which live outside your tent flap this week. Don’t touch the bare playa with your feet, they said on the first day. You’ve done your best.
Twist the grooves, flip the lid, drink more water.
Remember dinner? Remember the pasta Val had just finished making when you rolled back into camp, sunburned, elated, knowing more about acupuncture than you knew there was to know? Your bottles were empty, so you refilled them from the jug hidden in the shade under the car. You put on your chapstick, which a woman in a top hat had given you that morning. And Val handed you a steaming bowl of green linguine covered in marinara sauce she was making all day long.
Then everybody started getting dressed, trying on different colors, painting faces in the side mirrors of each other’s cars, clipping LEDs onto various parts of outfits, then moving them. Everybody refilled their water bottles again. The sun set behind the mountains, and the neighborhood erupted with whoops and hollers and cheers.
Finally, at last, everyone was ready, and you rode off down the spire toward the thumping drums and blinking lights.
The night whirled by in song and dance and shouted conversations. Your party split and rejoined and split again, everyone pulling in different directions. You jammed for an hour under a geodesic dome. You were nearly run over by a Victorian mansion on wheels, and then you jumped aboard and rode for a while. You traded jewels with a man whose accent you could barely understand. You watched hapless players lose an impossible game, and flames shot into the sky.
And after all that, you’re home again. Another day and night blown away. Slug more water. Time for bed.
Unclip your lights, remove your bracelets and other charms, stuff them in your pack. Remove the glowsticks from your shirt pockets.
Get the gray water jug, your toothbrush and toothpaste. The bristles are hardened now, but it feels good and clean. Spit into the jug, try not to smell it. Rinse with clean, cold water from your bottle, spit again. Screw the cap back on and slide the gray water back under the car. A few drops spill on the ground.
Splash a little water on your face, wipe it with a dirty shirt. Who cares? You’re really fading now. Shuffle over to the tent. Yank on the zipper, yank some more until the flap gives way.
The horizon is starting to glow. Just a little bit.
The quiet pulses in your ears. Throw down your coat. Collapse onto the air mattress. You sink toward the ground, and it folds around you. Pull the dusty, woolen blanket over you. You made it. You’re home. It’s warm again.
All photos by the all-seeing Scott London.