Light-hearted disclaimer: Just because I went to Black Rock City with a broken leg doesn’t mean you should! Black Rock City is radically inclusive of participants with reduced mobility. But also, it’s your responsibility to be physically prepared for potential hardships. Looking for mobility support in our dusty metropolis? Start with Mobility Camp.
It was a wise friend, not a Burner, but adjacent, who put a stop to my week-long FOMO pity party. “Isn’t that Burning Man though?” she mused. “It’s never supposed to happen the way you expect.”
And oh, there were expectations. I should know better by now. After three years in a state of heightened anticipation… girrrrrl, I was SO ready for my 11th year in the dust. A member of Burning Man Project’s Communications team, Waking Dreams would be my first year on staff with the Media Mecca crew. I could not wait to arrive on an empty playa 10 days before Gate even opened.
Until six hours before my flight to Reno, Nevada.
I woke up on the floor of my apartment in excruciating pain, with my leg bent in very much the wrong direction. It became clear I had exited a bunk bed while mostly asleep, and ended up on the floor like a broken doll.
My bins were packed. Taxi was booked. I was ready to go to Burning Man. Except there was no way in hell I was going to Burning Man. And believe me, I tried. During that endless night at the ER, I texted my friend and told him to meet me at my apartment at 5am because “I’d need a little help getting to the airport.” “Sure,” he said — knowing full well I was going nowhere fast.
As the night and morning progressed, and the gravity of my injury sunk in, the word “surgery” was mentioned more than once. I fought with the doctor and the X-ray guy. I told them I had to catch a flight and “Couldn’t we do it when I get back?” They looked at me with raised eyebrows and gently talked me off the ledge. I definitely had a broken bone and there were yet-unidentified torn ligaments, and clearly I was going to stay home. For a week, anyway. And maybe FOREVER.
During that week of convalescence I slid into a deep vortex of FOMO and self-pity. Propped on my couch, I watched social media and waited for any morsel of information about what the heck was going on out there in the dust. I cried every day, missing the dozens of virtual collaborators who I was going to meet in person for the very first time. My destiny bifurcated; I imagined loves never met and grand adventures lost forever.
Meanwhile, the team I was supposed to join in BRC weathered ferocious storms while struggling with all the logistics of building an ephemeral city for the first time in three years. I wanted to suffer alongside them, to be another badly-needed body doing whatever was needed during this difficult build. That was my destiny, not this.
But hey there IS a happy ending. I made it to Burning Man. Maybe I was a fool, and maybe I’ll suffer later. Honestly I didn’t care. More than anything, I needed the dust and the heat, my collaborators and community.
It became apparent that surgery wasn’t necessary, at least not urgently. One week after my accident, I strapped a brace on my fragile leg, and unexpectedly met a handful of local Burner friends at the airport. All of us were boarding our flights just in time for Burn Week. Generous friends helped with Reno errands and drove me to the desert just in time for event week to begin in all its wild glory.
It was hot. It was dusty. I didn’t dance. There was a lot of quiet time with bags of ice (not exactly the cuddle puddle I was manifesting). I had mobility support that enabled me to embark on epic sunrise photography excursions. I learned to ask for help. But also, people around me stepped up a thousand times every day to offer support; I am endlessly grateful.
The curiosity, care, and shouts of “You are SO badass!” from random strangers was absolutely better medicine than another week at home crying on my couch.
Now that I’m home picking up the pieces, I can say it was all worth it — the sunrises, sunsets, ridiculous hijinks, the laughter and side missions, the poutine. Every day I randomly came across people with whom I’d worked, but never met in person until that moment. THIS became my Burn: the Immediacy of finding you all in this magnificent, wild, weird city after three long, lonesome years.
Cover photo: My first playa sunset of BRC 2022, just 10 days later than expected (Photo by Kirsten Weisenburger)