I Lost My Mind At The 7:30 Sector Of Burning Man
Words by Chandler Kidd
Graphic by Dawn Russell
On the first night, I sit with my friend Brooke in her RV. We decide to take a copious amount of psychedelic substances. I then jump on my bicycle and journey across the Playa, the dry desert basin Burning Man annually calls home. In the state I’m in, I cannot ride. Instead, I succumb to walking. I wheel my bike around the Playa, a menaced-out maniac and somewhere along this journey, I blackout. In doing I lose my bike, my phone, and identification too. It throws my entire burn and forces me to learn two things I have been trying to grasp my entire life.
I come to sitting atop an art-decorated car. As I look around, I notice it’s shaped like a boat. Blue LED lights illuminating its path, it navigates the festival. Burning Man is divided into Sectors ranging from 2 to 12 O’clock. These are in turn dissected by a number of streets. The Esplanade, the last of these, faces The Man. It hosts the famous ‘theme camps’ such as Halcyon’s Pink Heart and Kostume Kult. Move outward from there and you find the Burner camps. Going from ‘A’ to ‘L’, no two are alike and neither are the people who inhabit them. Every Burner is different. We are all hippies at heart. Some have gathered for love, some for sexual enlightenment, and others for art.
I dangle off the edge of the car in a white furry LED jacket friends back in New York gifted me for my birthday. I begin feeling for my belongings. I can’t find them. The satchel which held my phone and identification has disappeared. I have no idea how I have carried myself here but I continue to dance on the car with strangers.
I walk back to camp at three in the morning. When I return my roommate, Migs, who is like a brother to me, is still up. He asks me what I have been up to. I quickly tell him I have lost everything. “Kidd, get a hold of yourself!” he says. I always take what he says to me seriously, especially when he’s stern and so his words centre me, forcing upon me the fact that I have to learn how to handle myself if I’m to remain in the desert. I go to sleep in my shift pod. I will fix everything when I wake up.
As I ready myself to sleep my mind wanders. I have come to Burning Man to find parts of myself. Parts that had been missing since I separated with my lover of five years, parts that have been missing since I stopped talking to my mother due to her addiction. These issues have been building up inside of me for the last few months, causing the typical knee jerk reactions of dabbling in drugs and partying far too much. I begin to think about how it would be nice to have a partner next to me, to feel the comfort of someone’s arms. “It’s alright, I love you. Everything will be okay.” The Playa and Burning Man are supposed to bring me love and teach me lessons. But on the first night, all I feel is pain and loneliness.
I wake up to the heat of the Playa warming my pod like a furnace. 6 a.m. I unzip my door and stumble into the dust. I see Brooke again. She looks at me in anger. “You fucked up Kidd,” she scolds. “I’m not going to help you on this one, you need to figure this out on your own.” With no bike, I began to drag my feet to Center Camp. It’s 7 a.m. and the sun is illuminating the Playa. I feel hungover. I try to figure out where the Lost and Found is located. I see Brooke’s red kimono in the distance. Knowing she is angry with me I walk slower, dragging my boots in the dust.
I see a magnificent statue of a Pegasus. I see people ragged from the night before gently smiling at its beauty. I force myself to smile too before walking up to the Playa’s Lost and Found. It’s located in the 6 O’clock Sector. I visit it on several occasions over the next few days, each time in an attempt to find my belongings only to have life-changing conversations with the veteran Burners which staff it. The Playa provides for everyone they tell me. “Relax, go off the grid and explore.” It’s hard at first. Without a phone, I don’t have any way of capturing what I am seeing. I want to take these memories away with me when I return home. But instead, I give in to the Playa. “If the Playa wants me to suffer, then I will suffer hard.”
I spend much of the second day walking across the Playa. I’m searching for a new bike but with little luck. Giving up I head to the 8:15 Sector where friends from New York, first-timers like me, have set up camp. I tell them about the hardships of day one. They tell me to go explore. I start walking when the Atomic Pussy Lounge yell that they had fresh palomas to pour. I walk up, briefly explain how my first burn had been a complete nightmare. 15 minutes later they have gifted me a bike. I begin to weep as they tell me, “The Playa provides you with everything you need.”
After this, I feel called to go to The Temple. This is a structure directly behind The Man. It varies in form from year to year. This time around, it looks simplistic, light wood in the shape of elongated rectangles with an opening in the middle. I want to walk in and purge the darkness which has been carrying within me for the past year. But before I do, I return to camp and grab a journal from my tent, along with two pictures. One is of my ex, the other is of my mother. I ride to the temple on my new bike. Already, it’s caked with dust.
The Temple is a place to let go. Entering, I feel I may finally be able too. I walk inside and find a spot to write a letter to my ex and to my mother, knowing that they will stay in The Temple to be later burned. My mother instilled the hippy side to who I am, she showed me Elton John and always encouraged me to live life to the fullest. As I pin up her picture to the Temple’s wall someone begins singing. ‘Rocket Man’. As tears pour like down my cheeks, I know that someday we will speak again. I then pin the picture of my ex next to her with a letter that reads, “You caused me to be scared to love again, but I know it is time to let go of that fear.” I realize that the fear of the two people I trusted the most has been hindering the quality of my life. Despite the pain they both had caused me, I am in control of my feelings, not them.
The next day I almost skydive but instead choose to see the sunrise with my New York crew. Just before dawn, we gather and bike into Deep Playa to dance as the sun rises over the mountains. Everyone does this with a grin on their faces. I do these another two times. On the second sunrise, my friends from New York – mostly older and having husbands, wives, and kids or being serious relationships – cuddle up, love pouring from every pore. Watching them I become despondent.
Seeing this a roommate who has been camping with me pulls me aside and gives me the speech of a lifetime. “Chandler,” he says, looking me directly in the eye. “We fell in love with you because of you, not because of you fucked up on drugs or being reckless, but because of your amazing qualities. You need to learn to love yourself because you got out to this place alone at 24 and it took me until I was in my thirties to get here.” He sounds like my father telling me I am capable of more than I think I am. I give him a huge hug and all of my friends join. I cry, others cry. I know already that this will be one of my favorite memories of the entire burn.
My last 72 hours on the Playa are spent with putting “me” first. Normally I put others before myself to ensure everyone is having a good time, but for the remainder, I listen to my body and my soul. I am out at the trash fence with three friends when they decide to take a trip and go explore. I want to join them but instead, I end up falling asleep in the dust at the Pink Heart.
On my final night here, I finally get to see The Man burn. Before he ignites, the people tending the flames raise his arms in a goalkeeper’s position. As I watch, I see him break apart. Much like me, he does not crumble immediately. It doesn’t seem like will succumb, but eventually, he let’s go. As his right-side collapses, people cheer. With one side gone, he teeters. Then, finally, he gives in. Like him, I had to learn how to let go. The past week I have been at Burning Man I have let go of material items and past memories. I haven’t died without a phone for a week, I haven’t died without any identification. I’ve learned that substances are not integral to partying. As the festival celebrates The Man’s fall, I decide to slowly make my way to camp.
It’s amazing what the desert can teach and show you. As I leave the festival, my skin like a salamander’s, my lips blistered and caked in dust, my heart and soul rejoice the fact a 24-year-old woman from Oklahoma, one who moved to New York to follow her dreams, was able to survive in the desert and grow. Each year around 80,000 people gather from all corners of the world to find meaning. I still can’t seem to put into the exact words of what all this alkaline dust and being off the grid means for each individual, but for me, it was a journey of self-love and patience.