My Virgin Burn – Writer Chris McMullen goes to Burning Man

“I am a virgin no more!”, I shouted as I banged on the makeshift gong, a hollowed out fire extinguisher painted black and affixed to a metal A frame. Having just previously laid on the ground and performed my inaugural “Playa Angel”, akin to a snow angel, I fruitlessly attempted to brush the playa dust off and returned to my car. Arriving fashionably late on Tuesday evening, my passenger Jason, also a virgin, and I only had a two and a half hour wait to get in. My friends who had arrived in line to enter Burning Man on Sunday night did so from some 25 miles away! Twelve hours later they entered Black Rock City, Nevada, the largest mobile community on Earth, and the third largest city in Nevada for one week a year. Some 68,000 Burners descended on Black Rock City 2013, including many skydivers who are subject to all of the same rules as those who arrive by car, though it is reported if you skydive in naked, you attend for free. I had always heard stories of Burning Man, what it was and wasn’t. Having just driven for over five days from Upstate New York deep into the high desert of Nevada, I was about to find out what it was really all about.


Upon arriving, we slowly drove towards 3 o’clock to the Circus Combustus, a theme camp from Atlanta. Aside from my great friend “Cosmic” Greg LeBlanc and his girlfriend Cassie Richardson, I had only interacted with my new campmates on a Facebook group event page. Unbeknownst to me at the time, my journey to Burning Man actually began at Electric Forest. Greg and I met and performed with Cassie there in Sherwood Forest and was later invited to join her with Circus Combustus as she was living in Atlanta and had performed with them previously. I performed with Circus Combustus on Wednesday, juggling fire and taking turns at being a safety. An awesome group of talented performers, the Circus included multiple fire props such as poi, hoops, juggling, contact staff, fire eating and breathing, and also included the aerial arts of Lira, Silks and Trapeze. I was lucky enough to be a part of an entrenched theme camp. Having an art car in your camp as a virgin burner is not the norm.

To describe what Burning Man is like, try to count all of the grains of sand at the beach. You might be able to count all of the grains in the palm of your hand, but you will vastly underestimate how much there really is. The small amount that one person can witness/partake in is infinitesimal to what actually occurs at Burning Man. As I took in my first day on the Playa, I was at once overwhelmed and completely contented. My eyes and senses were assaulted with art, people, people on bikes, people on art, art on bikes, bikes on fire and fire spouting mutant vehicles with orgies on them,….and heat….and the smell of the playa dust. Whoa. There is a lot of dust. Everywhere. On everything. Seriously.

Then there is the Man. Standing some 80 odd feet tall this year, he was perched atop a wooden flying saucer, arms thrown in the air much the way a soccer player would when scoring a goal. Glowing green at night, the man was lit for all to see as well as a North Star of sorts. Whenever out on the Playa I could always get my bearings by finding the man on the horizon. The energy of the crowd coupled with the heat from his burning   pumps through my veins still.

The Temple of Whollyness was a giant pyramid made completely of wood. A joist engineered out of wood was created out of an identical piece of wood repeated six times which slid together like a puzzle. They were at every contact point. It took the designer 12 years to engineer it all. All so he could burn it. I attempted to join the more intimate crowd for the Temple burn on Sunday but found myself too emotional and had to ride off on my bike and squelch my tears.

After many days and nights of dancing, drinking, juggling fire and other debauchery my Burn came to a close. While helping break down camp I noticed how many vacant lots had already been vacated, stripped clean of any physical evidence aside from marks in the dust. After packing up and getting in line we were on our way a mere six hours later, my head a-swirl with higher vibrations and love.

The experimental traveling community that is Burning Man is one of radical inclusion where all are participators and none are spectators. All of the performers and artists come of their own accord and while some are commissioned to come most are not. Black Rock City is what it is because of EVERYONE who attends. All that is packed in is supposed to be packed out and amazingly, it is. In the end the only way for someone to experience Burning Man is to make the trek out there and see it for yourself. If you need a reason to go maybe you can find it.

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