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The Burn

Still September 3/Day 48. Unfortunately, all my pictures, plus some fantastic videos of the Burn are on my iPhone. I have to figure out how to get them onto the blog. My apologies.

My plan is to hang back a bit and rest today, Burn Day. I’ll ride up to center camp, but only for a couple of hours. Then after relaxing a bit back at camp, I’ll make my way to The Man to experience the event’s climax and namesake—The Burning Man.

I’ve been warned that the stampede to exit the playa the morning after the Burn is at least as exasperating as the wait to get in. Cleverly (so I think) I decide to leave immediately after the Burn, drive approximately 70 miles to Interstate 80, pull over, and catch some sleep at a rest stop.

The Burn begins at 9:00 p.m. At 8:30 Gary, Samuel and I start toward it, walking even though it’s a mile away because the press of people will be so dense that maneuvering with a bicycle will be impossible.

A swarm of people from all over Black Rock City is streaming in the same direction. By the time we get to The Man, the art vehicles have formed a ring around him, their lights flickering and music blaring at full power. Among the vehicles, a crowd has begun to form around a large rope safety ring that encircles the Man; the throng grows deeper by the minute. Inside the ring, which is perhaps 300 yards in diameter, hundreds of dancers twirling firebrands move in sync to techo-industrial music that’s so loud it rattles my ribs. Meanwhile, scores of laser lights sweep the sky above, penetrating and illuminating the dust that rises overhead.

After half an hour, the fire dancers stop, douse their fires, and clear the center ring. Abruptly, a huge display of fireworks begins, emanating from near the base of The Man. The fireworks are continuous, spectacular and extend throughout the burn. The crowd rises to a frenzy of excitement, whistling, cheering, screaming in anticipation.

Suddenly, the Man is aflame. His arms, legs and torso are all catching on fire and soon he is fully engulfed. Then, unexpectedly, huge explosions erupt, one, two, then three in a row, each with its own color of fire and smoke. The percussion of the explosions reverberates through the crowd, intensifying their delirious cheering. Then another explosion, larger than the ones before, and The Man becomes a pyramid of fire, his skeleton barely visible among the soaring flames. At last, after what seems like an impossibly long time, one of his arms falls flaming to the earth. A loud cheer! Then, at last, the other falls. Finally the entire structure crumples to the ground in a ball of flames so intense it feels like the sun on my face, though I’m over a hundred yards away.

Now some of the crowd begins to melt away, among them me. I say my farewells to Gary and Samuel and head for my truck. I’ve already prepared the camper for travel. All I have to do is start the engine and drive to the exit, as hundreds are already doing.

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