2010's version of the Man a few days before the main gates opened to the public.
I had a few friends who were veterans of Burning Man and I decided that, with my 30th birthday earlier this year and a planned return to school, this was a good time to check it out for myself. A place full of transitions for a time of transition for myself.
Now, I thought I would do a little running while I was there to stay on pace with my training schedule for the a Portland Marathon. While I wasn't planning on doing the 20 miles that was scheduled, I was thinking I'd do a few short runs and maybe a 10 miler.
Then I found out about the inaugural Burning Man Ultramarathon. I can't remember how I first heard about the race. It may have been through Twitter or a Wired article, but I found the Facebook page for the ultramarathon and checked out the details for the 50 k (31 mi) race. At first, I figured I'd just volunteer and help out some fellow runners. Then I thought I would run about 20 miles and then volunteer the rest of the time. Finally, a few days before we left for Burning Man, I decided that I would try to run and walk the whole thing.
Race details can be found here.
So, fast forward to the morning of the race. It was a Wednesday, the third day of the festival. I had done pretty good job refraining from alcohol and other substances and got a few hours of sleep despite the thumping bass from a distant dance-club-themed camp. At 5 am, with my fuel belt full of Heed and my trusty Garmin, I ran out to the center of Black Rock City (the name of the city that is built around the Man) to meet the other runners under the Man himself.
There was a group of about 30 of us huddled around the race director, Cherie, while she showed us a map of the course. The map had been available online, but I had forgotten to print one out and it hadn't looked very complicated anyway. However, it was still very dark outside and the second turn supposedly indicated by a group of tiny flags. Flags, which Cherie mentioned may have been removed by the Department of Public Works (the Burning Man infrastructure crew) over the night. I figured I would be able to keep up and follow all the runners, especially since most of us were wearing headlamps and other lights.
Needless to say, once the race got underway, I quickly fell to the back of the pack. Ultramarathoners--*surprise surprise*--are in excellent shape and rather fast. I had to keep a faster pace than I had planned in order to keep everyone's lights in sight. Soon the first turn came and I tried to keep an eye out for the flags for the next turn, *if* the flags were still there.
Other attendees in the cars around me were getting cranky, very cranky. One guy wandered from car to car, desperate for information. Someone else trotted a few feet from their car to relieve themselves in full view of us all and onto the playa floor. Others started drinking to kill time, always a bad idea before a long drive through the desert.
I had read about the new "pulse" system the administration had planned to trot out this year. Despite their noble intentions, guess what? This plan stunk worse than a Port-a-Pot after a virgin Burner has tipped it over while puking their brains out. The only thing that could have made this year's unbearable Exodus more tolerable would have been updates on BMIR, every ten minutes, at the very least. After two hours of waiting and with my bladder on the verge of exploding, I drove under the flag divider and pointed my car towards the highway, stopping only briefly during a white-out.
I was disgusted when I reached the turn-off to discover only a handful of volunteers running Exodus. They were confused and overwhelmed. A naive guy, no more than 21, bounded out of his Rangers truck to stop me at the gate. "Who are you," he demanded to know. I calmly explained that I was tired of waiting and had a family emergency. I absolutely needed to make a call in Gerlach, ASAP. "Ok, go ahead," the young Ranger spat at me with a sneer. "You're special. Very special!"
Of course, there was no emergency, other than that I had a long drive ahead of me and, if I had fallen asleep at the wheel, it would have resulted in one hell of a family crisis. Not that he knew this. That said, during future Burns, I will be using this devious tactic to avoid the nasty, irritating process that is Exodus.
You can cry "but what about radical self-reliance" until your lungs bleed but there HAS to be a better way to execute Exodus. Rather than merely moan and groan, I'd like to offer this suggestion.....
Continue with the pulse plan but in smaller groups so the line moves more than once every hour. Yes, it's an excellent concept that prevents engine idling and tons of carbon from drifting into the atmosphere. I think we can all agree on that. Also: snag professional volunteers to man the boards at BMIR on Sunday afternoon to keep the tired, cranky crowd at Exodus informed. We could have also used more Port-a-Pots out there. Many, many more. As it stands, the pulse system is deeply flawed and led to drinking, confusion and endangered the safety of thousands of Burners.
You can do better. We can all do better.