Each week or so I will be bringing in a guest to ask them about their experiences with travel and what it has done for them. Why just take my word for it? Most travel sites and blogs focus on interviewing the “average Joe” that has left everything behind to travel the world. This “average Joe” typically has a travel site of their own and are still out there wandering the globe. Sure I will be tracking down those Joe’s but what about the “average average Joe?” The ones that travel for the sake of traveling. The ones that have no ulterior motives. They are the ones truly experiencing everything out of their trip as they are not tidied to a keyboard, a smartphone, or a deadline.
That’s who I am interested in hearing from.
The Average, Average Joe Series – Scott Woodburn, BurningMan.
For years now I have heard ridiculous tales and stories about the outdoor social experiment that is BurningMan. Stories of naked little people, outrageous costumes, and over the top self expressionism. It has always been intriguing to say the least however I have wondered what it is really all about. Meet Scott Woodburn, a BurningMan “burner” that has been raving about this weird and wonderful event for the last few years. He is currently gearing up for this years carnage and between scouring the thrift stores for skirts and glitter I was able to sit down with him (via email) to get an insiders view on what exactly goes down at Burning Man.
You are no stranger to the strange that is BurningMan. How many years have you been going to this festival?
Next week’s departure will make it my 4th year in a row! May round it off at an even 5. We will see.
What keeps bringing you back?
For me it’s quite simple. We are a group of good buddies who love crushing cold beer and hilarity ensues. BurningMan gives everyone opportunity to laugh their ass off all day and sometimes making you think you are in a real life cartoon without having to take any uncontrolled substances (of course they are there though if you want ‘em). The answer for most others is probably quite different…..people will claim to go and find the meaning of life, exercise self expression, take in some unbelievable life changing moments and simply get there Zen factor through the roof. All that sounds fine to me, but really my group is just there to party and have a laugh. We may be the minority in our reason for going, I’m not sure anymore. There really is every walk of life and the whole idea of having no corporate involvement and it being a self made party by the participants is very appealing. You can go there with a million dollars or one nickel, you are going to have the exact same experience as money gets you nowhere. It’s not needed.
Is there any connection between your last name and the actual giant Burning Man at the festival?
You know I’ve never thought of that. Hmmmm maybe my ancestors were Cave Burners back in the day?
TLITs: So you are saying you are not some sort of God being honored? I would play that up if I were you Woodburn.
SW: I do know this much, if I did a full 100 yard dash into the BurningMan on ecstasy I Woodburn.
Walk us through your typical day at BurningMan.
Wake up with a very deserved yet suspicious hangover in a very dry hot heat. Usually laughter ensues shortly after once we start recollecting what happened the night before. “Did Raphy really go off with that transvestite little person to seek out a wine enema?”. We then get up and get some fuel in our bodies, hop in our skirts, pack some cold beer, get the bike seats dusted off, and hit the Playa. The day times at Burning Man are my favorite, especially approaching dusk as the dust storms calm down. More importantly by this time we usually have a good glow on and we simply stray randomly around the desert finding cool things to do (people have their bars open, many photo ops here and there, cool Playa Art to see). Eventually after dinner, you get dressed up into the night outfits as the temperatures can drop quite a bit. We then get back on the bikes with a few very stiff drinks (almost like a night log you would throw on a fire) and go find the loudest and craziest party we can which usually involves a ton of fire and electronic music. Rinse, repeat.
TLITs: Dang. Sounds like something from down the rabbit hole. Care to elaborate on the “night outfits?”
SW: Costumes at BurningMan are a must. If you can picture the movie Mad Max it will give you a starting point for some of the stuff people wear (by the way there is an actual “Thunderdome” at BurningMan which you can fight people in using giant batons). Each year I usually replenish my tickle trunk down at Value Village sifting through skirts ans shirts 5x smaller than me. Glow sticks end up all over your body at night so it looks like 50,000 Christmas trees on bicycles. Others don’t need costumes at all as they just go around full on naked. It really does look like something from another planet or post-apocalypse. Basically I dress up like Madonna did back in the 80’s, yet I look like I might need a quick fix down at the train tracks too.
Fun fact. You got married at Burning Man. Was this planned or a spur of the moment thing and how did it all go down?
It was always a “hmmmm wouldn’t that be a cool way to get hitched” sort of idea but there was very little planning involved. There was a very good chance that it wasn’t even going to happen if we couldn’t nail down the Justice of the Peace. We eventually did find “Reverend Patty-Cakes” on the Playa and it was official. I wore a beautiful custom made suit which was drawn on me with a Sharpie. We were married in front of the Temple which is an unbelievable structure built each year in a completely new and unique way only to be burned to the ground a few days later.
TLITs: Awesome. Any interesting folks attend the ceremony?
SW: We ended up having a few people in the wedding party which I haven’t even met before or seen since. There is just something magical about getting married with your best man in Hammer pants and an Art Car called the Slut Garden right behind the Reverend which has naked girls sliding down a stripper pole. Every little girls dream right? I’m sure its just what Pam’s always wanted.
TLITs: Well that is one hell of a reception party.
Happy Anniversary. Anything special planned?
I will be at Burning Man……ahem, without my wife I’m afraid! I have her blessing though; she knows if you have the opportunity to go, you go! She unfortunately could not make it work this year with her work schedule. It will be me, one of my bros, one my my great friends who introduced me to BurningMan, and two new Burners.
The festival is held in the Black Rock desert. How do you stay comfortable/clean/sane?
There are two main ways to do it. You can tent, or you can get an RV (or similar). I have done both and there is no doubt the RV offers a more comfortable experience. With either option you can be part of a camp or go on your own. Being part of a camp is great if you know of one who can take you in as the economies of scale kick in. Amenities such as a camp shower set up with an evaporator, generators, unlimited water, shade structure, couches, and possible shared meal planning etc are all available. But hey I can appreciate how some may like to just completely rough it and do it in a more simplistic fashion. As far as staying clean etc, there are many baby wipes used during the week! As hot as it is though you actually do not sweat that much due to it being a dry heat. I may be crazy but I tend to think that coating of dust you collect during the day keeps you dry too. One needs to be careful not to be stricken with the almighty “Playa Foot” which is a case of not keeping the feet cleaned and having the playa dust turn the bottom of your feet into a dry raw cracked painful mess. Never had it but have heard it’s a great way to ruin your day/week! It goes without saying that you need to be on a constant water drip in this type of climate so pack lots, and with some electrolyte packs if possible.
How about any tips you can share on beating line ups? (Bathroom, food, front of stage etc) or do you que up like everyone else?
The way into BurningMan and out can have some awful line-ups (although the past year was very smooth). Best plan is to try and stagger your entrance/exit to non peak times. Most don’t mind the wait on the way in because quite frankly it builds anticipation and the line of cars and people can actually be a quite fun “moving tail gate party”. On the way out though it’s like anywhere else you just want to beat the rush and get home. Personally we have started to leave within an hour of the Man burning down on the Saturday night which is the second last and most looked forward to night of the week. Sure we miss the final day but man we are clear sailing the whole way out As for stages etc it really is easy to get to where you want to be. You can be as far from the action as possible for a sound sleep or you can be right at center stage. Toward the end of the week it’s does get way busier as the locals start to arrive but still easy to get to where you need too. Food wise there is only two commercialized areas which do often have lines: the line up for ice which can be lengthy, and there is a central camp for those who want to indulge in a fancy iced coffee etc and see some spoken word etc. The almighty porta potties are readily available in long stretches so line-ups are infrequent. They surprisingly keep them half clean (for the most part), but all seasoned veterans will tell you to get to them at sunrise for the best clean bathroom experience!
Personally for us it’s our own party that we throw as it is a well known/attended party. It is an Apres Ski theme, full with fake snow machines, crazy DJ’s, two bars, and the famous “Shot Ski.” It is our gift back to the community and a lot of money and energy goes into it. Seeing all those people have that much fun is a total blast.
For some it’s the dust storms, but I find them fun. I’d have to go with mornings. That initial breath of 110 degree air in a super heated tent or RV while hung over is never something to look forward too.
Opulent Temple: a crazy awesome and well attended nightly techno venue with fire and some sick DJ’s. Also, Distrikt is a day version for those looking to kick up some sand and party during the day. The best venues though are the ones you don’t know about until you stumble upon them…..simply riding the Playa on your bike and saying “hey let’s check that place out” has led to some of the funniest moments of the week.
There is a guy who sets up a tent and volunteers to clean your ass crack. Not joking. Hey, to each his own though right??
Favorite nationality to travel with?
Anyone who has an interesting story to tell and likes crushing a few beers is perfect for me. Yes, it usually ends up being a Canadian but I’m surrounded by them it seems!
Least favorite nationality to travel with?
Can’t say I have one, more and more I’m finding you can find good people from all stretches of this planet. Perhaps though given the whole mantra of burning man there is a much larger proportion of these fine folks. In three years and over 50,000 in attendance in each time, I have not witnessed a single altercation at the festival.
Best thing you put in your face hole while traveling?
Last year at burningman we ended up making Macaroni and Grape Jelly bagel sandwiches as it was that time of the week where you just made do. They were surprisingly good as are most things after 15 beers.
Our first year all we brought was vodka and powdered blueberry Gatorade mix. We forgot to bring any other mix and drank approximately 100 vodka Gatorade’s each over the week. I can’t even look at the stuff anymore.
Best quote from your trip?
You will need to assign a burning man name to yourself when you get there. “My name is Dr. Superman. I can do anything Superman can…………but I’m also a Doctor.”
All pictures provided by Scott Woodburn