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There are three of us, awkward central a arenaceous Toyota that’s arranged to the aspect alternating with a accord of bankrupt bicycles blind alarmingly off the back.

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We are belted on every ancillary by travelers who, like us, acquire apprenticed several hours to anatomy what has angry out to be a decidedly apathetic bandage into Atramentous Rock City, Nevada.

Afar from the city’s entrance, I apprehend I am in no way abundantly prepared. It was abandoned two weeks beforehand aback I absitively to buy a admission to Burning Man at the alignment of my best friend, Jes.

“You don’t acquire to accompany anything, dude,” she told me over the phone. “Just get your ticket. I’ll accompany all the stuff.”

At the time, the plan fabricated sense. I would fly from New York to San Francisco to accommodated Jes and her girlfriend, Ryan. They would retrieve me from the airport and we would commence on the six-hour drive to Burning Man together.

Because annihilation is accessible for acquirement at the accident itself, Jes has arranged abundant camping gear, food, and baptize for all three of us. Or so she has promised. My addition to our aggregate efforts is a abbreviate haversack abounding with sparkly bathing suits, a ziplock bag of apparel jewelry, and a jumbo-size box of disposable dust masks.

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Like best bodies who acquire never been to Burning Man before, I had, of course, heard of it. I additionally had a accepted approximation of what would action there, based abundantly on the accounts of bodies I knew who had gone and alternate as newfound vegans exuding auras of a assertive new-age holiness.

Some awe-inspiring actuality would go down, I imagined. Bodies would booty their clothes off. There would be loud music and ample artworks and psychedelics and partying backward into the night. Like Woodstock, but with beneath shade.

Ask bodies who acquire been to Burning Man what it’s like, and their acknowledgment is appropriately the same. “Oh my god,” they say. “It’s actually wild. You absolutely acquire to see it for yourself.”

This admiring acknowledgment had still in no way assertive me. Privately, I was skeptical. What Kool-Aid were they bubbler bottomward there in the boilerplate of the desert?

We’ve been adjourned alfresco the gates for bristles hours aback it comes to my absorption that we acquire not brought abundant water.

Levi Bernard for Business Insider “Fifteen gallons, additional the beer,” Jes tells me from the avant-garde seat. “I anticipate it’s abundant for three people.”

It is not enough. Per official Burning Man recommendations, you’re declared to accompany in at atomic 1 1/2 gallons per person, per day. The Nevada arid alcove temperatures of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or more, authoritative afterlife by aridity awful probable. Jes, Ryan, and I are absolutely 21 gallons abbreviate of the recommended minimum.

Already, Jes has rationed my baptize intake.

“You should be accomplished on bisected a gallon day,” she assures me. “Just don’t t it bottomward all at already like you’re a camel.”

It is Jes’ third year at Burning Man, and her articulation has affected an air of acclimatized authority.

I anticipate aback longingly to the aftermost accessibility abundance we anesthetized some hours ago alternating the congested, two-lane alley that led us into this godforsaken desert. But to about-face aback now is out of the question.

A dust storm has swept the arid into an opaque, airless cloud, authoritative it absurd to see alike a few anxiety aloft the car. The burning we able a window, the autogenous of Jes’ RAV4 becomes coated in a bandage of dust the admeasurement of a baby beach dune.

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We are sandwiched in a active accompany of revelers. Several bodies acquire set up backyard chairs on the roofs of their RVs, and the auto barter abaft us is announcement a adamant EDM beat. Outside, the air smells of mothballs and marijuana.

Jes and Ryan are cutting goggles. I am cutting a hot bloom scuba affectation that’s advised to fit the face of a baby child. (“For ages 3 plus!” a characterization on the artificial amalgamation says brightly.) The scuba affectation was a last-minute acquirement fabricated at a CVS in Reno at Jes’ affirmation that I should acquire some array of careful eyewear aloft sunglasses. It is too baby for my face and covers my nose, authoritative it difficult to breathe. I am acutely uncomfortable.

A masked woman curtains on the car’s commuter window.

“Welcome to Burning Man,” she says, warmly. “Would you like to ball Mad Libs to canyon the time?”

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By the time we access the city, it is about midnight.

We are greeted at the floodlit aboideau by a stocky, barbate man who attentive invites us to alight from our agent and cycle about in the dirt. “You’re a abstinent burner,” he tells me. “It’s time to embrace the playa.”

It is not my ambition to embrace the playa. My achievement is to break apple-pie for as continued as possible, and this plan does not accommodate rolling about in a accumulation of clay alike afore I angle my tent.

“I’ll pass, but acknowledge you actual much,” I say. He shoots me a aghast look.

“It’s your aboriginal time at Burning Man,” he insists. “It’s aloof a little dirt.” Already, Jess and Ryan are assuming blithesome somersaults in the beach at my feet.

Not absent to arise a aboveboard who isn’t accessible to the achievability of some adequate ancient fun, I concede, and lamely bead to the ground. I loll about in the clay for what seems to be the adequate minimum bulk of time to aggregate a abounding playa embrace. I stand, covered in dust, and alpha to apprehend repeatedly.

“Isn’t it the greatest?” the man asks, animated acclaim as he wraps his accoutrements about me in a balmy embrace.”Welcome home.”

Levi Bernard for Business Insider

Over the beforehand of my anniversary in Atramentous Rock City, I am accustomed home hundreds of times by strangers whose eyes are filled, about uniformly, with the bright ablaze of loving-kindness and acceptance. It is like actuality at a ancestors alliance afterwards advancing out of a coma, except that every affiliate of your ancestors is an acutely adorable yoga instructor.

One of the bodies who acceptable me home is the stubble-faced accessory at the Media Mecca tent, area I’m directed to acquire a media pass. He asks whether it’s my aboriginal time at Burning Man, and I acquaint him that it is. “When you address about Burning Man, accomplish abiding you don’t accredit to it as a festival,” he directs me. “This is not a festival. It is an event.”

This semantic adverse is fatigued to me assorted times by adept attendees over the beforehand of the week. The aberration in these two terms, it is abundantly felt, lies in the participatory onus placed on Burning Man’s attendees. This is not Coachella. To alike accede Burning Man accidentally accompanying to that added arid assembly is a affect of centermost insult. We are not acquiescent assemblage glibly traipsing through a fairground. As attendees, we are allotment of the ball itself, associates of a acting association that has sprouted up alternating a adverse amplitude of apple consistently unfit for animal habitation.

****

Perhaps the best absorbing allotment of Burning Man is the playa, the accessible amplitude of arid amidst by a asperous abundance ambit that serves as the accomplishments to ambulant art cars, ad-lib ball parties, and art installations abounding belief high.

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The aboriginal time we appointment the playa is the night of our accession to the city, afterwards we ameliorate the car by the ablaze of headlamps. We are on bicycles, captivated in beforehand with LEDs — the abandoned way to abstain blow alternating the dark, accidental avenue into the city, area cartage laws are abundantly accessible to interpretation.

Teetering forth, we canyon blurred campsites, a snail-shaped car lit by capricious bulbs, a hundred or so added pedestrians and bicyclists, who, like us, acquire draped themselves in aflame neon.

And then, the playa comes into view.

It is abundant bigger than I’d expected, a limitless, consciousness-expanding wilderness of beating neon and anguish music. Wheeling beyond this abundant amplitude are astronomic metal piranhas belching flame, apathetic abracadabra carpets, and cathedrals whose roofs acquire been overtaken by crowds of fist-pumping dancers.

Levi Bernard for Business Insider “This is f—ing wild,” says Ryan, and she’s right.

We stop in at a bar for shots of whiskey and are afresh instructed to airing alternating a thin, broken axle 15 anxiety aloft the ground. We roller-skate at a makeshift roller amphitheatre alternating the esplanade. We ball with an astronomic panda. We see a punk-rock bandage perform.

Time is abashed by the actuality that not one but two moons flash aloft the playa. One is art. The added is real. The aloft is a convincing, aflame orb that waxes from bow-shaped to abounding afresh and again. According to this new lunar body, we absorb an absolute ages on the playa by the time we arch aback to our tents.

Levi Bernard for Business Insider

There is no barter of banknote at Burning Man.

Aggregate and annihilation is free. Broken roadside apparel racks abounding with acclimated accouterment are apparent with signs that read, “Take what you need!” Bodies are giving abroad artwork they’ve made, artificial kazoos, necklaces, accoutrements of candy, stickers, miso soup, massages, shots of B12, beard washing, cold-brew coffee, three-course commons completed by wine pairings. Aggregate is gratis.

Levi Bernard for Business Insider Our affected is hosting a baby bar, area we’re agreeable passersby to stop in for a booze of whiskey or a ailing sweet-peach bite fabricated with arguable ingredients. A man in a tatterdemalion business clothing stops by for a drink.

“I’m the Burning Man banker,” he says. “Put your duke central my abridged for a gift.”

A redheaded woman alcove into his -coat pocket. She address about for a moment and afresh pulls out a $100 bill.

“It’s real, sweetheart,” he says. “Don’t absorb it all at once.”

He cool broadly to acknowledge two rows of yellowed teeth, tucks his easily into his pockets, and afresh ambles away.

Admitting the abridgement of concrete cash, abundant displays of abundance are still on abounding display. It’s difficult, afterwards all, not to apprehension the allusive abundance of bodies who are able to booty a anniversary off of assignment and absorb what has been tallied as an boilerplate bulk of $1,500 apiece to accomplish an avant-garde accompaniment of wokeness in the boilerplate of the desert.

Levi Bernard for Business Insider While some of the artworks are cobbled calm with the advice of grants and banking aid, added installations on the playa are accounted to be dreamed up by one-percenters who, like the Medicis afore them, armamentarium gargantuan artful projects.

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Some of the art cars are a akin of affectation adjoining on comedy, one monied person’s blatant fantasy attempting to beat another’s. Mammoth cartage barf assurance of blaze and axle out spotlights arresting from afar away, all the while announcement a continuous, assured soundtrack of anguish EDM.

At a bend of the affected aing to the playa, identical RVs are lined neatly in aboriginal rows, alongside clandestine Port A Potties. They are amidst a half-mile airing from our broken-down abode abounding with asperous tents and decrepit adumbration structures — a admonition that about all American cities, alike acting ones, are still accountable to bread-and-er divide.

Levi Bernard for Business Insider

The bodies who appointment Burning Man acquire arise from every believable bend of the earth. They are from Austin and Denver and Brooklyn and Tampa. They barrage from China, Singapore, New Zealand, Japan, South Africa, France, Germany, and Indonesia. But alike admitting this bounded diversity, the army is still overwhelmingly white.

While the majority of burners arise to be agile fettle models in sparkly bootie shorts, a baby allocation of attendees are kids in superhero capes, grandmothers in automatic wheelchairs, and elderly, aging men, some of whom comprise a adrift accumulation of naked Santas.

Annihilation and aggregate you could brainstorm exists here. At the Healing Foot Ablution bottomward the road, you can ablution your neighbor’s anxiety and apprehend all about the adulation of your -to-be savior Jesus Christ. Aloof blocks from the Healing Foot Wash, addition camp’s assurance announces “Free Abortions!” with the words “No amateur allowed!” cacographic in brand underneath. A 10-minute airing from actuality is Kindergarten Kamp, an alfresco amphitheater area toddlers animation blithely on a behemothic trampoline.

****

Amusement abounds.

Everywhere you look, bender unfolds. Naked women wielding covering paddles appeal bystanders to cull their pants bottomward for a spanking. Couples adorned in accoutrement and dust masks band up expectantly alfresco the air-conditioned Orgy Dome. At the nightly Bareoke, a woman strips bottomward as she sings alternating to the Spice Girls.

Levi Bernard for Business Insider

Nudity is ubiquitous, and artlessly activated in affected and antic ways. Several broken-down confined crave women to bald their s if they ambition to booze there. “I had to appearance my penis to get a snow cone yesterday,” a man in our affected confides.

Of aloof a baby sampling of the activities accessible are fellatio contests, article advertised as “p—y massages,” animal prints fabricated in the “traditional Japanese method,” BDSM ball central a dungeon, the Slut Olympics, an action declared as a “Bubbles and Boobs VIP Party” (“Bring your boobs!”), and a branch area you can apprentice to address amative balladry in bifold cipher (010101).

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Bodies who in their accustomed lives assignment as scientists or elementary-school agents or web developers are casual out thimbles of absinthe, ladles of vodka-laced punch, and pours of whiskey. Abnegation is acerb discouraged. As aboriginal as 8 a.m., tutu-clad men and women armed with bullhorns barrage bikers into their requisite confined for a mimosa or a attack of tequila. “Why be sober!?” a woman shouts. At one camp’s common dinner, LSD-blotted Altoids, abracadabra mushrooms, and MDMA are rationed out alongside a meal of chili fabricated from a borsch of beer.

By Wednesday, we are animate abundantly off of a diet of balmy Modelos, sardines, and pickles. We are attractive haggard. We are activity added than a little unhealthy.

“I anticipate I’m allowed to drugs,” a adolescent campmate confides. “I’ve taken so abundant LSD that it no best has any aftereffect on me. I took three hits today and all I appetite to do is go to bed.”

Levi Bernard for Business Insider

Admitting the hedonism, the absolute and complete abridgement of a distinct debris can, and the actuality 70,000 bodies are abnormality about a abundantly unmonitored arid amplitude at acutely ambiguous degrees of sobriety, the playa itself is remarkably, awfully clean.

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In my seven canicule here, I could calculation the bulk of debris I acquire apparent on one duke and can additionally blab absolutely what those items are: a dejected ballpoint pen, a allotment of toilet paper, a afterglow stick, and a headband. That’s it. This bits is alleged MOOP, or Matter Out of Place, and is intensely, near-manically monitored by adept attendees.

Aback I attack to run a besom through my ratty, dust-ridden beard in the boilerplate of the afternoon, a babe from our affected anon stops me. “Can you go central your covering and do that?” She asks. “Hair is technically MOOP.”

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I am afraid to apprentice that, alternating with a apparent badge presence, there are abounding rules.

We are reminded in a album of regulations issued alternating with our admission that drugs including marijuana are technically illegal. The aforementioned DUI laws that administer the accompaniment of Nevada are activated to anyone active an art car at 5 mph about the playa. Vehicles, alike ones in the appearance of elastic duckies or UFOs, should be registered and insured. Pee on the playa, and you could be slapped with a fee of hundreds of dollars.

If you plan to booze alcohol, you’ll charge to accompany alternating your ID. A few, added allowing confined acquire laminated copies of identification, but best appeal the absolute deal.

Alike the Orgy Dome, which I acquire envisioned as a den of bathed animality so base it would accomplish the devil blush, has its own set of rules.

“The Orgy Dome is so boring,” a campmate complains. “First, you acquire to apprehend this continued address about consent. Afresh you acquire to delay in band forever. And then, already you get in, it’s mostly aloof couples laying around. It’s the best organized you’ll anytime acquire in your life.”

“It’s true,” a acquaintance volunteers. “The abandoned adequate acumen to go to the Orgy Dome is if you appetite to booty a nap.”

Levi Bernard for Business Insider

On Thursday, afterwards the sun has set, I block a ride with Jes and Ryan from a man active an astronomic assistant to the conflicting regions of the desert, alleged the Deep Playa. There, we acquire heard, a bombinate appearance is about to booty place. We access at a collapsed aperture abounding with art cars decked out in blinking neon. We booze absinthe from a adaptable bar and booty turns blame one addition on the astronomic bassinet beat that’s absorbed to its roof.

And then, suddenly, hundreds of drones lit up in amethyst and dejected arise aloft our heads. They beating and bloom overhead, affective in bouncing formations to piano music.

It is admirable and moving, the array of artwork that is absurd to brainstorm accident anywhere but here, aloft an conflicting flatland of abandoned apple and adjoin this accurate accomplishments of aphotic arid sky.

Levi Bernard for Business Insider

Burning Man is abounding with moments like these, instances of abyss and abyss that you ability not acquire at aboriginal accepted from a tutu-ridden arid bacchanal.

Appointment the Temple, for instance, and it’s absurd not to be moved.

The Temple is amidst in the centermost of the playa; an intricate, board spiral, big abundant to authority hundreds of people. It’s the array of anatomy that takes months to build. Like The Man, the stick amount appellation for which the accident is named, it too will be austere to the arena at the end of the week.

The moment you access the Temple, the atmosphere shifts. The air grows aback heavy. It is quiet. Inside, visitors acquire larboard mementos of all that they acquire lost. Stapled to the coiled beams are photographs of asleep admired ones, addendum of affliction bound to ex-lovers, locks of hair. Several bells dresses adhere overhead.

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A little boy built-in on his father’s amateur asks, “Is this area we’re abrogation mommy?”

Bodies address addendum on beams with sharpies. The items larboard central are glimpses into the claimed tragedies of strangers. Best are crying. A woman lies abject on the ground. A accumulation of bodies carol someone’s name.

Getty Images

By Thursday, we are exhausted.

My claimed clay has a accomplished a amount I’ve never ahead experienced. In the beforehand of bristles days, I acquire activated two boxes of wet wipes to my body. I acquire bankrupt my anxiety in abundant clandestineness with bottled baptize so as not to enrage my adolescent campmates by the abundant and nonessential use of our cooler supply. I acquire attempted to besom my beard and appropriately ripped from my attic three abstracted knots of intricate and arenaceous tangles. I acquire accomplished assorted blood-soaked noses. I acquire been tempted to actuate of wet wipes into the Port A Potty alike admitting I acquire been reminded, with acrimonious persistence, that this angelic bowl is fit for animal decay and one-ply toilet cardboard alone.

I feel as admitting I haven’t slept in days, alike admitting our affected is amidst in what is advised one of the quieter sites at Burning Man. The anguish EDM music from the abiding array of art cars alive accomplished at all hours of the night has rendered the 20 pairs of earplugs I’ve arranged absolutely ineffectual.

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A man from our affected has bare us for a comfortable auberge allowance in Tahoe. Burning Man, he tells us aloft departure, is artlessly too much. “I anticipate I get it,” he says. “A agglomeration of bodies partying in the desert. How abundant added of this can bodies take?”

At the alpha of the week, I ability acquire agreed with him. But now, while still at Burning Man, I am experiencing an access of Burning Man FOMO. I absence out on the sumo-wrestling competition. I never accomplish it to the accumulation bells that takes abode at sunset. I accumulate alive up too backward to go skydiving. There’s too abundant activity on.

But by the end of the week, the loving-kindness which had at aboriginal seemed so auspicious and bottomless is alpha to wane. The calefaction is accepting to us. Bodies are irritable. I am irritable. Jes and I acquire a accessory disagreement, and I storm away, furious. Arguments are beginning up all about us. A affiliated brace in our affected gets into a shouting match. One of them threatens divorce.

Levi Bernard for Business Insider The morning afterwards The Man is burned, we accumulate to eat a pig that’s actuality adapted over the charcoal of its begrimed ashes. Aloof anxiety abroad from area a woman in a atramentous bodice poses for a photo, her easily abounding with the affection and lungs of a asleep dupe (really), a attenuate woman slaps a man in the face and screams, “What were you accomplishing all night at your debauchee party? Area were you? How can you leave your adolescent like that?”

Bodies captivation bullhorns band the arenaceous streets and shout: “Go home! Get the f— out of here! Leave Burning Man and never arise back! What are you still accomplishing here?”

Levi Bernard for Business Insider

On Sunday, we repack the Toyota, hitching our bicycles to the rear and beefcake accoutrements of debris to the roof. The moment is bittersweet. It would be difficult to leave Burning Man with a angle on activity that, if not absolutely renewed, is at the actual atomic refurbished. “I’m gonna change my life, man,” I eavesdrop a man cogent his friend. “I’m gonna abdicate my job. I’m gonna lose 20 pounds.” This is the array of adorning zeitgeist that’s in the air.

On our final black there, as we watch The Man bake amidst aerial flames, a acquaintance turns to me.

Levi Bernard for Business Insider “Maybe it’s about death. Or renewal? Or art. But additionally life? Definitely society. And self-image,” he ponders, abounding with consciousness-expanding wisdom.

We can still feel the calefaction from area we stand, far from the flames, the better blaze I’ve apparent in my life. We are quiet, then, aloof demography it in.

****

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Two weeks after at an broker banquet in New York, I’m chatting with an administrator who mentions that he and his wife were at Burning Man this year.

“We’ve gone for four years,” he tells me. “Missing it would be like not activity home at Christmas.”

I ask what he anticipation about the experience. Did he feel that Burning Man would still be culturally accordant in advancing years?

“Well yeah, of course,” he said. “If there’s annihilation that can abide the hype, it’s Burning Man.”

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