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Decompression Confession: To Burn or Not to Burn?

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The sun had already set and the lavender sky lingered behind the dark mountains to the West. I stood on the dock of a half-mile long pier in the middle of the desert that led to nowhere. I walked the length of the pier and stopped at the end to contemplate my situation – physically and mentally. Here I was, standing on this rickety pier, which felt as if the tide was coming and going beneath me. But there was no water in sight. In the distance, a gigantic cruise ship sailed by carrying over 100 passengers. It was larger than life itself. I had discovered the day before when I actually went for a ride on it, that it was driven like a real boat – tiller and rutter and all. Red, blue, yellow and green glowing lights became more prominent as dusk transformed into night. Bikes flew past me and art cars whizzed by blasting heavy beats and full of people dancing. It was a night I will never forget.

This Sunday, October 9th marks the 12th annual San Francisco Burning Man Decompression Party. This year it is being called, Decompression 2011 Heat the Streat FaIRE. With all of this talk about Burning Man up in the air again, my own experience on the Playa this year have been flashing vividly through my head. I know you probably thought you could escape being tortured by tales of endless nights transforming into the most beautiful sunrises on the planet, but I just can’t resist throwing out a bit of temptation into the minds of even the most Anti-Burner. I’m not looking to convert anybody to any belief or anything like that. I just feel that a lot of people hate on Burning Man without have ever being there to understand what they’re hating on. I can guarantee you that everyone on this planet can find something they appreciate about Burning Man – no matter how anti they may think they are.

Burning Man obviously has a lot of connotations: the main one being that it’s a freak-show festival way out in the middle of the desert where people run around naked have orgies and act as if they are a part of some psychedelic tribe. Well, there is some truth to that – but there is also a whole lot more to it than that. I, for one, hadn’t been to the festival for nearly 10 years, since I lived out of the country for so long. This year was the 25th anniversary of Burning Man. This meant that it was the biggest and most extravagant year ever. According to most attendees I have talked to, 2011 was by far the best “Burn” yet.

For those of you that have been, please spare my details – but for those of you who haven’t, read my words with an open mind and imagine yourself in a place where there are no rules, no inhibitions, no running water, no judgments, and no lack of creativity. In a place that is ruled by fire, art, music and frenzy. Who needs electricity when you can use glow-sticks to see? Who needs a house, when you can sleep in a tee-pee? Who needs brand names, when you can wear homemade costumes even when it’s not Halloween?

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This amazing place can only be found in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. The dried-out, prehistoric lakebed serves as the perfect blank canvas to create an entire world where imagination becomes reality. This is where Black Rock City is built. The planning is immaculate. The artwork is incredible. The idea is insane. But for one week every year, thousands of adventurous souls make the dusty desert their home. They bring their artwork, they design art cars, they create things that you have never, ever seen before. And then, on the last day – they burn it all to the ground! Some people will never understand the beauty in it all – but if you dare to open your heart to the unknown, it all makes perfect sense.

As the darkness dwindled and the sky became increasingly lighter again the events of the previous night seem surreal. Was I really inside of a kaleidoscope a few hours earlier? Did I really dance to a dubstep song about peanut butter and jelly? Did I really ride around the desert in a vehicle that looked like a fish that lives in the Mariana Trench? Did I really see a wheel of skeletons rowing in unison? The answer is “D,” “All of the Above.”

I rode my bike far out into the playa where our camp had its Samurai Sunrise Bar. I entered the gates of our bar. There was a movie theater that played black and white films in the distance. I walked up to the bar and got a cocktail. It was delicious. A friend took my picture with a Polaroid camera. There was an indescribable smile smeared across my dusty face. Everyone gathered on the East side of the bar to see the sun creep up over the mountaintops. Someone gonged the gone as the glistening tangerine ball rose up. The sky became a shade of vibrant peach that I had never seen before. I danced into the sunrise on the Janky Barge until the sky turned blue enough for me to wander over to the airport to take a ride in a friend of mine’s plane.

That’s a whole other story. But if any of my descriptions have left a taste of dust in your mouth and the curiosity to see just what the hell I’m talking about, go to the Decompression party in San Francisco tomorrow. Something is guaranteed to blow your mind. Pinky swear. 


Photos By: Angie Zimmerman, Brian Jones, Matt Schultz

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Heidi Smith - The Ultimate Scavenger

Heidi Smith - The Ultimate Scavenger

Heidi works for a non-profit cultural exchange organization helping others experience life from a different perspective. She likes magnetizing the obscure and scavenging the city for fun, free things to do. She is a world traveler, a freelance writer and a spontaneous chef. She is also said to be part-mermaid.


  1. Nikk2sox
    October 11, 2011 at 8:47 am — Reply

    Janky Barge <3s Bojon. Glad you had a good burn.

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