I woke to the heat of the Nevada desert beating on the windows of my RV. It was forty degrees outside and what felt like a hundred inside. A sweet sweat moustache formed on my face while the small of my back housed what felt like a swimming pool of dust. It was time to get up.
My skin was a pale shade of grey, caked with the earth of an ancient lake. A quick baby wipe shower revealed a fresher shade with every stroke, the brightest a colour I hadn’t seen in a few days. Without even glancing in the mirror, I threw on my khaki shorts and now grey singlet, grabbed my pack and some lukewarm water and stepped out into the oasis.
It hit me, like a slap. The scorching heat wrapped my body with almost suffocating intensity. “Embrace it,” I told myself. With eyes closed, I looked up to the sun and let it kiss my skin, a salutation.
It was ten o’clock and my camp slept. There was no sign of life in sight, but I could feel it out there. I found my bike slumped over exactly where I had left it. The dust-covered black tyres blended perfectly with the white rims and mint green frame. I jumped on and weaved my way out from our transient village of supersized RVs.
There she was. The Playa. I headed deep.
Black Rock City was alive. With people, with energy, with colour. A fantastic scene of figures set against a backdrop of sharp white earth, bright blue sky and distant mountains. Men and women roamed freely, dressed in wacky expressions of their inner self. There were no rules, no regulations, and certainly no limits. The naked body a celebration of the gift of life. This was utopia and it was the most glorious thing I had ever seen.
Riding along, a tiny, blonde, pixie-like girl dressed in a white tulle tutu smiled and waved at me as she passed. Her silver sequin bra glistened in the light. I waved back and in that instant I swear my smile had a conversation with her soul.
It hit me, like a wave. It swallowed me and filled me and burst through my body with such intensity it rendered me still. With my eyes closed, I let this almost orgasmic volcano erupt inside me and in that moment I knew freedom for the first time. That was the Playa’s magic and I had felt it. I found my own nirvana, and it was beautiful.
With the clay-cracked earth at my feet, I set off again on my bike, alive and present. The day was young but rich and I had a desert to explore.
That night the man burned. And everything made sense.
*This is a story I wrote about something that happened to me at Burning Man in late August, 2013. For those of you who don’t know what Burning Man is, it’s pretty much heaven on earth, or heaven in the middle of the Nevada desert. For one week every year people from around the world come and build a pop-up city, Black Rock City, and then disappear without a trace. Most people think it’s a festival. It’s not. It’s an experience of art and community, an exploration of self and test of self-reliance. If you ever get the chance to go, take it. I guarantee it will change you.
© Samantha Shorter and Bright Eyes, 2014.