if the round-trip travel time from san francisco to burning man were less than 24 hours, i would contemplate going again.
i packed for burning man in one day, but it was a day of lists and traveling from place to place being foiled in my intentions by people who had been there before me and purchased the last campstove/camelbak/tube of biodegradable soap/etc. rainbow grocery was full of people wheeling about dollies stacked with 2.5-gallon water cubes and looking pensively at dried foods. we drove out to the desert heavily laden with the stuff of life.
black rock city, when we finally got there, was a place of rich contrast. by day, the light permeated everything and so did the dust. our camp, filled with many people from deep springs, contributed a trough of oobleck to run on and sink into. it sat in the trough up front, fermenting slightly in the heat and left our hands stained a pale but persistent green. at night, the light came in neon shades of green, blue, and red, from electroluminescent sheets and wire and many thousands of glowsticks, but was immediately swallowed by the desert. periodically, huge gouts of flame would erupt into the sky and everything would suddenly look as if it was illuminated by sodium streetlight. giant art cars sailed slowly through the darkness in pools of light and music, heading for no destination in particular.
in the vast open space at the center of the city, someone had constructed a radial matrix of full-spectrum LEDs and turned it into a pulsing cylinder of light—i sat there for hours watching these thousands of lighted spheres on the cubitron cycle through a series of displays [video; i recommend watching with the sound off].
one night, we walked out at 2am into the eastern expanses of the playa and climbed up inside the giant sculpture made of cut-up 18-wheelers, then found a mirrored room hung floor to ceiling with strings of red LEDs such that, after climbing in and closing the door, you seemed to be adrift in a matrix of dim red points stretching away into infinity on all sides. it was probably not a real yayoi kusama. a distant black lump in the night turned out to be a clump of couches under palm-frond umbrellas at the edge of black rock city. i fell asleep there and woke up just as the sun rose over the mountains in the east. a panama hat rolled in from the desert and came to a stop at my feet.
i saw more utilikilts than i'd ever seen before and made pancakes one morning with nothing more than flour, baking soda, powdered milk, and water. (they were decent, though dusty.) mike from the camp is a more accomplished cook than i. thanks to him, we had, one night, fresh sweet potato fries and a smoky, cumin-scented pot of lentils and carrots.
we left several hours before the temple of forgiveness was scheduled to burn, and took three hours to get to the edge of black rock city (a whole mile). by the end, we'd shut off the engine and put the car in neutral—rolling it at 0.3 mph wasn't hard. at 5.30am, twelve hours after leaving camp we got back into mountain view, then i drove north to a city washed in morning sun.