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Burning My Butt on a Bike at Burning Man

Updated on February 16, 2018
Joel Diffendarfer profile image

Joel's most recent projects include Burning Man 2017, Colorado Hemp Expo, Denver Paper Fashion Shows, Arise Music Festival. Now he writes!

Butts beware

Riding a bike through a dust storm in the Black Rock Desert at Burning Man had its moments...of terror!
Riding a bike through a dust storm in the Black Rock Desert at Burning Man had its moments...of terror! | Source

The Butt Starts Here

The two of us broke away from our pack, the “dragonflies”...we wanted to follow the bright lights and puffs of fireballs on the other side of the city. The darkness of night happened hours before.

Our first stop was at an artist support camp where we were fed piles of the most delectable of foods. While we dined at met new people, we both looked at each other and knew, this adventure had just begun. But, not quite the way we expected.

We had a tough time getting back on our bikes and finding a new balance now with full bellies and elevated mood. Trish was a good cheerleader though and I gradually caught up with her, staying just back far enough to fully enjoy the scenery that spread out before me. The fires, lasers, and deep base dance parties popping up all along the outskirts of the city were calling.

We seemed to fly across the desert. Looking down at our wheels that partially disappeared in the deep moon dust, the depth of which, seemed to constantly change. Still, the hundreds of LED lights that made our bikes look like flashing billboards, lighted our immediate path beautifully.

Trish was much younger than me but that didn’t stop this 60-year-old man from keeping up with her butt and the thousands of other Burners crossing the warm calm desert at night. The only fear we had was running into “Darktards”. Darktards is what is commonly known as persons who ride at night or also lay down in the desert (also known as speed bumps) without any lights. Coming across one of these in the dark is always a risk when traversing this dry ocean of old man’s delight.

Proper Butt Etiquette

Having a bike at Burning Man, for me, is a top ten “must”. Unless you’ve experienced it, it is understandably hard to fully understand. For me, it is primarily a method of survival. In temperatures that at times reached 110+ degrees during the day, I wanted that extra little breeze and other times of just being able to coast letting the wind, when it was at my back at my back, propel me.

I “set-up” my gifted ten-speed bike with night travel in mind as part of the reason I was there in the first place was helping to erect our Art Installation from Loveland, Colorado. Much of the sculpture was built at night and moving back and forth across the desert from our camp in the city to the installation was too great a distance to try to walk.

I had three bright flashlights mounted on the handlebars, a Tonka backhoe mounted in the center, both wheels had led rope lights woven between the spokes and the basket I had mounted to the rear of my bike, had blinky lights and flashing necklaces dangling from it. I usually kept the bike in 3rd or 4th gear. Pedaling across the open desert is a lot easier than you might think. The funnest part is learning wind direction and taking advantage of it whenever possible.

Builders By Day, Bikers at night

As we built our art installation, the trip back and forth from our camp in Black Rock City, bikes became a priority right from the start.
As we built our art installation, the trip back and forth from our camp in Black Rock City, bikes became a priority right from the start. | Source

Unicorns in the desert

Trish was wearing one of many of her flowy wind flying designs from her trunk of cool things that included a vintage vanity mirror which later became another part of this old man’s delight. There are so many good memories.

Her bike was a bit more theatrical...the lights were basically the same but the rest of it was themed as a unicorn. That's the first time I’ve flown across the desert at night with a unicorn, but it certainly wasn’t the last. During my three weeks in the desert, there were many unicorns.

Unicorns are real!

Some bikes are hornier than others.  Unicorns are real!
Some bikes are hornier than others. Unicorns are real! | Source

Storm Eats Butts

I saw the wall of dust and wind first. Trish was just laughing and spreading her arms and legs to let her silks flow in the gentle breeze somehow managing to ride hands-free. That’s how a remember seeing her last before the wall of dust and the fierce wind dropped on her like a crashing monstrous wave. I stopped on my bike and shouted into the oncoming certain doomsday. Without good goggles and a dust mask, a storm such as this becomes a real threat to survival.

I had to make a quick choice. Do I try to flee in the other direction? (I quickly rationalized that at the speed it was coming, it would overtake me anyways). Do I cover up the best I can and wait it out? Or, do I pull down my bandana and goggles and power into it and find Trish?

My butt or hers

What would you do about Trish being eaten?

See results

Bad bikes go to hell

At the end of Burning Man last year, there were about 5000 bikes that were left behind...Burning Man doesn’t encourage leaving bikes there, it just happens. On the other hand, the left behind bikes in various conditions are collected and then redistributed widely. Last year, many were rehabbed and sent to hurricane victim relief centers.

The butt stops here

In 2017 nearly 5000 bikes didn't make it home, but some did make it to hurricane relief.
In 2017 nearly 5000 bikes didn't make it home, but some did make it to hurricane relief. | Source

What doesn't kill you makes you thirsty

Going directly into the mega-storm became quite an experience with moments of near terror meeting bikes coming from the other direction with very little visibility even with the flashing bike cloud moving through space that was already disorienting, to begin with. Coming face to face within in inches of another blinded soul other can be likened to that moment in a horror movie where an evil face suddenly appears in the mirror. I fully understand why there are so many bike repair camps... a unique one I found was manned by all nude repair angels.

When I emerged I looked like a creature from the dust lagoon. I pulled off goggles and bandana and spit. And there, covered as much as I was with dust, was Trish. Waiting and laughing hysterically...we did make it to the “other side” and to the already raging all night party. That cold bottle of water that was gifted to us when we got there, tasted like a magic elixir that brought back the energy to do it all over again.

Time and time again, over the next three weeks of raising our art sculpture, The Dragonfly Mating Ritual which also appeared in October Rolling Stones, this scene happened repeatedly. Each time, especially for like an old guy like met felt good to be alive.

By the end of Burning Man, I estimate I rode my bike no less than 100 miles.

I rightfully earned the right to a Burning Butt.

Butt miles add up quick

Miles and miles of streets, allies, and open desert make having a bike, a top priority.
Miles and miles of streets, allies, and open desert make having a bike, a top priority. | Source

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