adventure, Android Jones, art, art festival, Backpacker, Backpacking, blackrock, blackrock city, BM2015, BRC2015, Burner, burning man, burning man 2015, carnival of mirrors, conclave, death guild, Deathguild, deathguild thunderdome, dust storm, El pulpo Mecanico, Festival, Fire, Fire Arts, flaming lotus girls, mayor monday, photography, Ranger, reddit, reddit meet up, Road trip, serpent mother, Thunderdome, Travel, traveling, white out
My last few days in Boulder were spent gathering supplies for the biggest venture of the trip; the Blackrock desert and the city that buds within!
Burning Man 2015 was on the horizon. The desert happening has brought so much change, so many people, so many events and learning into my life just through its influence, yet I never experienced it myself, I’ve never journey out there. Until now.
The drive from Boulder was significant, (considering we had just driven from New Jersey to Denver it wasn’t THAT long) but still something to contend with. 18 hours of more cornfields and emptiness, although come Utah, the landscape finally started to change.
Finally we arrived, and by arrived I mean we made the last turn out of civilization. No more stores/gas/stops outside of a tiny little town a ways away. We got maybe five minutes down the road before we hit the back of the line. I’ve heard stories about the gates taking upwards of six hours, so I pretty much knew we would be greeted with brake lights.
The combination of a car accident, gate pulsing, and 70,000 people trying to get into the same place at once left us on the road for most the day. We made the best of it, all part of the overall experience, right? The crowded cars soon expelled their humans and the roadside pre-parties started popping up. Every time the caravan started moving the crowd would scurry away toward their cars, only to reemerge a few minutes up the road.
TWELVE hours later….
Exhausted, disgruntled, and hungry, we dropped out things in the sand and dust, and set up camp in the darkness. As much as we wanted to explore, the bed was much more inviting. After my years of local burns I’ve learned that pacing is absolutely key. Don’t burn yourself out on day 1, because you’ve got way more to do! And so, we face planted into our mattresses and passed out.
Now, before I get into this, let me preface by saying this:
One of the greatest challenges I faced after returning from Peru was trying to find the words to fully encompass everything I had experienced, especially to my eager friends/family who wanted to hear every detail. My ayahuasca ceremonies just felt lacking when I tried to attached words to them, so empty for such a powerful and life changing experience. I tried to put things down on this blog, I really tried, but I still did them no justice. Here I find myself again trying to find the words to describe Burning Man.
So instead of forcing my numerous experiences into hollow casings, I’ve decided to just let my pictures tell the tale. I’ll review some highlights, but I’ll leave this entry mostly to the pictures.
Unfortunately, my camera took a serious dive and the focus/lens never recovered (and my phone ended up breaking on the drive in! Lesson in being present much?!? ) Please excuse my blurry photos, but I hope you enjoy them all the same.
The Temple of Promise
The temple is always one of my favorite places at the local burns, but finally seeing the grand scale of The Temple of Promise was like a tragic dream come true. The Temple warps in shape every year, and means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but the respect for the structure seems to be universal. Nestled away from the high energy radiating through the rest of the desert, the Temple is where one goes to let go, to mourn, to grieve, to pray, to reflect, to forgive, to express whatever it is they need to express (before it all goes up in flames on the final night).
The walls may be made out of wood, but the structure itself is infused with so much raw emotion that it’s a challenge to step inside and remain untouched. I made it a few steps passed the threshold before my eyes started to well up with tears. The stillness is the first thing I noticed. In a work of art filled to the brim with people, only silence and the occasional whimper, cry, or whisper filled the air. Along the walls, writing utensils hung freely for those who had something to add to the walls. Messages were written, pictures of loved ones hung, whatever it was you wanted to express, the Temple is the place to do it.
With tears streaming down her face, I watched from afar as an older woman wrote a message to her mother who had passed away recently, finally saying the things she never got to say in life. Behind me was a scathing message written by a woman to the man who had brutally raped her in the past. On the bench next to me, a man sat in quiet meditation, holding a picture of a young child. Stories of love, hate, encouragement, loss, sadness…I could go on. Everywhere. Every story, every makeshift shrine was different, but each one was laced with powerful emotion.
I wrote my own message, a personal something to myself, and I silently cried my damn eyes out…
-Write in the Temple of Promise
Wednesday some dear friends arrived at camp. For any long time readers, you may recognize them from one of my very first entries. We unloaded their car, helped em setup and made our way back to the playa.
The DeathGuild’s Thunderdome was my kinda place. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the house music, the burners and all the oneness with the universe and what not, but the Thunderdome stole my heart. Hard rock/industrial, people fighting, girls in revealing black leather and the guys suited up in some badass wasteland armor! When I arrived they were blasting some of my favorite songs by Manson, Rammstein, and Mindless Self Indulgence. MSI on the Playa!?!? I loveeeee my MSI!!!
The goth kid in me came out in full force! I found myself at the top of the Dome, shouting for the combatants to tear each other apart many, many times throughout my week.
Warning – The video has strong language and sexy people in black leather NSFW
I love you Thunderdome!!
Finally see the Thunderdome in person
The Serpent Mother
Created by the Flaming Lotus Girls, this monstrosity of fire and metal has earned its place high on my list of all time favorites. I’ve seen a lot of fire performances and fire art, but this was…this was something else. The serpent writhed back and forth in the sand, lifting her head and opening a mouth lined with flaming daggers. The metal body of the serpent gleamed in the night, illuminated by the the plumes of fire hissing from each one of her segments. Within her coil, the Mother protectively wrapped her flaming tail around a massive copper egg.
I stood within the Serpent’s grasp, surrounded on all sides by the roar and heat of the fire until the crowd was ushered a safe distance away. A safe distance from what? I wasn’t sure, but I was about to find out.
With all the flammable humans at a safe distance away, the egg she so carefully guarded over, bloomed like a lotus. The hatching egg remained quiet, until a hiss louder than anything its Mother had produced up until then, came screaming out of the top of the egg. What burst forth was a plume of fire unlike I’ve ever seen before. One, then two, then three at once. These spires, these spears, these swords of fire tore through the sky, spouting flames of nearly 50 feet. The bright red flames bled into a blinding orange, then to a burning emerald green.
This was something to behold, truly. Words do little justice…
Radical self reliance is high on the list of Burning Man principles. You must bring everything you need to survive, and you must be capable of surviving in the first place. This is definitely not just some music festival (much to the disappointment of some girls I found sobbing in a dust storm, complaining about how terrible everything was and it was nothing like they thought). As fun as it all is, if you’re not prepared, you’re in for a world of trouble. Of course people won’t let you die, but you should do you best to not be a burden for anyone else. Whether it’s food, water, or weather, be prepared. And we had quite a bit of weather…
The white outs are a common occurrence out on the playa. Huge dust storms that blow in and drop visibility to zero in a matter of seconds. I prayed I’d get to experience one, and I think I prayed a little too hard! As my friends said, the intensity and frequency of the white outs was the worst it had been in a handful of years. Structures fell, tents were destroyed, I watched people smash their bikes into one another when their sight had disappeared.
For the first day or two I really tried to keep the dust out of my tent, but by the third day I realized how futile the battle was. Falling asleep and waking up in INCHES of playa dust took some getting used to but, hey, I enjoyed it. How comfortable does one need to be anyway?!
The art, the structures, the builds were all so beautiful to experience. But like all things, nothing is permanent. Everything must burn…
In Conclusion, Burning Man was as incredible as I thought it would be. I got to spend it with some of my favorite people, got to see some of the art I’ve only seen in pictures, and now I’ve got a ton of stories to tell! Like I said, words do little justice, and as much as I did the entire week, I still missed so much more! This is but a glimpse!
But it wasn’t all fun and positivity, unfortunately I’m coming away with a few regrets. Regrets due to a symptom of a larger internal issue. Under the microscope of a the big burn, it’s easy to see such things. Now, to fix it. Things to work on.
Always evolving right?
Regrets aside, this was truly one of the favorite experiences of my life.
Dance on an Art Car -View the best fireworks display I’ve ever seen in my life when the man burned Live in the desert for a week -Finally see El Pulpo Mecanico -Spend time with my Philly friends at BM2015 -Sit in for many BM workshops -See Android Jones’ work in person -Finally make it to Burning man!!!! Burning Man 2015: Carnival Of Mirrors!!
Cheers to the possibility of Burning Man 2016!!
“Onward!” he screamed from the mast of the war rig. The day was upon them and time was running short. Our heroes gazed at their route; the stretch of travel before them was daunting, but they did not falter! They COULD NOT falter! “Onward!” he screamed again. “Bring us the West!”
Stately welcome signs rose and fell as the crew pushed on. The road was as desolate as the landscape surrounding them. Stops were limited, and so, with only the clouds above to keep them company, they continued.
Nothing could stop them! Not even the seething rage of our Mother Nature gave them pause, try as she might! The speed and hubris in which the crew dominated her lands was taken as an absolute offense. No human should be so lax when crossing an entire country!
In her fury, she showered them with blinding lightning, doused them with rain and tried to shattered their defenses with hail. She lashed out once again with a ferocity unmatched, threatening them with a potential funnel cloud on the horizon.
But the intensity of the weather didn’t last long. Nature had opted not to destroy the rig. Instead, she granted them safe passage and formed a new host of clouds to float above their path.
Mountains appeared!! They did it!
I made it! Time to add this one to the list up there with the Alaskan road trip and the drive down to New Orleans (Entry Coming Soon)!
I’ve been here for a week now and I’m really enjoying things out here. Boulder is a beautiful!
Now, Boulder isn’t a permanent stop for me. No, no, no! It’s merely a pause, a yield before a longer trip. Tomorrow I mount back up and continue toward Nevada. My birthday celebration and a most daunting “First” awaits me the Blackrock Desert.
Cross the US heading West Spend an entire birthday in a car, driving West Explore Boulder
The gate was open, and the next 15 of us stepped up to the bottom of the ramp where fifteen red and black Spartan icons ominously lined floor. There we stood, each on our mark. I stared at the man with the microphone, this herald of the day, as we patiently awaited his shout.
Now is the time to see how capable and resilient this body can be. I’ve always taken great pride in my fitness, and this race would provide a very real and formidable challenge to that mindset. Could I do it? Could I do it well? I had 9 weeks of training since we registered back in summer, but I wasn’t diehard about it by any means. Knowing very little about the competition kept me cautious, but now that I found myself within the stadium, I felt fine. But still. I felt good. I felt capable. I felt confident.
The announcer moved the microphone to his lips. Off I stared into the awaiting ramp, unsure of what was lying in wait around the corner. This stadium was meant for baseball, but today it was transformed and constructed into a monstrosity I was aiming to defeat.
And we were off.
Around the corner we were met with a series of ropes. Some low and crossed so they needed to be jumped over, while others were about chest height, so you had to either crawl or crouch. They were handled with ease, though I felt the sting in my legs I was hoping I wouldn’t experience quite yet.
The first obstacle loomed in the distance: 30 pound medicine ball. Pick it up from a squat position and slam it down. 30 times. Completed with ease, but I did have to remind myself that this race had the potential to go up to 2 hours. Don’t burn yourself out early.
We ran the length of the stadium countless times on a path that took us up the bleachers, and down the stairwells, inside above the waiting area, then outside on the upper levels under the blazing sun. The route through this twisted fun house was long, and we were just getting started.
Then my second, and most pausing obstacle presented itself. Doubt. The goal was to lift a cement block to the top of some very high scaffolding using the rope that hung dangling before me. I sprinted to the first open lane, grabbed the end of the rope and gave it a huge pull…nothing happened. I pulled again, this time I wrapped the rope around my arm and changed the my leverage. Still, the block remained firmly planted. All around me blocks were going up, yet mine still rested comfortably in front of me.
In a last effort, I grabbed the rope with both hands and jumped up on it, using my entire body weight. Nothing. The stone remained untouched while I hung in the air. It was obvious the stone weighed more than I did and there was nothing I could do about it. I let the rope go and tried for the women’s (lighter by 50 pounds) stones. I got it about half way up before the guy running the station came over and said “I couldn’t do that”. “The stone weighs more than I do, I can’t lift that” I said. He gave me a dismissive shrug and said “Well, go do 30 burpees then“. I let loose on the rope and the stone slammed into the ground. I walked off the line to go do the penalty, all the while feeling a little cheated.
There’s absolutely nothing I could do, no amount of training, lifting, or pulling, that would allow me to make up for my stature. I think the race would be better suited and segregated by body weight, rather than an unwavering male vs female.
“Is this the rest of the race for me? Just doing burpees because I’m not tall/heavy enough for the next obstacles?” Why even bother? It’s like going to an amusement park where everyone is on the rides, but you have to sit in a chair and spin while being told “You’re having fun too”
By the end of my 30 I told my brain to “Get over it and push forward” but my confidence was still shaken. On I ran. Doubt was replaced with determination. I was mad at what just happened, but remained focused with a desire to finish strong.
The next obstacles stood no chance while I was partnered with my anger. The Rowing Machine, the Rubber Band Hop (giant rubber band wrapped around your ankles, you have to hop a length of the stadium) and the Long Bars were satisfyingly dealt with. Even the Wall Climb, which at its tallest was around 9 feet didn’t slow me down. I hit that thing with such speed and momentum that my wall-jump sent me soaring up and over with a slight pull.
The Spear Throw was close, but I was left doing 30 more burpees. The Rope Climb looked a bit daunting after that many burpees, but I’ve always been good with upper body strength/pullups. I took a breath, threw my gloves off and climbed up with such speed my brother waiting below was shocked. Even the girl working the area said that was the fastest she had seen all morning. Yes!! Reinvigorated!
Unfortunately in my haste and glove removal, the friction from the rope literally burned a hole in the first layer of skin on my hand. Not good, since the next obstacle was a large ball of cement, the Object Carry.
The rage that carried me was finally slipping, and eventually ran out by the time I made it to the second Object Carry, two water jugs, weighing about 50 pounds each. These damn things were the bane of my momentum. Up and down stairs, through the narrow seat rows for the length of half the stadium, I just couldn’t do this one without taking multiple breaks.
I was holding up traffic. Wewps!
After that Carry my energy was gone. I had to keep going, but I was hobbling at best. Thankfully the next few obstacles were meant for my lower half. I continued on, navigating the route through the stadium before I came to a long, dark corridor with daylight at the end. One more deep breath, one more sprint, then I found myself out on the field of the stadium itself. 5 obstacles remained
The wall jumps were no problem , but the Half Wall squat/jump was absolute torture on my calves/legs. The Rock/Traverse Wall grips were soaked with sweat (from someone else), but I maintained. Two to go. The Tower and the Gladiator Pit.
My brother’s voice shouted from behind me. “Two to go. Let’s burn it!” he said as he sprinted by me. With a nod, and my motivation re-lit, we sped toward the finish line together.
The Gladiator’s Pit is the final challenge, usually where a group of previous contestants line up and do their best to stop you from crossing the line with pugil sticks (Has since been removed because people were getting creamed)
My brother and I decided to hit em at a sprint, at the same time. Maybe they’d get one of us, but the other would be able to get through (honorable enough sacrifice!). One final sprint. I ran toward my Gladiator, she was of similar stature so we were at an even advantage.
Perfectly timed, she swung a second too late, by the time her momentum allowed her a backward swing, I was already behind her. Enlisting the help of one more wall jump, I hit the barrier and propelled myself forward and over the finish line.
Sweet, sweet victory. Total Race time was 1hr 39minutes. 90+ burpees.
I really, really enjoyed that. Despite being wiped during the race, immediately after, and for the next few days I was still hyped up! I finally put my body to the test and delivered a decisive “Yes” to the question of whether or not I could match some of the goals I set for myself.
I would highly recommend doing one of these, at least once. I’m getting hyped up just thinking about it hah! Can’t wait for the next one.
Run the Spartan Race
adventure, Alaska, Amazing Race, Backpacker, Backpacking, Cali, California, Cliff diving, Fanastic Race, Getty Museum, graduation, Hollywood, Los Angeles, Los Angeles Race, Party, photography, photos, Retreat, Road trip, SoCal, The Getty, The Getty Center, Travel, traveling, trip, Venice, Venice beach
(Ok, I’m back. Time to finish this story and catch up with the Firsts!)
Before I made it to California, I had another unfortunate run in with the Denver airport. Thankfully however, it wasn’t for another 9 hour layover.
At least I knew the airport by heart and revisited my comfortable corner. During the height of my boredom the first time around, I wrote this note to myself since I knew I would be coming back. I wanted to see if it would still be where I hid it, tucked away behind a phone kiosk, and alas, it was. HA!!!
California, how I missed thee. I hadn’t been to Cali in a few years, but once again, I found myself walking through the familiar lengths of LAX. I had a few weeks to kill, had some plans, had plenty of free time, so I wasn’t sure what I was going to get
into, but I trusted myself to cause some laughter inducing mischief.
First on the list and the heart of the trip: my cousin’s graduation.
Attend my cousin’s graduation
Also got to meet my new baby cousin. New boy in the family! Finally!
Highlight #3: The Getty Museum
I’m not one for museums, never have been, I’ve never really found the level of engagement I need to enjoy a museum. With that said, the Getty did house some exhibits that I found interesting and I absolutely loved the garden grounds. The building itself was my favorite part to be honest, it was like a beautiful fortress resting high above the clouds and the world below.
Highlight #4: Clubbing in Hollywood
My sister’s wanted two things for her birthday. Fishbowls and to go out in Hollywood. We accidentally made them pretty strong, but they were still delicious!
Later that night we made our way into Hollywood. Some of my sister’s friends showed up and recommended a spot we decided to check out so we made our way over there. 600 dollars for table service? SIX. HUNDRED. I nearly told the group I’d wait in the car! Mathematically though, considering we had a small group with us, it kind of evened out to a regular cover charge. “This is pretty much what you’re going to run into out here, even if we go to another place” said someone in the group.
Before we walked in, we all huddled together for a quick pep talk. My sister’s friend jumped into the center of the circle like some rabidly enthusiastic football coach “Ok. We just spent a lot of fucking money. So we’re gonna go in there and do this proper! Readyyyy break!”
The venue was actually pretty cool. We were greeted by a fireplace lined outdoor courtyard filled with a large rectangular fountain running through the center of it. This fountain was overflowing with bubbles, while a beautiful young lady was seated on a swing mounted above. She smiled as we walked passed and gave a light kick to the foam, littering the air with glistening bubbles.
We got our table, neat little spot actually. Food, drinks, mixers, fruit. It was honestly a nice spread, and my sister seemed happy so it all worked out. The group wandered the venue and we eventually ended the night on the dance floor.
In rare form, I ended up drinking too much and got myself a pretty potent case of the spins. I guess that’s what I get for accepting shots from the costumed woman sitting on the shoulders of a man on stilts (even if most of it got in my eyes)
Go clubbing in Hollywood Dry Heave until the sun came up
Highlight #5: Venice
I’ve been to Venice beach many times, but every time I’m there the beach is a playground for photos.
Highlight #6: Cliff Diving
Go cliff diving in California
Highlight #7: The Amazing Race
I would highly recommend this one to anyone with a competitive group of friends/family. This was easily one of the best things we ended up doing while in Cali.
The race was a mixture of a scavenger hunt, puzzles, riddles, etc that sent us speeding through the streets of Hollywood. We solved puzzles while weaving through crowds at the Chinese Theater, ran through subway stations to catch trains with moments to spare, wracked our brains at the Disney Orchestra building and burned through the streets of Hollywood while police were yelling at us to slow down.
There was a moment there, when a series of cars exploded in the background, that left me feeling like John McClain in Die Hard 3. (The explosions weren’t part of the Race, they just happened to be filming a commercial in the area, but it was still really friggin awesome).
The creators were rather brilliant in their design. Not only were you playing a game, but the race led you to city hotspots with an intention, rather than just milling around in the tourist crowd. You can also make it as intense or relaxed as you want. We just happen to be rabid competitors so we sprinted most of the way.
Like I said, I would highly recommend. This was simply incredible AND they have races opening in more areas. Check it out!
#1 Cupcake ATM We were dumbfounded. “What? That doesn’t exist” we said. We were wrong.
And they came in neat little boxes too. LA can be a strange place.
Eat a cupcake from the cupcake ATM that really does exist
#2 Dinner and Piano with friends
Have drinks at a piano bar in Hollywood
There’s plenty I’m leaving out, but this entry is already long enough! California was a fantastic as always, and it served as a perfect end to my extensive trip.
Alaska to Canada, Canada to Minnesota. Minnesota to California, California back to Philadelphia. (Start at the beginning here: Things I’ve Never Done:31 Returning to Depart)
Good times, good memories, and some great Firsts!
My companion was at the front desk, signing his lease and other official while I slipped into the stairwell and made my way to the third floor. She was here somewhere, behind one of these doors scattered throughout the long twisting hallways with the 70s carpet.
I was on a stealth mission and as such, I dodged and hid in the doorways when residents made their way in my direction. There must not have been any cameras in the building, or security wasn’t watching, but my venture through the labyrinth that was the apartment complex probably looked shady as all hell.
But alas, I carried on! My job was to find her door, set these two stuffed animals my companion had brought back from Alaska, knock, and run back to the awaiting apartment downstairs before she could see me.
“Mission complete!” I shouted as I bolted into the door of my companion’s new apartment downstairs. I laughed and retold the tale but was hastily interrupted when the door swung open. Enter new character: Caelys.
In she walked, the voice and the words I’ve spoken to for ages in physical form. We came across one another through mutual friends and started up a friendship that has lasted over the years. We’ve talked, we’ve skyped, but this was, however, the first time I was actually seeing her in person. Proper greetings were in order, and so, we hugged. It was lovely.
I crossed mountains, swam rivers, fought ice trolls in the frigid north, and finally turned up on her doorstep victorious! With the three of us united at last, celebration was in order! Drinks all around!
Have a drink with friends in Minnesota
On the way home, we stopped at a few places since the fridge was empty. We got some much needed essentials for the rest of the week and the upcoming house warming party.
There wasn’t much planned now that the drive was over. The goal of this entire trip was to assist my companion during his move to MN; I pulled the final bag from the backseat, and my job was now complete.
I had a week in MN before flying out to my next destination, let’s find something to do.
The Mall of America was one such outing. I remember back in 5th grade, hearing about it for the first time and being absolutely captivated by the thought of it. Here I was, walking through the lengths of the massive building, mentally high fiving the shadow of my younger self.
We also stopped for sushi. Delicious, delicious sushi.
I would recommend. Ask for Rebeka.
Eat Sushi with friends in Minnesota
We ventured on; saw the rides, the mirror maze and other attractions before it dawned on me that this was, essentially, just a mall. A mall that had all of the same stores that any would have, just larger and more of them. Does one really need a floor sized Abercrombie?
Lost in a world of mirrors.
-Visit the Mall of America
The housewarming party was next on the list. Caelys brought her friends and we had ourselves a night of games and hastily created concoctions. I discovered a strange mysticism people have with magnetic stacking balls, and finally took my hand at Cards Against Humanity.
Play Cards Against Humanity
Make new friends in MN
After the festivities, the pace for the remainder of the trip settled into that of a relaxed state. The days were spent doing random activities, or visiting more of the Caelys’ friends…
-Meet MJ. Maria. David. Devon!
…while the nights, I found myself in her apartment watching movies and spending some time together. The driving companion and I had been conjoined at the car for the majority of the trip, so it was nice to get away for a bit.
The days slipped away until my leaving date had arrived. I packed up my bag, gave Caelys a hug goodbye, and walked out to the car. My companion and I were off for our final ride together.
This is where I took a bow, and exited the scene. Through the automatic doors I stepped, and into the crowd of the bustling lobby. That feeling, that excitement tinged with just enough fear to keep you heightened, but not enough to actually stop you from continuing, ah, yes, that feeling of being inside an unfamiliar airport, how I’ve missed thee!
At the start of this entire thing, people thought I was out of my mind for even considering such a trip, and to be honest, I’ve never actually considered going to Alaska or Minnesota. All of these entries, this whole story, all the photos, all the people I met and things I saw, are a product of stepping out of my comfort zone and saying “yes” at the very beginning. I could have said no, quite easily too, and erased the possibility of it all from my personal history. How frightening of a thought, how many other “No”s in my timeline could have ended up being brought into beautiful reality?
I suppose that’s a question for another day, because I say “Yes“, yes to it all, and that makes me smile.
-Meet Caelys – Hug Caelys
Conclude the Alaska to Minnesota trip in its entirety
My plane left within the hour. Onward to California!
We let out a sigh of relief as the border disappeared from sight (with no FBI agents driving black SUVs in hot pursuit).
Enter the United States. Hello again.
North Dakota. How would I describe North Dakota? It was…nice? Flat. Green. Empty. Lots of farms and tiny planes flying everywhere, dusting their fields.
Not much for people, more cows and livestock than anything else. A couple houses here and there, complete with rocking chairs and grain silos.
And lots of bugs
We made good time, though our speed fluctuated as we got used to driving in MPH again.
The trip had been pretty flawless, minus the car breaking down a couple times and the border agents, but with our finish line almost in sight, we were……..SHIT! Almost right on cue with our conversation about DWB, a cop sped passed us coming from the other direction.
We pressed our faces into the rear view mirrors, watching the cop as we held our breath. We were clearly speeding so our only chance was for the cop to just turn a blind eye to it.
“Don’t U-turn! Don’t U-turn!” we chanted, hoping he would disappear under the horizon.
Unfortunately for us, the cop slows down and makes the dreaded turn, lights ablaze. We’re not even in the states for an hour and we get pulled over!
At least the cop was nice about it. And a $35 dollar speeding ticket? That was a welcome surprise. I get parking tickets for more than that!
-Get pulled over in North Dakota -Drive through North Dakota
Back on the road (paying close attention to the speed limit this time). No longer days, HOURS until our final destination.
6 hours remained. Then 4, then 2, then 1.
Drive into Minnesota
The expressway turned to residential roads and our finish line was the apartment complex in the distance. With a final right turn, we pulled into the lot and parked, marking the end to our journey.
The car let out what sounded like a long, deep sigh of relief as we stepped out and took in the surroundings. Victory!!! We did it!
-Drive from Fairbanks, Alaska to St. Paul, Minnesota. Venture through the Yukon, through nature reserves, through numerous Canadian towns and through the plains of North Dakota, with our eventual destination lying in Minnesota.
^Be sure to click this one, look how much earth that is! I’m quite impressed.
The drive was over, but not the trip entirely. No, no, no. Inside that apartment complex was a dear friend of mine, who I’ve known for years but never had the pleasure of actually meeting face to face. Inside she waited, unaware that we had arrived.
The drive was finished, but the week in Minnesota was just beginning.
Let’s go find her…
(edited for pictures. Pictures came from a 2nd trip to the ruins, but you get the idea)
He handed me a cup containing what looked like some thick aloe smoothie. I was already one ayahuasca ceremony in, so I felt like I had a better grasp of what to expect when it came to these mind-altering medicines. Only this wasn’t ayahuasca, it was a medicine created from the San Pedro cactus.
It actually tasted rather good. After the glass went around, we set off for the ruins situated at the top of a nearby mountain. If you look hard enough you can see them from the street, but that didn’t make them any easier to get to.
The hike was a hard one; especially cause the sun out here, due to the elevation, just cuts through you. Also didn’t help that the medicine kicked in mid climb. Here I am, climbing up the side of a mountain, on steps that are generations old, with a head full of medicine that’s making the landscape sway. The over exertion mixed with the piercing sun and low oxygen left me pausing to throw up on the way up.
Throw up all over a Peruvian Mountain
The difficulty of the hike peaked at times, it’s amazing how unshaken I was when I came to a path about a foot wide with a sheer drop off of the side.
The six of us climbed. The Egyptian marauder, coated in black leather, looking like he was fresh out of some desert adventure, three Israelis, two of them were married. One of the men was responsible for the creation of the medicine, and his ever-smiling wife, following close behind, is an absolute beauty of human form. The other Israeli trailed behind as I walked with my companion for the evening, the dread headed…gypsy…of a London girl. Not sure how to describe her, but she’s fresh from herding horses with caravan down in Mexico.
I resonated better with her than any others within the group, so we made much of the climb together.
Climb. Climb. Climb. We made it to the first tier of ruins, but our destination was at least another thirty minutes away. Still, these were impressive. How on earth did these ancient people terrace the side of a mountain ALL the way up here?
Eventually we reached the top and entered into the heart of the ruins. Quite an amazing sight to see. Ancient bricks and buildings were scattered everywhere, on a mountaintop that was literally leveled off to house them. I climbed to what I thought was the highest peak and surveyed the land below me. The wind was picking up and ominous black clouds clawed their way over the mountains in the distance. “I hope that’s not coming this way,” the Israeli mentioned as he made his way up to where I was standing. “You and me both” I said, as a clap of thunder echoed through the mountains.
In the distance loomed what looked like the tower of a castle, overgrown and decrepit from years of surviving as the tallest point on the mountain. “I wonder if I can get up there somehow,” I thought as I stared at the hulking mass of stone off in the distance. Almost on queue the gypsy girl fluttered up from behind me and said, “I’m going to the top!”
Off we went. Weaving through the remains of buildings and carved stone that led us to the base of the neglected tower. In it’s shadow we stood for a moment before she looked at me and said “Up for a climb?!”
“Of course I am, that’s why I came…hey…wait…what?” By climb I thought she meant “do you want to continue”, ya know, on the path. Nope. She threw her bag on her back and literally started to scale the FRONT of the tower.
“Hmmm. Ok….” I thought as I watched her climb higher and higher.
Inner struggle time: Do I go and take my chances on the ancient steps? Steps that were obviously not part of the designated area due to the steep and dangerousness of the unused path? Or do I stay safely on the ground?
Pfff. Of course I went. Not easily by any means, but I went. We climbed on these broken steps, higher and higher until we reached a tunnel carved through the mountain. I made it to the mouth of the cave just as she disappeared from the top.
What was left of my sanity, implored me not to enter (cwutididthere?)
But I did anyway and was greeted by a steep incline on my right, and a “no chance at survival” drop off to my left. If I lost my footing on the dusty incline, there was a good chance I wouldn’t be able to regain my footing and I’d slide right off the side of the mountain. It was about here that the fear got me. Not for too long, but enough to penetrate and freeze me on the spot for a moment.
Up I went to the final hurdle. A step that was, at the least, about six feet tall. I had to belly to belly it and pull myself up by the stones lining the top. I knew my upper body work outs would come in handy one day! Thanks past me!
There we stood, at the highest point on the mountain. I wish I had my camera the view was absolutely breathtaking. The ruins we just ran through looked tiny compared to where we stood now, and the city below? Almost non-existent. My companion broke out into song (as she does with her beautiful tribal songs) and danced for our victory. I snapped the best picture I’ve ever taken in my life, her on the ledge, mid dance, her dreads flailing in the wind, with the sun cutting through the clouds and illuminating the valley below. I’d love to share, but unfortunately that picture is locked away in the brain box.
(but this is kinda what it looked like)
And then things got weird. She was deep in thought and eventually burst out into tears. The medicine didn’t help, if anything it elongated my thoughts so that I found myself in a position of inactivity. Do I say something? Do I let her cry it out? Do I hug her? What’s the protocol? Do I act in the moment? Or would that ruin HER moment? How on earth do I connect with someone who is so enthralled by the present landscape that she burst out into tears from the sheer majesty of the world around us?
She turned to face me with speed that took me by surprise. “What’s your dream?” She looked at me, her teary eyes mimicking the wild nature of her overall presence. She followed up with a “Do you cry?”
What’s my dream!?!? Do I cry?! She’s sitting beside me having a legitimate, deep, thought provoking experience; while I sit there with the extent of my thoughts reaching “I wish there was a bathroom up here”
I focused through the medicine and the overall pressure of the situation and mustered my best attempt at conceptualizing my “dream” for her. She stared at me when she heard what I muttered, then looked rather perplexed and almost agitated. Fault of my own for not really expressing what I really meant, but I had only just met her, and I wasn’t very keen on the idea of getting exceptionally deep with my inner workings. She repeated what I said aloud a few times as she shook her head. It was probably my paranoia flaring up, but I felt like I had just insulted her with such a shallow “dream”, and each shake of her head left me feeling more and more embarrassed.
It was there, in South America, in Peru, on the highest mountain, on the top of the world, after pushing myself to continue the hike, after braving the sun and the inevitable fear of slipping from the aged steps, on the highest peak, towering over the earth, I felt completely and utterly alone.
The calls from the rest of the group below snapped me out of the moment and I jumped up, realizing how dark it had gotten while I was lost in my thoughts. We were supposed to be back by dark. Oops. Down we went, using the last sliver of sunlight to navigate down the tower and rejoin the group.
After that, we settled into the ruins and sparked a small fire for warmth as we waited for the full moon to rise.
As you can imagine, the temperature plummeted and left me shaking. The fire provided some reprieve, but with the fire came smoke, and a definite and assured way to cause nausea for me, is the constant smell of campfire smoke.
The moon was stunning; I’ve never seen a moon that large before. But by the time it came up, I was ready to be in bed. And bed was still at least an hour hike back.
Stomach was cramping. Smoke left me throwing up over the ruins (sorry ancestors), I was freezing and had a blistering headache. I was over and done with the evening about 2-3 hours before the rest of the group decided to call it a night.
In my miserable state we headed down the mountain much to my delight. Unfortunately, it was a short lived happiness since we got lost going down the mountain and added another hour and a half to the original hour. Down the mountain we went, climbing down terraces (which are much taller than they look), dodging white water (gypsy fell in) and crossing what seemed like unending mountain terrain.
By the time we got back to the guesthouse I was exhausted. They went up to the main room for food and to talk about the experience, but I was having none of that. I went to my room and passed out hard.
So, looking back on it now. The trip was fun, a bit of a test scaling that mountain, which was fine. I’ve been wanting to push myself in this elevation. The medicine was fine, but the come down made me want to die.
Climb a mountain in Peru
Dance on the highest point of a mountain in Peru
Visit Incan ruins in Peru
Defile ancient ruins in three different ways. Sorry!
Participate in a Saint Pedro medicine ceremony
Climb down terraces carved into the side of a mountain by an ancient people
See the full moon rise from mountaintop