94 Days of Adventure

to Black Rock and Back

We’re back from that thing in the desert. Here’s my annual jaunt to keep you all informed and redundancy at bay. How was Burning Man?! Where else did you go? What was the MOST EXCITING THING NOM NOM NOM? It was a little better than last year.  The rest wouldn’t really make sense unless I explained it in person. But I can give you this plethora of pictures instead.

Our trip to the Black Rock Desert took three weeks. Ree joined Christina and I for the ride down, then flew out from San Francisco and back for the burn once we finished setup. It made the ride exponentially more fun and I enjoyed introducing him to our friends and family scattered along the way.

They both insisted on stopping at every tourist trap on the way down. Yay, the Corn Palace.

I made it our mission to sample a wide range of Escape Rooms along the trip. We did a total of six, each with varying degrees of success. Not all of them of were well made; this key was the best part of the one in Phoenix. San Diego’s Puzzlarium was the best. I’m really glad the genre is taking off. They even built one in Fargo just in the time we were away.

Ree ended up viewing the world through the lens of his phone most the trip. NRE or something. I did my best to give him a hard time about it, but he didn’t budge.

We visited the Titan Missile Museum, a decommissioned ICBM training facility from the Cold Wargasm, just south of Tucson.


Christina got to turn the launch key and nuke ‘the target’ (launchers never knew their actual targets) with the veteran tour guide. He said he picked her because she was the same age as the people who used to have her role (20-24). We didn’t correct him.

We stopped in Tombstone to see…cowboys? Christina loved her some Val Kilmer back in the day. It was lost on me, but watching the actors play out the fight at O.K. Corral was fun.

Christina and I prefer to sleep on the floor most places. It’s better for my back and she doesn’t mind. Ree had been waiting for a chance to push the hotel beds together to make himself a megabed at some point, but most of them don’t move. His moment came, but we had to join him. The floor here was terrifying.

We made it to L.A., where I met an extremely skittish cat behind Dante and Mary’s named Citler.

We stopped at Sequoia National Park on our way north through California. Hot damn those were windy roads. We stopped for the view while Ree taught the robots what was important.

Sequoias are a type of coniferous redwood. They’re world’s largest single trees and largest living things by volume. Apparently you were able to drive on top of this particular tree at one time, but the bark deteriorated and become unstable in the middle.

Sequoias are incredibly fire resistant. You could actually stand inside this one, dubbed the Chimney Tree, whose interior was burnt out long ago.

General Sherman is the biggest tree on earth and around 2000 years old. It was the approximate visual equivalent of a mouse looking up at a six-foot human. Huuuuuge.

Ree flew off and our world turned to dust for three weeks while we setup the city. One of the advantages of arriving early is you get to decorate your favorite camp’s cargo container before they can stop you or open it. Thanks goes to my mom for the fancy banner.

You can’t tell very well, but I’m covered in bites. We had four days of intense bug infestation pre-event. They didn’t actually ‘bite’, but the best we could tell is they were looking for moisture and probiscusing (poking) around. Made for a few restless nights, scratching and cursing.

Oh shit, it’s Working Man. Burning Man has officially started. We were grabbing some tea and toasties during the Monday morning brownout while commentating on radio drama.

Tent sweet tent. Christina wrangled us some real shade this year over it, hence making it livable during the day. Being underneath the network operations towers also helps when you need your Reddit fix too.

Wouldn’t miss the Daft Punk trash fence show to save my soul.

Zack, the First Camp pilot, was generous enough to offer us a ride one morning. Christina, Rachel, Randy, Zack, and I all piled into a tiny, 39-year-old Cessna and did three loops around the perimeter of the city. This is what the airport runway looked like that day.

HE LET ME FLY. Zack is a professional instructor and I’d played enough flight sims to at least know what the rudders were for.

It was profoundly majestic to finally see the city from above after building it for the past eight years. Everything seemed so…small.

Christina and I were doing setup for the Culture Collaborators party so I asked her to paint something Fury Road on me. I didn’t actually check afterwards. We looked like pirate superheroes.

Fun’s over, time to shut it down. This is cleanup. I started having flashbacks from my 20s, living with my three best friends, being the guy that cleaned up after all the parties. I realized I’m still sort of that guy, except now I’m being paid for it.

The fun doesn’t stop just because the plebeians disappear. I saved my sluttiest suit for DPW’s Last Supper.

Christina doesn’t look excited, but she kicked Shade’s ass this year.

It was my first year staying long enough to help with de-fence. It felt serene between the desert and arbitrary boundary of our playpen.

Black Rock didn’t really quench my thirst for novelty this year. The obvious solution was to set back in the most roundabout way possible.

Our first stop was a bit sobering. A dear friend found out they had cancer shortly after the event and urgently needed surgery. They’re doing better now, but cancer still sucks. We admired their live-in, bathroom frog while staying on their farm. He watched everything.

San Francisco followed. We spent an afternoon on this porch with Lisa Marie Wiley, a former Army Sergeant and interrogator. She was charming and disconcerting at the same time.

Our friend Dara, a 3D printing superstar, was amazing and toured us around some advanced fabrication facilities. Tech Shop is a world-class maker space born out of the Bay and the first series of nationwide, public-access workshops. The shop tour was bland, but the tools and robots were extraordinary.

We stopped at 3D System’s design studio. They design, manufacture, and sell 3D printers. It was a small facility stationed in an old apartment Eduardo Saverin used to live in. They were in the middle of making things for a fashion show and samples lying all around. No one knew where these giant arms came from.

The most mind-blowing place was Pier 9, Autodesk’s design workshop and fabrication space, with resident pioneer and author Micky McManis as our tour guide. This place was incredible. I’m holding a raptor designed in Tinkerplay, a tool for creating customizable creatures and characters. One of the primary software designers was even around to give a demonstration.

This tiny, tiny gorilla was made using a stereolithographic 3D printer, which creates objects by using a laser to harden liquid plastic. The ultraviolet light traces a cross-section of the design over a thin exposed layer of plastic resin, turning it solid, before the unused material is disposed of. The process is repeated layer-by-layer until the object is complete, and produced the most detailed prints of any of the printers we observed.

After the tours, I worked some burner magic and managed to become a Latitude Society member while we were still in town. This entailed a strange and complex process, much easier to summarize in person. Sadly, the society lost it’s primary benefactor just days after my induction and has since posted an epilogue to the project. I was incredibly privileged to have to opportunity to experience it.

Back to Los Angeles! Vaughn’s cat Venus greeted us in a box.

I watched Going Clear this year, a fantastic HBO documentary by Alex Gibney on Scientology. I couldn’t help but visit their first church and large recruiting center known as ‘the complex’ on Sunset Boulevard. I convinced Christina and her brother to come along, who I thanked repeatedly for appeasing my cruel curiosity. I met a real Scientologist! I played utterly oblivious while they showed videos and tried to sell us Dianetics. We lasted about an hour before I got tired of saying no to everything except the free DVDs.

I was quite done with California traffic by now. Onward to other desert pastures. We stopped at the Carlsbad Caverns in the Guadalupe mountains of southwestern New Mexico to see some giant caves. We stayed for the bat flight, where the 400,000 resident bats fly out of the cave at dusk for the night’s feeding.

We spent a couple days in Fort Worth, Texas, to visit my sister Misty. It was a solid dose of suburbia. My nephew there is a Yugioh Dragon Duel champion, so we stopped to see the regional event he competed at. This is what 1200 Yugioh players look like.

Christina’s cousin Jared lives in Tyler, Texas. He gave us of the Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge, where we works and play’s ringmaster. They provide rescue and rehabilitation of big cats who have been abused, neglected or displaced. They had 41 cats when we visited, including tigers, lions, bobcats, pumas, mountain lions, serviles, and a leopard. Also, a monkey.

Jared thoroughly destroyed any notion I had of how majestic lions or tigers might be. Apparently, they’re just big, stupid cats.

We stayed a night with Jared and his girlfriend. Their house was a zoo unto itself. They had five cats, two dogs, two snakes, a gecko, hedgehog, and were in the process of nursing this baby squirrel every two hours. It was hilarious.

We stopped and saw the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. Our friends in L.A. has done some work for the 4D exhibition. It was excellent. I learned a lot about every aspect of the War throughout the visit. Why is the national museum in New Orleans Mike? Because they manufactured all the U-boats there and D-Day was one of the most decisive battles of the war. It used to be just the D-Day Musuem, but they decided to make it about more than boats.

We went to visit Ree in Valdosta, Georgia and Christina’s brother in Fort Meyer’s Florida. We drove back through Valdosta so Ree, Christina, and I could day-trip to Panama City, Florida and fulfill my life-long dream of swimming with wild dolphins. A resident expert took us out on a pontoon with a diving platform so we could search and mingle. Sorry, wild dolphins aren’t really photogenic. It was still awesome.

To the Northeast! We spent the next couple days in D.C. This was my favorite exhibit at the Newseum, a museum on news and journalism. They receive a copy of hundreds of newspapers all over the world and most US states to put on display every morning. The bombings in Turkey were the most common story.

We visited the Capitol building. Unfortunately, it was under construction, inside and out.

The tour was excellent, filled with lots of great history. I also experienced my first auditory ellipse in the National Statuary Hall.

The mezzanine above the main reading room at the Library of Congress was open because it happened to be a holiday. Natives discovered Columbus or something.

All the museums! The Natural History had whales and lots of rocks. Too many rocks, but probably the most impressive array I’ll ever see again.

We drove by the NSA headquarters on our way out of town, so I figured I’d see how close I could get. Apparently, I could have scheduled a tour, but I would’ve needed to plan weeks in advance. We went to the National Cryptologic Museum next door instead. It was a bit small and old, but they had some real Enigma machines you could play with.

There were some planes on display outside between the museum and the headquarters. They were incredibly adamant we not take pictures of the buildings behind them unless we wanted a different kind of tour.

It’s not a mystery what it looks like. They just don’t want you Watching the Watchmen.

We got to hit the water on our first night in New York. Meatbag’s friend Chris was awesome enough to give Joe, Christina, and I a moonlight Hudson River tour in his tiny raft-boat.

The water was so open and empty compared to Manhattan. You could get surprisingly close to the statue of liberty as well. There was just a ring of buoys marking a boundary around it.

We stopped to see the One World Trade Center and memorial pools. We missed out by not going up to the observation deck.

I found a Toynbee tile while we were walking downtown! I guarantee this is lost on absolutely all of you, but there’s a great documentary from 2011, Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tilesabout their meaning and origin. They’re incredibly rare, so it blew my mind to stumble upon one so fresh and intact.

We stopped at the Museum of Modern Art. Lots of Picasso and iconic pieces alike.

I brought Joe and Christina to the NYU campus to hear professor Richard Wolff’s monthly talk. He’s a well spoken marxian economist who analyzes recent and major economic events. We were in the audience during this taping.

Christina and I went to see Sleep No More, an “immersive theatrical experience”. The performance spans five floors and over a hundred rooms where audiences are allowed to wander and explore while actors play out a loose interpretation of Macbeth. The show repeats three times over the course of three hours so people have the opportunity to see multiple scenes, but the performers still end up running from room to room and disappearing behind locked doors at times. I could write quite extensively about my thoughts on it, but I won’t embellish them here. Christina and I had very, very different experiences. It’s definitely not for everyone, but it does favor the bold.

We stopped in Wappingers Falls with Joe on our way out of New York to visit the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, Alex and Allison Grey’s sanctuary for transformative art. Alex is a legendary visionary artist. This particular piece, Cosmic Christ, has been my long-time favorite. The level of detail is astounding.

They were hosting an event in conjunction with monks from the Gaden Shartse Monastery who were sharing their philosophy and rituals. They were making this sand mandala, which would be ceremonially dissolved at the end of the day.  Joe had been watching the relevant House of Cards episode just the night before, oddly enough.

We stopped in State College, Pennsylvania to visit my friend Ryan. Although he possess godlike math abilities, I mainly know him for his MTG skills and vintage deck. This card is worth over $4,000 dollars.

Pittsburgh! We’re getting closer to home now. We stopped and had lunch with an old friend and saw some interesting technology he’s working on and I’m not supposed to talk about it. Great views up the Duquesne Incline though.

Christina had a few friends in Lexington. It’s the horse capital of the world, or something, so we stopped at Man o’ War’s memorial. Unfortunately, the Creation Museum was closed the day we drove out.

So close we can taste it. I decided to swing us through the mess of Chicago for some pinball at the Headquarters Beercade. We did something similar while we were in New York, but this went so far beyond that. All the games were FREE and they had tons of machines. Nostalgia city. They were having a Back to the Future party so there were a few Marty McFlys running around.

And we’re back. 9,000 miles and three months later, it seems like a whirlwind. Fargo definitely operates at a slower speed than some cities, but I’m adjusting. There’s so much I couldn’t fit or didn’t make it in here, but I hope you enjoyed the visuals. Thanks to everyone who hosted us and we got to visit along the way! You made this summer easily one of the most memorable of my life. Until next year.