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Friday, April 27, 2012

Three Bag Lunch

Friday morning greetings to all,

As I look out the window at the Goldfinches busily working away and the sun shining on them, I have to think, this has to be a good day. Only 47 e-mails and 1 message to deal with... I might have a running chance to break away from the computer today and not feel guilty about leaving work undone.

Speaking of weather for beautiful downtown Fallon, the forecast calls for a high of 67F with no chance of rain and 5 itty-bitty mph of breeze from the North to keep the air from being still. I'll take that!

To answer a question posed to me; yes, I am retired but no, I am not bored without a job to go to. I put in 37 years of working for the government and a few more in civilian jobs. I miss the higher income, but most definitely not the getting up early and getting home late. I especially don't miss working for people that I wouldn't hire to clean toilets, who got where they were via the "Peter Principle".

Including a postmaster who was a substance abuser and a cheat, yet due to his "religious" beliefs prevented me from getting time off to go to Burning Man for 10 years because he felt that it was pagan idolatry and devil worship.

When I had my final papers in and my retirement date set, I purchased my Burning Man tickets and waved them in the postmaster's face. I told the man that I would be joining others in doing unspeakable things like; being kind to each other, helping total strangers, cleaning up the desert, creating unimaginable art and existing peacefully in place without hate or prejudice.

He mumbled the usual words; "naked, sex, drugs", and stepped back from me like a demon would surely grab him soon. I told him, "Well, unlike the parties at your house, if anyone does that it will be of their own free will, and they will be of legal age." He retreated back into his office and didn't come near me much in my remaining few days. Yes, what I said was true, but I'm not going there.

Today's story is not about, "naked, sex, drugs" either, but rather about learning about myself and true friendship. The burner community is overall, a kind and giving group of people. Read and enjoy.

Three Bag Lunch

            When I was a young man I was strong, resilient, agile and boot leather tough. I taught other people how to survive and laughed at their antics and inability to adapt to their environment, even with instructions. I taught military pilots and aircrew to survive in arctic conditions, jungles, mountains and my personal favorite the desert. Ask me any question and I can give you an answer about what to do or not do. I was very good at what I did and had several testimonials from returning aircrewmen who were helped by my training. I was medically discharged from the service in December of 1987 and that was the end of my teaching survival skills, but I know them very well.

    For the next twenty-one years I worked outside in the weather every day, regardless of the conditions which varied over the years from minus 30 to 110 above, from dust-bowl dry to flash flood wet, clinging mud to knee deep snow. I am conditioned to being in weather extremes.

    I am also a combat veteran from many theaters of operation, Army and Navy and somethings beyond what I can describe here, suffice it to say, I have seen most of the rotten conditions you could find.

    So when I finally got the opportunity to go to Burning Man and spend a week or more in the desert I was excited and felt ready to face it all. I did all of the homework I could, reading four books on the BM experience, reading the survival guide published by Burning Man LLC, plus the ones for 2008 and 2007. I spoke to friends constantly who are burners for their advice and recommendations. I prepared for every eventuality, or so I thought.

    I felt ready. My Doctors felt that I was OK to go, even with diabetes and being 56 years old. I was very up for this and confident.

    I was camping with the Mensa Burning Man SIG (special interest group) and had time to help due to my retirement, so I went in early to help set up. The event started on Monday at 00:01 and it was awesome to be able to get inside the gates on the Friday before. No long lines to creep along in and eat dust, no wondering how much gasoline you were going to be left with by the time you got to your camp and parked.

    Part of my research and preparation was my temporary living quarters. I had my folding hexayurt on top of my Jeep and it was ready to deploy with minimum assistance providing the wind didn't blow hard. Ha Ha Ha! My burner friends will understand immediately, the rest will know by the end of this story.

    After a three hour drive I was through the gates and had made contact with my group leader. Expectations were high for getting everything done and beginning the magical experience that I had read up on. I will try to tell as much of the pertinent story as I can but not dwell on every detail or this will turn into a book.

    The first day was all about work to define the real estate of our encampment. I thought we were defining our camp, but it turned out to be for five camps, which meant five times the work. There was no chance to set up my shelter or eat properly, and I didn't drink much due to nonstop work. Slept in my Jeep.

    Saturday morning we were back at it before daylight. It would have been the perfect time to set up my yurt, but there was only the two of us and so much work to do. The dust storms started and sometime after noon another member of the group rolled in with his motorhome. I didn't know the guy or what to expect, but it didn't take long to figure out. He was all for him and a player of people, but the others liked him well enough, maybe it is just me.

    I busted my butt until I started getting sick and needing to go to the bathroom badly, so I took off for the outhouse row nearest to our camp, which was about a quarter of a mile away, maybe a half mile, but it wasn't very far. I found a spot and was so happy to be there with a cool breeze blowing through which helped cool my head and ease the distress I felt.

    Coming out of the outhouse I felt pretty good; by twenty steps out I was feeling OK. Twenty more steps and I was turning towards the camp where I knew my dear friends Howard and Chelsea would be. Howard is a doctor and Chelsea is a nurse, and they knew all about my medical history, but mostly they were my best friends and would help me.

    Chelsea appeared, (like always when I need her), seemingly out of thin air. It always seems so to me because I am usually in a fog mentally when I need her most and she shows up. One look at me and she started making me drink fluids, and then more fluids. I was convinced that my sugar was out of whack and that was the culprit. Lots of questions were asked about what I was eating and drinking, or not drinking. I answer truthfully always, but it doesn't mean that anything registers with my brain about what was said.

    Feeling better and more able to deal with the situation I departed for my own camp, over offers of a bed to sleep in. I was embarrassed by my failings and wanted to hide a little. I slept, (and I use that term loosely), in the seat of my Jeep that night and it was a long night. Somewhere around four a.m. I crawled into the back and tried to sleep curled and twisted as best I could. That was an utter failure and by six a.m. I was out of the vehicle and working again like a rented mule.

    It didn't take many hours to totally debilitate me again. I was helping with the shade structure for the camp and had not even touched my own yet, when the sick feeling hit me again. I had to go to the outhouse and was truly concerned that I was not going to make it. It was a nice day and people were working at setting up in every direction, except where we were. The man in the motor home was still too busy with his own business to help.

    I got almost to the end of our camp property, which was 300+ feet in depth, when the world started to spin. I had never felt that way without benefit of some kind of intoxicant before and it was ridiculous. I could not maintain my balance and quickly spun to the ground; where I landed on my back. It actually felt better to lie there in the sand and just not try to do anything. When I could focus I looked around to see if I had embarrassed myself, but even though some looked in my direction, no one made a move towards me, including my camp mate fussing around his motor home and supply trailer. When I could get up, I did, and continued on to the outhouse where I was hoping I would get relief and recover from this strange malady.

    Coming out of the toilet I was only feeling OK, a step down from yesterday which I did take note of. By the time I reached the street, which was Chaos (of course), I knew that I was headed back to Howard and Chelsea's camp. I was doubting my ability to remain at Burning Man with these frequent needs to go to the bathroom and feeling like death would have to feel better.

    I made my way to their camp and got inside the dome there and sat down. My friends at that camp saw that I was in trouble and located Chelsea, and a whole string of people were checking on me. It was determined that I needed to see Howard for sure, but Chelsea had already concluded that I was suffering from the most common burner ailment, especially virgins or first timers, that being dehydration. I was in no condition to argue, even if I had the inclination, which I didn't.

    My favorite doctor, Howard, rode in on his bicycle and checked me over right away and determined that I was indeed suffering from dehydration. We got into his truck and drove to the Remsa Medical tent at Center Camp, where he spoke with the duty crew and they decided to put me on a cot and give me an IV with saline to hydrate me. Howard was convinced that I was behind the power curve and with this hydration boost I would be OK. We had talked on the way over about whether I should just pull out and go home. I didn't want to give up this experience after waiting ten years to get to go. He said, let's try this first.

    Howard stayed until I was parked on a cot and the crew had me under control, with the IV implanted and me not giving them any trouble. He knew that I was very wary of medical personnel that I didn't know and wanted to be sure that I was OK with them before he left. Before he took off he told me that he would send another friend, Nicki, over to check on me. I didn't think a lot about that except that it was a nice thing to do.

    It was lunch time so I didn't expect Nicki right away, but as soon as Howard asked her to, she got on her bicycle and masked up against the sand storm which was now blowing vigorously outside and rode right to the med tent. It was the beginning of an act of loving kindness, the likes of which I had never experienced before. Nicki knew the attending RN from her work at the hospital and she talked to her while checking out my IV, my cot, whether my feet were cold, if I needed a pillow; checking on my comfort in other words. She is not a nurse by the way, but she is one of the most compassionate people I have ever known.

    The first saline bag was finished and it was apparent that it was going to take more to float my skin properly, or hydrate me if you will. I thought Nicki would say bye-bye, check you later, and split, but no such thing, she parked herself next to me and held my hand, talking and joking with me. Bag two finished and bag three was hung, under the watchful eye of my guardian angel Nicki. We did know each other before this event, but I can tell you that we became very good friends from this moment onward. I owe her the world for the love and kindness she infused into me along with the saline that Sunday afternoon.

    Nicki went and got the truck when they were ready to release me, and drove me out onto the playa past the Man and the Temple and to my camp. Howard and Chelsea's dad, Phil, helped put up my hexayurt and I had sanctuary from the heat and sand, in fact it was an awesome shelter.

    Howard was right, my three-bag-lunch was just exactly what I needed and with each passing day of proper water consumption, rest and shade, I grew stronger and more physically capable again. I did as I was instructed and grew stronger from it. I beat the odds. Most people in my condition would have had to leave but I was supposed to be there to learn some valuable lessons. I will tell you a couple of the most important ones.

    What did I learn?

  Friends are more valuable than gold or water.

    That I may have had the knowledge and experience for survival, but I missed one very important fact in my planning. I do NOT have the same body now, that I did when I was teaching desert survival. The difference in age, physical conditioning, general health, plus now being diabetic told its tale on me. I have been awakened to who I am now and what my needs are with the body I have to work with. My next trip to Burning Man will be much improved comfort wise, but I value the lessons learned at my first burn tremendously. Burn On!


  1. Ken,
    Burn on! Another lesson to be learned is to ask for help ;)

    1. Thanks Nico and very true. Something especially virgin burners, but even veterans, need to realize. People in every direction will help you if you ask. The problem is knowing when to ask, and what to ask for. The burner community is certainly the best!