How I got to burning man


About this time last year I was sweating buckets, training for the biggest adventure of my life. It started innocently enough over cocktails at Jax restaurant in Boulder in the spring of 2009 with talk about going to the Burning Man festival in Nevada. If we were going, we couldn´t just drive, like normal people. We reckoned we should tack a big adventure on the front end.

two margaritas later, Bud Thompson suggested we bike 142 miles on
Kokopelli’s Trail from Grand Junction to Moab, swim on the Colorado
River for 18 miles from Moab to Potash Point, and then run 24 miles
rim-to-rim in the Grand Canyon. Bud is prone to crazy talk like this,
and I dismissed him as mad, which he truly is, but in a good way.

the greatest festival on earth, Bud argued, we had to concoct an
adventure apropos for the occasion — a first-of-its-kind trip,
something that would rip our minds and bodies apart. The risks were
great. The heat would be searing traversing the Colorado Plateau. There
could be glory at the end of the road.

“Yeah,” I exclaimed after another margarita. “I’m in.”

left on Aug. 27, 2009, for our two-week, 3,500-mile mid-life crisis and
drove to the start of Kokopelli’s Trail. We put our tents at the
trailhead and Bud took off the next morning. I am a swimmer and a
runner, not a mountain biker, so I ran support for this leg in the
White Whale, Bud’s big Suburban.

rode in 100-degree-plus heat for about 60 miles, from from Fruita to
Dewey Bridge, with about 12,000 feet of climbing. We met at several
spots along the way to replenish water and food. I set up camp at the
Hittle Bottom on the Colorado River, about 23 miles north of Moab. The
Allman Brothers played loudly on the iPod perched on top of the Whale,
chairs sat on the water’s edge for feetsoaking, and cold Tecate beers
were waiting when Bud came in after eight hours of riding.

next day wasn’t so pretty — we missed our rendezvous due to poor
communication and a lack of maps. I took the White Whale over 26 stream
crossings, and my bike fell off the rack several times. It was an 80-mile ride, but with much more climbing and challenging trail.

were supposed to meet at 3 p.m. at the Colorado River boat ramp in
Moab, so by 5, I started getting nervous. By 6 we got a note from two
guys in a truck that Bud was at the Sorrel River Ranch up the road
having beers and waiting for us. He was dehydrated and said his scrotum
was scorched, but otherwise fine.

following morning we readied our canoe for a long day of swimming and
shuttled the Whale to take-out. Because I had already supported the
previous two days and was the strongest swimmer of the crew, I wasn’t
going to be sitting in a canoe all day.

tied the rope from the canoe around my waist. They laughed and thought,
no way. I smiled and dove in first, stroking hard and setting a good
pace, pulling the canoe most of the day. We swam 15 miles in about five

Our home
for the night would be a large, beautiful beach with plenty of firewood
(yes, we had a firepan). We ate a hearty meal of flank steak and black
beans with corn and passed around a bottle of Patron tequila while we
watched the stars. One by one, each of us faded into our sleeping bags.
The following day our bodies were stiff, and Bud was exhausted.

bike had taken a lot out of him. We swam the remaining three miles to
the take-out at Potash Point, quickly loaded the car and blazed towards
the Grand Canyon. Jonathan drove most of the eight hours to the North

I had trained
hard for the Grand Canyon run. I didn’t want to be stuck down there
with heat stroke — a very strong possibility for the unprepared. I was
nervous, though, because the 18 miles
I had done around the Boulder Reservoir two weeks prior, the longest
run of my life, had roasted me — and that terrain was flat. Now, I was
facing a 24-mile run with 12,000 feet of elevation loss and gain — an
additional mile down and back up. My mind raced as I lay down that
night in a log cabin on the rim. To boot, our last meal before the
hinterlands of the Grand Canyon was Taco Bell, which kept some of us
(not me) up at night with the runs. Not the best prerun meal.

mist hung low over the canyon and it was very dark with no moon at 4:20
a.m. when Jonathan and I started down the North Rim. Bud followed about
45 minutes behind so he could arrange to drop off a key with a driver
who would shuttle the White Whale to the South Rim, a threehour drive.

run felt good, and I was careful to eat and drink at regular intervals
to stay on top of nutrition. I chugged electrolyte drinks that claimed
to “prevent muscle cannibalization” and ate plenty of Goo and Clif
Bloks chewables. It was working, my body felt loose and strong as we
flew along the canyon walls.

about three of the steepest miles left to go to the top of the canyon,
I knew I was going to make it, and I started thinking about how far I
had come in my life to get to that point. I was now a profoundly
different person from the unhealthy boy who moved to Colorado from
Louisiana 15 years ago. Back then I was 210 pounds and smoking a pack
of Marlboro Reds a day. Now I was at the top of my game.

was overwhelmed with joy despite the physical agony I was feeling up
those last switchbacks. I ate them up like breakfast cereal. As the
Hopi prophecy says, “Banish the word struggle from your vocabulary. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

I was so joyous I whooped at tourists on the rim, looking like a crusty, wet madman.

reaching the top, I saw Bud and Jonathan, and we all embraced. Bud made
it in four hours and 50 minutes, with Jonathan not far behind, and I
came in at just under seven hours. I cried when I told them of my
epiphany. Perching on the rim was one of the most magnificent and
emotional experiences of my life. I had worked so hard for it, and the
accomplishment made the salt crusted on my lips taste sweet.

drove five hours to Las Vegas and pulled the White Whale up to the Hard
Rock Hotel looking like we’d been ridden hard and put up wet, rolling
out like crippled and stiff old men going to a nursing home. The valet
was not impressed when our stinky wet gear spilled out of the Whale at
the entrance of the hotel and casino.

look back on that adventure one year ago as one of the greatest times
in my life — a time when I went beyond my limits and learned a lot
about myself in the process. When I climbed, like a ravaged, soaking
animal, onto the top of the South Rim a year ago, I can remember the
feeling so clearly — it wasn’t just better than sex, it was better than

The next day, we turned the White Whale north and headed to Burning Man. Maybe we would finally get some rest. Yeah, right.

Moseley is a communications strategist in Boulder and author of Dear Dr. Thompson: Felony Murder, Hunter S. Thompson and the Last Gonzo Campaign. He is at Burning Man this week to write about the music for Rolling Stone. This time he took a plane.