From Burningman 2002 - the tripod swing at 255 and MainMast

Last night I finally started writing in detail about the swing - because it is the part of Burning Man that I most wanted to share with other people.

Here is the beginning:

Nothing in life is truly safe. But there are levels of risk that often seem quite unacceptable at first glance that we eventually learn to face and embrace, and in so doing, overcome our deepest fears and grow past our limitations. That was the gist of my meditation as I pedaled my bicycle across the playa in the dark, with my eyes clenched shut.

I was riding on seriously defective equipment - a $10 Univega "Burningman" Special" - a day-glow rust-bucket of a broken down mountain-bike that I had purchased from the bone-yard at my friend Scott's Williwaw bicycle shop on the way out of Port Townsend. I had gotten two bikes - the green one for me, for $10 and an orange one for Doctor Doug that I had paid $25 for. Everything on the $25 bike worked except the rear derailleur, which was broken off and beyond repair, but the price included a functional replacement.

On mine, the chain was rusted into a solid mobius band of twisted loops of lumpy steel about as flexible as a loop of rebar. The tires were totally rotten. One of the rear brake attachment posts and the front quick-release skewer had broken off. But judicious application of Tri-Flow penetrating fluid and clever blows with a fast hammer had gotten the chain to work again, and I did not see much need for a rear brake anyway. But I had to change the front tire and penetrant on the skewer did not make it open. Which was part of WHY it was a $10 bike. So, here I was, at least a kilometer from any place with tools, with my front wheel literally tied onto the fork with two strands of thin stainless-steel baling wire, and that was a source of some concern.

The wire was stretched taut but there was still quite a bit of "wiggle" in the connection, so the bike was a great deal less responsive than either of the machines I am used to. In fact, it was clear from the get-go that any sudden change of direction would pull the front axle right out of the fork-ends and that would lead to a nasty face-plant and damage to both my bike and my body, but all of my efforts to find a skewer had failed. My inquiries had been rebuffed - there were no front wheels or axles available at the recycling camp unless I agreed to spend most of a day sawing up bicycle frames and building some towable recycling carts, and the guy at the bike shop had literally chased me away when I asked about skewers, so I just accepted that part of my adventure involved riding on the wired-on wheel, and that riding a little bit slower and more carefully was part of the program.

Still, the texture of the untracked playa was miraculously smooth - there had been no rain for many days and the structure of the desert dust melted under the tires just about as sweetly as any spring snow I've ever had under my skis.

I had initially closed my eyes to momentarily protect them from a cloud of alkali dust that had been created by an art-car the size of a city transit bus, that was speeding out to the Duck, a huge yellow rubber-ducky shaped structure that housed a "jazz club" that was as far away from the center of Black Rock City as anything yet built, on Tuesday night. But once they were squinted down to a slit I realized that I really did not need to see most of the time, if at all, and I rode nearly a quarter mile that way, checking occasionally for unexpected obstacles - people or construction projects or the orange polyethylene fence that marked the edge of the world. After that, night after night, I would choose lines across the playa outback that had no lights and no signs of human infestation and ride great sweeping arcs, eyes totally shut, and then come back in the daytime to follow my tracks and see if I had come close to anything.

One of these sweeps lead me back into the city from a new point far out at the end - past 300 degrees. Near the outer reaches of the road at 255 degrees I saw what appeared to be a series of rockets being lobbed from 3 separate mortars toward a single point in the sky. Closer examination revealed a collection of powerful synched strobe lights mounted on an enormous steel tripod. As I rode closer, I saw that the tripod had a deeper purpose - it was really a huge swing structure at least 15 - 20 meters tall. Hanging from its apex was a heavy climbing rope, with 3-inch wide webbing slings and above the attachment points of the slings, hung 2 tubular handles. The tail of the climbing rope extended another 3 to 4 meters so that someone could stand in the center and provide the power for someone to ride in the swing. It was the dance of the swinger and the swung.

climbing into the swing at 255 and Mainmast, at Burningman 2002, getting ready to flyAs the one being swung, you stood a few feet off the ground in the green slings, with the purple sling looped under your arms and around your back, supporting you just below the shoulder blades.

The hand-grips were useful for getting aboard, but the upper of the two grips was problematic once you were underway, as the tow rope could get wrapped around your wrist or fingers. In fact, if you sat too high or too upright in the slings, the rope could get tangled around you hair or even worse, your head or neck. returning the tow-rope - after it had been dropped

getting tangled in the tow rope led to the realization that it could be used to spin the rider like a top So, it was clearly a dangerous contraption and yet, at first glance it was apparent that this thing was without a doubt the most interesting communication/trust-building tool I had ever met.

More to follow ...
©Joe Breskin September 2002
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