Packing for the trip

THE DRUG ISSUE: The art of taking drugs to -- and at -- Burning Man
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How they roll Photo by Jeffery Cross

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San Francisco has always been a big recreational drug town, from its opium dens of yore to the pill-popping beats and acid-eating hippies to business elites doing bumps in bathrooms to ravers on E and cranked-out clubbers, not to mention the tattered street souls scoring fixes of crack or smack.

But in terms of sheer numbers of Bay Area partiers stocking up on the full illegal pharmacopoeia all at once, it's hard to top right now, the month of August, the run-up to Burning Man.

Now I know what they say. This event — which started in San Francisco 23 years ago and now occurs in the Nevada boondocks — isn't simply a big drug fest. Many burners don't even do drugs anymore. It's about "radical self-expression" and "radical self-reliance" and all kinds of other radical stuff, like a gift economy, public nudity, and massive fire cannons. Radical, dude.

But let's get real, m'kay? Burning Man may be many things, but among those things is that it may be the best time and place on the planet to ingest mind-altering substances, something recognized even by attendees who don't regularly do drugs — although most burners also do them here.

Why? Because DRUGS ARE FUN!!!

OK, so you're getting ready to head to the playa. You're part of a mid-sized Burning Man camp that's giving away peach schnapps Sno-Cones from a big peach-shaped art car and you're all calling yourself James. Or whatever. Not important.

You got your goggles and combat boots. Your bike is covered entirely in fake pink fur and wrapped in blue electro-luminescent wire. You've packed enough costumes for a month, from the fire-crotch thong to an elaborate Ming the Merciless getup, complete with death ray. Again, whatever, not important.

What is important are the drugs. You're going to spend a week frolicking through the planet's preeminent adult playground, past all manner of tripper traps and the weirdest, most mind-blowing shit you've ever seen, mixing with a multitude of beautiful souls with Cheshire Cat grins. You'll want one too.

I suppose you could do it sober, and I've heard stories about people who do. But why? This particular party environment is a lifeless desert that sucks the moisture out of you and everything around you, so booze just isn't the best choice of intoxicant. I've known many people who have ended up in the medical tent from drinking, but none from using drugs.

In fact, it's safe to say that drug cocktails are the cocktails of Burning Man.

Everyone has his or her drug combo of choice, but mine is flipping out. Candy-flipping (LSD and ecstasy) or hippie-flipping (shrooms and ecstasy), depending on my mood and agenda. It's the perfect combo: E for the euphoria and psychedelics to amp up the weirdness. It's like a wild, joyful ride into a parallel universe.

On a big night, I'll often re-up several times, taking another dose of one or the other every few hours, balancing my buzz like the pro I am. And then, as dawn approaches after a long night of flipping around the playa, that's the best time to get into the Ketamine. Believe me, Special K is just the right dessert for a meal like that, bringing all the night's adventures into a sort of twisted focus.

Of course, you're going to want to vary your experiences night to night, and for that you're going to need to be well stocked. One year, I took K, MDA, MDMA, acid, shrooms, pot, Foxy, nitrous oxide (maybe that doesn't count), cocaine, 2CB, 2CT7, mescaline, and, well, I'm sure there were others. I think I counted 15 in all, all consumed over the course of nine days. At that level, you begin count sobriety as its own drug.

By the end of the week, once the tolerance has been ratcheted up by daily drug use, some burners start to really pile on the chemicals, trying to regain the high highs from the early part of the week.