After years of people telling me I should go, I finally went to Burning Man this year. Now that I'm back, I can safely say that it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life.
For those unfamiliar with the event, it's basically a place where human ingenuity and creativity go to flourish in the desert for a week, then fade back into dust until next year. This massive amalgamation of people (almost 50,000 this year) is called Black Rock City. The most amazing art you'll ever see is strewn across an incomprehensibly large, flat playa in northern Nevada. You can go walking or biking across open desert and suddenly find yourself at the foot of an enormous piece of art thinking "Wow, that's amazing! How did they get this thing out here?"
I went there with no expectations other than that I knew I would find very unique things on which to practice parkour. The overriding credo of Burning Man is radical self-expression, and that manifests itself in me as an unstoppable desire to vault and climb things. I was really surprised to find that a Google search for burning man + parkour turned up no relevant hits. I'm sure I'm not the first person to do parkour at Burning Man, but apparently I'll be the first person to talk about it on t3h int3rnetz.
To be completely honest, the opportunities for parkour at Burning Man are not fundamentally great. Black Rock City is a gigantic tent city and not an urban environment, so you won't find things like concrete blocks with gaps for cat leaps or rails for underbars. But what it lacks in traditional parkour it more than makes up for in the uniqueness of the things you practice on. I konged off the side of a giant duck, and I palm spun a huge copper tree that was on fire. I found the most efficient path from the ground to the top of a giant plywood Hummer (called The Bummer). It was all so much fun.
Just like in our normal practice of parkour, you have to be respectful to your environment at Burning Man. I didn't do parkour on anything that I didn't safety check and make sure I wouldn't damage, and as a result I think I was very well received there. I had people telling me left and right that it was really cool and they loved watching me climb and vault the various art pieces out there. I even had a guy tell me that he knew the artist of one of the pieces that I was doing vaults on, and he filmed me because he knew that the artist would love seeing my alternative use for the piece he created.
Now I didn't go to Burning Man solely for parkour. I saw and did some very cool things that didn't involve parkour, like watching cage fights in a full replica of the Thunderdome, riding a 25 foot tall teeter-totter, and firing a flamethrower. :) Incidentally, the fire spinning and other fire art there is literally the best in the world. I'm not a huge pyro personally, but the fire art absolutely floored me. Very, very cool. And whatever you may have heard about Burning Man being about nothing but sex, drugs, and a bunch of crazy hippies, all I can tell you is that no matter what you are interested in, whether you want to be completely intoxicated or completely sober the whole time, surrounded by people or totally on your own, I guarantee that at absolutely any time of the day or night, there is something going on there that you want to be a part of. And finding that thing and all of the interesting things in between are what make the experience worth all the trouble of getting out there. I was there for almost the entire week, and I felt like I was just getting started when I had to leave.
I am very seriously putting forth the idea of a parkour camp for Burning Man 2009. If anyone out there is willing to spend the money, endure the heat and the dust, and throw everything away for a week next August, I am sure that you wouldn't regret it.