Tag Archives: nudity

An Ultra Like No Other: The Black Rock City 50K

How many running events are you aware of that have a) whiskey, b) hugs from random strangers, c) a course that takes you through a dance party, or d) shameless nudity? And the only “entry fee” is a gallon of water and a few snacks for the aid stations?

Well, as far as I know, the Black Rock City Ultramarathon is the only race that offers all of the above.

The race is hosted by the Pink Lightning camp, which provides bibs, timing chips, medals, T-shirts, and refreshments – all for no charge to the runners (excepting the crazy expensive Burning Man ticket, of course). About 250 people sign up each year.

From Pink Lightning the course runs clockwise along the Esplanade, which separates BRC from the “deep playa” containing The Man, the Temple, and the other major sculptures. Out to and along the trash fence, with an aid station at its “peak” (top of the route map). Then down the other side and back along the Esplanade and return to Pink Lightning.

Each loop is seven miles, so you run four of these loops, then do a quick 3-mile out & back to get you to 50K, (31.1 miles), more or less.

Since it’s impossible to describe everything I saw, heard, and experienced running the BRC 50K, here are a set of vignettes that hopefully give you a sense of it.

Sorry about lack of photos; my phone was nearly dead and my solar charger didn’t work. Besides, at Burning Man you are encouraged to, “be a participant, not a tourist,” and taking photos takes you out of the moment. However, at the end of this post I’ve provided some links to photos and videos others have taken.

Okay, here’s one. Yes, this “art” is an actual 747, and we ran past it during the race.

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Tuesday August 28, 4:30 a.m.: Crawl out of warm sleeping bag, put on clothes and gear meticulously laid out the night before. Ready to go – except I can’t find my headlamp. I rummage through my clothes bag, gear bag, and everywhere in my tent before I find it around my neck, tucked under my shirt. Slap head and bike to Pink Lightning as fast as I dare. They start late, thank goodness, because I don’t know BRC well enough to understand the course map. I follow the crowd until I get oriented.

Starting in the dark means we see an amazing sunrise, with the sky turning from red and yellow brush strokes into bright blue. And the temps stayed cool until late in the morning, which helped explain some very fast finish times (the first five runners were under 3:35).

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Loop one: Pain in my left big toe, like something sharp is pressing on it. It gets worse, so at the aid station I find a chair and peel off my shoe and sock. I don’t find anything, so I remove the tape on the toe – and the nail comes off with it.

No big surprise, as I’d damaged it at an earlier race. I cover the bare area with a Band-Aid, retape, put sock and shoe back on, and I’m good to go. A volunteer shakes his head. “Hard core,” he says admiringly.

Not really – just standard ultra fare. And now I’m running pain free. Never been so happy to lose a toenail.

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Loop two: I catch up to a guy wearing some really unusual shoes. Under the soles are metal bands acting as springs. Along with the bouncing stride, they add about four inches to his height. He tells me they’re “rebound shoes” with the springs providing a large energy return, and that he likes them a lot. He’s not sure if they’re “race legal,” but hell, this is Burning Man, so who cares?

Here they are. Photo from Flickr.

Here’s a link to the website if you’re interested in finding out more. They also make a brief appearance in the video below.

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Loop 3, approaching the Esplanade: a woman waves a bottle at us. “Whiskey! You know you want it!”

Runner ahead of me: “No thanks.”

Woman: “Well, F*** YOU then!”

Note: a bad attitude at Burning Man is almost always “snark” and not to be taken seriously.

I’m offered the same (and also decline) and starting loop 4, a young lady holds out a 2-liter bottle of a mysterious red liquid. “Please say yes!” she pleads.

Time for some snark of my own, I decided. “Yes!” I responded – and ran on right past her.

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Loops 2-4, returning to Pink Lightning: there’s a dance party in full swing on the Esplanade. No problem, we run right though it, getting hugs and high fives. On one loop as we get near, “YMCA” comes over the loudspeakers. Do we act out the letters during the chorus – while running? Do you even need to ask?

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Back half of loop four: My wandering thoughts hit upon the fact that while I’ve seen a few naked men running (including one guy in orange body paint), I have yet to see any women so (un)attired. Then a spectator says, “Hey, naked woman coming.”

Sure enough, a nicely proportioned woman wearing nothing but shoes soon passes me, smiling and entirely at ease. Another runner complains he’s getting warm. “Take your clothes off!” she yells to him. “You’ll be more comfortable!”

She stops at the coconut water station, so I go back ahead for a while. When she catches up to me again, I confirm she’s also on loop four, and I have to know. “Hey, you didn’t run the entire race this way, did you?”

“Oh, yeah!” she says. I mention it was cold at the start, and she shrugs. “I ran fast!”

Note: every woman I’ve told this story to goes wide-eyed and asks about whether “bouncing” wasn’t an issue. I’d wondered that too, but didn’t have the courage to ask. Apparently it didn’t bother her And she finished ahead of me.

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At Pink Lightning after loop four, grabbing some snacks: I get a surprise hug from behind. It’s my daughter Rachel and her boyfriend there to cheer me on. “I’m so proud of you, Dad!” she says. (Hard to top a moment like that, folks.)

I take off for my final three miles, and they’re waiting at the finish line, where I cross at the 5:25 mark with my hands in the air – and promptly bonk in the pavilion. Here I am with her, doing my best to look happy while waiting for the Gatorade to kick in.

Photo courtesy of Rachel’s SO Eugene.

So, did it live up to my expectations? Since I didn’t really have any, the answer is Yes. Would I do it again? Sure, although I haven’t decided if I’d run it for a PR (nice and flat) or slow down and take photos. Plenty of time to decide!

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As promised, here are some links to photos and videos of the BRC 50K from previous years. Enjoy!

YouTube – Running an Ultramarathon at Burning Man – from 2017. Really, this one is all you need to see what goes on. I didn’t see the stuffed animal trampoline this year, though.

Facebook – search on “Black Rock City ultramarathon” and a gallery will pop up. Here’s one of the photos.

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The Night of 10,000 Moons: WNBR Portland

NOTICE: This post includes photos that may be NSFW. But why would you be reading this at work? Shame on you! But be sure to read this the minute you get home.

I WUZ DARED.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Which is why I was at Cathedral Park at 9:00 p.m. last Saturday, geared up and appropriately dressed for WNBR Portland. Which stands for:

World Naked Bike Ride

Officially, the WNBR is a protest against excessive use of fossil fuels and the far too many car-bicycle accidents. Lately it’s added body positivity as a theme, and indeed I saw all ages and all body types there, naked and not ashamed.

While it contains the word, “Naked,” WNBR is actually a “Bare As You Dare” event. Riders ranged from fully clothed to underwear down to birthday suits. I saw colorful hats and costumes, and lots of decorative patterns and slogans in body paint applied by on-site volunteers.

(Click to see full gallery from KATU.)

So how bare did I dare? Well, let me put it this way. I didn’t fly all the way from Michigan to Oregon to ride in skivvies.

A quick recap of how I got here: back in 2014, I was heading to Portland to visit friends, and mentioned this to a co-worker who lives there. “Oh, are you going to do the naked bike ride?” he asked. The what? Had to go look that up!

The 2014 ride had already taken place, but I told him I was open to the idea. He seemed skeptical – a bit too much. So it was on. For the next three years I would have other commitments that weekend. But this year, all the stars lined up.

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

So what was it like?

NOTICE #2: I did not take a lot of photos of the event. It took all my attention just to keep my bike on the road and stay in the experience. But there are plenty of event photos from this year and previous years on the Internet. So I’ve heard.

In sum, it blew my mind from start to finish. There is no way I can fully describe everything I saw and heard. So here are a few things that stood out to me:

  • Walking past a bike shop near the park, its sign reading, “Open until 10:00 – Naked or Not” with several people inside already naked.
  • Feeling alone and awkward in a park full of 10,000 people. I was envious of everyone who’d come in a group. (I got over it when the ride started.)

Starting line. (And I’m up near the front.)

  • On the bike, surrounded by a visual riot of colors, motion, and bare flesh, which intensified as it got dark. Trying to take in everything around me but not focus too long on any one thing – or two 😉 – and dodging other riders doing the same.

  • Naked dancers on a bridge over the I-5 expressway, a long line of slow-moving cars passing beneath them. Both sexes participated, but frankly I think the men danced better. (One of those photo ops I wished I’d taken now.)
  • A bike towing speakers playing rock music with an odd twist. For example, a Bee Gees vocal track mixed onto AC/DC’s “Back in Black.”
  • Finishing with no idea where we were. No one knew! Finally, someone handing out after-party flyers told me. She asked how I liked the ride, and I quipped it was, ‘good training for Burning Man.” And she’d been there! I was naked, chatting casually with an equally naked woman about another event dedicated to self-expression. Surreal!

And here are a few other questions people have asked me.

  • Weren’t you uncomfortable riding like that?

A: Not at all. If you sit properly then other bits don’t get in the way.

  • What was the route?

A: It changes every year, and they keep it a secret for obvious reasons (except to the police, of course). This year we went through North Portland, mostly through residential neighborhoods, with some bars or retail here and there. We ended up at Woodlawn Park, and from there people hung out (sorry) or dispersed to the after-parties.

Just some of the action at Woodlawn Park post-ride.

  • What about traffic? Were there a lot of cars?

A:  The police covered the route and directed traffic, so most of the time we had the roads to ourselves and right of way at intersections. A few cars did make it onto our route (probably leaving their neighborhoods) but we just went around them. I don’t think they particularly minded.

  • And spectators?

A:  Yep, people turned out for much of the way, but the riders far outnumbered the spectators. I felt completely safe and even a touch superior! I’m out riding in the buff and you’re cowering in clothes on the sidewalk. Most of them just watched, but some waved and cheered (and we waved and cheered back). A couple women even returned the favor by flashing us!

Curiously, I saw entire families at the sides of the road, including kids of all ages. I guess if you want to teach them body positivity, that’s one way. It was Portland, after all.

I’d like to sign off this post with a request to all my readers: When you’re driving, please, please, please, be alert for cyclists, and SLOW DOWN and give them space when passing. I’ve ridden naked just once, but I feel naked (as in vulnerable) any time I’m on a busy road.

So please – be awake, be alert, and be sober. Or these clothes stay off.

NOTICE #3: If you were expecting any “nothing to hide” photos of me, sorry. Not that I had any taken (or would post them if I had), but they’re not yet back from the studio. I understand they’re still repairing their cameras.