Google “Wasteland Weekend” and you get a visual assault comprised of 25% armour, 25% phenomenally trashed vehicles, 40% pure badassery and 10% extra sand. Mention “Wasteland Weekend” and you get asked “is it like Burning Man?” Get out.
Definitely not Burning Man.
In September 2015 I realised I’d missed a desert party for Mad Max fans and welcomers of the impending apocalypse. In September 2016 I arrived in California where a woman known as “Animal” swung by in a giant truck to collect me and my food supply, pick up her customised motorbike and a few of her incredible homemade creature-inspired masks (which gave her the nickname) and do the cross-desert drive toward the middle of nowhere. After five hours of swapping stories and Jolly Ranchers (which later made a surprisingly good thing to barter), we arrived in the already 50-car strong line and spent the night in the Mojave desert, which barely moved even in the insanely strong winds tearing through it.
Wastelander superstition is never to mention the “w” word in the run-up to the festival for fear of incurring its wrath but damn it, the desert is WINDY! (It’s why so many of my photos look hazy- they were taken mid-dust-storm). As we already had the storm heading our way, hordes of leather-clad, windswept people raced against time to set up camp and I met the rest of my tribe; The Lone Wolves.* (The Wasteland Warriors are actually ‘my people’ but as none could come, The Lone Wolves adopted me.)
Photo by Keri Kilgo
Teamwork, introductions and a mini picnic on the doorstep of my ‘flea sized’ tent later, we watched the official entrance ceremony through goggles and squinted eyes due to the worsening storm. Even with tiny grains of sand assaulting our eyes and bodies, seeing Immortan Joe, the Warboys, the mohican-sporting Wasteland Elite Guard and at least forty armoured vehicles open the giant rusted gates to the main ground was an amazing moment. I did a few circles of the area, locked eyes with a stunningly beautiful man selling kangaroo chilli in Dinki-Di cans like in the film “The Road Warrior”, got my first bottlecap from the War Pigs tribe (bottlecaps are currency in the casino) and shared dinner under borrowed shelter. Still, as un-hardcore as it sounds, we went to bed early as the dust storm conquered the fire (too windy), the thunderdome (too sandy) and a lot of the other entertainment so we got a rest before the madness really started.
Photo by Kevin Hsu
There are a lot of car and costume images from Wasteland Weekend online and a couple of advice groups on facebook but comparatively few in-depth blogs and reviews. I’m sure that’s partly because “what happens in the wasteland stays in the wasteland” so I’ll leave a few things a mystery… 😉
That said, there’s so much to do and see- I could chill with tribes of strangers, sign up to games (from betting on vibrator racing to bounty hunting) or watch the various performances. Compared to mega-festivals like Glastonbury or “the other party in the desert”, the visitor count is small- only 2500 people- but it is still so action-packed that you couldn’t possibly do or see it all and part of that is because the guests themselves are living performance art; stopping and talking to random people becomes an activity in itself.
For a pale limey Brit like myself, the daytime weather was tough and I thanked everything in existence I missed last years infamous heatwave. When I did venture out to watch the car parades and burlesque shows (and a wasteland wedding) I scuttled from shade to shade, greasy with suncream. Many of us came alive at dusk when fires lit up the main arena, live bands and performers started up, casino hawkers set the wheel in motion (literally) and the Thunderdome fights began. I didn’t fight but I did climb the dome to watch from above. Both nights were introduced by a spine-tingling live rendition of the “5th Element Diva Song”.
The coolest couple in the Wasteland. Photo by ShotByJonny
I was sleeping about four hours per night and living on an interesting mix of jerky, chilli, gatorade (yuck), toasted marshmallows and apples but who the hell cared as I got to see a Captain America themed post-apocalyptic burlesque show with a flag-waving bunny, be a stage dancer for another adopted tribe- the band V2A (who filmed a video for their new single “War Boy” there and who I will be joining for at least one night in Europe), have at least three adventures a day, sit in the V8 Interceptor, recreate the “Into The Wild” poster on the decked-out “Daddy Warbus” and witness the 4am madness involving drunk War Spawn, some dancing poles on the Deez from Waterworld and the welcome heat of the fire pit.
As the days went on, everybody began moving at a slower pace and sticking around for longer- the frenzied “oh my god” vibe of the first couple of days (especially among us newbies) had mellowed into something comfortable and at home. Many of us had taken stock of what we still owned and were using the bartering system- I gave my unused food to the charity drive, exchanged Jolly Ranchers for small goodies, swapped a beer for some porcupine quills and two energy drinks for a battered metal CD case that’s going to be customised as soon as I can decide what I want it to be. We were greeting each other by name (whether Wasteland or ‘real world’) and doing the things we put on our ‘to-do-list’- like bounty hunting. The background engine noise and dust clouds made by trashed spiky vehicles on a joyride beyond the perimeter just added to the atmosphere.
To the owners of this piece of awesomeness: Please can I have a ride next time? Pleez?
As the night fell for the last time on ‘official’ Wasteland Weekend (I’d thumbed a lift to the airport a day later so would be helping the cleanup crew), I spent it watching a haunting blood ritual involving hook suspension and… you guessed it… blood, by Louis Fleischauer (from a distance due to squeamishness), on a quest with tribemates and new friends, stargazing in a nearly-roofless tent, and getting to know someone as the sun rose far too quickly on us.
V2A- photo by Alex Stover
I knew saying goodbye would suck especially as I hadn’t found certain friends in time, but after swapping dismantled tents, loading cars, stretching my painful (but oh-so-worth-it) limbs and bidding people safe travels, I got my special yellow wristband and started taking apart the friendly dystopia that had been my home for five days. Even then, I made new friends in “Nux” the lizard and “Dave” the horned toad who isn’t a toad, and sharing Scotland stories with a Scottish-blooded American.
How devastating is this sight??!
That night ended with a ceremony around a bonfire- a huddle of the hardcore who were staying with the Wasteland until the very end, and a party in the Hunting Lodge which I missed as lack of sleep finally caught up with me. I left in an RV with two fascinating badasses from New Orleans, a pile of souvenirs and many reasons to be denied boarding at US customs.
“You appear to have a lot of metal in your hand luggage.”
“I’ve just been to wasteland weekend and it wouldn’t fit in the suitcase.”
“Lets take this from the top. What’s this?”
“A bit of scrap metal I picked up.”
“This is a dog food can.”
“It’s a Mad Max reference”
“Why do you have duct tape?”
“Are the bottle caps essential items?”
Luckily after a lengthy discussion and Mad Max fan among the staff, I was let though.
Without going into a rant about English public transport (specifically Southern Rail) I got home to the Mothership and showered the entire desert off me. There’s not much to say in summary except the kind of enthusiastic garble I’ve been giving people ever since. If I can save enough to get the hell back out there, I’m going next year (on a very special road trip) and if not, Wasteland UK is coming and I’ll be there even if the apocalypse really does hit. Bring it on…
* Imagine a wolf chilling on its own in a forest in Northern Sweden. Now imagine another hanging out alone in Canada. And one more wolf in quarantine before being moved to a sanctuary somewhere. Each is a lone wolf in its own situation… but there are more than one of them. Therefore, lone wolves can exist in plural. So there. And in that spirit, the Lone Wolves tribe is made up of lone travellers who can team up or go their own way but want a camp to come home to at night, people to share the experience with and knowledge that someone has your back. 🙂
P.S. I’m scheduling an advice post for the next event but just had to also thank the awesome medics who took care of me and flushed a few hundred eyes over the weekend, (including one of mine). Thankyou so, so much.
A few more photo highlights…
Just LOOK at those cars!
The Temple Of The Nuke. Where ceremonies happen. <3
Left= elite guard.
Fez-wearers = Guys, are you a cult? Tell me your story please!
An animal, by Animal. This one didn’t come with us.
Desert sunsets are a strangely moving sight.
For those of you who wanted a closer look at the claws
Halfway in costume, taken mid-dust-storm
And one more thing: I blogged for Wastelanders as well as the curious but for those I spent time with there, this bit’s for you:
Animal; thankyou for the lift and your awesomeness. Micaela and your whole tribe; thankyou for being so welcoming and lovely to a slightly overwhelmed and nervous Brit. War Pigs; hope to see you, the Daddy Warbus and your metric fucktonne of ammo next year. Lone Wolves; my adopted tribe! You all rock. Snuggle Viking; Iceland isn’t going to know what hit it… 😉 V2A; more shenanigans soon? Rachael; see you very soon, fellow Brit- I’m so glad I met you! The Farlanders; miss you already! I’ll migrate next year if you’ll have me… Megan and Nick; I wish we had had more time to hang out! Doxie Sorrell and the inhabitants of the coffee tent; thankyou for letting me rest my sore feet and for having vanilla syrup. The Dead Rabbits tribe; it was so lovely to have met you. Doug and Tina; thankyou for being there for me even though you weren’t even at Wasteland this year!! Matthew; thankyou for hosting me, helping me fight the jetlag and for your general awesomeness. Next time, I’ll actually see you and Sophie there, yes?? 😛 Felina and Matt; thankyou for the RV adventure home. You both rock. David, Chris and Road Rash tribe– you all rock as well. CHOICE!!! Chris and the Warboys– good to meet you at last, albeit briefly! Bat; thankyou for the Sunblock- your outfit was awesome too, Wondrous people of the Ghoulcrest Hunting Lodge; thankyou for letting me shelter on Sunday night, The Demolition Dolls– lets hang out sometime! Skywise and Val; thankyou for the tarot readings and kindness. <3 Dinki-Dive Matt (another Matt. Do we need a Council of Matts??) you’re beautiful- come hang out in England. 😛 Nix of the cleanup crew and Scottish helper- thankyou for thinking of me and keeping my pale ass out of the sun.
AND EVERYONE WHO ORGANISES THIS MADNESS; RIDE ETERNAL- SHINY AND CHROME. <3