Burn Unit: Transformus

“Well that makes it three for three then guys”, I say from the backseat of my friend’s truck. Crammed in between sleeping bags and tents, I’m taking one last look at the weather before I lose cell service. The picture is grim. We’re not going to let this deter us though.

Transformus, the North Carolina burn has been on everyone’s mind since Alchemy back in October. The last few months have been a whirlwind of planning, preparation and costuming. After two burns of “winging it”, my group has a cohesive theme that came together thanks to the hard work of a lot of people.

Barreling up I-85 in light to moderate rain to go camping in a North Carolina rain forest would previously have scared the crap out of me. This time though, I was content. Sure, it would most likely be horrendous conditions, but I’m used to that by now. I can handle it.

Things got bad almost as soon as we arrived. Temperatures had already dipped into the mid-60s, which meant it was time for the sweater. And since it had already been raining steadily for a few hours, the roads and trails into the burn were closed to vehicle traffic. Luckily for us, the burn had organized a pool of golfcarts and ATVs to shuttle people from the parking lot to their camps. My friends and I managed to snag an ATV towing a trailer, so we loaded up and rode in. Standing on the back of that trailer, whipping past hikers and walkers made me feel like Washington crossing the Delaware.

After some issues locating our camp, we finally arrived, unpacked and settled in. Our camp’s layout was similar to the last two: Everyone’s tents clustered around two central 10×10 that were used for sitting and food prep. As the rain let up a little, I changed into some short shorts and decided it was time to wander around on my own for a bit and see what there was to see.

Turns out, there’s a lot here. Transformus is smaller than Alchemy, but what it lacks in attendance it makes up for in extravagance. Bars under geodesic domes, a two-story effigy, a camp that did nothing but serve pancakes! One group brought in a junker car and let people beat on it with sledgehammers. In a word: incredible.

In another word: Muddy. God fucking damn it was so wet. “Transformoist”, amirite?. Like Euphoria and Alchemy before it, I couldn’t help but let the foul weather put me in a fouler mood. Once again I spent far more time in our camp than I should have. Don’t get me wrong, I love hanging out with my campmates, they’re some of my best friends on the planet. We all tried to get out and see the rest of the place as best we could, but our camp’s siren call was too strong most of the time.

My number one fear when I’m camping is that my sleeping bag and tent will get wet to the point where they’re unusable. That happened here. Despite my best efforts to the contrary, my tent and sleeping bag were fairly waterlogged by the end of the first day. Luckily for me, I was able to crash with a friend the first night and borrow an unused sleeping bag the second night (love you both!).

Saturday. Burn night. I tried again to get out and embrace the burn, this time better equipped to handle the cold. I’d thought ahead and packed a pair of long pants and an orange flightsuit. This, along with a scarf and whatever else I could layer up with served to adequately insulate me from the rain and cold (again, it was like 50˚F at the lowest, but I’m fucking tiny).

The key to a good costume is to make it stand out, something I discovered at IML. My yellow singlet that I adore? Totally irrelevant. It makes you invisible because that’s what everyone else is wearing. Ditto for short shorts or anything you typically associate with “fetish”. But when I wandered down to the vendor mart in my orange jumpsuit? Complete 180. So many snarky comments about prisoners…

So, the orange jumpsuit made another appearance at Transformus. And just like IML, it got some attention. Someone called me a terrorist and offered me a drink of… I think it was mint infused moonshine. That’ll knock you on your ass pretty quick.

Saturday turned into saturday night and the rain continued unabated. Camp geared up and prepared to roll out to the burn field to watch the effigy go up. One of my friends strongly encouraged me to wear my cheerleader outfit, in spite of the cold and rain. So I took a shot of whiskey to warm up a little and changed. In retrospect, I’m glad I did because fuck, I looked HOT.

Then the effigy burned.

At Alchemy, I was awed by the raw intensity and heat of the flames. At Euphoria, I was busy making sure hippies didn’t hurt themeselves. Transforums’ burn landed squarely in between the first two. Nothing I hadn’t seen before, but definitely something I’m glad I didn’t miss. We waited until the structure had collapsed into a heap of burning lumber before returning to camp to refresh and head back out. The rest of a burn after the effigy goes up is a burn at it’s wildest, something best experienced first hand.

Remenber that part about the weather? Oh yeah. It was still fucking miserable, doubly so in a skimpy cheerleader outfit. I cam back to camp, changed into some warmer clothes and sat down while I waited for the rest of the group. This proved to be my undoing. Everyone else filtered in and out of camp while I watched the comings and goings, content to conversate with anyone who wanted to, and sit in quiet contemplation with those that didn’t.

Guilt about not being out remained at the front of my mind, but I had to block it out. My shoes were soaked and freezing, my tent and sleeping bag were uninhabitable and I was feeling tipsy-er than I normally like to. I finally gave up after a few hours and called it a night. As soon as I crawled into my friend’s sleeping bag though, one of the dance camps across the farm decided it was time to go loud. Thanks to the acoustics, this sounded just like a jet engine very close to my head, which gave me a momentary panic before I figured out what it was. After that I started to appreciate the noise and how much energy it took to make it that loud. Pretty cool.

When I woke up Sunday morning, I was ready to bail out and head home. Turns out everyone else was in the same mood too and we quickly reached that consensus. So, still wearing nothing but my awesome blue lingerie, we started breaking camp and packing up. Talk about a logistics nightmare. We only had one shot to get our cars in, load ’em up and clear out. We got the order figured out, got everyone loaded and managed to leave the farm under blazing sunshine, just like the last two burns. Dammit.

I arrived at Transformus at possibly the lowest point in my life so far. The last few months have been harder on me than anything before them. The idea of being able to meditate on things at the temple and find some closure is what kept me going, what motivated me to get out there in the first place.

The temple didn’t get set up until Sunday, well after we’d left. I never got a chance to lay down my burdens, but I don’t feel like I missed it. Transformus was too busy making life challenging for me to think about anything other than being in the moment. In the long run, I think it was a turning point for me. I came back to Atlanta and dove headfirst into the things I’m passionate about.

Alchemy is over a month away, but between now and then I have so many amazing things happening. Other events to volunteer at, training and planning for burns, I’ve never been this excited. The rest of this year is going to rock.

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