My first year at Burning Man was 2002. I had no idea what to expect, except that I was supposed to bring all of my own food and water for a week – and that I was going to camp with Shane McConkey. I had recently moved to Truckee from Vermont where I went to classes during the day and watched Sick Sense over and over at night. Shane was a celluloid hero to me, not a real person whom I could possibly be meeting at Kmart in 20 minutes to get supplies.
We met in the parking lot and stocked up on batteries, Gatorade and Cheeze-Its. We landed in Black Rock City that night and after pitching our tents, the sun went down and we were off. I had a tiny, little girl’s bike and Shane was on his mountain bike, with a tall flag on the back. My main memory from that night was racing after that flag. Shane wasn’t waiting for me to catch up and I didn’t want to lose him and miss out on the tour. I managed to keep up. We crawled into a whale and cracked a Red Bull. We wandered into a large art piece that turned out to be someone’s RV and got rudely and comically kicked out by the owner. I crawled into a club behind Shane through a vagina-shaped hole. Shane had promised Sherry that he would be on his best behavior and so he took it easy, but he still managed to lead the way to all of the best art and parties.
The next fall I stopped by Shane’s Squaw Valley house, handed him some cash and walked out with a pair of Spatulas. They were 186cm – the only size they came in – and I was worried that they would be too big for me. Shane quickly disabused me of that notion. “They’re made for middle-aged weekend warriors,” he said.
I got them mounted and skied them almost every day. They were the sickest skis I’d ever had and the most annoying conversation piece. I considered making a sign, or lettering the back of my jacket to read: “Yes, they’re great in powder. No, they don’t ski that well on the groomers.” The questions never stopped coming from the first day I got on them until the last pow day I skied them last season. They weren’t the greatest hard-pack skis, but Shane had given me a tip that made them not all that bad. “Ski them like snowlerblades,” he told me. “The only part of the ski that is making contact with the snow is the short, fat part directly under foot, so carve with that, don’t try to use the whole ski.” I never cursed them on the groomers after that.
Shane became a friend. We went camping, and I went to his white elephant birthday parties. I got into the ski writing industry and interviewed him often for my stories. He was, by far, the best skier to interview, because he was more serious and articulate about the sport than any other pro. He was always questioning, experimenting and inventing, and he never let attitude or appearances get in the way of the progression of the sport.
Shane’s death last spring was a tragedy that continues to sadden us. While the initial shock has faded, the sense of loss is deepening.
I retired my Spatulas at the end of last season. After taking a year off, I decided to go to Burning Man again this year, along with the Spatulas. I took the bindings off and separated them. One was to be hung in the temple, an ornate sanctuary of sadness, loss and appreciation that is a cornerstone of Black Rock City. The other was to become a shot ski, with stainless steel shot glasses welded to it, for use at camp to celebrate Shane’s life and his spirit.
We took the skis out to Black Rock City and managed to use them as planned. On Wednesday, a group from our camp, including several very close friends of Shane, rode one Spatula out to the temple. We hung the ski, signed by Sherry, J.T. Holmes and other close friends, on the top floor of the temple, with two photos of Shane below it. Throughout the week, people added their own notes to the ski, along with bows, clippings and other memories. We rode back to camp and within the hour we were pouring shots and lining up takers for the shot ski. On Sunday the temple went up in flames along with the tokens of our love and loss. We all miss you Shane. As I wrote on the ski, I’m still following your flag.