Fire-spouting ‘Berserker’ is their Burning Man transport

Community Portrait
By: Michael Kirby
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It sits in their driveway, a combination metal sculpture, car, bicycle and fire-breathing form of transportation. It’s a vehicle that only leaves their driveway one week a year. It has three wheels, no motor and is propelled by human power. Painted flat black, it waits under a portable carport in the driveway to be put in action, and is a reminder throughout the year of one of their favorites activities. Husband and wife Scott Birk and Mo Murphy attended Burning Man in 2005 and became dedicated fans of the annual happening. They’ve attended every year since, each time fine-tuning their camp and transportation. Murphy and Birk took possession of the “Berserker” in 2006 from its maker, Scott Cocking, who built the project as a vehicle for a yearly kinetic sculpture bicycle race from Arcata to Ferndale. Murphy traded architectural services for the vehicle with the full intention of making it the couple’s means of transportation while at Burning Man. Burning Man is an event that takes place outside of Reno in the Black Rock Desert for a week ending on Labor Day. It is described by some as a festival of self-expression and an experimental community. “For years people that knew me told me I should go to Burning Man. When we finally went I felt that it was the most massive concentrated outpouring of human self-expression that I have ever, ever seen,” Murphy said. “I was totally blown away by the art, creativity and self-expression.” At Burning Man bicycles are the common way to get around the desert playa, where the Burning Man community is centered. At Burning Man the DMV (Dept. of Mutant Vehicles), considers Murphy and Birk’s vehicle a sculpture, because it is not motorized. The sculpture seats two riders who pedal the large tricycle on large wheels that are 4 feet tall and steer using the single wheel in the back. Murphy and Birk mounted wings on the sides and a canopy tops off the unique piece. As riders pedal, six chains make up the drive train that propel the functional art piece. Quite a sight at night, the Berserker shoots two plumes of fire 30 feet into the sky. Two poofer cannons that are powered by propane supply the firepower. The vehicle’s frame is made of steel conduit and bike frames and weighs 750 pounds empty. Murphy and Birk are part of a group of dedicated Auburn-area “Burners” who attend the counter-culture event each year and set up a camp they have named “Burn Town.” “One of the rules of Burning Man is that only two things can be purchased at the site, and that’s ice and coffee,” Birk said. Items brought to Burning Man are gifted to each other as attendees live in the temporary utopian society. Murphy and Birk bring a tent and a carport for shelter and bring solar lights for the nights. “The environment can be very inhospitable and more rugged than camping. It’s hot and dusty. It can rain and cause mud. When the wind blows there’s zero visibility,” Birk said. “But when the dust clears it’s like being on another planet,” Murphy added. As Labor Day gets closer Murphy and Birk are busy getting ready for the big event, and look forward to heading out with Berserker in tow. The couple lives in Auburn with their two children. Murphy is a residential designer and Birk is a Persian rug dealer. Both are local artists.