Just days after Google went public, the founders headed out to Burning Man, an indication, say friends, that wealth hadn't changed their priorities.

One of the first Google doodles was a stick figure added to the standard logo. It signaled to employees that Larry and Sergey had slipped away to make the long drive into Nevada's Black Rock Desert for the notorious festival of personal freedom.

They and Eric Schmidt are among the nearly 50,000 people who gather for the event each Labor Day week in one of the most barren and desolate landscapes anywhere. In fact, Larry and Sergey took a special interest in Schmidt when they interviewed him for the potential CEO of Google because he was the only candidate who attended Burning Man. Friends say that Larry and Sergey have received lots of inspiration from Burning Man.

Burning Man—from its 1986 start on San Francisco's Baker Beach through its evolution into the bustling city it has become—always has been strange. It's art, it's music, it's lifestyle, it's freewheeling behavior and attire (or lack of attire)—it's an outpost for radical personal expression. The ritual torching of a 40-foot effigy of a man has become almost secondary to all the other activities.

Those who show up must provide entirely for their own needs, and they come expecting (and no doubt hoping for) anything: A federal government employee was astounded to run into her boss strolling through Black Rock City (BRC). He was dressed in boots, chaps, a cowboy ...

Get Google Speaks: Secrets of the World's Greatest Billionaire Entrepreneurs, Sergey Brin and Larry Page now with the O’Reilly learning platform.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from nearly 200 publishers.