Survival of the fittest: Burning Man, Black Rock City

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What better time to talk about Burning Man than during Coachella. Although writing a blog post is against Burning Man rules, I want to share this with you anyway. Last August we put on our big boy pants by upgrading our yearly music festival from Coachella to Burning Man. Of course ... just after I wrote a little smack about it at Maderas Village last year.

Truth is, Burning Man is actually a pretty awesome time. For me, it was not as life altering as some Burner’s had expressed it would be, but it was fun nonetheless. With that said, I can completely understand how it may be a life altering experience for some other folks.

So, I’d like to make this blog post less about swaying your experience and more about what you should expect and what you should bring. Burning Man could be anything from a week long rage-fest in the desert to a peaceful creative journey, or a week of yoga and detoxing. It could be a camping trip or even a glamping trip. It all depends on what you’re looking for, but the most important thing to remember is that you are in control of the experience you wish to have.

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what to expect:

No matter which direction you are coming from you are likely to have a long drive to and from Black Rock City. After hearing horror stories of nine hour traffic jams, we decided to wake up at 4a.m. to drive from San Francisco. By the time we got to Black Rock City there was a two hour traffic jam to reach the entrance. On our way out of Black Rock City we left at 6a.m. the day the festival ended, there was zero traffic, and an incredible sunrise!

What this means though is you must have a full tank of gas prior to getting close to the dirt road entrance. That full tank of gas will need to get you through, not only the week of Burning Man, but the long traffic jams if you do happen to get stuck in them.

When you arrive and are sitting in traffic turn off your engine as they pulse cars into the city this help conserve gas and your car battery. Stick to the right if your tickets are at the ticket box for pickup, but I’d highly recommend having them delivered to you as this could add an extra few hours onto your ride into Black Rock City.

Of course, a generator might help as well considering turning your engine off in the middle of the desert means no air conditioning, but either way a full tank of gas is an absolute necessity.

When you arrive and you are a virgin Burner, like we were, you will be asked to get out of your car at the entrance and roll around in the dust! You’ll immediately learn that staying clean will be impossible, especially if you plan on camping, and that the dust sticks to nearly everything.

Embrace it! Burners have a weird fixation with the alkaline dust, they believe that it is good for your skin and it will have you glowing by the end of the week. Technically speaking it is not great for you or your skin, and if you plan to camp it may begin to irritate your hands and feet (and other regions of the body!) as it absorbs any and all moisture.

But nonetheless, you should embrace it!... Just make sure you bring lotion.

The rest of the week is up for you to explore. Most Burners party between the hours of Midnight and 7a.m. Since we were camping it was pretty difficult to sleep during the day with the extreme heat, so we took advantage of the day parties and exploring the artistic elements of Burning Man by day.

Lastly, expect dust storms at any moment. You could be in deep playa practically miles from your ‘home’ and get stuck in a disorienting dust storm. For that, expect to have ski goggles and a mask with you wherever you go.

That brings me to...

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what to bring:

We car camped partly because we decided to go to Burning Man seven days prior to going and partly because I felt like having an RV with a shower, kitchen and air conditioning was cheating.

One principle of Burning Man is radical self-reliance, and it’s pretty easy to be self-reliant with a tricked out RV, but camping is another story.

With that said, keep in mind that this is a city built from nothing in the middle of the desert. You will need to bring everything you would need to survive basically. When we did our big food shop prior to leaving it had not occurred to me that one of the most obvious items was missing.

Water!!!

The best way to pack water is to freeze large collapsible jugs to act as ice for your cooler. This way you can keep all your food cold, even your granola bars which will melt in the heat. When the water melts you drink it and when you’ve drank it all you can collapse it to make it easier to carry out.

Which brings us to the next principle of Burning Man, leaving no trace. Unfortunately, with tens of thousands of people entering and exiting a small area with nearly everything they would need to survive for ten days, someone is certain to leave a trace. For instance, our neighbors left everything from their bikes to their trash at their campsite before they exited Black Rock City.

Bring trash bags and items that collapse easily so you don’t feel the need to do the same.

A few other items we found absolutely necessary for camping in Black Rock City:

Bike - You really can’t get around otherwise. Walking would take far too long from one end to the other, so biking is your best bet. Make sure you bring mountain bikes with big wheels to get through the dust.

Bike cushion - A lot of Burners put fur on the seat of their backs, obviously for decoration, but also to keep your bum comfy. A week of biking around will start to hurt, trust me!

Lights - Be sure to light your bike and yourself 360 degrees. There are no lights other than those festival goers bring in, so it’s difficult to see people if they’re not lit (no pun intended!!).

Wood blocks - You’ll want these to elevate your cooler from the hot ground, and possibly a yoga mat to shield it from the sun. Your ice will melt fast if it’s not protected!

Compass - In the case of a dust storm you will want to know where you are. Good rule of thumb is to head south if there is a whiteout.

9x9 shade structure - To hide from the sun on occasion!

Walkie Talkies - There is no cell service for the most part so if you’re going with a crew you’ll need to communicate in some way.

Sealable bucket - Our campsite was unfortunately quite a bike ride from the nearest bathroom. You technically can’t drop any liquid on the dust so it’s best to use a sealable bucket to go to the bathroom in if you absolutely have to. Dispose of it in the porta potties when you get up.  

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There’s plenty other items you could, and probably should, bring but these were ones that stuck out as the most necessary for us. Food, water, camping equipment and something to anchor down your site incase the wind picks up and you should be all set!!

Every night they burn a structure at Burning Man, but if you happen to miss one of those that’s ok. The last night of Burning Man they bring the art cars together for the burning of the man and this burn is not to be missed. The art cars encompass the crowd and each one plays different music as the man is lit on fire. It’s disorienting but incredible. Once you see the burn, you’ll be a burner for life.

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