We just got back from the playa yesterday after a fun-filled week at the Burning Man project. It was the 10th anniversary of our first burn and I thought, while things were fresh in my mind, I would share a few tips and tricks to make your life on the playa that much easier. Oh yeah, and of course lots of photographs from this year’s burn.
First the legal jargon. Burning Man, while free and open in many aspects, is draconian on its grab for control over any and all photographs taken at the event. The organizers say this is to prevent perverts with cameras from posting photographs of naked people. There is a lot of merit to this. Many of the women are topless (my wife included) the whole time out there, and there is no shortage of perverts with cameras. So, these photos are for illustration and your personal enjoyment only. They may not be reproduced, re-used or republished in any way. And there is nothing remotely indecent about any of them, so feel free to have your kids look over your shoulder.
If you plan on going, be sure to read the survival guide on the official burning man website. My tips are in addition to the detailed and important advice they include in that guide. This year we had no massive multi-hour whiteout dust storms like we had in years past. We did, however, have several days of wind that kept just below full-on whiteout conditions. So lots of dust flying with a few periods of whiteout but mostly calm and clear at night and in the mornings. My personal take on protective clothing is this: Goggles, yup! You can’t see with that dust blowing in your eyes, but they get hot and sweaty at other times, so have some backup sunglasses also. Dust mask, nope! Never needed it. Just breath through your nose and blow often. I find that with anything short of a chemical warfare rig, I breathed just as much dust, though my wife swears by them. Shirts and/or sunscreen, yup! I saw way to many glowing red backs out there this year.
Bring a nettie pot. If you don’t know what that is, it is basically a small pot with a spout that you mix water and salt in and pour it through one nostril and out the other to flush your sinuses. I do this about twice a day and have had no issues with sinus infections since.
Wear shoes. The soil is alkali and if you wear sandals all the time, I guarantee you your heels will crack and the soles of your feet will peel. Get several pairs of comfy shoes or boots and spraypaint them to go with your outfits.
Pay attention when you set up camp. The hottest part of the afternoon sun, and the prevailing winds both come roughly out of the west. So put the long side of your RV or trailer or shade structure to block both the afternoon sun and the wind and you will be much happier.
Leave no trace. No, really! Get a 5 gallon orange bucket with a tight fitting lid at home depot and a large strainer at your local grocery store that will fit over it and when you wash dishes or food or anything else, (unless of course you have an RV with a self-contained sink) rinse through the strainer. Dump the strained matter into a garbage bag you take with you, and take the grey water home to use on your compost pile or garden. Make sure your soap is compatible with these uses. You can find environmentally friendly soap at REI or other outdoor shops.
Separate your recyclables into glass, plastic, aluminum and cardboard and you can easily and freely dump them at any number of stores in Reno. Don’t and you have to pay, or sit there and separate them in the parking lot after they are covered with mud and dirt.
Bring lights for everything. You, your bike (which you really need) and your camp. Think of something unique so you can find your bike or your friends in a crowd in the dark.
Bring cans. Glass is ok for a few things, but you can take a ton of cans out onto the playa for a week, crush them and they will all most likely fit in one paper sack on the way home, freeing your space up. Also, Ben’s liquors in Reno sells really good beer in cans. Think fat tire and some other great microbrews. Pair this with one of those soft cold sacks that you can get at grocery stores, and you can throw some beers in your backpack, head out on the playa and have cold drinks the whole time. Crush each can after use and you come back leaving no trace AND with a practically empty and weightless backpack.
One ice chest just for ice. We usually take three ice chests. One for food, one for drinks, and one just for ice. The one just for ice starts out with about 6, 10lb blocks of ice covered with another 10 lbs of dry ice. It get’s opened once a day to replenish the ice in the other coolers. Blocks last longer than crushed ice, but we usually have a couple of 7lb bags of crushed ice in the drink cooler, which lasts for about 3 days, and another one or two in the ice cooler, which doesn’t even get opened for the first few days, and the dry ice keeps things from melting at all until then. I usually never have to buy ice the whole week I’m out there.
Bring eye drops. Your eyes will burn from the dust regardless.
If you are not camped reasonably close to the porta-potties, bring a dedicated gallon jug with a screw top lid so you don’t have to walk across the playa in the middle of the night to take a leak. Dump it each morning. This is not like regular camping. There are people all around you, so just walking out at night to have a leak by your car is not an option.
Bring ear plugs. The noise never stops, ever!
Burning Man provides an exceptional degree of freedom to its participants. This freedom includes the freedom to seriously injure or kill yourself if you do something stupid. So while I did manage to ride down this slide standing up, holding a video camera and filming myself the whole way, that doesn’t mean you should. The guy after me who tried standing up ended up going head-over-rear the whole way down. Stay within your abilities and, even harder, recognize when you are too wasted. Last year I was trying backflips on a trampoline wearing roller skates. Needless to say, there was a lot of whiskey involved in that decision, but the point is, nobody is going to tell you that doing flips on a trampoline with wheels on your feet is a bad idea. They mostly sit back and laugh at the carnage.
There are a few more burning man photos up on my Flickr account, and I will add to that in the coming days if you want to check back.
A final word about the exodus. Whether or not you leave Sunday morning or Monday, you are going to have a long, slow drive out. There are no bathrooms along the ride out. Get a pee funnel at pee funnel camp and the previously mentioned plastic gallon jug with a screw-on lid. You may need it after 3 hours of waiting in the dust just to get to the road. Enjoy!!!!
Update: So over the years the folks at BM have gotten smarter. The exodus is now lined with porta-pots, and they pulse traffic so that you sit for a long time with your engine off, then have a clean shot out when your “pulse” comes. Still a long wait though.