This is Part 2 of Burning Man for the first timer. If you would like to read Part 1 follow this link: Burning Man for the first timer: Part 1
“What is Burning Man?” The generic answer is an art and music festival in the desert. This answer will get shut down by any veteran burner. The truth is, describing burning man is like trying to communicate the color green to someone who has never had sight—but I love a challenge. Therefore I will try. Every year, 70,000 people commune in the desert to just be who they want to be. Everyone from CEO’s to drifter’s meld together in this mecca for self-expression.
During my first burn (2015), I spent a lot of time alone. I didn’t drink or do drugs. I wasn’t pressured to partake in drugs either. I didn’t engage in promiscuous behavior. I say this only because, burning man has a reputation for being a sex and drug-fueled party. One of the reasons I enjoy talking about Burning Man is because I want to remove the stigma it is just some party in the desert. To some people, it is just that. To most burners, it is so much more.
There are a few key concepts to understand if you want to go to burning man. The first is you need to be self-reliant. The goal is to attend burning man with everything you need. All your food, all your water. You can buy (with cash) coffee, tea, and ice at Center Camp. Other than that, expect to be on your own. If you forget your sunscreen, there is no Wal-Mart. If you are not staying in an RV (services are provided for a fee for water and sewage), then think about how you are going to go to the bathroom. Though there are porta-potties, few people find this ideal when they have to wake up in the middle of the night to pee. I suggest bringing a camping toilet. Solar showers are also surprisingly inexpensive and efficient for staying clean. Gray water, is the water that accumulates when you shower, brush teeth, dishes, etc. it is discouraged to allow this to accumulate. I like to bring a small inflatable baby pool to catch the shower water. There are no outlets or places for electricity. Take this into account when considering charging cell phones. Last year, my setup was a large Coleman cabin tent, with a camping toilet. My burning companion, EDH (from part one of this series) rigged an umbrella pole from a patio set to hold up a solar shower. We put a baby pool at the base of the shower to catch the gray water. I brought a folding table and mirror for a vanity. That was our bathroom. It worked well.
If you have been camping, then food will be a simple concept. If you are not a seasoned camper look up quick and easy camping recipes. Bring as much food premade as possible. I have a camping recipe I like in my blog, Camping with Kids. I also get my favorites from restaurants and freeze them. Last year I got Pad Thai, put it in a ziplock bag, froze it, then reheated it on my camping stove. It worked out great! Another easy option, buy a whole pizza, put it in zip lock bags and have pizza to snack on.
Another fundamental concept is gifting. If nothing else, BM is a community. Do not be a drain on the community. Don’t go hoping to live off the gifting culture. The expectations of gifting for a first timer are small. Gifting can be intimidating. Do not overthink it. Some people go to thrift stores and find 10-20 pieces of wild clothing and hand them out. It is common to see people passing out a plate of homemade snacks or setting up a small lemonade stand. If you do not gift, that’s fine. No one is keeping track. But still, plan on attending self-reliant.
My favorite concept is radical inclusion. Bring your open mind or stay home. Burning Man is not a place for judgment. You will see self-expression in a whole new way. People will wear outrageous outfits; they will do marvelous things and all unapologetically. This is not a place for judgment.
My first year, I wanted to ‘costume right.’ I went online and looked at pictures of the various outfits. I attempted to recreate my favorites. I now see that is not how to do it. When costuming ask yourself, ‘if I could wear ANYTHING I wanted, what would I wear?’ Would you wear that Halloween costume that makes you feel sexy? Would you wear your old football jersey from high school? Perhaps nothing at all? The key is to wear what YOU want to wear. From my pictures, it is evident; I love wearing corsets and tutus. Shoes, do not play by the same rules. You want to be comfortable; I suggest boots.
Mainly, the BM experience is what you want it to be. There is a saying at BM, “Fuck yer burn.” This term isn’t meant as an offensive term. It means, “I am going to burn how I want to burn.” My first year I wanted to be alone a lot. I desired time to reflect on my recent divorce and my new-found independence. When people wanted to tag along, I had to stand up for myself and tell them no. My second year, I inadvertently really pissed off a camp. I had made plans to camp with them, but when I arrived the vibe didn’t feel right. They are all wonderful people, but I wanted more autonomy than being in a camp allowed. That didn’t hit me until after I had set up and been welcomed in. I could have stayed though it wasn’t how I wanted to burn. I chose to say, “Fuck yer burn.” I packed up and headed to the outer edges of the playa where it is quieter. When heading off to burning man, decide, what do you want to get out of this experience, because the answer to that is different for everyone. Stand by your choice and Fuck yer burn.
What you need to ask:
-Why are you burning? Are you on a spiritual journey? Are you there to party? To see the art and listen to music? No matter why you are going to burning man, you need to go on the burning man website and read the survival guide. These are not instructions from IKEA you can just toss, and Hail Mary you get it right. Burning Man is no joke, and sure as heck isn’t a backyard camping trip. If you run out of food or forget something— You might ruin your burn. Read the survival guide before you even consider buying a ticket.
-If you are headed to Black Rock City (AKA the location of Burning Man), first things first, where are you going to stay? The easiest answer is a tent. Unless you are already a hardcore, seasoned camper, I do not suggest this. The dust will consume everything in your tent, the wind is relentless, the nights can be near freezing and the days are scorching. A lot of people go to burning man, and they camp in tents just fine. I consider myself pretty tough, and I wouldn’t even consider BM in a tent. Your best option is an RV or pop-up camper. Please know, many places have a clause stating you cannot take a rental to Burning Man. If you try, they will know. My car engine has playa dust in it from 2 years ago.
If you want to learn more about Burning
Step 1: Go to the Burning Man website and read the survival guide. If you read it and still want to burn then DO IT!!!!
Step 2: GET A TICKET. There are a lot of scams. The best way to get a ticket is through the main sale. If you cannot secure a ticket directly through Burning Man, then make sure you do not pay with cash. There are a lot of fake tickets circulating on the market.
Step 3: Accommodations. If you have an RV or pop-up camper, you are ready to go. Otherwise, consider joining a Facebook group and getting hooked up with an established camp. Often for a fee or in exchange for work, you can find a place to crash.
After this, the rest is just details. Bring more food and water than you think you will need. I will not include a list of what you need as the survival guide provided on the site is fully inclusive.
Just go, burn. Once you are there, remember, there is no place like home.