Preparing for your trip to Burning Man
The first resource, after reading this of course, that you should turn to is the Survival Guide, produced by the Burning Man organization. It is aptly named and contains tons of information and links that will make your week in BRC much more enjoyable. If you are prepared for what is to come on the Playa, you can focus more time on having fun and exploring everything Burning Man has to offer. You can find a link to the survival guide at: http://www.burningman.com/preparation/event_survival/index.html
Now I realize there are broadly two types of people out there, those like me who will read everything they can get their hands on and try to be as prepared as possible when they get there. And of course those of you who will throw a bunch of stuff in the car relatively last-minute, talk to a couple of folks and show up on the Playa. The second group will end up depending on the kindness of others, and for the most part burners are pretty good about helping you out if you forgot some small things. But please, DO NOT BE THIS GUY, I met him my second year on the Playa. He hitchhiked into BRC, he had a backpack, clothes, a little water, a few bags of snacks, a bed roll and a blanket. He was thoroughly and utterly unprepared for what was to come. People took care of him, but he was a huge imposition to everyone, his extreme need diminished everyone else’s experience on the Playa that he came in contact with, again, please don’t be that guy. If you do nothing else in preparation, at least take a look through the survival guide and believe what it says.
For the preparers out there who after reading the last paragraph are grinning broadly and feeling very much superior, stop. If you have never been to the Playa during Burning Man, you have no idea what you have just gotten yourself into. You will forget something, you will run into things you are just not prepared for. My first year I did all of my reading and decided to bring a pop-up shade structure. Now, I knew a simple pop-up would never survive the wind and conditions on the playa. So I re-engineered it a bit, found a pop-up with legs big enough to fit a piece of rebar and had open bottom legs. So I put rebar in the ground, and set the pop-up legs over the rebar. These were 3 foot rebar pieces that extended 18 inches out of the ground, veteran burners just smiled at the set-up. I felt pretty good as the set up lasted the first two days and even through one wind storm, or at least what I thought was a wind storm. On the third day a two-day dust storm started and within an hour of it starting the pop-up folded over exactly one inch above the top of rebar. Every year on the Playa is a learning experience, last year I found out what it looks like when it rains on the Playa.
Where will you camp?
One of the first questions to address in regards to being at Burning Man is where to camp. At the first level you need to decide whether you will camp on your own, with a group of friends or with a theme camp. My own personal feeling is that if you know people involved in a theme camp it’s a good place to camp your first year. Camping with a theme camp typically gives you access to a lot of veteran burners, gives you a way to be involved your first year and will help you meet a lot of people. It’s a great way to get introduced to the Burning Man community, the event and learn enough to figure out what you want to do in future years. Veteran burners are also a great source of information, history and connection to what happens during the week.
The reason I favor this option is that there are lots of things that will escape your attention if you are camping on your own and don’t meet veteran burners along the way. Last year, around Thursday or Friday of the week I met a couple of virgin burners, I was on my way to the Temple to do a shift as a Temple Guardian, they asked me what the Temple was? Now for newbies out there that may not seem like a big deal, but the Temple is a significant and sacred part of Burning Man and I can’t imagine someone camping with a theme camp not knowing what the Temple is or what it means to the community.
An archive on theme camps from the organization: http://www.burningman.com/themecamps/
If you don’t know any folks involved with a theme camp, there are some out there who take new members, you can find them on Facebook, Tribe.net and Twitter and occasionally through the Jack Rabbit Speaks (JRS) newsletter. Here is a link to JRS, it’s a great source of information that comes via e-mail year round: http://www.burningman.com/blackrockcity_yearround/contacts/jrs_lists.html
And here is a link to the JRS archives for the current year:
A quick word on the set up of BRC, the city is laid out like a clock with the Man at 12, Center Camp at 6 and the streets running in a circle around the clock with the Esplanade on the inside and then the streets in alphabetical order extending to the outside of the city. Here’s a link to the layout from 2005 and each year it’s essentially the same:
Traveling to the Playa has two components, first getting there and second your vehicle. Let’s tackle the second one first. You will hear lots of horror stories about what the Playa does to a vehicle, and you may have even seen Playa dusted vehicles rolling down the highway on Labor Day weekend. Without a doubt, the temperature variations, the unstoppable nature of Playa dust and the constant sun can definitely do a number on any machine. However, people typically don’t have any problems with bringing their vehicles to the playa. There are things you will deal with, playa dust will get everywhere in your car inside and out, it’s not a bad idea to replace your air filter right after the event and an oil change shortly after isn’t the worst idea either. Also, I really recommend getting your car hosed down at the charity car wash in Gerlach on the way out. It’s another way to help out the local community, gets your car cleaned up and makes you a little less conspicuous to law enforcement that might be looking to hassle burners.
Travelling to Burning Man
There are directions to the site on the Burning Man website, here is the link: http://www.burningman.com/preparation/maps/directions.html
The roads leading into and out of the Playa can be very dangerous, these are small roads, many without shoulders or soft sand shoulders that can be dangerous. It’s possible to encounter livestock on the road or that special idiot or just has to pass you. Drivers on the way out always are more dangerous, after a great mellow week where people are kind, many folks turn into normal commuting idiots on the drive home, don’t be one, hang onto what you gained over the week on the drive home.
A tradition that accidentally started because my birthday was the night before we went into BRC has really become a great idea. We stay a night in Reno on the way in each year and most years on the way out. It shortens the drive both ways and on the way out gets you a night of good sleep, a hot shower and good food before you go home. On the way in, it makes a nice transition from the default world to the Playa. This message brought to you by the Reno Hotel and Casino Association, kidding of course but if they want to kick me a free room for saying this, well, I’m amenable.
Arriving at Burning Man
Keep abreast through JRS and the website as to when the gate opens, expect on opening night/morning to spend several hours waiting to get in. Being there at the opening is a tradition for some folks, but I’d prefer to not sit in traffic for hours waiting to get in, however gauging the best time is a crap shoot. You will not be let in prior to the opening without special permission gained in advance and you’ll know if that’s you.
Once inside you’ll get your ticket and vehicle checked, including searched for people trying to sneak in and then you’ll be sent to the greeter station. They’ll welcome you to Burning Man in their own special way and I’ll let it be a surprise for you.
Finding your camp is really something you should plan in advance, theme camps will have designated points and are easy to find. A group of friends can be something different. You cannot guarantee you’ll get a spot at 3 O’Clock and C, by time you get there it may be occupied. Have some back up and communication plans and remember your cell phone will not be working once you get there Also at Playa Info in Center Camp you can register your location to help others find you. It’s also not a bad idea to have a plan of let’s meet at Center Camp at this day and time so that you can hook up.