Tuesday, September 10, 2013
The Logistics Behind Burning Man
Now that we've gotten the sentimental parts of Burning Man out of the way, I wanted to talk about about some of the logistics of living in the desert for a week. While it was definitely a lot less rough than I was expecting, we've already made notes of what did and didn't work this year so that we'll be much more comfortable the next time around.
There's no predicting the weather out there so you must come ready for anything: sweltering heat, frigid nights, rain, hail, dust storms, you name it. The desert does whatever she wants and you'd better be prepared out there. This year, I know I lucked out since the nights were still so warm, a coat was rarely necessary. The days though were a monster and a half. Even though we were still tired come morning, there was no choice but to get out of our tent early unless we wanted to continue baking in our sleep. A tent fan will be necessary for the future.
We also ate better than I expected, sometimes even better than what I eat in my own apartment. Pre-cooked Jack Daniels pulled beef made the best sandwiches. Pasta with ground beef, hearty breakfasts of eggs, bacon, and avocados. Fruit cups, grapes, squeezable applesauce pouches, and coconut water were refreshing out there. Things we didn't even touch: crackers with peanut butter, trail mix, and other dry foods that would make your mouth even more parched. It also didn't help that our camp stove and propane tanks failed us so we had to rely on the kindness of our neighbors and ended up not cooking things that might have taken more gas than necessary. (I'm sure they wouldn't have minded though.) Lesson learned: test all new survival equipment before driving into the middle of nowhere for a week.
Because the whole city and event is such a communal effort, the shared spaces were impressively clean. We tried to keep MOOP (matter out of place and my new favorite acronym) off the ground. I hardly ever entered a port-o-potty and was horrified by what was hiding inside. The floors and seats were clean, there was plenty of toilet paper to go around (though I'd always carry a bit of one-ply just in case), and I was usually amused by the ads and writings on the walls. Some even had pre-recorded messages to entertain you during your nature call. Going to the bathroom was actually as pleasant an experience as you could imagine. And for the ladies who would rather not venture out of their tent at night to do their business, the pee funnel I bought became my new best friend when we were stuck in the car for six hours trying to enter Black Rock City and for the days that followed.
You will bike everywhere on the playa so do yourself a huge favor and pimp your ride out. That includes soft handles, a good basket, hardy wheels, and the comfiest seat you can find. Trust me, your ass will thank you after the first day. The bike situation was what fretted me the most because I'm too petite for many standard adult sizes, but A.'s sister pulled through with a girl bike that I was able to get around in. Granted, it still could have been smaller (as is most things with me) and I probably wouldn't have been so opposed to biking around at night if I felt more confident in it, but when a middle-of-the-night prank had me thinking that someone had stolen my bike, I thought for sure my trip was ruined. Since then, I always locked my bike day and night (it's less for theft out there and more so someone doesn't mistakenly bike off with it) and might add on training wheels the next time around to help me bust through the soft dust. Ain't no shame!
Speaking of dust, you'll either learn to just become one with the thing or try hard to keep your belongings as clean as possible. The latter will be mostly futile (but it helps to package outfits into separate Ziploc bags). As soon as you step foot on your camp location and begin setting up, you will be covered in it. I'd return from a night out on the playa and my hair looked like I'd aged 50 years in one hour. It was fantastic. The alkaline dust will seriously dry out your skin so keep a giant bottle of lotion on hand and wipe off with vinegar to balance out the PH level and keep your hands and feet from cracking. Vinegar will also help get the dust off your clothes when you return home and dump half the desert into your washing machine.
You'd think that after a week of baking in the sun everyone and everything around you would reek - yourself included - but nope! We were meticulous about "bathing" with baby wipes a few times a day and apart from the time spent in the tent each blazing morning, we hardly sweated. It was so hot, the sweat would just evaporate right off of you. That's why it's so important to stay hydrated and follow the motto: piss clear. A Camelbak ensures that water is always within reach. I'm sad to note that my water consumption has absolutely tanked since returning to the city, but maybe if I start carrying my backpack around and turn the blinking el-wire on at night drinking water will be fun again.
As for other comforts, remember that not only is this a community built on self-reliance and self-expression, but also inclusion and participation. Some people go the "roughing it" route while others go all out for Burning Man, bringing in air conditioned RVs and mobile oases to the desert and it's up to each person to bring whatever will make their burn. Some will argue that these luxurious comforts are what's steadily killing the vibe each year, but who really cares? In the end, everyone's just out for a grand time and you're the one responsible for creating the experience you seek.
For more information on Burning Man and how to prepare for a fantastical trip to Black Rock City, I encourage you to read the Burning Man survival guide, learn the Ten Principles, and join this awesome Facebook group to have your questions answered by season burners.