13 January, 2008

Burning Man - Main Concerns

Alright, so after doing a little research into the possibility of going to Burning Man this year, here are the issues that concern me:


Tickets go on sale Wednesday. From what I understand, you have to log on to the site once the tickets go on sale, then you're put into a queue. When your number comes up, you have a choice at what tickets are left. Although there are different pricing tiers, I think it has more to do with what people choose to pay, than being based on a time frame - they ask you, in consideration of others, to pay the highest price you can afford. At any rate, the cheaper tickets are bound to disappear quickly, and I've gotten the impression that 'quickly' can mean in a matter of hours. The other problem is that I think the tickets go on sale at 10am Pacific time, which, if I'm not mistaken, is 1pm Eastern. Pretty much the worst possible time for me, as I'll hopefully be fast asleep during that time.

Getting There

I live on the east coast, and Burning Man takes place near the western border of Nevada (a metaphorical stone's throw from California). Options are: fly, bus, drive. The trouble with flying, as I see it, is 1) dealing with airports, 2) limitations on luggage, 3) expensive? (although it might not prove to be any more expensive than driving there), and 4) making arrangements for transportation from Reno to the site (and back). On the other hand, if we take the land route, I think there are major advantages to driving ourselves. We can take whatever we can pack into the car; we have complete control over the trip - what routes to take, when and where and how often to stop; and perhaps the biggest advantage of all - having the added shelter/storage space during the event. Of course, being like a 30+ hour drive either way, it adds days to the whole experience (not that that's particularly a problem in terms of scheduling for a jobless schmuck like me - but it does extend the commitment).

So if we do drive there, the question is, in what? This partly depends on whether or not my dad lets us take the van. And even if he does, we have to consider the possibility of it breaking down somewhere in the middle of the country and being stranded. I can't imagine that would be a pleasant experience. And if we can't take the van, then I guess that means we're looking at rentals. Between that and the gas, it looks to be an expensive addition to the costs. One thing that concerns me about driving cross-country - less so than the actual driving, which I think I could handle - is that I'm not much of a car person. I'm fine behind the wheel, but I don't know what the hell's going on under the hood. It would be awesome to have someone with us who knows a thing or two about auto mechanics, but it's not like we can just drag a servant along with us. So I'm a little concerned about what to do if something goes wrong and the car doesn't do what I want it to do. Particularly if we're on a long road in the middle of nowhere, and anxious to make it to the festival.

Food and Water

These seem to be relatively straightforward. I think the trick with the water is just making sure we have enough for the week (and extra driving days?). I'm surprised I haven't come across any discussions about what kind of food works well for a stint in the desert, though. My thoughts so far are a) freeze-dried food, and/or b) canned goods. I know I don't plan on doing any cooking. Ice is one of the only things they sell at the event, so I'm thinking having a cooler - if nothing else, then at least to have some chilled beverages for those hot days - would be a good idea. Any other suggestions for foods that would be good to take into the desert, that'll stay edible for more than a week, even if exposed to extreme temperatures, would be much appreciated.


For this, I'm gonna assume we brought a car. In addition to that, I think it would be a good idea to have at least a tent. More storage room, and it'll hopefully give me a place to stretch out, perhaps with a little more privacy, too. Issues are: learning how to secure the tent so it doesn't blow away in the wind (everbody suggests rebar); some kind of cover that'll reliably keep off the bright sun, without stifling the air in the tent; dust-protection measures. I guess a lot of this stuff kind of runs into the next topic...

Elements (Sun, Air, Wind, Dust, Heat, Cold)

Sun. I suppose the trick here is a combination of sunscreen and shade. I think a hat would be a good idea to keep the sun off the top of the head, which always seems to be a troubling place to protect. Also, sunglasses would be helpful. Trouble with that is, I'd rather not be dealing with contacts out there, so I'd either need prescription sunglasses (do *not* want to go through that trouble), or ones that fit over my glasses. On that topic, what if something happens to my glasses? What if they break, or blow away, or if I misplace them? Maybe I'd survive the week, but I'd be practically crippled for the journey home.

Air. Seems the best trick for the dry desert air is to use a lot of moisturizing lotion. Although it seems like a pain to me, I guess that's pretty much all there is to it.

Wind. For camp, this means securing everything so it doesn't blow away. Something to keep in mind. Can probably throw most stuff in the car and close it up when not in use. Otherwise, keep an eye on things and use weights to hold stuff down.

Dust. I get the impression a good way to reduce dust within the camp involves using a tarp of some sort like a rug. The bottom line, as I understand it, is that things will get dusty. Keep important things like food and electronics securely hidden away when not in use - ziploc bags are a good bet - to reduce damage. As for the self, goggles and dust masks seem to be popular for those unpredictable dust storms. I think they'd be good to have.

Heat. Being the desert, it will get hot. But, it's a dry heat, unlike what I'm used to. They say the dry air wicks the sweat right off your body, so you might not even feel like it's that hot. But it is. As for clothing, I'd have no problem going completely nude (in fact, I'd relish the opportunity), but then sun exposure becomes a bigger issue. Furthermore, going barefoot is not recommended (at least for extended periods) because of the alkali in the desert dust which tends to cause an annoying conditon they call Playa Foot. So maybe comfortable (for walking) closed shoes, a hat and sunglasses, and a ton of sunscreen would be a good bet during the day. That, and lots of shade.

Cold. Despite the popular impression of deserts always being hot, from what I've read, they tend to get pretty cold at night - leastwise when compared to the temperature during the day. This means that although the sun will no longer be a problem during the night, keeping warm will be. So it would be wise to bring warm clothes and, depending when sleep occurs, a warm sleeping bag or blanket(s) or some such.

And, of course, surviving the desert in general involves drinking lots and lots of water to stay hydrated.

Showers/Toilets/Washing Up

This, personally, is one of my major concerns. Being a clean freak and all. I know my brother can go for a week without showering standing on his head. The desert conditions may or may not affect that, but at the least, I know that even in comfortable conditions, I still enjoy a daily shower, and feel pretty out of it when I don't get it. I also wash my hands a lot during the day, and perhaps most importantly, I like to take care of my long, beautiful hair. I feel like it's a part of who I am, and I don't want to neglect it and let it dry out and get icky, or just put it into a braid or a bun (I wish I knew how to do that) for the week. I feel like it's an important part of my own radical self-expression to display it prominently and show it off in the best condition I can manage. So for me, I'm willing to go to extra lengths to make showering a possibility in the desert.

My concerns here are: cheap and easy, but effective. The best and easiest solution I can think of is to go Japanese (without the soak). There's something called a "solar shower" that seems pretty cheap, which is basically a bag with a nozzle that's designed to heat up water just by sitting out in the sun. The main problem is that of the runoff - used water, aka "grey water" - which is not allowed to be deposited into the ground. It must be contained, and either evaporated, or taken home to be dealt with back in the "default world". Burning Man is a "Leave No Trace" event.

The popular solution is to use a kiddie pool (inflatable kind?) to catch the water, with some kind of platform to sit (or stand) on - to prevent standing in the leftover guck. Then the pool acts as an evaporation pond, ideally getting rid of the used water through evaporation. I've heard a lot of discouraging accounts of the efficiency of evap ponds, so I'm a little concerned with having to deal with a lot of (disgusting) grey water and having to haul it back home. But if it's just one, maybe two showers a day, maybe it'll work. The bigger the pool, the shallower the water, the better it evaporates - and painting or otherwise lining the pool with something black tends to heat it up faster and encourage evaporation.

So maybe that's a solution? The best I can do without going high-tech (including high-cost and high-effort)? I figure I could also use the setup to rinse my hands every now and then (only when I really need to, though). I'm not terribly concerned about privacy - I mean, I like my privacy, but these are extreme conditions, and if I have to bathe myself out in the open, well, I think there are much worse things I could have to do - however, people have expressed concerns about the wind making showers an unpleasant experience. It might be nice to have some kind of curtain, or something to break the wind, but that involves a little more work. I'm just not sure if it's worth the extra effort or not.

And then there's this stuff - http://www.norinse.com/outdoorproducts.htm. It seems like it'd be pretty convenient, if it works as well as it claims. But ultimately, I'm skeptical about whether it would satisfy my psychological need to have running water over my skin...

Moving on from showers (which is clearly my number one concern...), let's talk about toilets. On the plus side, they provide toilets, so you don't have to worry about making your own (or hauling back your own waste...ugh). On the down side, however, they're just porta-potties. The idea of inhabiting porta potties for a week is, frankly, a nightmare. But ultimately, it seems to me like one of those things that just has to be endured. It could be worse...

Transportation (During the Event)

No driving during the event, except in specially designated art vehicles. This means your options are either biking or walking. I know my brother isn't going to be biking, as he's never even bothered to learn how to ride a bike. On the other hand, I think walking would make the event a lot rougher - in terms of more day to day effort, and making it harder (and longer) to get from place to place. I'd love to be able to just breeze through the festival and see all kinds of stuff, without walking all day long, for days in a row. Maybe my brother's okay with hanging mostly around camp, but I know I'm interested in the art, and I'd like to see what there is to see. Furthermore, it's been years since I've ridden a bicycle, but I think it could be a lot of fun - especially in a large, flat area, like I expect the BM playa to be. Then again, that brings up the issue of getting a bicycle I like, without paying a lot. It's gotta have lights on it if I want to ride at night. And there's always the concern of it breaking down (does it happen that often? what about in desert conditions?). So it's something I'd at least like to look into. If we do drive down to the event, it shouldn't be a big deal hauling a bike.

Final Notes

And, finally, to end on a more positive note, and to convince myself that this is something I want to do, and not just a list of troublesome challenges, here are some reasons why I should go to Burning Man this year:

Art Themes -

1998 The Nebulous Entity
1999 The Wheel of Time
2000 The Body
2001 The Seven Ages
2002 The Floating World
2003 Beyond Belief
2004 Vault of Heaven
2005 Psyche
2006 Hope and Fear - The Future
2007 The Green Man

2008 American Dream

What is the American Dream if not Burning the Man? Is there anything more poetically anti-Establishment than that? Of all the themes I've heard of in past years, I would be honored to be a part of this one. My own American Dream was shattered after I graduated college and found out that I wasn't the slightest bit prepared to be the person that American society insisted on me becoming. So the Establishment has left me in the dark, and I've been looking for alternative styles of living, outside of the norm. And isn't that what Burning Man is all about? There's so much meaning behind that theme, it just feels right. My American Dream is certainly to Burn the Man, and to live by my own rules and expectations instead.

Radical Self-Reliance

It terrifies me. But it's also an obstacle that I feel like I need to overcome. I'm afraid to rely on myself. That's why I'm in the positon I'm in right now, and why I'm not out there, at least attempting to realize my dreams, and making something of my life. It's because I'm afraid I'll put myself into a situation that I won't know how to get through, and that makes me too scared to take the risk. I feel like what I need is to force myself out there, and just rough it out. It's an incredibly difficult thing for me to do, but I need to get over that fear that I can't make it. If I prove to myself that I can survive on my own (not necessarily alone, but in charge of myself), even for just a week in these extreme and radical conditions, without my life being governed or dictated by either man or society's expectations, that it will be an immense learning experience. And if I fail, I can't see how I would be any worse off than I am now, too scared to even go out that door. It's about conquering myself and conquering the world. I think it could give me a lot of self-confidence if I go through with it.

Living the Dream

It may not be Woodstock, but what is more counterculture in this day and age than Burning Man? Even if there are complaints that it's become too pop culture in recent years, it's still a week of survival in the desert surrounded by unique and freely expressive individuals trying to create a community superior to what is the norm in America. If nothing else, I'm sure it will be an experience to remember. And at best, it could even be life-changing! (Though I'm not one to get my hopes up). Furthermore, can you imagine the bragging rights of being able to tell people you went to Burning Man? It's like a badge of legitimacy. "I'm not just eccentric, I have an invested interest in my alternative lifestyle."

And last of all, mainstream American culture disinterests me. Sports and bars and office jobs and housewives and babies and family reunions and bills, bills, bills. Wouldn't it be exciting to live in a community, even if just for a week, which is dedicated to getting away from all of that, and which is made up largely of artistic eccentrics, perhaps not unlike myself? (Though again, I'm not one to get my hopes up). Is it not worth at least trying once? And what better time to do it? I have no job, I have no responsibilities, and I have still have enough of my savings left that I can afford it. Could sitting around at home doing nothing worth remembering and not advancing my life at all possibly be a better use of my time?

Well, when I put it that way, it does seem like a no-brainer, after all...


  1. So in other words, you're going? I'd be glad to rangle the tickets for us but I'd need a credit card or something because I don't have one. I guess my bank card might work but some online sites have rejected it (GreyHound for one).

  2. Everything you describe sounds absolutely terrifying to me. I don't mind straightforward road trips and events, but planning complicated travel logistics with extended provisions is one of the most panic-inducing things I can think of that doesn't involve imminent personal peril.

  3. It's amazing what some of us will go through for a small taste of freedom.