I was a bit reluctant to write about Burning Man.
I like the idea that “what happens at Black Rock City, stays in BRC.”
However, I came to the realisation that no words could convey what being a burner feels like. So I thought I’d try my best to share about selected aspects of my own experience. For the curious ones who haven’t been, and those who will never go (though one of the BM lessons is Never say Never…).
Vocab for you:
Black Rock City or BRC : the ephemeral 70,000 person city that exists for 1 week in the year, in the middle of the Nevada Desert.
Burner/s: People who attend Burning Man
Virgin: 1st time burner
Show pony: unprepared burners who look cute but don’t have the necessary equipment to survive in the desert and rely on their cuteness for help.
1st things 1st
The “Burning man experience” doesn’t begin on the 1st day of the “festival”. It begins before tickets even go on sale. When you make that unreasonable decision to try and get tickets to the wildest event on the planet. Some, like me, try to rally crazy minded friends to team up and maximise chances of getting tickets. Others don’t bother with the sale because they trust that the universe will provide them with one when the time is right.
I don’t know the odds of getting a ticket but to give you a little perspective, there were 8 of us online trying to get tickets on the day of the sale and we only got 4 (1 person can only buy 2). The sale ended in under an hour and soon after, tickets were being sold on ebay for double the price (not very burner behaviour…).
For my part, I decided to buy my flight to San Francisco the day before the sale. To make sure I would make it happen no matter what.
Ok, so thanks to my buddies Marc and Reni I have a ticket, but half my friends don’t… Now what? I ask every burner I know if they have or know of tickets being sold. My ticket is starting to feel like a golden ticket.
In the end, only one of the 8 friends will be coming. Luckily, one of my very close friends in London is a camp leader and has expressed his interest in having me in his camp as the ‘camp yoga teacher’ and ‘tribal marker’. I can’t believe my luck. Going with a camp is a real luxury, but is no cheap affair. Luckily, another close friend wants to go with the same camp, and offers to share his air conditioned shift pod with me, and make the journey into the desert together. So I now have a ticket, accommodation and transportation, lucky sounds like an understatement!
The burn is still months away so I park it all at the back of my mind in order to be able to focus on life before I go travelling for a year. In the run up to my departure, I buy myself a 2nd hand burner bike from a bike shop in Reno, that we will collect on the way to BRC; numerous skimpy outfits and a camel back. The essentials haha! Some would call me a “ show pony” at this stage…
A week before the burn, the friend I will be travelling with asks me to check over his list so I can let him know if he’s missing anything. The list is LONG (4 pages in small print!) And reminds me of the list I had the 1st time I went to BM. Virgins are easy to spot because they tend to be over prepared. By no fault of their own! All the forums scare the sh!t out of you. The reality is that, you are in the desert, without access to any shops and you are expected to be 100% self reliant. However, the BM community is like no other I have ever met. Some of the founding principles are sharing, helping and gifting. Sure, you must bring enough water for yourself so as not to be in danger and become a liability to your fellow burners, but radical self reliance risks encouraging radical consumerism in my opinion. So, as we roam through the aisles of Wallmart the day before the burn, I explain to my dear virgin friend, that our camp will most certainly have a puncture repair kit and no, we don’t all need individual sharpies or most of the other items in his list. I must admit, he’s pretty chilled for a virgin. I was pretty scared the 1st time and managed to turn up without the 2 most important items: a bike and a camelback…
But this time I am Ready!
When we get to Reno, all the best bikes are gone, but I find mine in a corner. Still dusty from last year. Decorated with LED lights that no longer work. Lighting your bike is crucial I learned this year. With so many people cruising around the playa in the dark, on bikes and art cars, it is Essential to be Seen if you don’t want to be Dead!
The festival officially starts on a Monday (28th Aug this year). The doors open on Sunday for those who are brave enough to commit to a longer stay in this harsh environment. Some people go into the desert weeks before the burn to start building their camps and assembling their artwork. Despite the luxuries I was lucky enough to enjoy this time around, (showers, restrooms, 1 delicious cooked meal/day, air con, access to a fridge) one week seems like enough for now. I have a lot of respect for those who spend longer. The dust, the alkaline nature of this old sea bed and the heat make this a rather inhospitable environment for humans.Yet… people go back, time and time again!
We decided to make our way from Reno into BRC on Sunday at 5am.
With 70,000 people attempting to enter the city within a few days and taking into consideration the necessary security checks, the queues into BRC are known for taking between 4 hours (if you’re very lucky) and 12 hours (if you’re not so lucky). And again, the journey into the desert is part of the burner experience.
So now we’re at the gate, tickets in hand, beaming with excitement. Unfortunately, I am not able to take you with me past this point. You don’t have a ticket. Yet…
But I can give you a few tips.
1. Don’t plan
2. Say Yes
3. Trust in the dust / go with the flow
4. Be open
5. Be generous
6. Welcome every feeling that shows up. It might not all be rainbows.
7. Make time for solo adventures
8. Stay up till / or get up for sunrise
9. Be where you are Fully. There is so much going on everywhere that it s easy to feel like you are missing out.
10. Make time to look at the artwork on the playa.
Super sh!tty quality footage below. Please keep in mind that it is a clothing optional festival / city so video ops are limited. Also, phones don’t deal with the dust too well so I tried to take it out when I was near my camp, so i could put it away in case of a dust storm. And since there is no reception, no reason to have your phone.
I seem to have filmed a lot of the partying but please know that Burning Man is SO much more than a party. I hope you can enjoy this little glimpse of the playa… that s all it is. A glimpse…
Thank you for reading!