I was living in Reno when I first saw "burners" or groups of heavily dusty people coming back from the desert after some kind of drug-induced party where they burn a statue (well, that was my impression at the time). These "burners" would crowd the casinoes in all sorts of feathers and glitter and dust and speak nonsense. Little did I know that these seemingly strange creatures would soon be my insta-family.
A year later, I was driving up 80 towards Pyramid Lake in my '98 Escort with John in the passenger seat, The Doors' "Riders On the Storm" playing on the radio, the windows down and the wind ripping through my tied back hair- I am ready.
As I waited in traffic to get into "Black Rock City", the first thought that came to my mind was that this MUST have been what Woodstock felt like...there were people everywhere, some were nude, some were body painted, some were drenched in mud and everyone had such a profound sense of freedom about them. There aren't any rules for decorum, that's the first thing I learned, you can dress however you want, do whatever you want and be whoever you want. People from all sorts of professions (lawyers, accountants, city council leaders, etc), cultures, beliefs, languages, talents and countries all come together for this one moment where they're encouraged to be themselves; however, freaky that may seem to be to people in casinoes that have never been to Burning Man.
It is the ultimate definition of a community based on the common belief of respect and open-mindedness. It is the ultimate freedom where you are allowed to be anything you desire, especially if it's yourself. It is the ultimate experience, nothing can touch it. Here are my tips to make your first/next Burning Man the most enjoyable experience possible- let me know how you liked it!
20 TIPS FOR MAXIMUM PLEASURE:
DO VOLUNTEER: It saves you hundreds of dollars and for my post as a medic, I only had to "work" a day which consisted of giving water to people that were dehydrated. You can volunteer for anything, including: set-up/clean-up (this is quite extensive and if you don't live in the Reno area, I don't recommend it), assisting artists in anyway needed, Box Office (this is TOTALLY what I would've done, if I'd known- perfect for first-timers and it has AIR CONDITIONING!), Black Rock City Rangers (for those peacekeepers out there), ice sales (the lifeforce of the Camp and it helps local charities), performing/working/building the Center Camp Cafe and many other opportunities that are actually quite fun as you can see!
DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE, MISS THE BURNING OF THE MAN: I know that sounds really obvious but, this is the cumulative part of your entire trip. When the Man burns it's such a release and such a wonderful celebration of life, it's the spirituality I was talking about in the headline. When I saw it for the first time, it was like every negative experience I had been consumed with, just erupted and flowed from me to the burning ashes of the Man better than any yoga I'd ever done. It is different for everyone, so I can't say this is what everyone experiences!
DO GO TO THE CENTER CAMP CAFE: You'll have no choice if you're a coffee fanatic and aren't too good at making instant coffee in a cooking stove (i.e. me). Here, it seems is the center of it all- there are constantly scintillating performances grabbing at your attention, there's coffee and cold beverages, amazing conversation, and the best people watching EVER!
DO GO WITH FRIENDS THAT ARE EASYGOING: If you have a girl/boyfriend that CANNOT live without electricity, cell phones, high heels, technology and is a clean freak or is claustrophobic and hates crowds- LEAVE THEM AT HOME! They will ruin your experience. You'll want to go with a group that can "roll with the punches" and don't mind getting dirty, they will help you live Burning Man to the fullest.
WHAT TO BRING?!?:
LOTS AND LOTS OF WATER: 1.5 gallons of water per person per day (for drinking, showering, washing, and food preparation). Carry a bottle of water with you at all times. It's a desert where you'll be exerting a lot of physical energy- HYDRATE!
GATORADE/VITAMIN WATER: This will help you replenish those precious electrolytes and stay hydrated.
DUST MASKS/GOGGLES: There are countless dust storms on the playa and trust me, you'll want to keep dust out of your eyes/lungs/nose/mouth, etc.
FLASHLIGHT/BATTERIES: You'll want to be able to see/be seen at night- it can get quite dark and if you should stray off the path, this is a necessity! Also, it helps people on bikes to see you.
ANYTHING THAT CAN BE USED FOR SHADE: Umbrellas or a tarp to hang on two cars helps dramatically or anything else you can build to give you shade. It gets ridiculously hot in the middle of the day, this is when you'll want to lay low in the shade and rest up for the night's events!
SUNSCREEN/ALOE/HATS/SUNGLASSES: Lots and lots of sunscreen, at 4000 feet elevation, the sun burns quite harshly! Hats will protect that area that we can't sunscreen perfectly and goes unnoticed- our scalps!
ENOUGH FOOD/SNACKS FOR YOU AND YOUR FRIENDS: Snacks are important to keep you fed throughout the day because of their easy portability- re-hydratable foods like tabouli or, my favorite, trail mix are the best options for high nutrition, low waste snacks. Remember you have to take everything with you when you leave. Canned goods and pasta are good to bring for meals. HARD-BOILED EGGS are the best of all- no trash & healthy!
FOR CAMPING: inflatable mattress, bedding, tent, 12" tent stakes (cover with tennis balls or rebar cover), groundsheet for your tent, tupperwares to keep clothes clean and dust-free, camp marker (you'd be surprised how alike things could seem after a day in the desert), a portable shower, cooking stove, wash basin, and mesh bag to dry dishes.
ZIPLOCK BAGS: The best invention for Burning Man, keeps things dust-free, organized and you can carry them everywhere as well as easy storage.
REUSABLE CUPS/WINE GLASS: For coffee at Center Camp Cafe and for easy access when finding your cocktail in the masses!
BABY WIPES: These are in a word, lifesavers- for insta-showers to get some playa dust off you as well as TP purposes and everything in between.
COOLERS: Two small coolers are better to keep things cold and organized than one, big cooler. Also, remember to keep it elevated off the ground!
GARBAGE BAGS: There aren't any trash cans in the entire city, you have to bring whatever trash you create back home with you.
EARPLUGS: You will have a different sleeping time than others at the camp, and you're body will adjust differently, earplugs will help you block some of the noise in order to get the most rest.
EXTRA SET OF CAR KEYS: Just in case, it's really easy to lose things in the desert and most things, you can live without. However, I think that not having a way back home is not one of them. There aren't any blacksmiths in Black Rock City, that may be the one thing they don't have.
FINALLY, THE MOST IMPORTANT TIP: DO HAVE THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE! Remember this is your time to be your true, wondrous, beautifully creative self- this is the one place where you can let go of everything and just...be. So do it!
The theme for my first year was Beyond Belief and, indeed, Burning Man is that in every sense, enjoy yourselves.