For those of you who don’t know, Burning Man is a week-long event at the end of August in the Black Rock Desert, two hours north of Reno, Nevada. For a week, a temporary city is built on the Black Rock Desert playa, an ancient lakebed and one of the flattest surfaces on earth. The most accurate description of Burning Man that I’ve read is that’s it like a utopian adult playground, with art, community, music, dancing, and lots of dust.
Visiting Black Rock City is hard work. It’s meant to be hard. If you haven’t learned that good things are hard, attending Burning Man will make you understand. Good things are available. But good things are hard.
Burning Man is structured around 10 Principles. You can read the Principles here with Burning Man Project’s official description of them. I’ll focus on those that felt the most salient for me during my time in Black Rock City:
It’s up to you to survive here. There’s nothing for sale in Black Rock City save coffee and ice. Bring your own food, shelter, water, etc. Why is self-reliance an important part of the experience? Because self-reliance feels incredible. Find out what you are made of, find out how little you need.
Riding around the playa on your bike with your water canteen, dust goggles and backpack full of gear, transforms you. You are an adventurer and you are on fire. You are capable, and you are present.
True adventure cannot exist with commercial involvement. So this week, let’s not talk about corporations. Let’s not be sponsored. Let’s not let this experience be sanitized or polished by commercial interests. Let’s experience people and the natural environment in which they find themselves in the purest form. Let’s talk about art. Let’s talk about life and true motivation. Let’s put away the phone.
Leave No Trace
Respect the earth. Everything you bring in has to be brought out. Pick up after yourself. Simple.
Everyone is welcome at Black Rock City. You can feel it. No one will judge you. Everyone will be kind to you. It rubs off quick and you’ll find yourself giving everyone the benefit of the doubt. You’ll find yourself thinking that people are awesome.
People gift at Burning Man. There is no expectation for something in return. The gift is unconditional. The practice of true generosity is one not often experienced in our daily lives. At Burning Man, the gifting culture is very strong. You will find that giving and receiving, with gratitude, are some of the simplest joys in life.
Wear what you want, wear nothing if you want. Climb on the art if you want, dance how you want. Play how you want. Self-expression is most evident in the dress and in the art. The art here will blow your mind. Again, people are amazing.
You will meet incredible people. You will be reminded that it is people that matter. Not things, not status, not money — people. The more open-hearted and adventurous you dare to be on the playa, the more it will reward you — with connection, surprise, magic. When someone offers you an experience, try to say yes, even if you don’t quite know what you’re saying yes to.
Some of my favorite experiences
Swinging on swings: Swinging on over-sized swings, 4-person swings, swings that spin around, cloud fields of swings in deep playa. Burning Man has so many swings, it’s glorious. Bouncing on trampolines. Giving and receiving hugs, drinking Picklebacks with the fine men of Glitter and Rust. Getting bad advice from the bad advice booth, exploring art structures — especially the Folly, watching the man burn, eating snow cones, dancing at Opulent Temple, listening to karaoke at the Hammock Hangout, the Mist camp, lighting ourselves up at night and riding our bikes on the playa, watching full spectrum LED art move from color to color, art car DJ sets at sunset, night time sky divers with fire on their feet.
So Should you Go?
Yes. Unequivocally yes. Everyone should go. What people don’t realize is that Burning Man is Black Rock City. And Black Rock City is exactly that — a city. A city with something for everyone. You don’t have to do a bunch of drugs if you don’t want to. In fact, I met a number of wonderful burners who were totally sober. You don’t have to take your clothes off if you don’t want to (but you might want to). You don’t even need to have particularly awesome outfits (although they do make the whole experience that much more fun). You can enjoy this place armed with only an open-heart and a bunch of water (and some really good dust goggles).
Does the idea of going to Burning Man get you really excited and really scared at the same time? You should totally go to Burning Man.
Some other comments:
“Am I too old to go?”
No. I’m 31. My husband is 37. Most of the guys in the camp next to us were in their 40s. Our sponsor is in his 50s. The head of the Diddly Squat Café Camp where we got coffee in the mornings was in her 60s. Your health is the only bar here: It helps to be fit. All ages welcome.
“It sounds hot”
It is hot. It’s really hot. And it’s also really dusty and you’ll get really dirty and so that makes this whole thing hard. But that’s kinda the point. If everyone could sit in a cool dust free room and experience Burning Man it wouldn’t be Burning Man, it would be Disney Land. And Disney Land isn’t a tenth as good as Burning Man, I promise. Half of the fun is that it’s hard, it’s an adventure.
All the best experiences of my life have been hard – running a marathon, going on a silent retreat, traveling solo on another continent, marriage, law school, and now, Burning Man.
“I feel like there are a lot of weirdos there”
I will say that the people who go to Burning Man tend to be pretty open-minded already. If the 10 Principles are not in line with your values, this place may not be for you. If the 10 Principles sound like how you’d like to live your life, then you should probably go to Burning Man. The Man burns in 363 days. Start planning!
Will You Go?
Most people will not go. Especially if you live on the East Coast. It’s a tough trip: it requires a lot of planning, and a fair amount of money. We not only had to spend money on the tickets (close to $500 a pop after taxes and fees) but also on a car rental, plane tickets, and then all our food, shelter, clothing etc. I think in total we probably spent close to $4,000 for the two of us.
But I don’t regret spending a single penny of it. The first time you see the playa at night, with all its lights and fire and music and happy energized lit up people riding around on bikes, it’s worth at least that much. Honestly it might be priceless, that experience. It’s the most energizing and exciting and creative place you can think of. You have to see it to believe it.
If You Go
Going to Burning Man for the first time can be stressful. We were lucky enough to have a sponsor on the West Coast who set us up in an established village, helped us put up our tent, and briefed us on the necessities for the trip. We camped next to a camp called Glitter and Rust, and the people in that camp were so wonderfully welcoming and supportive and gave us a ton of resources during our time in Black Rock City (especially good shade). We all became fast friends and we’re so grateful to them. Miss them already.
While you can camp on your own, if you’re going to, make sure you really prepare for it. The desert is harsh. You’re going to want good shade and good chairs, plenty of water, a big cooler so you can buy ice and keep things cool. You’re going to want a good sturdy tent, attached to the playa with rebar. Warm sleeping bag and sleeping pad. Other things that kept me sane in the desert:
Bike – get a Cruiser or a Mountain Bike with pretty thick wheels. The Playa gets kinda bumpy toward the end of the week. You don’t want to do burning man without a bike, I promise.
Water Canteen or Camelbak – and obviously water for inside. Recommended is 1.5 gallons per person per day. Drink more water than you think you need to.
Functional Dust Goggles
Plenty of Socks – hiking socks are best
Wet Wipes/Face Wipes
Witch hazel or Vinegar/Water mixture for cleaning yourself (cuts the alkali in the playa dust which will be ALL over you all the time)
Sun hat with chin strap
Lights for your Bike AND for your person (the more colorful the more fun) : this is necessary. Otherwise you may get run over on the playa at night. Seriously. It’s crazy out there. Burn Bright!
Warm, comfy clothes for the night time as it gets chilly. We brought faux fur.
Nice to Have
Camping Mug with Carabiner – this way you can attach it to your belt and carry it around always. You never know when someone’s going to offer you a delicious beverage.
Portable Music Player/Radio
Nasal Saline Spray – your nose will get so dry. You’ll be so glad you brought this stuff
Visine – one of my husband’s best lines was, “the thing about the playa is…it always feels like there’s something in your eye.” He’s not wrong.
Good Functional Sunglasses – not just crazy fashion sunglasses
Camera – so you can put your phone away
Ear plugs – it’s loud. Always.
Small day pack or fanny pack for storing necessities like lip balm and snacks/bevvies while you’re out exploring.
**Note – you do not have to go to Burning Man for the entire week. For many of us, that’s not even possible given work and family responsibilities. Mike and I went for three days, Thursday-Saturday (we left right after the man burned). I wish we had had one more day. Consider this – early in the week has more events, like Tutu Tuesday and the Ultramarathon. Later in the week the Man burns and the temple burns but camps are also starting to pack up at this point so there are fewer events put on by the camps later in the week.**
Finally, if you do decide to go and want someone to talk to regarding planning/prepping, reach out! I’d be happy to share my newfound knowledge.
Happy sitting xoxo