I went to my first Burn last year and still, to this day, lament the fact that I haven't been going my whole adult life. You will read about how “magical,” “life-changing,” “ethereal” and “conscious-shifting” the whole experience can be.
At least, it was for me. Here's hoping you feel the same.
Like you, I pored over every inch of the official Burning Man website, dissected pdf's like a CSI detective, made about 14 different lists of what I would need – hand-written, typed, mental.
You see, to go to your first burn can be a daunting experience. “Wait! Totally, 100% 'self-reliant?' But we're in the desert for 8 days? Who am I? Reese Witherspoon in 'Wild?'”
Hopefully, you're going with friends or a friend or a significant other. Or maybe meeting folks there. Or maybe you're the sadistic adventurous type, like myself, who decided to do their first Burn solo. Just me, a tent, a pop-up shade cover, some necessities (enough to be “self-reliant” of course) and my Ford Focus. No stove, no cooler, no phone, no agenda.
Bare bones as that was, it's not for everybody. However, I just wanted to let you know where I was coming from before I dispense some advice for Newbies. Some of it may apply, some of it won't. (RV's tend to sleep better than a Ford Focus, for example).
Take this advice with a grain of salt (Mmmm...still craving salt...as you will). It's from someone who went solo with no plan, no RV, no shower, no idea of what he was really getting into, and no plan on what I wanted to get out of it. I just knew I had to go. And I went.
I will make like that fabulously forgotten “Sunscreen” song from Baz Luhrman and dispense some advice.....Now:
Bring baby wipes. I know, I know, that's on a few pre-burn checklists, but honestly, bring 'em. For those of us who didn't have means to take a shower, those were my shower. A bit of good solid wiping a few times a day, in all of the wipe-able areas, will do wonders towards making you feel clean. No idea if I was actually clean, but I didn't seem to offend that many people, so it seemed to do the trick.
Get lost. Not on the way there. That's a lot of North Nevada desert to trek through. No, I mean, when you get settled in and jump on your bike, just go. My 1st day at Burning Man I decided to hit up a “Newbie Orientation” that a camp was having. Why not?
Oddly enough, I ran into a friend I hadn't seen for 8 years. I grilled him on what I should do. I was tired of schedules and agendas in the Default World and just wanted to experience Burning Man. He said a mantra which I will pass on to you: “Get on your bike and just ride, get lost, say yes to everything and forget any schedule you have. And just be content knowing that you're missing out on 95% of everything going on, so enjoy where you are at any given moment. If you're not: Go somewhere else.”
I lived by that everyday and it was magical! I would just ride....Maybe I was drawn into an area by good music or pancakes or pretty people or boxed wine or writing short stories or learning an instrument or shade...Whatever it was, I was pleasantly lost. (I will go into his advice more later on...it bears repeating.)
Talk to and hug everyone you meet, from day 1. This was probably the hardest thing to accept as a Newbie. It's just not something you do in LA. We're in cars or industries or areas of the city where hugging and smiles and introductions always come with consequences or ulterior motives.
My favorite moment is setting up my tent the first night, having an older veteran walk over from his area, hug me, say “welcome home,” then introduce himself. Felt so damn good! I told him it was my 1st time. He said, “That's how you should greet people.” Get over whatever walls this city has built up and meet the most amazing people you'll ever meet in the middle of a desert far from home.
I was trying to do BM fairly on the cheap...Not knowing what I was getting in to, I couldn't justify spending all that much on the trip. Luckily, the Dollar Store has everything a Newbie could need! And it's all....well, $1. I stocked up on food, water, baby wipes, toilet paper, utensils. It was all good. I bought too much, which was fine! It was only $1. If I ended up throwing it away, so be it.
But you know what feels really good? On the way out of Burning Man, there's a group of volunteers who sweep the Playa to make sure it's in pristine condition. They're out there for a week-plus doing that. And they LOVE your extras. Got some alcohol, cookies, etc. that didn't make it into your belly? Drop 'em off on the way out, help those cats get through the week, and know you did one last gift before you went default again.
Basically, if I thought I'd want something for one day (like a can of green beans or beef jerky or oysters...love that stuff!), I bought 8 of them. Not only did it give me PLENTY to eat, but it gave me variety, gave me plenty to give back on the way out, and anything I did end up taking home I put in my pantry because it was non-perishable.
The keys: 1 ½ gallons of water for every day I was there. 1 bottle of Gatorade for every day I was there (y'know, electrolytes...and as a mixer....), 1 bag of chips for every day I was there (you start craving salt, trust), 2 cans of fruit, 2 cans of vegetables, 1 box of cookies, 2 breakfast bars, etc....for every day I was there. 7 or 8 of everything. Also, instant coffee, peanut butter, 1 loaf of bread, 1 pack of tortillas, 3 cases of beer.....you get the point.
Look, I'm not saying I ate like a king, or even like a pauper, but it was the bare necessities and it got me through and I was never hungry. (Bonus: The Dollar Store also has last-minute party and costume items....so go ahead and get that tiara, those glow-bracelets, that colored hair-spray, the eyeliner, whatever....it's only $1!). Hopefully, you stock up a little better, but just know that I got by on this, so whatever you're bringing will get you through. Just make sure you bring it....
Get a better bike than I had. As I said, I was trying to save a little cash. I had a hook-up and got a kid's bike for about $50. I thought that would get me through. And it was great and kitschy.....for the first 2 days. Then, when my ass was bruised and the handlebars were shaking and I was trying to ride it deep into the desert at night where the sand was a little less packed...it became more of a detriment.
Get a bike from a shop or dealer that knows Burning Man. Something with good wheels, a comfortable seat, and little upkeep. You need that bike. The night I tried to go about Burning Man on foot was a long-distance nightmare!
I was very happy with where I camped. I pulled in at midnight on Sunday and had no idea of the layout. I knew it was kind of like a clock. I ended up near 5:45 and J...which was kind of perfect! Equidistant to both ends, a quick straight trip to the Center Camp and the Man. Plus, on that one or two nights you actually want to sleep, it was far enough from everything to get a bit of respite. If you're not sure where to go or what you want to experience, I suggest somewhere in the middle....I probably could have been a bit closer....But, like I said, it was dark, it wasn't filled up yet, and I had literally no idea where I was going. I ended up very happy with my spot.
Bring bungee cords and rope. Lots. I parked my car, then ended up tying my pop-up to my car (certainly the wind couldn't blow a Ford Focus away....though it certainly tried!). Then I tied my tent to my pop-up and put in my industrial tent stakes. Then, I tied everything else to my car as well – chair, tent, bag – just little leashes in case the wind picked up. It did and completely ruined my pop-up. But nothing blew away!
Don't cheap out on a chair. I bought a cheap foldable one at REI and never opened it until I got to Burning Man. I think it might've been made for a 5-year-old. It was very stiff and uncomfortable. It was good enough....but I certainly would have loved to sit on something more comfortable. This year I'm bringing a lawn chair.
When you pull into Burning Man, you get a huge guide full of all the goings-on at all the camps. Take that with a grain of salt as well. As I found out, that's a nice outline for things that may be going on, but sometimes I would show up at a camp and there was no one there. Or it wasn't what I expected. It's not bad to look at it as “Things To Do,” but don't treat it like a bible.
I didn't do this last year, but think I might try it this year: I met a fella named Highlander last year who had his ID photocopied and taped to his cup. If you're a drinker, you're going to need your driver's license and ID EVERYWHERE! He had a cup, his copied ID attached to it, and the cup laced to his belt loop. Seemed to be the perfect way to travel when the sun went down!
Every morning I would get up, have a cup of instant coffee, eat....something, then immediately head to Center Camp. That's the only place they sell coffee (and the only cash you'll need....if you're not buying ice). It was a great way to start the day! They have daily newspapers, dancers doing amazing stuff, great art, spoken word, couches, cushions, awesome people. Just a great way to remind yourself of where you are and to think about the day and the possibilities ahead. 2 things: Get there early because those coffee lines get long and MAKE SURE YOU TIP THE WORKERS! (They're all volunteers and probably had as long of a night as you did). Sidenote: Great place for a nap.
To further dissect my friend's advice from above:
“Get Lost” – I've gone over this, but I can't recommend it enough. Just ride. Had some of the best times at Burning Man because I was just riding and:
“Say 'Yes' to everything” - OK, obviously this one has personal limitations. Don't sacrifice any moral code you may have. But if you're hesitating or debating something, just say “Yes!” I was riding my bike and this girl said, “Come in, we're making Christmas cookies.” I thought: “Well...I was going to try to see this DJ.....” Then I thought of his advice: “Yes!” And they were awesome people and we decorated and ate delicious cookies! “Vodka rainbow shots?” Yes! “Take off your shirt for a pickle?” Yes! “Nude yoga?” Yes! This is the time to be who and what you want to be....and there's nobody holding you back but you.
“Be content knowing you're missing 95% of what's going on” - That's always been a tough one for me. I'm the type that does a music festival 15 minutes at each stage just to see all the acts. You're not going to see everything you want to see or do everything you want to do. I missed SO MUCH. And yet, wherever I was, I was enjoying it. And if I wasn't, I got on my bike and rode. It's all there for you....just be content with where you are, know you're going to miss some cool stuff, but...you know what? Everybody else is missing out on what you're doing right now too! Don't spend you're whole time rushing around to do and see as much as you can. Throw the schedule away, know that time is merely suggestive, and be wherever you want to be.
I could go on and on....I feel like I learned so much, this is just some of the practical stuff (the personal learning is a whole different write-up!) I'm a big fan of experiencing something and then putting what I learned out there. If it helps at least one person avoid one pothole, then I feel like I've done my job.
Check that: I feel like I've given my gift.
I'm looking forward to my second Burn – a life-time of them, in fact – and hopefully I'll see you out on the Playa. I'll be the one handing out marshmallows...
Keep a smile on your face -