By Mack Reed
Hey, Burning Man virgins! Welcome to the big adventure. I put this together for our theme camp (Swing City) last year. Hope it's useful to you.
Our family just enjoyed our 11th year on-playa since '96 (the 8th for the kids) and I wanted to share all those years of tips we've learned the hard way so you can have plenty of time to learn more important things the hard way. Here goes:
=== YOUR BODY ===
Carry this stuff at all times, and you'll never be overwhelmed by a dust storm or run over by a mutant vehicle at 3 in the morning without being properly prepared for survival:
A cheap CamelBak knockoff from Big5 is perfect, because you can carry 2.5 liters plus all the other stuff below. DRINK WATER ALL THE TIME.
Get goggles that seal at the sides, have good peripheral vision, and have no vents
http://www.safetyglassesusa.com/ (lots of cheap options)
http://www.safetyglassesusa.com/fit-over-goggles.html (for those who wear glasses)
Sunglasses are great except when the wind gets up over 30mph, which is often. Old ski masks work fine, just tape the vents to keep out the dust, which gets into *everything*.
- DUST MASK
These are cheap and reliable, and better than the simple paper painter's masks. You can find these, or masks like them, at any hardware store. Make sure to get the thick, multi-layer particulate masks.
(or use a wet bandanna in a pinch!)
- LIP BALM AND SUNBLOCK
- HAT with a brim and a good chinstrap or bobby pins (the wind is hungry!)
- BIGASS BAND-AIDS
Wounds just happen when you're having fun - and playa dust tends to slow healing, plus it itches like a fothermucker.
Do not, repeat, DO NOT GET TATTOOED within 2 weeks of the burn. it'll open up, keep you awake all night itching for the entire week, and completely refuse to heal until you get home. True story.
You burn a ton of energy swinging, climbing stuff or just biking from A to B - plus, your cells are working overtime to cope with all the stimulus and dust. Snacks like nuts, raisins, energy bars, dry salami, etc. are awesome. Don't bonk because you were simply too busy being dazzled to actually feed yourself.
Center Camp sells electrolyte drink, lemonade and coffee. You'll need it (or want it) and Center Camp is a reliably beautiful place to hang out beyond camp, day or night. Plus, you may remember while you're out there that your cooler's running low on ice, and Arctica will sell you some.
- CUP and CARABINER
For all the drinks - alcoholic and non - that are offered on-playa when you need them most. Nobody's gonna give you a paper or plastic cup except the cafe, and why make trash. Clip it to your CamelBak knockoff and you'll always have it.
- ALTOIDS TIN
If you smoke, you'll need an ashtray. If not, you might find cool little trinkets or want to keep jewelry in a safe place once you realize it might fall off while you're playing. Besides, it's a good place to keep MOOP that you might spot and pick up, and dumping a tin is easier than dumping a pocket full of tiny wind-blowable trash.
Sometimes you gotta write - email addresses, notes to lost friends, notes to strangers, poems, graffiti where encouraged, brilliant ideas, sketches, doodles, etc.
Thin for day, thick for night. Layers are best. You'll figure it out.
- LIGHTS FOR YOUR BODY AND BIKE
Wear/use the biggest, flashiest lights you can find - ALWAYS AFTER DARK - so you're not mowed down and crippled by either the acid-head on the fullspeed dead-of-night bike run, or the art car driver who forgot to check behind him before backing up.
Seriously - please, please don't be a darkwad. Darkwads suck, and sometimes get hurt. We want to see you again next year healthy and happy. A glowstick is not a light. It's costly, manufactured trash.
=== HYGIENE ===
1. You will NOT need a shower every day, or even every couple of days. 2. You WILL be dusty within seconds of arrival, and within seconds of toweling off after any shower.
3. (THIS IS THE PUNCHLINE): Playa dust is a natural anti-microbial. It kills nearly all the germs that cause your sweaty ass to smell bad.
If you're working hard on building, biking like a maniac, dancing like a child - you may work up a little sweat, but you won't wind up with even 20% of the stank you would have in such activity back home. If you can grab a shower every day or two, awesome, enjoy. But see point 2. You're not going to get "clean" no matter what.
I've often gone 2, 3, even 7 days without a shower, and (from what I'm told by people I can trust to tell me the truth) I haven't suffered any big degree of stink or discomfort. See the tip below about vinegar wipes - do that to your face, hands and feet once or twice a day and you'll feel like a million bucks.
Dusty is a fine and normal state, and all you need to do is take care of the trouble spots to be courteous:
- Brush your teeth
- Use a deodorant stick every now and then
- Baby wipes for your undercarriage (and feminine products of course) are a great thing to have.
- Freshen that sunblock
And get used to being dusty. You'll be perpetually dusty, but dusty is not dirty.
=== YOUR HANDS/FEET ===
Fact: Whether you're pitching your tent, building the rig, climbing on art or - more likely - swinging - the AKALI DUST WILL EAT YOUR SKIN.
Unless you're a what-me-work "sparkle pony" (look it up ;D), or you never take off your boots or your skin is as tough as rhinoceros hide, this stuff is a lifesaver:
- WORK GLOVES
Your local hardware store has nitrile-palmed cloth work gloves for like 12 bucks . Good protection, but sensitive enough to pick up tiny things like dropped coins, etc.
- WHITE VINEGAR
A light solution of vinegar and water NEUTRALIZES THE ALKALI DUST, keeps feet from cracking if you wear open shoes, and your fingertips from cracking on day 2. Plus it feels nice to wash your face with it.
- SKIN LOTION
Lotion, Aquaphor, Albolene, or any other heavy-duty emollient that won't
immediately evaporate in the dry air.
Pro tip: My fingertips used to turn to cracked, bloody hamburger by day 4 until I discovered this trick. Now I use it religiously:
1) Wipe hands with vinegar solution
2) Rub lotion into fingertips and knuckles
3) Pull on work gloves
4) Remove gloves only to cook, type or use the potties
5) To keep gloves and hands safe from dust, never ever do (3) without first doing (1) and (2)
Seriously - I have just-barely-sensitive skin, and I basically live in work gloves for the whole burn.
=== YOUR SEXY PARTS ===
BRC is the single sexiest city on earth. Leave it at that.
Bring your condoms, diaphragm, spermicidal sponges, dental dams, duct tape - whatever it is you use to ward off cooties, germs and pregnancy - and carry it with you at all times.
If you're likely to get your period, bring all the usual absorbent devices.
In any case, bring a little pouch of wipes so you can freshen up. It can be the difference between "I'm not putting my thing anywhere near your thing, let alone putting my mouth on it" and "OH BABY YES!"
And whether you're looking for a hookup or just looking forward to a hot time with your SO, read this. Much wisdom here.
=== YOUR GRUB ===
Whether you're personally cooking every day or just sustaining yourself until someone else cooks for you, these notes may help. Make sure you bring enough water to cook with.
::: WITH STOVE :::
- MARINATED MEAT
Prep your chicken, steak, fish, unicorn, what have you, then seal it up in Ziplocs and freeze it. Take it out of the cooler a few hours before suppertime.
- PASTA, RICE, QUINOA, ETC
You're going to burn a ridiculous amount of energy, and carbs will keep you going. Trust me. You'll lose weight out there, and if you plan to rove the playa throughout the night, you'll want a good hearty meal every evening.
- CANNED FOOD
Takes no cooler space, heats easily. Don't forget a can opener
Whole eggs are fragile trash waiting to happen. Crack a bunch into a resealable plastic container, or buy Egg Beaters - quick, easy protein
- BUTTER, OLIVE OIL, LEMONS, SPICES
Because you'll forget to bring 'em if you don't remember,and your meals will be bland
Because bacon. Make sure to bring a sealable glass jar to pour off the grease, then wrap it in a couple layers of newspaper or other thick trash before consigning it to your trash bag so someone doesn't accidentally bust the jar by shoving something else hard on top of it.
::: MINIMALIST COOKING :::
- JETBOIL OR PRIMUS STOVE and FREEZE-DRIED OR POUCH MEALS -
- Just add water. REI has an excellent selection.
::: WITH OR WITHOUT STOVE:::
- FROZEN GATORADE
Before freezing, pour/drink off the top 1.5 inches from a 1-liter bottle (2 inches from a 2-liter), squeeze out the air (so it won't burst the bottle during freezing/expansion). Then stick it in the freezer. Carry the frozen bottle in your cooler - it can replace ice for keeping stuff cold, and if you leave it in the open air mid-morning, by late afternoon you'll have the most refreshing thing you can put into your body - and an instant way to make friends.
- CLEMENTINES, GRAPEFRUIT, HARD APPLES, ETC
They travel well and stay fresh in coolers. Keep apples on top of the ice, but citrus can swim with no problem.
- CARROTS, CUKES AND JICAMA
Cukes should be kept on top of the ice to reduce bruising, but can last up to 5 days. The other stuff can swim and still taste great even at the end of the week if properly skinned
The acid in pickle juice is a delightful antidote to alkali dust
- HARD CANDY
Sugar rush, easy gift - always nice to have.
- NUTS, DRIED FRUIT, ETC
See above note about portable food, but also they make for a fine lounging-in-camp afternoon snack
DON'T EVEN BOTHER:
Melon, bananas, soft veggies, leafy vegetables, raw eggs in shells. They become a hideous mess within a day or so. Sryusly.
- PLASTIC STORAGE BIN
For keeping dry food and dinnerware dust-free
- PAPER TOWELS OR WIPES
Clean up dishes with paper towels and water, or use wipes. Alkali dust kills most bacteria, so you don't really need to use soap so long as you wipe everything off the dinnerware before stowing it
- CONTRACTOR'S TRASH BAG
You'll need just one of these - make sure to get 3- or 4-mil plastic. It'll last you all week long
- EXTRA BAG FOR RECYCLABLES
You can drop trash and recycling at specific drop points off-playa that are identified somewhere on BurningMan.com (sorry, not sure where - we always truck ours home on top of the van)
=== BASIC SHELTER ===
::: YOUR RV :::
Renting an RV gives you a private bathroom (that you have to get pumped on a regular basis DURING the event because everyone wants to use it) and either a day-long cleanup or a massive bite out of your security deposit.
Other folks have better info on RVs than us since we've always tented to avoid such hassles, so:
::: YOUR TENT :::
- REAL TENT STAKES
Those little bent-metal things or plastic pegs that came with your tent simply won't go deep enough to hold down your tent in a 60-mph blow.
These can be found at any camping-supply store (Big5, REI, A16, etc.) or ordered online. Drive them in with a hammer until only the top is left, and your tent won't budge: http://www.amazon.com/Coleman-10-In-Steel-Nail-Count/dp/B002HU086C
- CANDLE OR BAR SOAP
Playa dust will clog your zippers and before you know it, your door is stuck open during a 60mph dust storm. Lubricate your zippers with rubbed-on candle wax or soap and it won't happen.
- OLD BEDSHEET
Throw this over your sleeping bag and pillow every morning, and they won't be covered that night by all the dust that seeped in through your fly vents during the day.
- THERMAL BARRIER
Home Depot carries this stuff in 4-by-12-foot rolls in the roofing section for about $16. It's basically a sheet of reflective, heat-resistant, reinforced Mylar that - if you tie it securely over the top of your tent so the wind doesn't blow it away - can seriously reduce mid-day heat and make your tent a workable place to actually catch a midday nap. http://www.homedepot.com/p/Enerflex-4-ft-x-12-ft-Radiant-Barrier-Insulation-Roll-115362/202088286
=== YOUR BRAIN ===
- EARPLUGS - You like to sleep, right? Imagine mammoth, chest-bursting soundsystems playing the world's greatest dance music, and some of the worst dubstep on earth.
Imagine the booming art car that parks right outside your tent for half an hour at 3:30 a.m.
Imagine the caffeinated, E-dropping idiot with the, like, most AWESOME MEGAPHONE, yo, it does all these, like sound effects??? Check it out I SOUND LIKE MEGATRON!!!!
The playa never shuts up. Never. Earplugs=sanity.
- NAPS - A mid-afternoon nap guarantees you'll survive a night of fun without having to scrape yourself out of your sweltering, hungover sleeping bag next noon.
- CAMERA - No, seriously, even just your cellphone. It'll help you remember all the weird, amazing stuff you've seen because your brain simply cannot contain it all.
- NOTEBOOK AND PEN - for all the stuff that happened or was said that photos can't show - for the wild ideas you had in the middle of a wee-hours rave, for what dreams may come. You may not use it the entire week. But if someone else is driving, here's a great game to play on the way home, during the multi-hour traffic jam between the playa and the road known as "Exodus":
- What are the five (or nine) best things that happened? What are the worst?
- Who were the five (or nine) best people? Who were the worst?
- What stories did I hear?
- What lessons did I learn?
- What the hell just happened to me?
- What am I gonna do at Burning Man next year?
And most of all - What will I do differently the second I get back to the default world?
Hope this helps. Can't wait to meet you all. See you in the dust!