My solo virgin Burning Man trip, 2018

What is it?

Burning man is a temporary community that celebrates art and self expression. To help you visualize, it’s a 70,000 people strong camp that ends up being the third largest city in Nevada once set up. The city is called Black Rock city with a USPS postal code too. It’s in the river bed of Black rock desert. Very hot, dusty and dry, it’s subject to dust storms of 70 mph obscuring the blinker of the car right in front of you. The structure of ‘the man’ that burns, the temple and other themed displays of art are in the circular center called the deep playa. Camps are organized in a semi circle around it with lanes of the alphabet and streets from 2 o’clock to 10 o’clock with 15 minute intervals. Plus the epic people watching 🙂
My camp mate described it as a medieval war movie. I saw most folks in rave party/ carnival wear during the day and faux fur at night. It lasts for one week every year including labor day weekend
temple3

What’s the draw?

I want to get into disaster relief part time at some point. I thought this would be a good exercise in self reliance. And, I’ll enjoy some art on the way. I like being badass 🙂
My campmates like it so they can be themselves without judgement. To get you started: https://survival.burningman.org/culture/the-10-principles/

Cost?

I am in the US. I spent $3000-$4000.

How do I go about it?

I recommend the book ‘Surviving Burning Man: A Packing List for First-Timers’ by Jesse Newburn. I went by her spreadsheet

Step 1: Get the ticket to Burning Man

As I was a virgin burner i.e. a first timer, I wanted to get the ticket well in advance, around Jan or Feb, I bought the ticket for $1700 or so. If someone wants you to perform, you could get it for free. The actual rate in the year 2018 was $425. They sell out in 2 minutes or so once posted. The STEP program allows you to buy it for $1200, in April. There are other sales including the OMG sale a week before. I paid more than anyone else I knew :p If you know someone who can hook you up with a ticket, call them January.

Step 2: Figure out your shelter

You want to stay cool and control dust. So either get a tent and join a camp or take an RV. I got a 9X8 6 feet tall Kodiak tent and joined a camp. I got smaller than the standard choice because it was cheaper and tall enough for me to stand upright in. Camps provide some shade structure, a community and something to offer for example juice like my camp. It makes things a little easier for the first time. I chose not to take an RV because the official website recommended I do not. As their principle is ‘radical self reliance’, an RV defeats the purpose. I agree. RV folks have their own woes. If the a/c breaks down, it gets really hot during the day and very cold at night. You have to be on top of checking leaks. You’ll need to wait for the potable water truck for water. Also, they need more maintenance. They are harder to clean. I had no experience renting one. I have camped several times. So, a tent was my choice this time. Next time, I’ll likely take an RV. I think it worked out to about $300 bucks per head if split between a few friends. I have friends who are down to share and more information on what it takes. I’d like to not have to set up after a long drive from Seattle and shower easily. Plus, I won’t have to hustle for shade if I want to stay longer than the man burn. If you plan to rent a U-Haul, hitch a ride with a buddy or ride the burner express, my understanding about tents is as follows:-

1. Siesta4 disco with dual fans $426

Pros:-
– Easy set up
– Cool
– Windproof
– Dark enough to sleep during the day
– Festive look 🙂
Cons:-
– Need filters to keep all the dust out
– Not as sturdy as the Kodiak

2. Kodiak canvas 10×10 $500

Pros:-
– Sturdy
– Easy set up
– Keeps the dust out
Cons:-
– Gets hot in the afternoons

3. Mini shift pod $700

Pros:-
– Very wind proof
– Very dust proof
Cons:– $$$
– Bulky

4. REI co-op Kingdom 6 $439

Pros:-
– 2 rooms
– moderately sturdy
Cons:-
– REI does not recommend it for high winds
– Gets hot very easily

5. Hexayurt $300

Pros:-
– Cheap and comfy
– Very popular so plenty of community support setting them up
Cons:-
– Cumbersome to set up alone
– Bulky
There are are other options like the spring bar and the no bake tent. Coleman tents are very popular too. My camp lead has been burning for 8 years. He does not use stakes. His storage bins and water hold it in place. I personally got the Rebar and my campmate hammered all 16 of them in. The regular stakes are useless for dust storms afaik. I saw several folk hammer the rebar halfway and then use punctured tennis balls to cover the side that’s out. This is to prevent you from scratching yourself as you tumble in drunk at night :D. I much prefer using a big hammer to drive them all the way in. If you pour water on them and hammer them sideways, they come out easily. I tried this myself. I am 5’2” and weigh 110 lbs.

 

Step 3: What to wear

I don’t go to a ton of raves or music festivals. So this was a challenge for me. I also thought we had to dress according to the theme. This is not the case at all. My steampunk leggings looked dope for the iRobot theme, however. I am not going to lie 😉 My personal favorite was a purple bra I sewed golden lace on, leggings, 2 plaits, light wool socks, hiking boots and a UV protection cap with neck flaps and a dust mask. It keeps the dust off my legs, protects my face and exposes some skin for evaporative cooling. Nudity is a common occurrence here. Some ladies pulled off body paint/ glitter instead of a bikini really well. No pictures for obvious reasons 🙂 My buddy sported an embroidered bikini, paisley cotton poncho and hot shorts really well. Add jewelry. There were several ladies in thongs but I didn’t like the idea of my skin on the bicycle seat. I didn’t take earrings to avoid MOOP. I could have taken long chains but I got several from fellow burners. I used fake lashes just once. I didn’t know they obscure vision lol. I avoided eye make up for most part. A lot of ladies swear by dollskill.com. I found it $$$. I got my stuff from trendy Wendy opposite my place and Amazon. I got a few things from Poshmark. Shop well in advance just in case there are delays in shipping and you need to return stuff. Speaking from experience :/. I got my faux fur jacket and lipstick from Boohoo. I got several woolen inners for the night. I got leggings from Northface for 30 degree temperature. They worked really well too. A scarf would have been a good idea but I missed it. I wore party lights every night. I wore a safari backpack from Northface for most part. If you have a camel back, it’s very useful at the burn. I didn’t and didn’t want to ruin a new one and/ or clean playa dust off of it. It worked for me. The traditions are tutu Tuesdays, white Wednesdays and fishnet Fridays
playa

Step 4: Fitness level

I watch my diet quite a bit as is. For a month before the burn, I dieted more carefully. That is, I avoided processed sugar and carbs even more and added more fiber. I worked out at least twice a week. I included a  moderate dose of cardio, weights and did planks and crunches almost everyday. I wanted to be fit enough to set up/ tear down my shelter, weather harsh conditions and look good. I didn’t want to look like the body positive one when everyone else looked hot :p

Step 5: Personal Care

A mist spray worked best in cooling me off. I prefer it to the 3 battery operated evaporative coolers I took. Had I known better, I would have taken a mist ‘n sip bottle. Just so you know this works better if you have enough exposed skin. I showered everyday with camping soap even if that meant hauling my gray water out. Most people wipe with wet towels. It’s just not the same. My camp had a rickety shower that I used. I preferred this to going to the shower camps because they didn’t start until 1:00 p.m. My friends raved about Foam against the machine 🙂 I follow up with cream and sunscreen. I applied coconut oil in my hair and plaited it. I cut my hair short for this event. I used lip color from Boohoo. Kat Von D is very popular. I avoided eye make-up. I used boogie wipes a lot. I didn’t use saline nasal spray. May be that would have helped me with the nose bleeds. I waxed my arms, legs and underarms before going. I think it makes showering and applying cream easier. Plus you stay cooler. I washed my hands with vinegar water. I didn’t feel the need to spray it on myself regularly. I spent one night just tending to dust in my eyes. I passed on a night out on the deep playa. I just poured eye drops and blinked till it got better. Next morning, my eyes were good as new :). My fabric respirator and ski goggles worked well in dust storms. I prefer the respirators that fit around the ears. The dust is so fine, I could breathe it in the car on arrival. I carried some basic first aid too.
dust

Step 6: Safety

I took a pacsafe crossbody bag which I used very briefly. I didn’t use my panic alarm at all and felt no need. I stayed sober for most part. Alcohol dehydrates and leaves you with an unclean camping cup to wash. I passed most of the time. Too many camps served booze. I carried my first aid with me. It needed a refill. I carried an epipen too just in case. Had no intention, but I carried condoms. I made sure I don’t leave anything around that would hurt anyone in a dust storm. No high heels for me either. I know someone who climbed an art installation in them and twisted her ankle. You’ll need to wear lights to avoid getting hit by art cars and such. Art cars and RVs cannot go over 5 mph on the playa. Irrespective, I wore light rings, bracelets and my favorite – LED shoes :). Even though one shoe died, they were awesome while they lasted. EL wires were good too. I’ll try working them into my hair and bag instead of my clothes next time. My light up hair extensions didn’t ship in time. The bike wheels need tools to put the batteries in. My friend helped me with that but I’ll avoid them next time. EL wire on the frame is good. My buddy suggested and this is very important: Always carry your essentials with you. These include food, water, mask, goggles and headlamp. You never know when a dust storm strikes and you could be stuck for hours. One of my campmates fainted out of dehydration on her first burn. Don’t. Drink Gatorade/ Nuun tablets. Just so you know, there aren’t police stations and hospitals here. There are medical centers and rangers that volunteer.
artcar

Step 7: Transport & Navigation

My buddy and I rented a U-Haul from Seattle. We used Waze to adhere to speed limits and look out for cops. Not that we needed to worry, but getting pulled over and searched would be a waste of time. A lot of folks fly in from Europe too and buy stuff here. Black Rock City (BRC) is closer to Reno so you want to fly into Sacramento and not Vegas. You want to rent a bike to get around in the city from a camp like Hammer & Cyclery. A lot of folks bring their own if they don’t mind the hassle. I took a basket and fitted it so that I can help out with ice duty for the camp. I was never asked to fetch ice from the center camp and the basket made it harder to get my bike to stand straight. I would remove it after. It needs a bike tool kit too.
cycle

Step 8: Food & water

I carried a ton of things and used may be half. Canned sardines were too salty. The smoked trout in olive oil was my favorite. I hacked up a recipe with canned beans, salsa verde, french onions and canned chicken. Not bad :). My campmates made mac ‘n’ cheese. That needed hot water. I had a stove and a pot but I didn’t want to clean it. It’s not worth it. Camps like Epic and Spoonful of friends serve delicious meals if you are close by. We had 2 hot dog camps close by. They taste so delicious if you are hungry no matter how big of a food snob you are 🙂 I carried a full water bottle and a camping cup. Ooh and cheese and crackers. They are an awesome desert meal to share with your mates. I suggest and you can disagree, avoid perishables. Ice makes a mess in the cooler. I burned through fruits and cheese quickly and didn’t bother replacing the ice. If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t bother with ice. Canned green beans, mushrooms and soups are not that bad. I carried a complete nutrition shake just in case. I didn’t use it at all but I think it’s a great back up. I ate and shared dates. I didn’t touch the nuts. I carried 10 gallons of water. I used half because so many camps offer water. My biggest pain point was checking the water leak. I separated the jugs out for a while and then turned the nozzle to the leaky one up. Boom! fixed. One time, gray water leaked in my tent. It sucked. I used it as an opportunity to wipe out all of the dust. You want to do this quickly so as to not ruin your canvas tent. I stored trash in plastic bags that I would finally accumulate into one large trash bag. I washed my spoon with a wet napkin with a little camping soap. Then wipe it again with a napkin just wet with water. Seriously, if there’s a leak in my apartment, maintenance is on it. Sifting through my wet garbage bags shed me of all inhibitions that night. Gross, but that’s life.

Step 9: Identification and camera

I club these into one because it is recommended you do not carry your Id and iPhone. I did. It was fine. A lot of pointers are around preparing for bad trips and a lot of alcohol. Its a personal choice but I think being hungover on the playa is waste of precious time.
horse

Step 10: Offerings

There is an expectation around bringing something to share. My camp offered so I didn’t bring any art installation or jewelry to share. Those are the most popular. The lavender mister and burning man necklace were my favorite. I had an extra of every essential just in case I needed to care for someone or offer.

Step 11: Your responsibility with respect to MOOP/ gray water/ trash/ fuel

MOOP is matter out of place or another word for litter. In a dust storm, it becomes a safety hazard. So please don’t bring anything or leave anything around that becomes this. Don’t take any packaging with you. It will become trash you will have to haul in and out and may turn into MOOP. Gray water needs to be dumped outside of Black Rock city. Not in the port-a-potties. BMIR has more information about storage of fuel.

I didn’t plan my days. They give you a booklet on entry about all the events throughout the week. So I checked it and did what I felt like.
robot
I will have to say this. Before you lose your direction on the deep playa, you need to train yourself with endurance sports and solo travel. Your self talk needs to sound like the voice of reason to you. Add good gear. And you are ready.
nightPlaya
There is no concept of judgement here. The people you see around going nuts are in complete control of themselves and in their element. It’s a sophisticated fantasy land. If some energy aligns with you, indulge. Otherwise, move along without disturbing it. Taking pictures without permission can get you in trouble. I avoided taking pictures of people.
Friday night before the Saturday burn way my favorite. I had a lovely dinner with my buddies and rode toward the deep playa. The lights! Oh God the lights blew my mind! The moon looked like a cognizant participant to the party 🙂
I ran out of muscles in my face to smile at what I was seeing. They take everything that feels good and magnify and distort it out of proportion. The filthy tunes on Esplanade made me feel like a snake charmed. I was dusty and beat and told my friends I’m going back to my tent. But I got distracted and roamed from Opulent temple to Death guitar to Thunderdome and many others. I reached my tent safe and sound at quarter to one in spite of the dust storm and losing the way several times.
manburn
The magnificent man burn was on Saturday night at around 10 pm. The afterparty was tame. We brought in our friend’s birthday at Jazz cafe. It was lovely. People do stay for the temple burn but it is not as big an event. The temple closed on the day of the burn. So I suggest visiting it multiple times before the Sunday temple burn. I couldn’t so I asked a ranger to take pictures of some notes with my iPhone and hand it to me. That, is my favorite burner hack!
templeBurn.jpg
One bike ride to the deep playa to see the sunrise needs to happen 🙂
Sunrise
I spoke to a lot of former burners about everything Burning man. Everyone burns differently. You do you. A lot of solo virgin burners showed up in 2018 and absolutely killed it. We also lucked out with the weather. I cannot imagine anyone regretting it. I decompressed at a hot spring in Cedarville and then Eugene.
cedarville
I grabbed lunch at my favorite restaurant in Seattle once I reached home. It was delicious but I cried in the bathroom after. It was too good a vacation and I missed it. I didn’t miss anyone or anything at the burn. Best vacay EVER!
seattle

Other Resources:-

(Burning Man Information Radio) BMIR
Time to burn (mobile application)
Burner man traffic on twitter
burningman.org
eplaya.burningman.org
Several fb groups

 

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