This time next week I’ll be in the Black Rock Desert (Nevada, USA) ready for a week of community, art, self-reliance and radical self expression. It’s The Burning Man Festival!
I was lucky enough to acquire a ticket at the last minute and so I thought: “Bugger it, rinse out the penny pot and book that flight. I’ve got all the things I need for a festival.” How wrong I was! This is no ordinary festival, it’s a “utopian society” built on radical self-reliance, radical self expression, communal effort and participation. A 50,000 strong city built by artists and like-minded people that pops up annually in the middle of the desert, for many Burning Man is a lifestyle.
The Burning Man principles include:
Burning Man encourages you to “discover, exercise and rely on your inner resources.”
Be completely prepared to take care of yourself physically and mentally.
Anyone can be part of Burning Man – whoever you are, you’ll be welcomed and respected.
“Transformative change can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation.” Everyone at Burning Man makes Burning Man. It’s not something to observe, it’s something to be part of – say “yes!”
“The principle of Gifting is unconditional and doesn’t constitute a return or exchange for something of equal value.” Burners give gifts because they want to, and it can be in any shape or form, from giving out food and beer to lending a hand at a camp or simply offering someone a hug.
Leave No Trace:
Burners respect their environment – they come and go with no trace of ever being there.
Everything that enters Black Rock City leaves Black Rock City.
The other principles include Decommodification, Communal Effort, Immediacy and
Civic Responsibility. These are principals to carry not only for the week but in life.
“The Black Rock Desert is trying its best to kill you”
As a total Burning Man virgin I am in no way any kind of expert on preparing for the journey, but I’d like to list some of the survival essentials I’ve learned so far from veteran burners who’ve kindly shared their wisdom.
In the interest of radical self-reliance everyone must enter fully prepared to survive 7 days in the desert. Nothing can be bought at Burning Man (with the exception of ice and coffee) and so everything needs to come with you. You must come prepared to battle the elements: dry hot days at 4,000 feet above sea level, freezing cold nights and unpredictable weather.
Packing list essentials
1.5 gallons of water per day is the recommended amount. As I’m flying solo to Reno from the UK and catching the ‘Burner Express’ into Black Rock City, I’ll be buying 11-12 gallons of water in the city and transporting it all to the desert in a wheelie bin! I’ve also bought a Camelback backpack that holds 1.5 litres, so I won’t go thirsty miles away from camp.
Again, I’ll buy this in Reno: lots of dried fruit, nuts and energy bars as well as tinned food and salty snacks. The salty snacks help replace electrolytes that you lose sweating in the heat.
Goggles and Dust Masks:
Sandstorms or ‘white-outs’ are regular; the best thing to do is stick your goggles and dust mask on, sit down and wait for it all to blow over.
I’ve pre-ordered a tent for pick up in Reno as well as rebar stakes. Regular tent pegs have absolutely no use on the hardpan ground of the desert, and even if you could get them in the ground the high wind would just go ahead and blow your tent away.
Clothing (Cool/Warm) and Self Expression:
Temperatures are up to around 40 degrees (c) in the day, and plummet to under 5 degrees (c) at night. Sun hats and thermal underwear are both essential! This is a chance not for costume but for radical self-expression. The outfits I’ve bought and made for the festival are a reflection of me.
Lights Lights Lights:
It’s important to light up at night; you can easily get hit by a bike, art car or mutant vehicle if you don’t. I’ve bought hi-vis tape to cover my coat with (as well as my tent, so nobody falls into it), UV face paint, light-up finger beams, flashing EL wire to stitch into my clothes, a head torch, a hand torch, glow in the dark nail varnish and glowing eye lashes.
They have emergency services in Black Rock City but in the interest of radical self-reliance you should be able to look after yourself. I’ve got all the basics and have been for a spree at the pharmacy for every pill and potion I could possibly need.
The alkaline desert is drying you up and the harsh sun is burning you all day, so it’s really important to keep restoring your body’s moisture. I’ve got plenty of sunscreen, high-acid lotions, lip balm and eye drops.
For the full official Survival Guide and Personal Survival Checklist visit the
Burning Man website.
From what I’ve read this is a week of embracing life and opportunity, loving those around you and letting yourself go. I’m going alone and I plan to throw myself into anything and everything possible, not being afraid to be the best possible version of myself.
Click here for a sneaky peek at this year’s artwork or watch one of the videos below and, like me, get inspired to go!
Are you a virgin burner this year? Are you a veteran with some pearls of wisdom? Are you planning a burn next year? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter: @XstaticWorld
My burn experience coming soon!