FESTIVAL GUIDE BURNING MAN
Black Rock City, this magical place, a Fata Morgana that arises out of the fine dust of Black Rock Desert once a year. A mysterious spot on our world map, located at 40°45’13.83″N, 119°16’37.20″W to be precise, which 70000 humans call their home for seven days. They come, they dance, and they go and leave no trace behind. It is a ceremony of freedom, love, respect and tolerance, towards yourself and your surroundings. Burning Man is an emotional journey that one cannot describe, but has to experience oneself. All I am trying to do is to help you simplify your journey to and away from this extraordinary site in Black Rock Desert.
BEFORE BURNING MAN
This is the single most important part! Make sure to be registered and signed up before the tickets release. It saves you the hustle on the day and you will receive some worth knowing information via newsletter during the course of time. Double-check the date and time the tickets go on sale with your local time zone. I suggest to be on the website a couple of minutes before the release. When the time has come, be quick, hit refresh and hopefully you get redirected to the buying page, where you can enter all the required information and press “purchase now”. Give it a few seconds or minutes until you receive your confirmation email.
RECREATIONAL VEHICLE - BOOKING
There are multiple ways to reside at Burning Man. The most popular ones must be to join a camp and resting in the areas provided, renting a regular car and dreaming on the passenger seat, setting up a tent or as the majority of Burners do, nesting in a “recreational vehicle” or short RV. We chose the RV option – one it provides you with a bed and two it is your way of transport to the desert. I booked our RV through a website called USA-Reisen.de, which is basically an online portal for RV rentals in the USA. I am not sure whether they only speak German, but I reckon they understand English too. They were very good in organizing everything and helpful when I had any queries. Be aware that the demand for RVs during Burning Man skyrockets! Pretty much all rentals around Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas are booked out way in advance. I was struggling to find one in March, so get on it as soon as possible. The model we rented was called C30 and provided enough space for five people. When you book your RV, there are a couple of extras we forgot to reserve in advance, so do make sure to do so. First, book a bicycle rack that can be attached to the vehicle, so you can transport your bikes. Further, the rental company will offer various additional packages, such as kitchen supplies, bedding and a satellite navigation system. We decided to go with all of the above. However, I reckon you are probably better off just buying the necessary equipment at a Wal-Mart Supercenter along with your other supplies, as the packages do come at high prices. Furthermore, assure what has been paid and if there are any outstanding costs to be paid at pick-up. In our case, we were unaware of having to pay the deposit for the vehicle at the station, as well as the additional packages, so such came as a bit of a surprise.
RECREATIONAL VEHICLE - USAGE
The RV rental company we have been connected with through USA-Reisen.de was named Road Bear. The people at the rental are hyper strict on going to Burning Man and I do understand why, as the RVs do suffer in the desert. Road Bear and other companies, too, will give you a list of do’s and don’ts - tape down the windows and outside storage compartments, do not take dust inside the RV or do not sit on the roof. In the end of the day you have to decide for yourself, what you do and what you don’t. In our case, we did put tape over all window and storage compartment frames. It prevents the dust from going into the rubber sealing around them and possibly inside. Secondly, do try to take as little dust as possible into the vehicle. Playa dust is very light and spreads out nicely across the interior of the vehicle. It is pretty simple, the less you take in, the easier to clean up in the end. A final note, the company will advice you not to climb on the roof. However, I recommend one to go up to the top of the vehicle to hang out and embrace the remarkable views across the playa and Black Rock City. Please note: It is advisable to not be intoxicated, so that the risk of falling down is deteriorated.
RECREATIONAL VEHICLE - PETROL
Always have enough petrol in your RV! The RV uses petrol to run the generator, which in turn is needed to function the Air Condition, whilst at park in the desert. Once you are on the road from Reno into the desert, there is only one gas station near the entrance of Burning Man. However, I would not rely that such will have enough petrol available when entering or leaving the desert. So, make sure to have your RV always filled up and do so especially before you leave Reno and head into the desert. Though, we never ran into a critical situation, you never know.
Again, similar to the accommodation situation at Burning Man, different people have different preferences. In our case, we decided to fly into San Francisco and hang out there for a couple of days, which everyone felt was pretty useful. You can adapt to the time difference, settle down and organize final things pre the Burn. In terms of accommodation, we rented out an Airbnb in an area called ‘South of Market’ or ‘SoMa’ in short. It is a young and upcoming area that is filled with young tech experts and other bohemian individuals sharing a beer at one of the many cool hang out spots. Whilst ‘SoMa’ is a creative hub, Haight Street is the magnet for people going to Burning Man. The area is host to plenty of stores to buy all the gear you need. However, I do recommend buying as much as you can beforehand back home. It will save you a few dollar bills and a lot of hustle. Also, you will probably be able to find a better outfit, if you take your time and think about what you want to wear at Burning Man. In any case, Haight Street is a nifty spot to hang out, with its special vibes of pre Burning Man excitement in the air and on people’s faces.
TRIP TO BLACK ROCK CITY - PICK-UP
The day has come. The bags are packed, the outfits are ready and you are jumping into the cab to pick up your RV. In terms of Road Bear, their pick up station is located around a 30 minutes drive outside of San Francisco. First we took a taxi from downtown to the station, whilst on our return a week later, we used their drop-off service to the airport and grabbed a cab from SFO to head back into San Francisco, which turned out to be cheaper.
TRIP TO BLACK ROCK CITY - BUY FOOD AND GEAR
Once you picked up your RV and are cruising down the highways through beautiful valleys, you will pass a couple of Wal-Mart Supercenters along the way. Those are your places to stack up the vehicle with your desert essentials. If you come from San Francisco like we did, your best bets will be Sacramento or Reno. Saying that, make sure you drop in at a Supercenter furthest away from Black Rock City to avoid disappointment. Highly demanded items, like bicycles, do sell out even at Wal-Mart. For a more detailed packing list, please check my “Burning Man Pack List”. After all, it is very much up to you of what you need and want to bring. However, in case you cannot find a particular item or have forgotten something, there are enough helpful people to provide you with whatever you need. Nevertheless, a proper bicycle is one of the most crucial pieces of equipment to ensure a great Burning Man experience. I bought a little BMX bike, because I thought it was ‘cool’, but ended up riding my friend’s bike, having her sit on the rack, as that turned out easier than cruising around on my bike that was too small. You cannot imagine how vast the playa is, so a well functioning bike is crucial for you to get from A to B and embrace the wonderful things this festival has to offer. Besides, for the technology fanatics, if you want to bring your phones, DSLRs or anything similar into the desert, it is very difficult to protect them against the dust. One is to always carry them in a sealable plastic bag or dust-protected case, and only take them out when there is no severe dust storm. I have seen some attempts to seal DSLRs in plastic bags, including my own, but it turned out annoying and limiting rather than useful. At the end of the day, if you do not want to risk any monetary damage to your possessions, just use your own senses and your brain to capture your experiences.
AT BURNING MAN
ARRIVAL IN BLACK ROCK CITY
We were stranded in Reno Monday evening, having found out that Black Rock City got shut down due to heavy rainstorms. So, we ended up buying some final items at Wal-Mart and waited for a bit before driving up Tuesday morning around 3:00 am. As a side-note you are allowed to station and camp your RV at a Supercenter’s car park. Fortunately, our gamble paid off and on our way up, the grounds re-opened and our wait turned out to be very short, due to little traffic on the roads. I doubt that there is an ideal time to roll in, but I believe arriving on Monday means that you will be stuck in traffic for long hours. Nevertheless, people have told me that those jams turn into a lot of fun, too. When you arrive at the gates, a warden will scan your tickets, check that the number of tickets coincides with the number of people in the car and will wave you through to the official entrance of Black Rock City. In the distance you will hear music, you can see lasers and you note an individual or a group of people running towards your RV. They will open your door and kindly say “Welcome at Black Rock City.” By that time you know you are here, you have reached this mysterious place in the middle of a desert, far away from civilisation. The people are happy, they cheer and they hug you. If it is your first burn, they will invite to go through the ‘newbie’ ceremony. At that point, all sorts of awkwardness or any preconceptions will fall of your shoulders. Jump back into your RV and find a parking slot, whether that is at your camp or any free space you can find. The Moop Map of Black Rock City is pretty straightforward. It takes a circular shape with horizontal streets being referred to with names starting with letters A to L and vertical paths go by the clock from 2:00 to 10:00. In our case, we ended up staying at 10 and J, which was perfect as it was near the camps of our friends of Robot Heart, Zoo Camp and Recess-Reunion, directly on the boarder of the deep playa. Please note: When you drive within Black Rock City do not go over the speed limit of 5 mph. There are rangers, who occasionally check on your speed and more importantly it is dangerous, as you may oversee some fellow burners.
I do not really know how to explain the experience I had, but if the word indescribable has a meaning it shall apply to Burning Man. It is a surreal experience, which one has to embrace on its own. So, I do not want to go into great detail of what I have relished or what my friends have said, rather I just want to offer a brief run down of what the week looks like. It kicks in at a mellow pace, as a big number of people only come in at a later stage. So, starting from Thursday, once more burners have settled, will be the time when the big names on the electronic music sky will begin to have their DJ sets. You want to find the Robot Heart bus in the deep playa, dancing into the sunrise, before you move on to Disco Knights to cherish the morning hours of that day. During the week, you will meet heaps of people and form new friendships. Despite all, do take some time and explore the beauty of this place by yourself. Take a stroll around Black Rock City or ride your bicycle through the infinite dust of the deep playa, during day and night – meditate, visit art installations and seize this unique opportunity. Besides, for the athletes amongst us, Pink Lightning Camp organises the official Burning Man Ultra Marathon that is 50 kilometre run through Black Rock Desert. From Friday onwards, artists will begin to burn their installations, before the crowds will gather to watch the man burn on Saturday night, prior to the temple, which will be set on fire the following evening ahead of exodus.
Similar story to when you arrive at Burning Man, there is no perfect timing. In our case, we left straight after the burn of the man, which turned out to be a good time to leave. We did not face too much outbound traffic and the waits were very reasonable before we exited the desert and found a clear road ahead back to Reno. However, the downside of this approach is that the experience of the burning man was fairly rushed and we did not see the temple on fire. I suggest holding out as long as possible and leave as one of the last vehicles after the temple and other installations have burned down. If you can, offer a hand to pick up any traces that have been left behind and observe Black Rock City dissolve in the dust of the desert.
AFTER BURNING MAN
WELCOME BACK TO REALITY
Same old story, there are many different ways to re-enter civilisation after a week or so in a desert. A great number of people chose the beautiful waters of Lake Tahoe to rehabilitate. Initially, so did we. It is a little detour on your way back to San Francisco, but from what I have seen, I can understand why people chose this stunning place to calm down and slowly get used to regular life again. Unfortunately, we were a bit lost by the time we reached the lake, thus decided to leave Tahoe behind and headed towards San Francisco. As Monday is Labour Day in the USA, the majority of the RV rentals are closed, including Road Bear, so you have to wait until Tuesday to drop off our vehicle. In this way we discovered a RV resort, named Coyote Valley, which is around an hour drive away from the Road Bear station. We spent the following two nights there, using the time to give our recreational vehicle its inside clean, clearing the black and grey water tanks, sorting out our luggage and enjoying some down time. In the end, I actually recommend to come to this place the day before you have to hand back the RV. It is in close distance to the Road Bear office and allows you to clean and arrange all sort of final things. It can save you some hustle, instead of coming all the way down from Lake Tahoe the morning of giving back the car.
CLEANING THE RV
There are professional companies in Reno and most likely further ones closer to the major cities on the way back that offer RV cleaning. As I said above, we ended up cleaning the RV ourselves, which worked out perfectly fine. Go to Wal-Mart to buy basic cleaning liquids and wipes. First, hoover everything inside to remove the majority of the dust, before you use wipes to clean final bits and get rid of other stains. In terms of the hoover, we kindly asked a neighbour in the RV resort, which lent us his, plus gave us some fresh marinated chicken wings. It appears that the Burning Man spirit is not only to be found in the desert, but also in reality. When you use the wipes or other liquid cleaners, do not use too much water, as when the dust gets wet it will cement itself in a muddy form. After, get rid of all the tape that was used to seal the windows and compartments. You may want to apply some glue remover to erase final glue stains. For the outside, we went to a “Dollar Car Wash” the next day, just before we handed back the vehicle. One of those stations is literally located two minutes away from Road Bear, where you can find a hose and pressure washer to clean the outside. Also, there is a water-powered brush with soap to give the ride a proper clean all around from roof to rims. Finally, the vehicle turned out to be immaculate and we did not have to pay any of our deposit. Those were great news, because you have to be aware that if they discover any kind of damage or regard the vehicle not cleaned, your contract terms allow them not to refund your money. In the end, the only amount that had been deducted was for the use of the generator, which had been communicated beforehand.
After you dropped off your RV, I recommend before heading straight back home to spend two nights or so back in San Francisco or any city in close proximity to SFO airport. It means you allow yourself some more time to reconnect and things will not get rushed, as the last thing you want after the Burn is stress. Again, we found ourselves a charming apartment on Airbnb. We stayed in a neighbourhood called ‘Pacific Heights’, which is known for its prestigious architecture and encloses Fillmore Street that is home to many little coffee shops and designer boutiques. We also took the chance to explore parts of San Francisco we did not find the time for before Burning Man – visiting Alcatraz, taking in the fabulous views from Vista Point onto Gold Gate Bridge or from Twin Peaks across the city and strolling down the streets of artsy Mission District.
Love and Dust.