Burning Man is a tough thing to describe because it’s composed of many different elements and means different things to every person that attends. I don’t think that there is a single definition that really explains what it is, but I’ll try to explain it from my perspective and what I ultimately go out of it.
To me, Burning Man was an experiment in community, self-expression and self-reliance. It’s an experiment because I feel that it’s different every time and nobody knows exactly what they’ll get out of it.
Once a year, thousands of people (around 50,000 this year) flock to a desert about 100 miles north of Reno, NV to “get away” from the outside world and build Black Rock City – a temporary community that disappears without a trace once the event is over.
It’s a community like no other where everybody is free to do and be whatever they desire and nobody gets judged. It’s a community where people are genuinely nice, friendly and accepting of others. It’s a simple concept, but you don’t realize how profound it really is until you spend a week in that environment and then come back to a place like New York City. Life just moves differently there.
It’s a gifting community where money is of no use, as there is nothing that you can buy (with the exception of Ice and Coffee at the center camp, the proceeds of which benefit the nearby communities). Rather, people are expected to help one another without expecting anything in return and, from our experience, that’s exactly how it turns out. I’ll remember our amazing neighbors – who have their shared countless dinners and drinks with us – as one of the most wonderful parts of the entire experience.
Self-reliance is important at Burning Man. The environment is harsh. There are no amenities, aside from the Port-a-Potties (which are kept surprisingly clean!). The temperatures during the day can hit over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, while the night typically brings the cool temperatures in the 40s or so. And, of course, the dust storms are no picnic either. We were hit by them twice during the event – on the first and the last day. It’s definitely one of those things that makes you wonder what the hell you got yourself into.
Everybody is expected to be completely self-sufficient and bring their own food, water, supplies and shelter to keep themselves comfortable throughout the 8 days of the event. Of course, that being said, if you are ever in need of something, you can always count on your neighbors to help you out. So whether we helped somebody put together their bikes or shade structures or somebody offers to share their dinner with us, you’re all in it together.
Ultimately, I feel that I still have a way to go to fully understand and appreciate the experience of being at Burning Man. But it’s definitely something that stays with you.
In case you interested, below is a little recap of our trip with more pictures:
The trip to Burning Man started in Sacramento where we rented a car and everybody met up. Our little group was composed of myself, Alex (my cousin) and two other friends (Igor and Oleksiy). It was Sunday morning when we all gathered together and the plan for the day was to get supplies and provisions, pack up the car and make our way to Black Rock City by midnight of that day.
Getting all of the supplies together was quite an adventure of its own. Evidently, it’s considered strange going into a supermarket and buying 350 liters of bottled water! Between that, food, camping gear, bicycles (everyone in Black Rock City rides around on a bike), etc., we wound up raiding a Walmart and a few supermarkets. Suddenly, our SUV started to look much smaller when we tried to pack everything in.
By the end of it, we filled every inch of space in the car and on the roof with the supplies and after a few trial laps around a supermarket’s parking lot – to ensure that the car doesn’t flip over on a tight turn or that the stuff on the roof doesn’t fall off when we break – left Sacramento.
After a 3-4 hour drive to Reno, we got off the Interstate into a small, local highway. Although it was already late in the evening, within an hour, we hit a snake-like procession of thousands of cars slowly making their way to Burning Man. It was truly an amazing sight to see so many vehicles in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. Cars and RVs were packed to the bring with supplies, equipment, various building materials and anything else you can think of.
By the time we actually got to Black Rock City, it was already about 1.30am in the morning. However, since every car needed to pass through the gates where tickets were checked and cars were being inspected for “freeriders”, it took us about 4 more hours to get inside. As we were waiting in a massive car line, we got the first taste of what the week will be like and got to see our first sunrise in the desert.
Although we were pretty exhausted by the time we got it and finally setup our tent, shade structure and the rest of the gear, it was finally morning and the desert was starting to heat up. Unfortunately, getting any sleep in the 100-degree weather is pretty difficult – to say the least.
Especially since just when we started to relax, the sand storm hit. It started off slowly and you could see the wind picking up. But then the dust starts to swirl around you and before you know it, you are engulfed by it. Luckily, we were prepared, so we put on our dust masks and ski goggles and tried to relax in our little camping chairs.
But even that wasn’t meant to be because before we knew it, the strong winds broke both of our canopies (shade structures) and we had to hustle to fix them before any more damage was done.
By the end of the sandstorm, which lasted about 6 hours, everything – from the inside of the tent to our car and supplies – was covered in dust.
But as frustrating as that may be, you learn to accept the elements and not let them affect your experience.
The first day went by pretty quickly due to the storm and the fact that we were exhausted, so we collapsed as soon as the evening came about.
During the week, we tried to take in as much as the event as possible. However, due to the enormous size, it is pretty difficult to do everything that’s available to you, so we took it fairly easy.
Throughout the day, there is a wide range of things available to do. Ranging from workshops held by different camps (due to the family nature of this blog, I won’t go into details of the actual workshops:)) to just walking around the playa (this is what the surface of the desert is called) and absorbing the art, the sights and the people.
Of course, as fun as checking out the community can be, there is nothing more enjoyable that spending a day with your neighbors-turned-friends drinking a beer (or a Strawberry Daiquiri, for some…). To me, that’s what a community is all about! Fortunately, we were surrounded by terrific people that really made our experience there very enjoyable.
During the night, the city turns into one big party to the extent that makes you wonder what work you are really in. Between the bicycle-riding costumed people, the fire-spurting art cars and installations, lights and music, it feels more like you are at a carnival rather than the desert.
Ultimately, Burning Man is really what everybody makes out of it for themselves.