Bikes on the playa, Burning man USA

Ten steps to prepare for Burning Man

Burning Man is coming up soon, so it’s time to start getting ready. These ten steps will help you prepare for Burning Man, whether you’re a first-timer or a veteran.

1. Go online and read

First stop. The Burning Man website.
First step. Sign up for The Jack Rabbit Speaks Newsletter. Even if this won’t be your first burn, you’ll want to read the JRS, because Burning Man guidelines and rules change yearly. The newsletter contains the most up-to-date and last-minute information.

If it’s your first burn, you’ll want to check out the First Timer’s Guide which also includes a Preparation Survival Guide.

Between the two, you’ll learn everything from what is MOOP to how to fly into the Black Rock City Airport to how to contact you in an emergency and everything else.

2. Getting to Black Rock City

Some people fly or drive directly into Reno. Black Rock City lies about a three-hour drive away from there. Others find their way to San Francisco and travel to Nevada in any number of ways.

You’re driving yourself? Read specific directions and warnings.

If you fly into Reno, you’ll find a greeters’ table soon after walking out of your flight. They help set up ride shares and also have information about a shuttle that will take you into Reno.

You can also do what we did. We took ourselves to Trader Joe’s where we stood outside with a sign saying “Two seats needed to BRC”. We had rented a truck with a group of friends, and they transported our gear, tent and supplies to the playa, so we only needed to find space for ourselves. It took a couple of hours to find a ride.

The newsletter I mentioned above will let you know the best contact points to find last-minute rides.

Otherwise, you can check online for ride shares from Reno or San Francisco prior to the event at either E-playa or on the tribe.net community website.

3. The three Bs of Burning Man

Boots

My first time in BRC, I brought a pair of Keens and lots of thick socks. You’re going to need more protection than that. Boots are perfect. Any kind. Thigh length fake-furry ones, to cowboy boots, to your high-heeled black dominatrix boots. All is fair game, all will protect your feet and calves from corrosive playa dust.

And don’t forget the socks to go with them.

Bikes

BRC is huge, a massive semi-circle filled with fascinating, mind-blowing art, people and lord knows what other surprises. Walking can be fun when you’re popping over to a friend’s camp with a drink or to share a candy bar, but when you’re stuck on the opposite end of the playa in the hottest part of the day, a long walk home can be exhausting. Use your energy elsewhere and ride.

There are a number of ways to find a good-quality bike.

Kiwanis Club. You have to reserve early, and put down a deposit of $30. Bikes rental itself costs $30-$50 and after the burn, these bikes go to kids who use them for the rest of the year and beyond.

Da Rat rents bikes to people who travel long distances to get to Burning Man. You can contact him for more information or to make reservations at nv_desert_rat@nvbell.net. He also runs out early.

Black Rock Bicycles. BRB’s owner Randy is a long-time burner who rents bikes for the entire Burning Man week for $75. He also sells all the gear you’d need from seat covers and locks to lighting, baskets and bike-repair kits.

We rented from him last year, and his bikes are excellent quality. This year, he offered me a free bike when I told him I’d be writing about him. BRB bikes all have tractor seats which are a huge plus when bouncing around the playa for a week. It will literally save your butt. These bikes are more expensive than many of the other options but are more comfortable than many of the others I tried.

Beyond that, you can check on Craigslist, where there are always cheap beater bikes for sale or purchase from Target or another similar store. Remember, though, the playa is an extremely harsh environment and wherever you get your bike, it will likely suffer some wear and tear. Go cheap, spend your extra money on a tractor seat and a lock to secure your bike on the playa.

Block

Buy a few bottles of spray-on sunblock. It’s easy to apply – you won’t have the mess of trying to glob on heavy cream while dust swirls about you. Don’t leave the cans out in open sun, but otherwise, you’re good to go.

4. Finding a camp to call home

You have two options to consider. First, you could just go and wing it. There’s always space for people who just walk in the playa to fit in and burn with the rest. Keep in mind, it’s also entirely possible that you’ll spend most of your time in other people’s camps, tents or in center camp.

Your other option is to connect with an existing camp such as Camp Nomadia, Couchsurfing Camp, or Kidsville. And there are plenty more.

Do you have a special skill? Cooking, massages, herbal medicine, tight-rope walking, fire breathing, sewing costumes. Are you a lesbian, deeply into S&M or want to begin your day with hard-core Ashtanga yoga? There will be a group on the playa for you. Ask around and see what you find.

Talk to friends, family, any burner you meet on the street and again, check out the E-playa forums and tribe.net.

5. Carry your water like a camel

My first year I bought a cheap backpack water supply and learned very quickly why that wasn’t the way to go. The plastic mouthpiece on the water hose fell off after only a day, and I spent the rest of the week with water dribbling down my back. This year, I got a Camelbak. It was three times the price, but it won’t leak, break or stop working halfway through the burn.

You’ll also want something with extra pockets to carry lighters, cards and gifts. Purchase karabiners at your local hardware story to attach whatever else you need that won’t fit into the pockets.

6. Get into the gift culture

The gift economy of Burning Man is one of my favorite things. Aside from a coffee shop in Center Camp, there is literally nothing to buy. Everywhere you go people have something to hand you, be it condoms or chocolate or even ice-cream cones. It’s amazing the level of creativity people reach on the playa with their gift giving.

You will most definitely want to take part in this.

Burning Man Gift ideas
Go to thrift shops and buy random, but interesting or beautiful pieces of clothing, cloth, whatever you find that piques your interest. Make your own Burning Man commemorative necklaces. Cans of beer make easy-to-carry presents that are almost always welcome.

But you don’t need to go out and just buy some crap simply because you feel you have to give gifts. You can also help people out, give a hug or massage or make them a snack. Whatever it is you choose to give, make it meaningful.

7. Synthetic fibers are your friends

Dust brushes and washes off these with relative ease. You’ll go from hot to cold to hot again, so cotton and other natural fibers can get sweaty, then freeze and back again. Synthetic materials stand up more heartily to these conditions. As for your costumes, real feathers and fur are more likely to fall apart, be swept away in the wind and MOOP up the ground.

8. Don’t be a spectator

You will be overwhelmed. That’s exactly what’s supposed to happen.

Throw yourself into the experience. There are hundreds of ways to get involved. From sitting in center camp with a bottle of cream offering foot rubs to guarding The Man himself to fortune telling and teaching yoga classes. Check out all your options to volunteer.

9. Let information overload happen

We deal with information overload every day with the internet. Burning Man takes it to another level. Just sit back and let the various sounds, colors and extremes of heat and cold stream in. You will be overwhelmed.

That’s exactly what’s supposed to happen.

10. Say no when you need to say no

While Burning Man is all about pushing your boundaries and radical self-reliance, it’s extremely important to find your limits. If suddenly things seem too much, too hard and too heavy, it’s okay to shut down or hide somewhere. You don’t have to accept every touch or substance. You don’t have to eat dust in the worst dust storm. You do need to take care of yourself.

And remember that whatever happens, you cannot prepare for everything. Nor should you want to. Burning Man is about expanding your limits and your mind. It’s about looking into the black space behind your existing universe and stepping forward even when you’re shitting yourself scared to do it.

To quote Zoe Serious, long-time burner and the woman who helped me navigate my way through my first burn: “The first rule is No Expectations: Things will change and they may not change the way you want them. Or they might.”

Soon your eyes will be wide open. You’ll never see the world the same way again.

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17 Responses to “Ten steps to prepare for Burning Man”

  1. Cherie @Technomadia August 12, 2010 at 12:24 am #

    Excellent advice for virgins :) Looking forward to seeing you on the playa.. and many thanks for the Camp Nomadia shout-out (a camp specifically for nomads, vagabonds and travelers).

  2. Leigh August 12, 2010 at 7:36 am #

    @Cherie Of course! And thanks. It’s funny, as I get ready for Burning Man this year, how much less overwhelming it was than last. See you when we’re dusty.

  3. Anthony August 17, 2010 at 9:48 am #

    Great Article. Wish we could be there too! Look forward to maybe going next year. Sounds like our type of festival!

  4. Brian Setzer August 17, 2010 at 4:18 pm #

    I was planning to head to the Pacific Northwest, but am rethinking plans now. Will decide in the next day or two which way to head. Maybe I’ll be seeing you there too :-)

  5. Dave August 17, 2010 at 7:38 pm #

    It is nice to get practical advice from someone who has learned the ropes the hard way. Thanks.

  6. Leigh August 21, 2010 at 9:34 pm #

    @Anthony I have no idea if I’ll be there next year, but I will buy tickets when they go on sale. I figure, the earlier you get them the cheaper they are, and if you decide not to go, they’re easy to sell.

    @Brian I’m camping with Salon Soleil. I think it’s at 4:30 and E, but haven’t been able to confirm it yet. I’ll also make sure to stop by Camp Nomadia for their happy hours. If you do decide to go, stop by, say hi.

    @Dave I’m glad you found the article useful. I feel the same way about all the people who helped me get ready for Burning Man. Especially last year, but this year, too.

  7. Brian Setzer August 23, 2010 at 9:25 am #

    I’m going for sure now and staying at Camp Nomadia. Will definitely try to meetup at one place or the other.

  8. Leigh August 23, 2010 at 12:33 pm #

    @brian So then, see you on the playa!

  9. Craig and Linda August 23, 2010 at 1:20 pm #

    Glad you were convinced, Brian … We really want to hear your thoughts at the end. Deal?

  10. Lynn August 24, 2010 at 10:24 am #

    This will be my 6th out of last seven years in attendance. Love to have you stop by PolyParadise camp, 4:15 & Edinburgh, on Wednesday evening for the Arizona Burners Potluck, 6-9pm. We’re probably neighbors. Burn on…

  11. Leigh August 24, 2010 at 3:48 pm #

    @Lynn Yep, looks like we’ll be right next to each other. I double checked and we are at 4:30 and E. I’ll look for you for sure! You can spot me in my bright red tutu.

  12. Brian Setzer August 24, 2010 at 6:14 pm #

    @ Craig and Linda – Absolutely, happy to!

    @Leigh – I’ll have a red tent and black motorcycle at my camp otherwise I look like my pic.

  13. Leigh September 16, 2010 at 5:19 am #

    @Lynn

    Thanks for coming by our camp. I didn’t have a chance to make it back to PolyParadise… playa distractions and all… but I wanted to meet more in your camp and take part in the discussions. I’d love to be in touch, so came back here to see if your e-mail was posted. Alas. Not. If you see this, please drop an e-mail if you so wish. xoL

  14. Lynn September 16, 2010 at 7:14 am #

    Glad to meet you and say hey this year. Alas, I did not make the potluck @PolyParadise either. Suzenn & I were camped @6:58 & Hanoi. I’ll see if I can Facebook you.

    Lynn

  15. erin June 24, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

    hey guys i just read the article and reviews, im looking into it and hoping to go next year, whats a good amount of friends to travel there with, i havent mentioned this to anyone or know very much about it, any advice? also i live in ontario, canada, so should i fly to reno then try to find a ride there, how do i find this place! ive only ever traveled twice, any advice greatly appreciated! :)

    • Leigh June 24, 2012 at 4:25 pm #

      Hey Erin,

      I’d actually suggest flying into San Francisco. It’s usually a cheaper flight than to Reno and easier to find ride shares both ways. Also, after the burn, many people go to Reno to hang out. A lot of burners go to the Grand Sierra hotel. In fact, the entire lobby is like a mini-Burning Man but cleaner and with slot machines.

      As for how many people to go with… That really depends. You can go on your own and figure it out. Or you can choose a friend or two. The bottom line, though, is you never know quite how things will work out. Personally, I’d look for one or two friends that I know well. People who are stable and that you can rely on. Then plan together. You can also look to connect with people you know who already have experience. You might be surprised at who you know who has already been and can help you out.

      I think, though, you’ll find you’ll be very well prepared for some things. Others, you only realize what you need when you’re standing on the playa. But I promise, if you read the prep guides I gave you here, you’ll be well prepared. Anything you don’t bring, you’re likely to find someone willing to help you out and share.

  16. Ellumare September 3, 2012 at 2:10 pm #

    Thanks Leigh — The hubz and I have decided to go in 2013 and am gathering as much info. for newbies as possible. Can’t wait to see you on the playa. xoxo E

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