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.
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.
3. The three Bs of Burning Man
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.
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 email@example.com. 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Ready for Burning Man?