Burning Man 101

Some dismiss the Burning Man festival as a bunch of hippies getting high in the desert. Advocate associate editor Neal Broverman found there's much more to it -- and breaks down the essentials for the uninitiated.

BY Neal Broverman

September 27 2007 11:00 PM ET

“So, how
was Burning Man?” My answer to inquiring minds is
always a minimum of four adjectives: amazing,
challenging, phenomenal, and hot. Good just
doesn’t do it justice. It’s hard to
verbalize an experience that includes living without money,
witnessing rampant nudity, and bumping into endless
creativity at every dusty corner. A week in Maui it
ain’t.

A Burning Man
travelogue, which is what follows, is better read than
heard anyway.

Since I was alone
on my first Burn, the build-up was more fear than
excitement; no childlike anticipation, just constant worry
that I was forgetting some item without which I would
find myself facedown in the sand, buzzards
circling overhead. But I came back alive -- in fact,
better mentally than when I left. Here’s what I
learned -- use it wisely.

BURNING MAN 01 X395 (NEAL BROVERMAN) | ADVOCATE.COM

Going solo

The nice folks at
the Reno/Sparks tourism board set up my Burn. They
arranged the ticket, flight, car, supplies, and a couple of
hotel nights in Reno. None of my friends could join
me, either because they couldn’t get the time
off work, didn’t have the money (the tourism board
could only pay for one $300 ticket, understandably),
or just didn’t want to leave the comfort of
daily showers and chain coffee.

Going alone to
Burning Man is pretty rare; I wouldn’t recommend it
unless you are a serious extrovert who loves
adventure. People are very nice at this event, so if
you’re somewhat outgoing, you’ll make friends
quickly. But you’re venturing into a city of
50,000 people, so you’ll appreciate a familiar
face.

The official date
of this year’s festival was August 27 to September 3.
Since I was solo I told the Reno folks that I could only
handle the last two nights. Next year I plan to double
that number.

Getting there

The fest is about
two hours northeast of Reno. Book a night or two in
Reno in advance for after the Burn. I swear the tourism
board doesn’t have a gun to my head; after a
week without modern conveniences, a hot shower (try
the Grand Sierra Resort in Sparks) and a good meal
(LuLou’s or Sezmu) are appreciated like never
before.

Many people drive
to the event in an RV or SUV or fly into Reno and rent
one. It’s hard to stuff all the things you’ll
need -- tent, food, water, gas stove, bike, lawn
chairs, etc. -- into a regular car. You’ll also be
driving on some rough roads.

There are various
“camps” that descend upon Black Rock City, the
temporary town created by the festival’s inhabitants.
(In simpler terms, BRC is just another name for the
physical spot where the Burning Man event takes
place.) If you can hook up with a camp, travel arrangements
can typically be made with them. Various camps are populated
with like-minded folk from a common area (Seattle,
Australia, etc.) who live in the same part of Black
Rock City and typically share meals, parties, and art
cars -- souped-up motorized contraptions resembling
anything from a raccoon to a forest to a castle. If
you’d like to be around brothers and sisters,
there are plenty of gay camps. Find
one online
.

The two-hour
drive from Reno was beautiful, and even through my fear I
found myself growing excited. As I closed in on the playa --
or desert basin -- gorgeous peaks hedged me in. I
could almost make out tents and cars and life.

When you pull in,
expect to cruise along with many other cars at
around 5 mph in two unpaved lanes. Waiting on this
makeshift road, boredom is staved off by snarky signs
(“This year’s Burn sucks,” “It
keeps going downhill,” “It’s so
corporate now”).

I finally arrived
at the ticket booth, where a girl in pigtails took my
ticket. (Make sure to buy a ticket early, because the prices
go up as the event nears.) The comely gal quizzed me
on how much water I had with me: three gallons, which
turned out to be a bit too much for for two nights.
She took a cursory look around my packed SUV and directed me
toward the greeter’s station, where a gorgeous
guy gave me maps, paperwork, and the rundown:

“Welcome.”
“Thanks.” “Is this your
first Burn?” “Yes.”
“Cool. Where are you camping?”
“Uh, I don’t know.”
“Well, you’ll figure it out -- just look for
an open space.” “Uh,
OK.” “You can’t drive your
car after you park it.” “All
right.” “You can’t put
anything in a Porta Potti except toilet paper and what
comes out of your body."Giggle.“You can’t leave anything behind; you must
take all garbage with you, and you are encouraged to
recycle here.”
“Definitely.” “Check out
Center Camp.” “Will
do.” “Have fun and be
good.” “Oh!” Giggle.

As it was my
first Burn, I was instructed to ring a massive bell, like
the ones in sumo matches. I almost fell as I did it, but
everyone cheered.

Tags: Travel

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