I recently went on an epic journey to Burning Man for the first time! After hearing stories from friends about dust storms, public nudity, art installations, and drug use, I set the intention to go into the fray without expectations. I went with my good friend Jared and left alone in a paranoid frenzy a few hours before the man burned, returning after traveling over 4,000 miles through Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and finally reaching my destination in Austin, Texas. There's so much beauty to explore on this blue sphere floating in space! I was blessed with many hours of solitude to drive, listen to music, and contemplate my next course of action in life. I seriously considered buying an RV and traveling the country after getting back. However, I can't rationally afford this expense on my shoestring budget. That combined with the fact I'm still actively growing my business in Austin brought me back to reality. I was living out of my car for over a week and enjoying the rugged lifestyle, but this would wear pretty thin after awhile. I was fortunate enough to stay with my beautiful friend Ashlyn and her boyfriend Chris in Colorado Springs. This proved to be a great way to relax before hitting the road again. The practice of radical self-reliance encouraged me to be the master of my own destiny! Every leader should try to see the world differently and play to the beat of their own drummer. I think Burning Man embodies what it means to be a resourceful entrepreneur in many ways with all the tribulations along the way. We could all learn something from the 10 principles in order to make this society a better place to work and live. So, what are the key takeaways on how to survive Burning Man?
1. Bring plenty of water.
This is absolutely paramount! Water is a precious commodity in Black Rock City. I brought roughly 15 gallons of water for me and my friend. Keep in mind you're in the desert and there are no refill stations! Of course, it is a gifting economy so you can trade water for other items but I wouldn't encourage it. Alcohol, on the other hand, is plentiful. All you need is a license and your own cup. The dry environment combined with booze is a dangerous combination, making dehydration is a very real possibility. I tried to keep alcohol consumption to a minimum with the exception of one too many Bloody Mary's at Camp 11:11. We later took a spin around the playa on a large metallic art car. I mistakenly took a leak next to a law-enforcement vehicle and received a ticket from Black Rock City police. The lesson here is, drink plenty of fluids but be careful where you release. Obviously, you should also bring plenty of food as well. I ate salmon straight from the can for nearly a week. Great source of protein but I eventually lost the taste of fish and found a nearby campsite offering free lemonade-vodka. They cooked a delicious breakfast for me the last few days.
2. Make friends with your neighbors.
I learned this lesson almost instantly. Most people are very friendly at Burning Man and willing to help. It's not difficult to make friends at Burning Man since people will chit-chat with you on a whim. My neighbors from England helped me set up a large tent and I biked around deep playa with them the very first day. Another guy who I referred to as the "Mad Professor" graciously allowed me to charge electronics using his generator. The guy across the dirt road offered to let me use his makeshift shower and jumped my car battery. As is true in life, if you treat people with respect and offer help, they will return the favor. Treat others as you want to be treated, plain and simple. I was frequently left alone to fend for myself and encouraged myself to make friends with strangers. From a young age we're often encouraged to not converse with strangers, but in reality we're all one human family. The world is not a cold dark place, it's full of light and happiness. Most burners are colorful and interesting creatures, so I would often go up to random people and ask to take their photo. This is one of the main reasons I enjoy carrying my camera everywhere. Next year I will make sure to get a permit to fly the drone and collaborate with a few famous photographers!
3. Bring your own bike.
This is the only surefire way to get around Black Rock City. Apparently you can rent bikes in Reno but this is an additional expense and not guaranteed. I picked up a beater bike at Yellow Bike Project in Austin on the cheap. Unfortunately, this bike eventually went missing after forgetting where I parked it. I was forced to borrow a bike until the derailleur fell off. The desert is a harsh mistress, so it's important to rely on your own inner resources whenever possible. Eventually, I discovered the community bike initiative just outside Center Camp. This solution was also fraught with problems since these bikes are fair game for anyone. You're not allowed to lock them either. One time I made this mistake and an official at Yellow Bike Camp came confiscated the bike and my U-lock. Also, make sure to keep your naked rear end off the seats unless you want to risk contracting herpes, gonorrhea, or who knows what else. Just because a toilet seat may be cleaner than a doorknob doesn't mean you should trust the bike seats at Burning Man. Everyone rides them just a bus route, to quote a Jay-Z song.
4. Wear your mask and goggles.
You brought them for a reason! Wear your mask and goggles to keep the playa dust out of your lungs. There are times when the dust storms are so thick ("white out") you can barely see 2 feet ahead. The entire experience often reminded me of what I imagine a war zone (Operation Iraqi Freedom or some bullshit) to be like, only in the case of Burning Man, it's over 70,000 hippies partying it up in the desert. It's essentially a much smaller version of Woodstock in the 60's, although drug use isn't as prevalent as you might anticipate. For example, I asked for LSD over a dozen times before finally finding it and leaving on an epic adventure through multiple NW Pacific states. I would not recommend trying this illegal stunt but it was such a beautiful drive through the hills above Black Rock City while listening to Eric Clapton! Even though I missed the culmination burn, my battery was burning sulfur all the way to Portland but my stubborn persistence got me there safely.
5. Get your vehicle up to speed.
If you're driving to Black Rock City, make sure to take your vehicle to the shop for maintenance before leaving. I noticed my tire was losing air pressure at the Grand Canyon. We stopped at a Discount Tire in Las Vegas and I was convinced to replace both rear tires since they were no longer in any condition to handle the Nevada desert heat. It's always better to be safe than sorry! We also ran out of gas at night in the middle of nowhere. Luckily there were plenty of people on their way to Burning Man and we were able to hitch a ride to a nearby gas station. Another time we had to wait in line for over four hours at the last gas station just outside Black Rock City because we made the mistake of not filling up earlier. However, we crossed paths with friends from Austin while waiting and they followed us there. Their battery died and I reluctantly towed them with my car the rest of the way. These trials always teach us important lessons on the journey of life that we can apply to improve our circumstances later on down the metaphorical road of dreams.
6. Try to get some sleep.
This isn't always an easy task when your fellow burners are partying all night long. There's a persistent feeling of FOMO ("fear of missing out"). However, sleep is your greatest ally in this harsh environment. The inside of my large 8-person tent was caked in playa dust. It was a pain in the arse to set up and I didn't even put the rain-fly over it. So instead of doing the rational thing and cleaning out my tent, I opted to be adventurous and find random places to sleep every night. Unfortunately none of them were beside a beautiful woman, but hey, beggars can't be choosers. One night I slept in a tea kettle art installation, another time on a Lay-Z-Boy at my friend's campsite, yet another shivering on a couch at the fancy Star Star circus tent.
7. Bring protection. ;)
Yes, it's important to bring condoms and sunscreen. However, if you're a photography geek like me, you're more interested in a waterproof case for the camera. After reading a few articles by Trey Ratcliff, I bought this case (below) specifically designed for a Sony A6000. Long story short, many of my photos wouldn't have been possible without it. It's relatively easy to use, you can adjust every setting with various dials and it does a great job of keeping all the dust out. The highlight of my Burning Man was the opportunity to go on a photo walk around the playa with Trey and about 50 other photographers!
Hopefully this guide has been informative as you consider whether to attend Burning Man in the subsequent years. I would definitely recommend making the pilgrimage at least once in your lifetime. It truly is an experience like nothing else on this planet!
**You may also be interested in my blog post: How To Travel Costa Rica For Cheap
Check out this epic aerial promo video intended to capture the true essence of Burning Man! Sharing is caring!
**Don't hesitate to contact me if you need a professional photographer. I specialize in aerial photography, event photography, concert photography, real estate photography, and wedding photography. Currently accepting new clients in Austin, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and surrounding areas!