Burning Man—A Neophyte’s Guide

Wear sunscreen and other vital lessons learned over more than a decade of visits to Black Rock City

Photo by Oliver Fluck

Photo by Oliver Fluck

Rome wasn’t built in a day, yet Black Rock City—Burning Man’s annual temporary community experiment—is manifested every August within a matter of weeks. Pyramids, a saucer-piloting frog, a lighthouse, a flying tentacle monster, a puppet dating theater, an airport, crop circles, a drive-in, people-size cat toys, a colossal coffee shop, duck tents, a time machine, a temple, a unicorn zip line, the event’s namesake effigy and much more are being assembled or delivered to the Northern Nevada desert as you read this; Burning Man 2013 runs August 26-September 2.

And right now, either you’ve got your golden ticket, or you should start hoarding green for Burning Man 2014 (tickets generally go on sale in winter). Commerce is mostly limited to coffee and ice on the playa, but getting there can be pricey. Allow me to drop more knowledge gleaned from my more-than-decade tenure: Riding a bike with an umbrella dangling from your handlebars is face-plant dangerous. Playing a handsaw with a violin bow can complement a Johnny Cash homage. And there’s more.

1. Yes, you will get sand in your vajajay. OK, it’s technically alkali dust. And you might not have lady parts. Still, expect it to infiltrate every orifice and then some (goggles are your friends). Come to terms with this fact as fast as feasible. You’ll be happy you did.

2. It’s impossible to bring too much bacon. This one time, at Burning Man, a friend arrived with 40 pounds of pork. She gifted us 6 pounds when she left Wednesday (day three of seven). Salty food prevents electrolyte imbalance. Dehydration is not a desirable altered state. Rabbit foodies: try seaweed.

3. Cock-block the sun. Temperatures exceed 100 degrees. Use protection. Being without a shade structure is asking to be rudely awakened in a puddle of sweat, and shunning sunscreen may force you to play Dr. Zoidberg, so lube up. Lip balm, too. The above-mentioned umbrella has saved me more than it almost killed me. Also, you can still get burned when it’s overcast—especially if you’re only wearing Scratch-N-Sniff panties and a helmet.

4. Playing dress-up keeps you young. You don’t have to be a little girl to appreciate a colorful wardrobe. Trying on characters and personas exercises your creative muscles, regardless of age. Just as kids feel safe to role-play in their parents’ closet, Burners of all ages feel safe to let their freak flags fly on the playa, where even you suits can don lingerie and get away with it.

5. Art cars are not taxicabs. Hitchhiking on a dragon or a pirate ship is a kick in the pants, but don’t get butt-hurt if you get rejected. Mutant vehicles are not obligated to serve as public transportation. Plus, they’ve got maximum capacities, and there are safety concerns. Instead, buy a bike and pimp your own ride (or try the new subway). Watch the aforementioned umbrella. Note: Attempting to traverse a land of perpetual distraction with a fleet is futile.

6. Radical self-expression is championed (unless it involves sodomy-themed art). Mark Canepa created a piece for gay hookup hot spot Jiffy Lube in 2001. He was given a Polaroid of an earlier work as inspiration. “Men in Action” was 12-feet-tall and depicted two cartoon dudes doing it. Johnny Law was hardly amused, ordering organizers to move it from public view. Some guy with string on his willy led a protest.

7. Water is your friend. I once made the potentially fatal mistake of popping a Clif Bar in my mouth when my throat was parched. Even more unfortunately, water wasn’t within arm’s reach. An onlooker watched casually as the gooey foodstuff lodged itself in my esophagus. I began to panic. Burners die every year; it’s a possibility you accept when you purchase a ticket. If what’s left of my memory serves me correctly, I staggered to the nearest liquid and lubricated the blockage. The moral? Drink enough H2O to piss clear. And always keep it handy.

On a related note, kids are enthralled by gargle singing.

Want more? The Burning Man Survival Guide is your bible. Read it at BurningMan.com.