The Best of Burning Man 2013
The 27th annual Burning Man came to a close on Monday as thousands of camps, art carts and stages were broken down and packed away in moving trucks. In just a few days the beautiful temporary city of Black Rock, inhabited by over 60,000 people including officials and festival workers, disappeared like a mirage in the desert. Sure the playa is a truly wonderful place built upon principles that govern a city of goodwill. But don't be fooled by the peace signs and hippie hugs–this experience is not for the weak. Now that we've shaken the dust off and came back to reality, we reflect on the most brutal moments endured at the playa.
5. Getting to Black Rock City
When I shared stories out in deep playa with fellow burners on how my 600 mile trip took a full 24-hours, I realized my story was all too common. “Oh sweetie that's all part of the burner experience,” said a member of the Trifucta camp located at 7:00 and Airstrip. People's rides bail, cars break down, flights get delayed and shit always happens as your trying to make it “home.” Yet the worst part about getting into Black Rock City was when we finally arrived at the gates on Thursday evening and they had shut them down. BRC officials claimed that authorities had put us all on lock-down with no explanation. Yet, I later learned from the sheriffs themselves (who turned out to be pretty nice–they even gave us playa gifts!) that Burning Man had reached the 68,000 cap and had to let people in as others left. That anticipation of waiting outside with no idea when we could get in after all we had endured on the way there was one of the most excruciating moments I hope no one ever has to feel.
Burning Man has a “leave no trace” policy with no trash cans available and attendees are required to pick up after themselves and take everything they bring back with them. This includes the portable toilets which in previous years had been some of the nicest, cleanest shitters I've seen at any festival. This year, with the increase in the amount of attendees, those who felt like abandoning the BM principles for the sake of a good time clearly forgot about the clean up policy. The porta-potties were filled with beer cans, waste and piles of tissue (you're supposed to only drop one ply of biodegradable toilet paper). At Burning Man, it's your responsibility to clean up after yourself and the toilets were one of the few amenities governed by the organization. Last year we woke every morning to fresh clean-smelling toilets. But this year, every time we opened the door it was like staring into a scene from Apocalypse Now.
Losing and Breaking Stuff
While exploring this flat, prehistoric alkali lake-bed, things involving technology are bound to go haywire. It's actually remarkable how complete families survive the cold evenings, dust storms and extremely hot days without larger incidents. One girl had to be taken to Reno after falling on an art installation and breaking her ankle, but injuries and medical issues are fewer than most music festivals. Luckily there are plenty of medical camps, bike and RV repair camps and all sorts of amenities and friendly people willing to share their lamps or water canteens. The biggest issue we observed was bike theft (though they're not officially stolen until after the event or if the lock was cut) which happened to my Paul Frank beach cruiser last year. This year, I lost a cell phone, but after looking at the lost and found forum and seeing the thousands of posts of lost items, all I could do was chalk it up to another frustrating casualty of the playa.
It's almost impossible to describe how such a beautiful community that gives and provides also breaks you down at every turn. It's crazy to think that a place with such majestic mountains and sunsets at 4,000 feet above sea level also accounts for some of the most delirious out-of-your-mind moments. And no, we're not even talking about illicit drug use. Your body can only handle malnourishment, dehydration, extreme weather temperatures, dust storms and plain old wear and tear for so long until you become delusional. I literally saw my camp-mates go crazy and at each others throats after five days of the playa and physically felt defeated, but somehow you power through to the end and make it out alive together.
Some people leave before the temple burn (the smart ones), but the Burning Man exodus as they call it is one of the craziest exits to an event ever. With the largest numbers in attendees in Burning Man history, this was also the longest most excruciating departure for those of us who left after the temple burn on Monday morning (which seemed like everybody). It took about five hours to get from our camp to the actual exodus line which is where they incorporate a pulsing system of moving the vehicles in intervals to avoid the stop and go that wastes gas. This does not mean you leave Black Rock City any sooner. It just means you get to turn your car off for an hour, use porta-potties, hop on your RV roof or lay on the playa ground until it opens up again and you move a mile forward. Another four hours later and you finally make your way out of Black Rock City and onto the paved highway which takes another five hour wait to get to Reno. Incorporate the time it takes you to dump your garbage and RV black water, fill up with gas and get food it could take up to one or two days to make it home.