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Burning Man 2008

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Dust in the wind

We had a dust storm or two last year, so I asked for a Kestrel pocket weather instrument for Christmas, and Santa was good to me. I wanted to know how fast those playa winds were blowing.

This year the storm hit so fast I hadn't unpacked the Kestrel yet, and I wasn't willing to open the van and get it blown full of dust. Sunday we set up in a stiff breeze, but no big deal. Monday morning we pedaled around the playa, but the surface was so bad, we went back to camp early. The storm hit at 10:00AM and stayed with us till after midnight sometime. The clip above shows the storm during its long worst.

Sunday before the storm
We had driven rebar into the ground next to the uprights on our shade and duct-taped the uprights to the rebar. We also duct-taped the joints of the shade to the poles. Monday our shade structure was shivered and shocked by very strong gusts all day, and we checked our duct-taping job a few times. It stretched but held. Bring goggles and bring saline nasal spray. More photos of our camp here.

We used Heater Meals for food, and we're glad to have them. They cook in the box - just pour the provided saline water into a plastic bag with some metal filings to generate the heat, wait 10 or 15 minutes, and you have a piping hot meal. No need to try to cook in a blowing storm. We'd learned our lesson last year about having them accessible in the worst of times, and it's a good thing we did.

On Tuesday, I got the Kestrel out and used it during the much milder dust storm on Saturday. The peak gust I caught was 19.4 miles per hour, but generally the steady winds were from about five to ten miles per hour. The Monday storm was so bad we couldn't see across the street, but Saturday, we could still spy the portapotties, so it wasn't as bad. The near-20 mile-per-hour gust was not as bad as the gusts on Monday, but I can't hazard a guess on the wind speeds then. I'll check around and see if I can find out from BLM or the folks at the airport. [I emailed the generic BLM email address for Winnemucca, and the reply came back "30 MPH gusts to 40 MPH."]

We did, however, have our first delay of the Burn, a historic first. I'm not sure when the Burn started, but the Man collapsed at 11:15. Apparently because of the delay, the fire spinners were cancelled. We went straight to the fireworks. We have heard that there is some discontent over that cancellation, and the thought occurred to us that the fire spinners might be better served with a separate performance on Friday or Saturday. Only the first few rows at the Burn can see the hardworking spinners on the ground, so a Friday or Saturday procession to a platform and a performance where the crowd can see all the choreography and effects might show off the skills and long rehearsals better for the performers and the spectators. It's a shame fire artists don't get more credit and visibility on the ground before the Burn.

Playa surface conditions sucked this year. The rumor is that there was too little snow during the winter for the melted run off to fully condition the playa: the water usually planes the surface smooth, soaks in, and creates a thick crust that bike wheels don't penetrate. Not this year, though. Thin crust meant the surface was quickly broken up, and large areas of powder deeply covered the playa making riding a bike in those areas impossible.

The weather was the freakiest we've seen. It was hot at the beginning of the week, then it cooled to highs of 70 during the later part of the week. After the Temple Burn, another dust storm sprang up, and it sprinkled briefly but hard. The cool days were a real treat, making breaking camp on Tuesday the most nearly pleasurable ever for us.

We get to stay till Tuesday because we volunteer to flag traffic on a couple of days, including Monday. I have no official information, but it seemed to Louise and me that more people were leaving during the dust storm on Saturday than normally leave during that day. More people left on Sunday, making the Exodus on Monday not as terrible as usual. Our guess is that the dust storm and sucky playa surface wore people out, sending them home for an early shower.

Exodus needs volunteers. They were short-handed this year, and having volunteers along the BRC roads leading to the blacktop means that traffic can be directed to open lanes more efficiently. You know there are breakdowns of overloaded hippy vans and old cars during the Exodus, and having volunteers to send traffic to open lanes keeps things moving better. Please consider volunteering for Exodus next year. If you flag on the highway, you need a Nevada course on flagging which you can take before Burning Man on your own or take a day off the playa and take the course in Gerlach during the week of the Burn. If you help on the playa, you don't need the course. Exodus sucks, so help it go better. The volunteers are the most incredible people I've met. I highly recommend working with them. This year if you worked enough shifts, you got a pass for the volunteer showers, and working even more shifts got you free admission next year. Rewards have varied from year to year, so check BMOrg's volunteer page on their Web site next June or July for current information.