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The Civilized Explorer

Burning Man 1998

The Civilized Explorer team braves its third incarnation of the conflagration. 1998 was the year of weather.

Burning Man 1998 was in its third location in the three years we have attended. This year, BM was back in Black Rock, but was in a portion of the dried lake bed within shouting distance of Gerlach. As we rolled through Gerlach on our way to the event, we could see the oulines of the tents, towers, and shade structures against the white of the playa.

Our humble abode on 
the playa.

We arrived this year on Wednesday morning about 10:00 am, and set up our shade and tent before the heat hit. As always on our first day on the playa, the heat hit us hard. Our Moss Parawing was a snap to set up, and we rolled out carpets to keep the dust down under our shade. That night, the ear plugs helped us weather the cacaphony of noise -- we were between two campsites with huge sound systems, and there were plenty of other sites with loud music. It made the night seem like an old 1950s TV show about a carnival side show gone horribly wrong, with our main character going mad from the deranged music while everyone else enjoyed themselves, laughing hysterically. Eventually, everyone went to sleep except the demons at Disturbia who continued to play "Love Shack" relentlessly till dawn. ("I can't hear you! Love Shack, baby, Love Shack.") Such is life.

Being between two ranges of mountains, we caught a lot of weather while we were there, the worst of our three years. Every day the temperature hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit, according to a thermometer hung in the shade a few camps away. On Saturday a wind storm blew through, bending one of our Moss Parawing's poles. Then it rained just enough to turn the playa into goo. The goo stuck to everyone's shoes, creating instant elevators for the guys and playa platforms for the women. Our shoes had between a quarter and a half inch of the mud stuck to them. We waited for them to dry and then banged most of the caked mud off on a nearby street sign.

We brought misters to keep ourselves cool in the heat of the day, battery powered fans which helped one particularly hot night, and lots of chap stick and hand lotion. We soaked our feet during the hottest part of the day, which was wonderfully cooling and helped keep our feet from drying and cracking.

A white out of dust.

The storm on Saturday created a whiteout from the dust, and we could not see the Man from our tent. We wandered over to Pepé's opera structure, and we could not see around us for more than a few hundred yards. The Man was out of sight. The high winds and dust caused the organizers to cancel some concerts, and they played havoc with many of the shades and tents. We had used two-foot lengths of steel rebar for stakes, and our shade and tent held, with the bent shade pole as our only damage -- that day.

Sunday night the weather was wonderful for the burn. Monday afternoon, however, another wind blew in from a direction opposite to Saturday's wind and bent our already bent pole into a V, rendering it unuseable. Then the rain began. We had planned to stay till Tuesday, but we took the hint, packed up quickly, and beat a squishy retreat to the paved blacktop over some very dicey roads within Black Rock City. According to people who stayed, it rained every day thereafter, with many vehicles having to be towed out to the pavement.

As usual, Burning Man was a chaos of genius, with costumes and engineering vying for our attention, and we have the photographs to prove it. The Man burned white hot this year, brighter than the sun. Some of our photos show the full moon over his left shoulder. Our unscientific impression was that there were more first timers there this year than our other two adventures. After the Man burns and collapses, generally everyone runs amok, dancing and singing around the pyre. This year, more people seemed stunned, unsure just what to do. We handed out streamers to some of the more dazed attendees and told them to run around the fire with the streamers. One guy kept saying, "Thanks, citizen."

If you went, we hope you had a wonderful time and that our photos bring back some fond memories as we all wait for next September. If you have not gone, these pictures will not give you the full taste of Burning Man -- the playa dust, the mud, the 24- hour a day sensory overload -- but they may give you enough of an impression to decide whether you should go in 1999.

This is not the official Burning Man site. That Web site is located at The Burning Man Project , which has excellent information, directions, tips, and much more. The graphics are way cool, too. Recommended.