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The Civilized Explorer

the civilized explorer

The Year We Froze Our Buns Off -
Burning Man 1999

Staying warm was an issue

Hooded sweatshirts at Burning Man?????? We never thought we would be wearing a hooded sweatshirts and still not be warm while making breakfast at Burning Man. 1999 was the year we all froze our buns off.

If 1999 was your first year at Burning Man, you have been blessed indeed. The winds were ferocious, the cold was numbing, and the burn did not appear to go as planned. It was wonderful. (The photograph at the top of the page was taken Friday morning. The winds were really strong Thursday night, and we took our shade down to keep it from flapping into shreds.)

We all hoped for warmer weather, but it did not arrive until later -- if you left on Sunday, you left when the weather turned hot, and people at last could wander around without their clothes. Meanwhile, your Civilized Explorer crew enjoyed the wonderful views that always joyfully abound at the event, especially the shadows of the clouds on the mountains in the distance.

The Lake Lahontan Yacht Club facilities, remarkable as ever. The theme camps were more numerous than ever, with many doing unofficial themes. There was also more, bigger art on the playa this year, and we seemed to find less personal art in the camps this year compared to years passed. We hope this is just an artifact of the size of the event (23,622 tickets collected at the gate as of 6:00 pm Saturday, we heard), where there were so many new people that did not know to decorate and camp in style.

A line for the Porta Potties. In the lines for the Porta Potties, we heard complaints about there not being enough, fewer than last year, and so on. There were lines, of course, but the johns were much cleaner than in years past, especially the morning after the burn. We have the impression that they were cleaned more often, but we also think people were cleaner in their use of the facilities.

You can handle anything in style at Burning Man -- you just have to know how.

The Most Different Burn of All Time

We can't believe how cold it was this year. We did not have enough clothes to keep warm during the mornings, evenings, and nights. Next year, we are adding a couple of flannel shirts and long pants to our wardrobe, hoping never to have to use them. We believe this is the coldest Burning Man on record.

It is the first Burning Man to burn on Saturday night. This was done to avoid the Monday morning traffic jam that has happened in past years when there were 14,000 or so participants. Our humble opinion is that it did not work. The traffic jam started Sunday morning and lasted till Monday afternoon. Traffic was horrendous, and the high winds blew all the dust the vehicles generated right into everyone's camp sites. It really sucked. If we recall correctly, the attendance this year was over 23,000, and it took two days of long lines to get everyone out. On Monday, a traffic accident at the California/ Nevada border backed traffic up on I-80 into mid-town Reno.

On Saturday night, we wandered out to the Man at about 8:00. He was still down on the ground, which we thought unusual for so late in the day. It seemed that there was a short in his lighting, and every once in awhile there would be a flicker in part of the lighting, but the people working on him did not get the whole set of lights going. He was raised without all the lights, and a couple of people climbed up his legs. An older man was standing behind me; it was his first burn. Rick is from Santa Cruz, and he is a real live old time hippy. He wanted to know if it always took so long. The answer is yes, but generally it goes better than this. We stood there watching as the flame throwers shot flames 50 or 60 feet in the air to get the crowd going. We were by a group of thirtysomething suburbanites with a couple of pre-teen children. The little girl had to go to the bathroom; one of the mothers took her, saying she did not care if she missed the burn. The little boy whined that he could not see, when was it going to happen, what was going to happen, would it ever happen, etc., etc, ad infinitum. The Man, as usual, had no answers. He stood there with his arms still at his side; the two guys came down, not having fixed the lighting problem.

Suddenly, fireworks ignited in the Man's chest. He had not been set on fire. The crowd roared, and Louise and I looked on in amazement. This appeared not to be the usual burn where Crimson Rose and a pyro expert set fire to the Man at the base. Flames began in the torso and spread up to the head and shoulders, but the legs remained untorched. Eventually, the fire either spread to the legs and hay or someone set it to get the base burning. Fireworks continued to erupt with loud explosions, and the Man burned.

After it quieted somewhat, I turned to Rick and told him he was incredibly lucky to have been there for this event. It was a triply unique burn because of the weather, the day, and the unscheduled triggering of the fireworks. 1999 would be a burn to remember, and I hope Rick comes back in 2000 to see what it looks like and to tell people about the 1999 burn. If you were there for the first time, it was a wonderful set of circumstances that are unlikely ever to happen again. You were witness to a unique event.

What We Did Right This Year

We had done a number of things right our first time at Burning Man, and we changed a few things in 1999. Our list of things that we really, really needed for personal comfort includes:

We generally bring at least two of things for two reasons (see, two of everything): one, somebody may have the toilet paper at the potty when you really need it; second, things get blown away, put away, lost, and generally out of place so you can't find them when you really need them. Having two saves lots of aggravation.

The wind was a bigger problem than usual this year. We arrived on Wednesday morning to hear tales of portapotties being blown over on Monday, tents and shades shredded, and partially built structures being destroyed. All true, unfortunately. I wear contact lenses, and this is the first year that I spent more than an hour or two wearing glasses. The combination of the drying wind and the blowing powder made my contacts unwearable. The combination also caused more nasal discomfort than in the past. Something is wrong when you can do the prescribed two squirts up each nostril and not have anything come back.

The Civilized Explorer compound.
We had learned in years' past that any sort of line is honored by the people who choose to attend Burning Man. We planted our banners on the perimeter of an area taped off for members of The Ministry of Statistics. (The van in the background is another member of the Ministry.) As other members arrived, they found that no one had trespassed into our reserved area.

We also used the same banners as in previous years. This let people who knew us find us more easily. Our logo flies on a taller pole, and we occasionally have people dropping by to ask if we are really The Civilized Explorer. Consistency and a known theme will help people find you in the chaos that is Burning Man.

This is not the official Burning Man site. That Web site is located at Welcome to Burning Man.

Copyright © 1999, The Civilized Explorer