Burning Man Table of Contents

How Not to Arrive

Greg Rodenburg's tale of woe arising from arrival at Burning Man during the heat of the day.

Today, Sadie shared with the class some hard-won playa wisdom:

> The two biggest natural challenges at BM seem to
> be incessant wind all the time, and pushy, disrespectful, prying sun. [snip]

True, true, true. And where these two often-sinister forces intersect is at your shade structure. Nothing you attempt on the playa will cause you more grief (if done wrong) or bring you greater relief (if done right) than how you create your shade. But read on. Sadie continued;

> Did I mention that sudden exposure to extreme sweaty, sticky, incredible
> heat makes you sort of psychotic and irritable and prone to making bad snap
> judgments? 

The story of Sadie and Grover's travails makes Must Reading ... especially the agony passages. But lest you, dear listizen, remain still unconvinced about how bad it can get (or perhaps have simply not yet undertaken the ordeal), let me relate a similar nightmare of my own, also from 1996.

That was the year my party of 4 humans and 1 dog arrived on the playa in the middle of a 100 degree day. We had just completed a cramped, 14- hour, 500- mile all- night drive. I was in great shape already, after two solid days of what I can only describe as endurance packing, and my human companions were all desert newbies, unused to survival camping, ineffective at teamwork. My shade structure- to- be was a collection of untried pieces, assembled in desperation at the last minute and stowed randomly about my vehicle.

It was in this sorry state that we arrived on the playa, circled Black Rock City, and picked our spot.

Within minutes, we all began to die.

The heat and sun were ... intolerable! By the gods, I could feel my own blood boiling. Shade and rest were immediate imperatives - but we had no shade, so we could not rest. Tempers flared instantly; our (already faltering) cooperative spirit vanished like water poured onto the playa. Conditions like this can, and will, tear you apart, leave you screaming at people you love if they so much as choose a poor location for a rebar stake.

And so it was with us. First, we had to unpack, find the rebar, the hammer, the bungies, the tarps. This did not go smoothly.

"Get those coolers out of the sun! How? I dunno, do I have to think of everything myself?"
"No, I don't know where the fucking beer is - now help me out here, dammit!"
"Look, you can sit down when we're DONE - I'm BROILING out here!!"

Ah, what fun. Then, of course, we had to erect our shade, which meant in our case centering an enormous camo net atop a 12' central pole, then hoisting it aloft, an untried process that damn near caused a few homicides before we got it right.

"Look, it'll WORK! I don't CARE if you think the corners should be tied down first! Let's just get it UP, OK?!"

Similar moments abounded. The memory causes me shame to this day.

Yet we managed ... somehow. But the moment we had half- erected enough shade to shelter 3 people, my companions crapped out. I (having by then sunk into some kind of death- march hallucination) took this rather personally. Blistering the air with the kind of loudly muttered oaths that self-martyrs are prone to use, I continued working. One hour, two, three. In retrospect, it is clear that I was, for a time, clinically deranged.

However, I did survive, and so am able to pass on to you, bemused reader, a few bits of very hard-won advice. I won't go so far as to claim that they will literally save your life - though on a September afternoon in the Nevada desert, it can sure feel that way. However, I will claim that these can help you avoid lasting damage to your interpersonal relationships. [Case in point: of my 3 companions that year, 2 now claim they will never revisit Burning Man, while the third (my beloved mate) still remembers every deprecation I uttered. (And doesn't often let me forget 'em, either.)]

So. Avoid death, misery, and shouting matches. Take these suggestions to heart.

  1. Test your shade structure, and your ability to build it, before you find yourself on the playa.
  2. Time your arrival to avoid the (~10am-6pm) peak sun hours. If you must arrive during the heat, hang out in someone else's shade until the oven cools.
  3. Pack your rig so that you can quickly find and retrieve all the pieces you will need to create some shade. If your shade structure is extensive, consider staging the construction - a quick tarp to hide under, followed by a more leisurely tackling of the Big Top.

Just another voice of experience,

Greg Rodenburg

some of Sadie's Suggestions:

> >
> >Take rugs, a broom, and a bike bell
> >Sew the shade skin together before the playa
> >Have a ladder and a good lantern
> >Sleep raised up off the ground, as on: a cot
> >Carry around my own damned folding chair
> >Camp with friends! (THE bLUE LiGHT dISTRICt
> >Use brighter colors and darker shades
> >
> >Whew.  More.  Tarps are loud and too dry, and they argue with the wind.
> Use them as flooring, as cooler covers, as flapping territory markers --
> not as walls, even inner-between-two-cloth-sheets walls.  (Of course, if it
> rains, they go well anywhere).
> >
> >TAKE RUGS!  The playa dust sucks out your juice through your feet, and
> everything dropped is at risk of becoming quickly buried by fine blowing
> "sand".  You want soft comfort under hot, sore feet.  Air spaces between
> floor and walls are good, freshening the air day or night, but you have to
> sweep the rugs a lot.  The sand is not caustic nor acidic, but it gets into
> everything (your flashlight, your dentures, your eyelids, and tiny cracks
> in your skin).
> >

Thanks to Greg Rodenburg. Copyright © 1998 Gene Rodenberg. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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