Lessons Learned from Burning Man 2023
2023 marks my third visit to Burning Man, with previous visits in 2018 and 2022. Those previous two years were marked with hot and dusty weather. 2022 saw about five minutes of rain. Given those past experiences, I prepared well for extreme heat. However, for rain and mud, I must say I did not. These are lessons learned on how to deal with being stuck in an endless sea of mud for three days.
My first three days at Burning Man the weather was nice. Almost everything went well. However, on Friday morning rumors started spreading that a storm was coming. My son in Reno told me to expect scattered rain and thunderstorms starting Friday evening through Sunday. That was not what I wanted to hear. A later text told me the rain was expected to start about 6PM on Friday, which it did.
I made sure to be at my camp when the rain started. When it did, I simply relaxed and enjoyed it. It rained for about three hours. At this time, the Playa was very quiet, which is not a word used at Burning Man very often. After this first wave of rain, 70,000 people were treated to a beautiful double rainbow, which received much applause.
During the lull in the storm, some camps started playing music and things seemed to come back to life, at least going by sound. Where I was camped, across the street from Center Camp, few people were out as it was quite muddy. I would later hear that two people were electrocuted, which I presume was from turning on sound systems in a huge puddle of standing water.
I turned in about 10:00PM, thinking the worst was over and the Playa would dry out enough to get around by the morning. That would turn out to be an awful prediction. I could hear from my tent that it rained all night.
I woke up on Saturday morning to miles of thick mud in every direction. The first big problem was lack of appropriate footwear. All I had was a pair of Chaco sandals and Merrell hiking shoes. Just one short trip to the row of outhouses was too much for my sandals. Six inches of heavy mud stuck to the bottom of my sandals with every step. By the time I returned the sole on the left sandal was 90% detached from the rest of the sandal. I have taken Chaco sandals on all kinds of adventures, and they always held up well. However, they really let me down that day.
What I saw other people walking around in bags on their feet. Some taped small bags to their feet and others walked about with a Hefty bag on each foot, which they held up with their hands. The former seemed to be the better idea. Fortunately, a campmate had plenty of Ziplock bags, which I attached to my feet with electrical tape. This worked out splendidly! The mud simply didn’t stick to plastic and my feet remained perfectly clean. Others put socks over their shoes, which also seemed to work, although I never tried it.
As the day went on, thousands of people stomping through the mud made the mud rugged and bumpy. Too much to try to walk far with just sock and bags on your feet. My running shoes outside of the bags helped, but they easily got stuck in the mud. They had very good rubber traction, which was exactly what I didn’t want for this situation. I tried to walk in them, but it was a major battle with every step to get my feet out of the mud.
I’m not a very religious person. However, if there is a god, I think he/she may have taken some pity on me at this time. Two people abandoned bicycles at our camp on Friday evening. There was a pair of shoes attached to each bicycle. One of them were women’s shoes, but the other were men’s boots, which fit perfectly! They were made of heavy-duty rubber and leather and the type with stretching material on the side to easily get on and off. Absolutely perfect for the situation. I wore them the rest of the trip until I got back to Las Vegas. I’ll cherish them the rest of my life as they were the perfect and unexpected solution to my situation.
Another thing I didn’t bring was a rain jacket. The only coat I took along was part of my magician’s outfit, which I didn’t want to ruin and was very fragile. However, there was what I’ll call a free thrift store close to my camp. Remember that scene in My Cousin Vinny when Vinny was in desperate need of a suit and had to get what I presume was a doorman’s outfit from a thrift store? Well, they had a similar jacket, which they gave me that I wore the rest of the trip when it was cold or raining.
As for food and water, I was fine. I had plenty of the kind of snacks I take on hiking trips. Water I was a bit low on, but my campmates had plenty, which they happily shared.
As for my tent, it was great. It was a canvas tent made by White Duck, which had a rubber bottom that kept the water out just fine. To be honest, a little crept into one corner at first, but that was my fault for not attaching the Velcro properly. I give that brand high compliments.
In conclusion, other than not being prepared with proper shoes and a jacket, I made out just fine. Meanwhile, other Burners fell into two basic groups.
Group 1: Seasoned burners who took the rain and mud just fine. They were positive and happy. Burning Man deliberately takes place in a hostile environment. This includes being on one of the flattest places on earth where water has nowhere to go to. It is part of the experience that you gamble with the weather and adjust to it whatever it may bring.
Group 2: Complainers who seized the first opportunity to get out. Despite the gates being closed both ways, many left anyway. There were Rangers who tried to keep anyone from leaving, but they are just volunteers with not much leverage to stop or punish anyone attempting to leave. It was policy that anyone who got stuck in the mud leaving would be helped last, which I applaud.
Personally, I left on Monday, which was the date on my return ticket on the Burner Express bus. I had to wait in long line with those who had tickets to leave on Saturday and Sunday. My bus left five hours late, but I knew that it would. All things considered Buring Man organizers did a good job getting everyone with bus tickets out. Everyone who wanted to leave on the bus on Monday could.
I will write more next week about the trip. The full story is too much for one newsletter.