(Remember) How to Burning Man — Part 2: Bringing the Burn From Far, Far Away

Looking for a handy refresher on the burnerly arts? Feeling a little rusty or wet behind the ears? Whether 2022 is your first time going to Black Rock City or your gazillionth, we’re rolling out this series throughout the summer of Waking Dreams to acculturate and amuse with tips, tricks, and pearls of wisdom to help you thrive in Black Rock City.

The first year I went to Black Rock City, I was part of a crew of about eight Burgins. None of us — not one — even remotely knew what we were getting into. 

It was 2004. We flew into Reno from a faraway place… Montreal, to be exact. We bought some food, water and cooking implements, and embarked on our journey. The night we arrived in the Black Rock Desert the wind blew nonstop. Unable to build our shelter (which was, in fact, never built) we hid in our rented minivan all night while black-clad strangers drove by on giant vehicles and shot fireballs into the sky. It was a lot.

Everyone needs to start somewhere. If the somewhere you’re starting from is also far, far away from Gerlach, Nevada, you’ll do just fine. 

Though of course, I wouldn’t be a Burner if I didn’t have a little advice.

Getting Roots in Black Rock City

I usually meet three types of faraway Burners — they either: 1) participate in a well-known camp; 2) camp solo; or 3) come with a camp or project that’s local to wherever they live. (Of course faraway Burners do all kinds of other things… but three is a magic number.)

Participating in a well-known camp is usually the most economical option. It can be a little like going to summer camp; you’re a small cog in a big, very fun, machine. It might be a great first year option if you want to find out what this Burning Man thing is all about (though maybe you’ll want to do this forever). But it can limit your autonomy and your understanding of what YOU could do in this city of possibilities. 

Anahasana Village, 2017 (Photo by Philippe Glade)

Looking for a camp? Mingle with Burners where you live to meet local camps; introduce yourself in Burning Man Hive’s Matchmaker – Camps & Campers group; or browse the 2022 camp listings to find one that syncs with who you are and what you want to do out there in the dust.

Camping solo in open camping has its own beauty. Chances are you’ll make friends with Burners in your immediate neighborhood and create an impromptu Burner family with whom to share meals, stories, and sparkly outfits.

Camp Warren in open camping, 2017 (Photo by kbot)

Coming with a camp or project that’s local to where you live is a deeply rewarding experience. (I’m going to show my bias here.) Not only do you partake in planning and building something weird and amazing, you get to go back to where you live to decompress and do other fun Burning Man things with the very same people — whether you want to or not. It will cost you a lot more time and energy than either of the other two options, but it’s the kind of commitment that can result in life-long friendships and community. Financially, the commitment can vary depending on camp expenses, camp fees, and what your role happens to be within the camp.

Midnight Poutine, 2018 (Photo by Mark Hammon)

Chances are your city or region has a Regional Burning Man community and YOU can get involved in a camp or project that is going to Black Rock City (though you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you did it only for the trip to Burning Man — there’s SO much more you can do with your local Burning Man community). 

Bringing a Large-ish Camp From Far, Far Away

If you’re planning to bring a medium or large group (25 or more campers), I’m going to be honest with you: it’s not easy. But if we liked easy things, we wouldn’t be doing any of this, now would we?

Participants from Japan in front of their camp portal, 2019 (Photo by Philippe Glade)

During the other 51 weeks, some camps store their infrastructure in a storage locker in Reno or Gerlach or Empire. Other camps put their stuff in shipping containers that they store near the Black Rock Desert, or they ship them across this vast continent by rail. Know, however, that if you’re looking to have something delivered (for example shipping containers, water or gray water disposal) to BRC, you need to have a placed camp. Sadly, that ship has already sailed for 2022 — the placement process kicks off every spring and all camps with good standing have already been placed for 2022.

Impromptu Things That Swing planning session outside the storage locker, 2013 (Photo by Mokindo)
From storage locker to playa… and back again, 2013 (Photo by Mokindo)

Of course many North American Burners also load up trucks and drive their camp infrastructure across the continent — though this option doesn’t necessarily cut expenses unless your camp is huge, you own a truck, and you’re somehow relying on economies of scale.

What you build and bring depends on whether you want to ship it, or build it on the spot during the precious few days (or hours) you and your crew will have to stage before you go to the desert. A lot of that has to do with how much your camp or project can collectively afford in time off, volunteer hours, and cold, hard cash.

Things That Swing rental truck does triple duty as transport, camp kitchen and HQ, 2012 (Photo by kbot)
Let the build begin, 2013 (Photo by Mokindo)

Master the Art of Sharing Resources

With every little bit of your project, ask if there’s a way to share your resources — with others in your camp, with other camps in your community, and with neighboring camps and villages in Black Rock City. This is the environmentally and financially savvy thing to do for everyone, but it becomes particularly important when you’re either flying in with all your stuff or buying it when you get to whatever city you’re staging in. 

What can you share? Power sources, potable water, gray water disposal, shade structures, kitchens and kitchen equipment, transportation, tents, hotel rooms, carpools… and the list goes on. Instead of every camper buying their own pack of batteries and baby wipes, buy in bulk and share. Start collaborating with your neighbors and planning early around things such as sourcing water and infrastructure. (For 2023 consider HUBS as a way to share resources with your BRC neighbors.)

Bringing a shower is easier when you pool resources, 2019 (Photo by Manuel Pinto)

It’s a different experience when you run a camp or art thing without year-round resources and collaborators in Nevada or the Bay Area. Collaborating with Bay Area and Northern Nevada Burners can offer indispensable on-the-ground support, advice and resources. But please, these relationships must extend beyond your immediate need to get your art out of Reno or wherever and onto the playa. It takes time to cultivate fun and mutually beneficial relationships with locals who are likely very busy with their own projects and communities. 

Make sure to express massive appreciation for your local collaborators! And definitely, definitely invite them to come and stay with you and go to Burning Man gatherings in your home town whenever they damn well want to.

Now Come in Close: I’m going to give you a pro tip.

If you’re bringing a thing from far away, chances are you’ll be staging in Reno. Try, if you will, to imagine the challenge of getting a dozen or more excited Burners to focus for ten minutes after they get off the airplane. They’re going to Burning Man! Yet, you will need them to shop, to build, possibly unload a storage locker and definitely load a truck. This, dear Burner, is an exercise in diplomacy. 

The only advice I have here is that you must let them play, just a little bit. But make them work first. It goes something like this: Please all of you spend four hours doing an inventory of the storage locker. Then you can ALL go splash in the pool and eat sushi. Even if it takes you an extra day to get out of Reno, take it. If you master this, Burn Week will be a breeze. Remember, it ALL starts in Reno (unless of course you’re driving in from the north).

A tell-tale sign that Burners have arrived in Reno, 2013 (Photo by Mokindo)

Similarly, as much as possible, make sure your campmates book flights that keep them in Reno for 24 hours after the Burn NOT so they can party, but so you can all clean everything and put it all away. Respect the citizens of Reno and don’t abandon your trash, your gray water, your bikes, and disoriented humans, all over their city. Learn where you can dispose of trash, gray water, and recycling in the Leave Nevada Beautiful page of the Survival Guide. Leaving No Trace and the Burning Man spirit do not stop once you leave Black Rock City; be kind, keep your shit tight, and leave no trace. 

Leave No Trace, 2019 (Photo by Jini Sachse)

Coming to Black Rock City from places far away — whether it’s just you, or you and 25 of your new best friends — is logistically interesting and deeply rewarding. You’ll never win Burning Man (no one does), but you will level up in new, weird and interesting ways that maybe you hadn’t anticipated. We know you’ve got this.

Cover photo by Susan C. Becker; Design by Deets Shay, 2022

About the author: Kirsten Weisenburger

Kirsten Weisenburger

Misadventures led Kirsten Weisenburger (aka kbot) to Black Rock City in 2004. She was captivated and hoodwinked into organizing theme camps, rangering and participating in Regional Events. As Communications Strategist, Kirsten works across the organization and global community gathering stories and writing for the Burning Man Journal, the Jackrabbit Speaks, and the annual Dispatch. She went to journalism school in the 1990s and then spent two decades at startups and digital agencies.

4 Comments on “(Remember) How to Burning Man — Part 2: Bringing the Burn From Far, Far Away

  • Shpilkus says:

    The first time described in this article describes Wednesday night in 2004. Howling winds and blinding dust. No matter how much you prepare, read and watch on YouTube, things are infinitely different than you think, and incredibly better.

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    • kbot says:

      Yes. Exactly that night. Worst night to experience one’s first ever hours on playa. Hey, at least we quickly learned how bad it can get.

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  • Nancy Jo Pucci says:

    Some great tips and cultural awareness in your story.
    For thirteen consecutive years I practice Burning Man skills. I never really conquered the extreme heat days.
    Making sturdy shade is crucial. Buying ice is a daily task to not take lightly.

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  • Ginger says:

    I remember when saying ‘How to Burning Man…’ or words to that effect would have gotten you laughed out of the bar. But we have certainly evolved beyond that, far beyond.

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