Burning Man Rookie Scared Sh#tless

As a 52-year-old newly divorced man, I have decided to double down on one of my main tenets in life: focusing on unique life experiences. While discussing our shared passion for this topic, a good friend, (Jim), told me fascinating stories about his trips to Burning Man. Like most adult humans living in America, I had heard of Burning Man but in all honesty, my ‘knowledge’ was mostly limited to preconceived notions of it being a drug-fueled hippy fest where anything goes (it turns out that those perceptions hold some truths). After several minutes of conversation with little thought or deliberation, I declared “I want in!”. At that moment, I proved to Jim that I had no idea what I was trying to get myself into. There were many steps I had yet to take as I would soon find out.

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Burning Man is essentially a city that springs from the Nevada desert every year comprised of many ‘camps’. Based on my friend’s advice, I wanted to join an established camp, the Black Rock Piano Lounge, and they already had a lengthy waiting list. With the camp leader’s blessing, I was added to the list but was strongly advised to do more research on the event to make sure I was a good fit for what Burning Man stands for. Again, I had a lot to learn. (Thankfully, I cleared the waiting list two weeks ago.)

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For all of the passionate Burning Man experts out there, this post is not aimed at you, so you can stop reading here. I have never been, so obviously I can’t do it justice. This post is coming from the perspective of a Burning Man newbie. My goal is to share a few things I have learned in my research that make me both worried and excited to attend, and to encourage those interested in attending to do some research to learn more about the intricacies of this event.  

The first thing I learned when I began to tell people that I was going to Burning Man is that their reactions fell into three distinct categories: (1) they look at me like I have three heads (2) say something like “isn’t that just a big drug fest?” or (3) congratulate me for going and tell me I will have a great time.

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The second thing I learned is that the event is HIGHLY organized and incredibly well run. Held in Black Rock Desert in northwest Nevada, Burning Man is a structured, temporary city that accommodates around 80,000 people for the week long event without a single public garbage can. As a long-term event planner, I know that many people can’t gather for that long without chaos ensuing unless it is well thought out and orchestrated.

Third, there are Ten Principles of Burning Man. I won’t go into each here, but FOR ME, reading and understanding these principles was inspiring and gave me a better sense that the event is much, much more than a big party. It seems to be a different paradigm to live within, even if only for a week. Although they all resonate, if I have to pick three that speak to me, they are: Radical Self Expression, Gifting, and Communal effort. Truly, each of these principles are sure to stretch my comfort zone.

Armed with a greater understanding of the structure, infrastructure, and guiding principles, I was ready to think about the actual logistics of getting myself ready to become a part of the Burner nation. As part of a well-established camp, many of the necessities have already been thought through and I will be donating time and resources for the good of the camp. But for a few other aspects I need to focus on myself. These are now the things that are stressing me out. Costumes, bikes, and surviving desert life. As a virgin, I don’t know what I don’t know. So like a curious teenager I asked my friend Paul for advice.

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This is apparently a huge aspect of Burning Man and really speaks to the Radical Self Expression principle. In a perverse way, if you are not in a costume of some sort, you will really stand out. As Paul put it to me, “Imagine walking into a coffee shop in Seattle with your costume on; if eyebrows aren’t raised, chuckles are not elicited, and no one stares, you need a better costume.” Costumes run the gamut from simple to elaborate but seem to help people quickly get into a new comfort zone where they aren’t really worried what other people think. The focus is on fun and creativity. It sounds refreshing. One more piece of advice from the expert, “shop early and often”.  Thrift stores are a great source for items and inspiration, but as Burning Man gets closer, especially in major feeder markets like Seattle, things can really get picked over.


The “city” is relatively huge.  Encompassing a 7 square mile patch of desert, everyone needs a way to get around and see the great art, listen to music, and meet new people. Bikes are the primary transportation solution. I happen to love biking, spent a ton of time riding bikes as a kid, and still bike today. One of the fun aspects of biking when I was young  was decorating our bikes with streamers, stickers or other elements. Burning Man embraces that kid-like decoration and puts it on steroids so having a bike is a necessity. Giving your bike its own costume is a cherry on top.

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Desert Life

If you are going to Burning Man you are in a desert. Desert life is harsh. It is what makes it a desert after all. It’s sandy and on occasion winds can whip up and cause severe sandstorms where visibility is cut to zero and tents can be whisked away. One of the most critical items to have on hand are goggles. Many people decorate their goggles to incorporate them into their costumes, but no matter what you do, have goggles in your supply cache. With all this sand and dust, you can imagine where it ends up on your body. There are showers but I have heard from multiple people that baby wipe showers are the best way to get the grime off.

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So, with 164 days to go, that is where I am at. I hope this helps a few fellow Burning Man newbies or those curious about the event to know just a bit more from the eyes of a newcomer. By the way, I solemnly promise not to be a Sparkle Pony! (Look it up).