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Burning Man 2023 Was a Beautiful Mess

My first burn was an amazing experience. I loved my camp, the culture created by Burners and our ten Principles, and the beautiful natural environment of the Playa itself. No one attending expected the weather to make such a big impact as it did, giving an extra element of challenge and community to Burning Man 2023.

How and Why I Went to Burning Man

Some people think that Burning Man is an event reserved for privileged or rich folks, but it is much more diverse than you might think. There are many burners like me who have a lower budget and work very hard to get there.

As I lived on the east coast at the time, I got to Burning Man by flying to Reno and taking the Burner Express to Black Rock City. The Burner Express transports Burners from San. Francisco and Reno to Black Rock City and back. Riding the bus offers a faster entrance and exit due to skipping the line, reserved camping area, and helps the environment by reducing the amount of vehicles on the road.

While there are many reasons to go to Burning Man, my initial interest was peaked by the temple. When my 16 year old dog died in 2022, I could not find a way to honor her that fit me. After hearing about the temple, I knew that I wanted to burn a photo of her there.

Black Rock City From the Eyes of a Virgin Burner

After arriving on the Burning Man Express, I spent my first day setting up my tent, making friends, biking around, and getting dusty.

My boots after just a few hours on the Playa.

I will never forget my first sunset in Black Rock City. I had stopped at a stage where a DJ was playing African inspired trance music. Everyone was barefoot and dancing with flowing, mindless movements on the wooden tiles of the dance floor. It was the first time I felt comfortable letting loose and dancing however my body wanted. As the beautiful blue sky grew more golden, I began to hear voices. To my surprise, seemingly everyone around us was howling like wolves at the sun as it gracefully sank below the mountains. As I joined in on this strange and exciting ritual, I felt happier than I had in a long time.

For the next few days I biked around in bliss, trying fun foods, making new friends, going to workshops, and exploring Deep Playa. To me, Burning Man felt like the perfect niche outside of conventional society, where everyone was overflowing with love and creativity, people could express themselves how they wanted, and capitalism wasn't welcome.

The Mudpocalypse

Then on Friday it rained.

I wasn’t surprised, as my camp had a radio that we listened to every morning and we had heard this would happen. But no one expected it to rain for eight hours straight.

It rained for so long and intensely that the hard sand of the Playa was transformed into mushy clay that stuck in layers to your shoes and glued your bike to the ground. Tents that weren’t properly staked down fell apart, insulated foam structures were flooded, and art pieces without waterproofing were destroyed.

I didn't let the rain stop me from having fun, and spent the day going to workshops near center camp. When I sloshed home barefoot without my bike, I found that several camp mates had lost their structures due to flooding and were in the process of making sleeping arrangements. While my tent was dry, I was offered to bunk with others to help deal with the upcoming cold night, which I was grateful for!

Over the next few days my camp met for team meetings in order to ensure that everyone had somewhere to sleep, enough food and water, and to discuss what to do about our group structures, which were suffering from the rain. It felt good to actively work together in a situation that would have been difficult to weather alone.

After the initial rain, we were treated to the biggest double rainbow I've ever experienced.

Combatting Negative News

As someone who avoids the news as much as possible, I was not prepared to have something I cared about "make the front page" - in other words, be heavily sensationalized in a negative light by people who are not involved and don't know what they're talking about. With little access to the outside world, many of us only heard rumors from our friends and family (or those with better internet connection), about the media's claims of tantruming celebrities, widespread diseases, overflowing toilets, and families with small children being stranded without food and water.

Of course these articles and social media posts conveniently left out the RVers who shared their beds and facilities, the people who happily gave away supplies to those who ran out, and the essential workers and volunteers who were doing their best to empty the toilets and provide other emergency services as soon as possible.

News helicopters could be seen flying above the city, and the gates were closed to discourage journalists who were foolishly trying to get into Black Rock City and getting stuck in the mud as a result. It felt invasive and anxiety-inducing in a situation that didn't need such negativity.

Thankfully, burners stood up for ourselves from the start. The Black Rock City radio station spoke out about it, individual burners photobombed reporters, and I got a chance to back someone up over Facetime to her daughter who didn’t believe she was still having a good time.

This is not to undermine the severity of the situation. Some people had tight schedules, like my campmate who would have missed an important surgery if she didn't leave on time, or another who was almost out of her mandatory prescription medication. There were also people who got hurt or worse when emergency services were unable to reach them due to the mud.

However, I believe it is important to accurately portray all sides of the situation, and to remember that we had deliberately come out to the desert with everything we needed to survive in extreme weather. Besides this, not everyone’s schedules were disrupted. The Playa Restoration Team stays for weeks afterwards every year to clean up, artists stay to dismantle and remove their pieces, and many individuals or even whole camps weren't planning on leaving until Tuesday or Wednesday anyway. For those who did have strict deadlines, internet and cell service was provided by the Burning Man organization to help people get in contact with their loved ones and professional contacts, and emergency medical services did their best to help those with medical needs.

Hurry Up and Wait

With it being dangerous to drive or even walk around for the first few days, we were advised to stay close to camp and wait for the rain to end. Once you had done everything you could to rearrange your travel plans and alert those in the real world that you would be leaving late, having a good attitude was ultimately the best way to get through it.

With this sentiment in mind, Burning Man continued. People still threw parties, gave out food, and led workshops. We still participated in morning yoga and AA meetings and roller derby. In the middle of what could be considered a national disaster, we needed these things more than ever. To keep our spirits up, the disaster was renamed the Mudpocalypse by many, and camps changed their signs or made mud monsters to make light of the situation.

Black Rock City is a Community

From my friends in camp to strangers on the street, I was able to band together with people I had known for less than a week and ensure that everyone had the resources they needed. All across Black Rock City, burners took in people with nowhere to sleep, fed those who had run out of food, cared for each others' mental and physical health, and found creative solutions to problems. Every burner I spoke to was doing their best to ensure that their friends and neighbors felt loved and supported while also doing their best to care for their own needs. Burning Man taught me the meaning of found family and community, and that's why I will keep coming back year after year.

Thank you to all the essential workers and volunteers who make Black Rock City a great place to live! I have never been so grateful to see port-o-potties emptied as I was on Monday after the rain.

Interested in getting on Playa? Learn more about the 10 Principles of Burning Man!



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Hi, I'm Koi!

I'm an environmental project manager who decided to make a change from office life to to outdoor projects and small business ownership.

My goal is to help promote forward movement in outdoor spaces and live events towards full accessibility and diversity by giving everyone the inspiration and tools to create their own adventure.

I love self expression, hiking, music festivals, and Burning Man, and want to show that celebrating diversity in the outdoors makes it better for everyone.

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