Contributing Gear Editor
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A little rain and mud couldn’t stop the world’s biggest party. Photo: Steve Andrews


The Inertia

I was helping my daughter into a giant pool of stuffed animals when the news rolled through camp. “About an inch of rain is heading our way,” one of the rangers shouted while biking past. “Secure your items and make sure anything that isn’t waterproof is bundled away. Be prepared to not bike or drive today.”

Rain at Burning Man, a festival of 80,000 in the Black Rock Desert known more for its heat and dust storms, was on very few people’s bingo cards this year for unexpected surprises. But when the rains did come on Friday, September 1, it lasted well into the night, turning the normally bone-dry playa surface of the desert into a soggy, muddy mess. The surface would stick to shoes and clump, making walking an arduous process, and driving impossible. We were more or less stuck there until Monday when the sun finally broke.

Being one to focus on the present at events like this, I didn’t have my phone on until I had to change a flight. Someone nearby generously opened up their Starlink internet for myself and others needing travel adjustments. When I logged in I found a flood of messages coming in from both close friends, family and acquaintances checking to see if we were okay. The sheer volume of messages made me realize the mainstream news had caught wind of the weather. It was everywhere.

The driver of this Prius should have listened and waited an extra day. Now they’ll be waiting a few more days to get unstuck. Photo: SA

Sure enough, it only took a few moments of browsing to see the rain at Burning Man had made international headlines. Reports of dwindling food supply and poor conditions evolved into rumors of people resorting to cannibalism and the spread of ebola around the event. Chris Rock and Diplo had enough and made an early exit, walking the five miles to the road to ensure their safety. But I’m here to tell you that it really wasn’t that bad for those who know how to handle themselves in the elements.

Yes, there were some unexpected drawbacks to the rain forcing us to shelter in place. With no port-a-potty service we had to pee in jugs and try to be selective with our number twos, lest said port-a-potties overflow. Mud stuck to everything and finding out the hard way which of your items were indeed waterproof was more than frustrating. But, as I’ve learned from other harsh climates around the world, the reassurance that, “this too shall pass” kept spirits high during the 36-hours of being forced to stay close to camp.

Years of voluntarily subjecting myself to Mother Nature’s fury made me well suited to withstand the storms and get creative enough to problem solve on the fly. As someone who loves the mountains, there’s usually at least a day or two on any high-altitude trip that requires the group to hunker down in a tent and wait out a storm. We affectionally call it “roasting.” Times like these are often when we bond with others in the crew, recharge, and organize gear.

Without rain, there would be no rainbow. Photo: SA

So, too, was the weekend of the rains at Burning Man. What is normally a FOMO-inducing smorgasbord of options to explore with the wild interactive camps and vast sea of art installations, the weather forced us to get to know our campmates more closely than we otherwise would have. My daughter, who celebrated her first birthday the day of the rains, got to have an extended party when those coming to celebrate with her were forced to stay put to avoid getting soaked. And when the rains finally did stop at sunset, the entire makeshift city emerged to see a massive double rainbow that I’ll call one of the best these two eyes have witnessed.

The week presented many unexpected curveballs; but those of us who rolled with it had an amazing time. Most people I spoke with embraced the rain and change of plans, and those who didn’t and discarded the advice to stay put ended up paying the price by being stuck in the mud far longer than if they’d simply waited it out.

All the stuff I saw online was a good reminder that the best way to get news is from reports on the ground. I just left, it was wet and muddy, but it was never dire. That is all. I witnessed an amazing community of people who were well-prepared, generous, with solutions-based attitudes.

In my mind, if this were to happen at say, Coachella for example, more chaos would likely have ensued. The culture of providing trash cans at every corner often results in…..yep, more trash. But to Burners, who follow a set of principles that include self-reliance and communal effort, every problem met a solution without much delay. When people realized that the mud didn’t stick to plastic bags, news went out on the radio for all in the city to take heed and within a few hours you could see everyone walking around in the new mud-proof footwear.

Many did leave early, probably disappointed and may never return. But they missed the cool part – an experiment in community through the harshest of conditions (rain or shine), one that thrived knowing no matter how inhospitable an environment may be, people work best when solving problems together. And that’s exactly what happened at Burning Man 2023.

When the world hands you mud, make sculptures out of it! Photo: SA

When the world hands you mud, make sculptures out of it! Photo: SA

 
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