Liz’s update: Nope, I still don’t go to Burning Man. I’m slowly working my way up to attending bigger SCA events. But a 69,000-person dust-choked baking-hot week at Black Rock City with a chance of severe thunderstorms? Nope. Here’s why, with updates on how to do it if you really really want to.
A confession: I’ve always wanted to go to Burning Man. I’ve got firm roots in subculture; any number of my friends have Burned. Burning Man has long since gone semi-mainstream–families bring their children to the no-holds-barred festival of art and weirdness.
But I don’t go. For a traveler with pain, Burning Man really isn’t a good idea. Neither are other big multi-day festivals, like the Coachella Music Festival in California or the Pennsic War in Pennsylvania. This is one of the big bummers of being hiddenly disabled–I/we can’t go anywhere and do everything that healthy people do. Huge crowds encamped over hundreds of acres, miles of walking over uneven ground every day, crappy bathroom facilities, zero quiet for sleeping, ridiculously awful camping conditions or insane parking…it’s all a recipe for painful disaster.
It may be super-popular, but Burning Man remains a giant camping event out in the middle of the barren desert. Black Rock City has street signs, but no running water, no electricity, and only the most basic of medical facilities. While, er, certain pharmaceuticals do tend to be easily available at Burning Man, actual medications are much harder to come by. You’ll be out in the middle of nowhere, for real, with no cell phone signal and little chance of getting immediate help if your condition flares.
Here’s my most serious reason for not Burning–the climate out on the playa. Triple digit heat, endless winds, and of course the raging dust storms. As exciting as it sounds to fling off my clothes and run around in the pounding sun, then have dust particles blown into every crevice of my body, I’m going to pass for the next while. I can’t handle bunches of dust in my sinuses and lungs–and anyone with asthma or any other respiratory condition should think twice before packing up the RV.
If you choose to go, don’t just wander out into the desert unprepared. Read and reread this manifest by the operators of Burning Man about keeping yourself safe and reasonably healthy.
Speaking of lung-clogging dust, Burning Man patrons also get to inhale plenty of smoke. Leading up to the Man’s burning, other flammable art installations go up. As do pounds of smokable substances within the encampments. Folks with allergies and sensitivities are unlikely to find their fellow Burners to be interested in accommodate requests for a smoke-free area.
I can’t do most recreational drugs. Which does in fact mean that I’d miss out on a pretty big aspect of the festival. Why can’t I? Because reliable research (not hysterical government-inspired propaganda, nor “it’s all good man” wishful thinking) tells me that many/most fun drugs don’t play well with my prescription medications.
If you’re planning to play that way, DO RESEARCH FIRST. Then be safe first, and entertained/amused/high second (or not at all). Combining ‘scripts with recreational drugs can have severe consequences, and no high is worth having a heart attack or seizure. (Remember, on the playa you’re hundreds of miles from the nearest real hospital.)
Finally, there’s the USD cost of going to Burning Man (called Burning Wallet by an acquaintance who goes to the playa every year) or to any other major festival:
- Tickets to get in the gate cost hundreds of dollars per person.
- RV rentals go for super-premium during Burning Man. Seriously–many renters charge double their high season rates for the week before and the week after Labor Day. Expect to pay at least $1,000 for one week for a small RV, and $2,500 for a larger one. Or more.
- Food and drink: All on you, and you’ll need more non-alcoholic drink than you imagine. Figure $100 and up per person.
- Gas to get to the event, and to run a generator in your RV.
- Equipment: Why bother going to an event like Burning Man if you’re going to cower inside your RV all day? To get out and join the party, you’ll need stuff. Camp chairs, shade structures, some sort of vehicle to get around Black Rock City is big–to explore, it’s necessary to walk or bike or somehow travel several miles in the blazing heat of the day or weird dry chill of the night. Oh and a storm poncho and good sunglasses and a hat. A respirator if you’re sensitive. A giant art project or shareable community thingo.
It adds up to thousands of dollars. Thousands.
The Bottom Line
I’m not saying that it’s impossible to go to a festival with pain. I am saying that it’s likely to be really really hard. And maybe not a great idea. For me…I’d probably get about two hours of doing kewl stuff out on the playa, then get to spend the next two days of the festival in bed. That’s not the best fun vs pain ratio, and it’s always key to estimate the fun vs pain ration when traveling.
HOT TIP: Yes, you can go to Burning Man in a wheelchair. No, it’s not at all easy, and no, Black Rock City is not subject to the ADA. They’ve got some accessible port-a-potties, and that’s about it. They’ve also got square miles of alkaline dust that can harm or destroy your chair. But if you insist, they do have info about Burning in a chair here.
If you’re out on the playa now–awesome! I hope you’re having an amazing time. And I’m sorry I won’t be joining you.