56 JULY 2016 MARIN
Why do people make the trek to the playa? A craving for
creativity, awe, freedom, in-the-moment experience and
authentic interactions pulls attendees to Burning Man.
“For that week, [Black Rock City] is the third largest city
in Nevada. The amount of infrastructure that pops up out
there is nothing short of breathtaking in its dusty, janky
complexity,” Kepple says. “Just to have an experience in a
place that only exists for a week out of the year is a unique
thing.” For Tiburon’s Robin Russell, 49, it’s the organic
spontaneity that continues to appeal. “I like putting away
the phone for a week and wandering around the city, being
pleasantly surprised and meeting humans,” she says. “A
lot of times the weather can be really unpredictable, so
some of my favorite times have been being caught in a
dust storm and having to duck down into some camp and
then just meeting some amazing people.” Troy Cowen of
Mill Valley, 28, who has been going to Burning Man with
his father and sister for the past seven years, agrees the
human element is key. “You can meet somebody and have
some crazy connection, or you may meet someone and
have a quick conversation, look them in their eyes, and
just enjoy that. And you may never see them again. But
it’s that real interaction that is just so meaningful in that
moment, that grounded, present time.”
How can one join in? Longtime Burners unanimously
suggest seeking association with an established artist
collective with infrastructure (think showers, access
to food and water systems, shade structures, a commitment to Leaving No Trace) and general know-how
— once you’re able to secure a ticket, that is. Prepare to
contribute to the experience, and for things to get real.
“It’s really a challenge for people, especially if it’s their
first time, because the conditions can be really severe,”
Kepple says. “They have to dig deep in their ability to
prepare for and endure some real existential hardships.
It can even be emotionally challenging.” As such, practicality is key, which goes for costuming as well. “Have
an amazing outfit, but think about having to ride a bike
all day, and the weather suddenly changing, and making
sure you have your dust mask and your goggles. Have
shoes that allow you to climb things, because it’s highly
interactive,” Russell advises. “And outfits that you can
easily get into a port-a-potty with.” But more than anything, if you want to go, just practice the event principle
of Radical Self-Reliance and make it happen. “It’s not for
everybody,” Watson says, “but the only way you can find
that out is if you go. And if you go with an open mind.”
Some Burning Man terms
to know, straight from the
official online glossary.
Esplanade In Black Rock City, the
innermost ring road facing the Man.
Decompression A party held one
month after Burning Man to give participants a brief chance to return to
Black Rock City (in spirit). Offers
relief from the Reality Bends.
Default World The rest of the world
that is not Black Rock City during the
Burning Man event.
Man, the Term used for the Burning
Playa The Spanish word for beach,
also used to describe dry lake beds
in the American West, such as the
Black Rock Desert.
Reality Bends Cramps felt in the
mind and spirit after returning to the
“real” world after spending a week
in Black Rock City. Best remedied by