When Masha Maltsava first journeyed to the annual Burning Man Festival – a vibrant gathering attracting a multitude of free-spirits nestled within the arid reaches of the Nevada desert – she was laden with more provisions than necessary.
“I prepared for perhaps three months in advance,” Masha confessed. “I scrutinized every packing list, chat conversation on Reddit and WhatsApp, all braced for my inaugural Burning Man journey last year.” Yet during her second year attending the festival, unexpected heavy rains transformed the off-the-grid venue into an impassable quagmire. She was ill-prepared for such an extreme shift in weather.
This unforeseen circumstance rendered Maltsava and approximately 70,000 other attendees, stranded. Black Rock Desert, the site of this expansive gathering, received a 60-day volume of rain in a mere 24-hour time frame. The bouts of storms starting from Friday through the weekend mutated the desert into a sprawling expanse of unsteady, sticky clay, effectively preventing any entry or exit.
“Last year, I was extraordinarily prepared – a strategy I believe to be sound in hindsight,” expressed Masha.
Despite the outward glamour that the festival depicts with photographs of intricate art installations and costumed attendees, the harsh weather underscored the challenging nature of this event. Seven days of endurance are tested in an isolated desert setting with minimal access to amenities and infrastructure. An attribute of the event is an unwavering principle of self-reliance where attendees are individually responsible for their health, safety and well-being.
The event’s website offers a comprehensive guide for preparation, including contingencies for extreme weather conditions.
Burning Man, a yearly phenomenon, takes place in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, which poses an inherent challenge due to its remoteness, limited accessibility and fickle weather conditions. The closest settlement, Gerlach, has a population barely exceeding a hundred inhabitants, while Reno, the nearest city, lies 93 miles away.
The website vividly describes the event location, “A vast, flat, prehistoric lakebed, surrounded by majestic mountains, composed of a hardpan alkali; daytime temperatures can soar well above 100°F accompanied by extremely low humidity.”
The Festival provides rudimentary safety infrastructures like Porta-Potties, on-site medical respondents and ice, sold on-site. These provisions, however, are few and between. The event’s attendees are often heavily reliant on what they bring along with them for the duration of the event. Oral and personal hygiene facilities, food and beverages, an exhaustive first-aid kit, warm clothing, and fire extinguishers are some among the myriad items the attendees are urged to carry.
Concurrently, the flooding caused by relentless rains highlighted the importance of the attendees carrying certain specific essentials such as wood blocks, used to keep important electric devices such as generators dry, and electrical tape to secure connections.
Attendee Nicole Gallub recalled that despite being a four-time Burning Man patron, she was unprepared for the troubling weather. She stated, “I don’t think anybody was genuinely equipped for what we encountered last year.”
Despite the adverse conditions, Gallub bore witness to an atmosphere of tranquility when she left. An urgent sense of community prevailed amidst attendees. According to Omar Sedky, also an attendee, the seasoned participants compensated for the first-time attendees’ shortsightedness.
The circumstances, as recounted by various attendees, speaks volumes about the spirit of community even under challenging conditions. The pictures of flooded streets and muddy campsites were indeed daunting, yet, surviving these trials and tribulations together is considered an essential part of the Burning Man experience.
Sharief, an experienced attendee, cited that even though she underwent an elaborate preparation process for her first Burning Man festival in 2011, she still didn’t feel entirely equipped. “You need help,” she emphasized. She also explained that the self-reliance encouraged by the event necessarily includes reaching out for help from the community when needed. Despite its challenges, Burning Man remains an enchanting experience that many, like Masha, wouldn’t miss for the world.