Rainstorm Puts Burning Man’s Self-Reliance Tenet to the Test

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When Masha Maltsava first journeyed to Burning Man, the iconic annual gathering that transforms Nevada’s Black Rock Desert into a vibrant, transient city for thousands of free spirits, she arrived armed with provisions that had taken three months to assemble. She had meticulously consulted every packing list, Reddit thread, and WhatsApp chat that she could find, in preparation for her inaugural adventure the previous year.

However, the unpredictable spin of a roulette wheel that is the weather dealt her a hard blow this year. Heavy rains transformed the typically arid landscape into sprawling sludge, forcing participants to hunker down and ration their provisions. The sudden weather change strained Maltsava’s readiness. Black Rock Desert had borne the brunt of two months’ worth of rainfall within 24 hours, stranding Maltsava and approximately 70,000 other attendees. The relentless downpour starting on Friday and persisted over the weekend, transforming the desert sand into a treacherously slippery clay that deterred ingress and egress.

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Despite the harsh conditions, Maltsava stood by her approach, asserting that being overly prepared was imperative for thriving in such circumstances. While photographs of the event, showcasing elaborate art installations and patrons adorned in complex costumes, portray a deceptive glamour, the severe weather emphasized the event’s inherent challenges. For seven days, attendees are tested in an austere desert locale with limited facilities or emergency resources.

Participants are called upon to heed one of Burning Man’s core tenets: self-reliance. Organizers underscore that personal safety and health are entirely an individual’s responsibility. The event’s website duly instructs attendees to anticipate all scenarios, including extreme weather conditions.

Every annual iteration of Burning Man graces Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, a remote domain with fickle roads that buckle in adversity. Small settlements like Gerlach, boasting a population just north of 100, offer the only glimpse of civilization in the vicinity. Reno, the nearest city, is a pat 93 miles away.

Although the venue is harsh and weather extremes are frequent, the organizers stoically agree that beauty and brutality cohabitate in a blend that is the unique charm of Burning Man. However, they insist that all participants arrive armed with essential prvovisions, including porta potties, first-aid kits, and 5-gallon utility buckets to serve as toxin-free toilets, preferably with lids and garbage bag liners. Attendees are urged to bring portable showers, warm clothes, waterproof bags for electronics, and even a radio, preferably battery- or solar-powered, for prompt updates.

Nicole Gallub, a seasoned Burning Man attendee, admitted that notwithstanding her prior experiences and elaborate preparations, she was left ill-equipped for this year’s storm. Echoing Maltsava’s sentiments, she warned of the daunting task of surviving autonomously in the harsh desert for seven days and stressed the essence of preparedness.

While Offering help to those unprepared, Omar Sedky said that throngs of participants, including his own group, came forward to help those lacking adequate provision.

Regardless of inclement weather and intimidating conditions, all attendees agree that the spirit of camaraderie and community that pervades the event becomes their lifeboat. From sharing supplies and resources to offering assistance in times of duress, the sense of solidarity creates a fraternal bond among attendees.

The festival attendees or ‘Burners’ relish in the challenge of surviving in a difficult environment, viewing it as an integral part of the Burning Man experience. The event’s emphasis on individual preparedness and collective responsibility creates a unique blend of self-reliance and community spirit, making every Burning Man a test of endurance and a memorable celebration.

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Melinda Cochrane is a poet, teacher and fiction author. She is also the editor and publisher of The Inspired Heart, a collection of international writers. Melinda also runs a publishing company, Melinda Cochrane International books for aspiring writers, based out Montreal, Quebec. Her publication credits include: The art of poetic inquiry, (Backalong Books), a novella, Desperate Freedom, (Brian Wrixon Books Canada), and 2 collections of poetry; The Man Who Stole Father’s Boat, (Backalong Books), and She’s an Island Poet, Desperate Freedom was on the bestseller's list for one week, and The Man Who Stole Father’s Boat is one of hope and encouragement for all those living in the social welfare system. She’s been published in online magazines such as, (regular writer for) ‘Life as a Human’, and Shannon Grissom’s magazine.