The Black Rock Desert is a hostile environment. It is a flat, prehistoric lake bed surrounded by mountains at an elevation of nearly 4,000 feet. The ground is composed of hard pan alkaline dust. Small dust particles are in the air at all times, even when no winds are present. Temperatures vary greatly between the day and the night. Very strong winds might also occur at all times. Furthermore, the conditions also vary greatly from year to year, we have seen years without any dust storms as well as years with a lot of rainfall.
These harsh conditions, however, do not make it impossible for you to go to Burning Man! You must know what to expect and come prepared. You must bring anything that you may possibly require during the course of the event.
If you are a virgin Burner, camping with us is a good way to get experience on what the playa is like and what you can do to help make it more wheelchair friendly for your fellow wheelies! You’ll have the chance to talk to a lot of experienced disabled Burners and can have a look at the gear they’ve rigged up through the years. Of course, you are always welcome to stop for a chat if you are camping somewhere else.
Temperatures & Sunburn
Daily temperatures fluctuate between exceeding 100°F during the day and dropping into the 40’s during the night. Make sure to bring warm clothes and a warm sleeping-bag for the night and light clothes (or none at all) during the day. It is a good idea to have a long sleeved light shirt with a loose fit for the daytime – to give your skin some shelter from the sun once in a while. Oh! And don’t forget that funky costume you’ve always wanted to wear but never quite dared to – you’ll fit right into the crowd. Look at the Burning man Galleries for costume ideas.
You will be at 4,000 feet above sea level, the atmosphere provides much less filtering of the sunlight which causes sunburn. As a result, you will burn much faster and more severely than at lower elevations. This is especially true for those on lots of prescription meds. Check your meds to see if any of yours increase sensitivity to sun! Everyone should put on sunscreen every morning and repeat as needed during the day! Make sure to check your skin frequently for sunburns.
Sunscreen, lip balm, moisturizing skin lotion, Vaseline, saline nasal spray and a hat are your best friends on the playa! Give your body and skin a break and seek shelter under shade structures frequently.
Dehydration, Prescription Drugs & Diabetes
The humidity on the playa is extremely low. Due to the dry atmosphere, you may not feel particularly warm but you’ll be steadily drying up. You might feel queasy and cranky on your first day or whenever you do not drink enough water. We recommend taking it easy on your first day. You’ll be so overwhelmed with impressions you won’t need to move around much to be constantly amazed and people will still be busy setting up anyway. Use the skin pinch method often during the Burn to check your hydration (if you pinch the skin on the back of your hand it should snap right back into place). Pace yourself, you want to enjoy the whole week!
Start drinking more and more water even as you approach the desert. To stay healthy and enjoy the week, drink water all the time whether you think you need it or not. Carry a water bottle (or a hydration backpack) with you at all times. Drinking at least one gallon of water per person per day is the rule of thumb. (A more exact formula is to take your weight in pounds, half of that is what you should drink in ounces. Example: 150′ – you should drink 75 oz (2.3 quarts) of water a day minimum. You should never drink more than ounces equal to your weight in lbs. So for 150′ you should never drink more than 150 ounces (4.6 quarts) a day.)
You will already be dehydrated when you feel thirsty! Signs of dehydration include crankiness, headaches, stomach cramps, abdominal pains, constipation, and flu-like symptoms.
Dehydration exacerbates both heat-related and cold-related conditions (i.e. heat exhaustion and hypothermia), and makes it difficult for the body to mend itself. If someone you know complains of the signs and symptoms of dehydration, or shows signs of either severe overheating or (worse) a case of chills under the mid-day sun, get them to shade immediately and seek prompt medical help. In case of emergency, go to the medical clinic or an emergency services station near the Civic Plazas. Medical staff are always on duty and evacuation is available. Do not hesitate to ask ANYONE for help if you feel faint IMMEDIATELY!
Users of alcohol, caffeine, prescription and/or other drugs are particularly at risk for dehydration, as are the disabled and you should pay careful attention to your water intake. We recommend for every disabled Burner to bring two gallons of water per person, per day. The mantra is “Piss Clear” – meaning your urine should be a lighter shade of yellow, if it gets dark or brownish, you are dehydrated! One way to get more water once you are on the playa is to buy ice at the Artica locations. As soon as you get it back to camp, place it in Ziplock style freezer bags, then use it as usual in your ice chest. When it does melt, you have a bag of fresh cold water!
It is also important to eat proper salty foods. They will help to prevent electrolyte imbalance. Bacon is a major food group on the playa. Many people find bacon to be an ideal playa food! It provides fat, protein, and calories as well as salt. You can pre-cook bacon and bring it to the playa in your ice chest if you wish to cut out cooking time. Vacuum sealed pre-cooked bacon keeps well in an ice chest for the week.
Eating enough, at the right times can be a struggle for diabetics and others who have blood sugar level issues. You may find keeping your blood sugar at optimum levels can be a challenge for anyone who needs to monitor their levels so bring more testing supplies than you usually need as well as more blood sugar boosting snacks if low blood sugars are an issue for you.
Please keep in mind that there is no pharmacy in Black Rock City! You must bring all of the prescription drugs you will require throughout the event.
Dust, Strong Winds & White Outs
The alkaline dust is in the air at all times, even when no wind is present. People who use contact lenses might find their eyes being irritated quickly. Do not forget to bring your glasses to give your eyes a break. Wear goggles as much as possible. Conditions may make your eyes exceedingly dry, bringing a pair of “Speedo type” swim goggles is best for dry eye recovery: bring a pair you can carry with you in a pocket. Make sure your goggles fit well and are sealed. You can also get eye drops to rehydrate your eyes, single use ones work best.
The playa can be subject to sudden bouts of fierce, unpredictable weather. Strong winds can produce instant “white outs”. However, they are usually over quickly. DO NOT DRIVE your vehicle or mobility device (this includes manual wheelchairs) during white outs! You will not be able to see where you are going and others will not be able to see you. Stop immediately and stay where you are until conditions improve. Put on goggles and a dust mask/bandanna. Be alert for moving vehicles. Seek immediate shelter and stay there. If you are caught outside of shelter during this condition, simply sit down, cover your face with your shirt and wait. Wheelies should carry a rain poncho. Relax and wait until conditions improve.
Be prepared in case bad conditions last longer than usual. Bring a plastic 5-gallon utility bucket (with lid!) and heavy-duty black garbage bags (as an emergency porta-potty). The bags go home with you, NOT in a porta-potty! (Pee bottles are OK to dump in a porta-potty – NOT on the playa or in camp!) Bring a complete basic first aid kit. Bring a battery-powered radio and tune into BMIR (94.5 FM) for updates.
Storms often come in with little or no warning. You need to keep everything in camp battened down at all times so it’s secure. Winds can exceed 75mph and objects such as sleeping bags, chairs, card tables, empty ice chests and tents have been carried away by high winds. Make sure all of your stuff is secured at all times (especially when leaving camp).
Rainfall in the Black Rock desert is quite selective and dries quickly. Severe conditions rarely last more than half an hour. However, there are predictions that 2013 is going to be a particularly wet year.
In the event of rain: DO NOT DRIVE your vehicle, scooter or chair. You will become stuck! Remain where you are and send someone to camp to get help. Never drive through mud! It becomes concrete on your tires and wheels. You will spend hours chipping this “playacrete” off. It will burn out your motors, controllers, if you are lucky, just pop your fuses or blow your breaker. Do not drive behind the water truck! Do not ride your bike: carry your bike; playa mud will clog anything with wheels within a few feet.
As you return to the default world…
Be prepared to be in a traffic jam for a long time. It is quite common to wait in line for seven hours, it’s called Exodus for a reason! In the past years there have been NO wheelchair accessible porta-potties on the way out and the regular ones were far and few. You may also be exhausted from having just spent the most exciting week of your life. It is a good idea to get proper sleep before leaving the event. Please pull over to the side and take a break if you get tired behind the wheel. Always remember that Exodus is your last hours at Burning Man! Use it well, get to know new people and share your stories. Make the time worthwhile and give your last gifts!
Please secure all your stuff including those trash bags properly. Every year we are sad to see the stray contents of trash bags laying around at the side of the road. We do encourage you to recycle your trash. Remember, this is the worlds largest LEAVE NO TRACE event!
At the exit you will also have the chance to donate any unused food items (canned food, unopened water bottles, unopened sodas and other liquids). They will go to the Burning Man volunteers that will continue to stay in the desert for several months. These guys and gals will literally moop the entire area and make it possible for us to return every year. Remember to pack any items you might want to donate where they are easy to access.
You may also find yourself being overwhelmed by the experience once you settle back into your off-playa life. Talk to your friends about your experience. Stay in contact with the people you met. Find regional Burning Man groups in your area. Reconnect at an After-Burn event. And, finally, we are there for you too. The best cure for post-playa-depression is to begin planning for next year already.
We do have a lot of experienced Burners with a variety of different conditions in our camp every year. Don’t be afraid to ask us anything you might be worried about – we can put you in contact with the right person to answer your questions.