Overcoming Trepidations about Burning Man

A few days ago, I made a Craigslist purchase just outside a Starbuck’s in Sacramento.  It happened that the item was for our Burning Man camp and that fact sparked a typical exchange.

“I’ve always wanted to go, but my wife is dead set against it.  I’m not so sure either.  We don’t want to take our clothes off in front of other people,” he told me.

I sprung into Defender of Burning Man action.

“You don’t have to go naked; you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do,” I told him.  “It’s the most chilled out place you’ve ever been.”

“But I’ve just had my 71st birthday.  I’m too old to go,” he said.

“You’re perfect for Burning Man,” I told him.  “I’m 73, and this year will be my 11th Burn.  In fact, I write a blog about Burning Man for people 50 and older on why they should go.”

After showing him the site on my smartphone, I made him promise that he’d read some of the posts and give it serious consideration.  So just in case my Craigslist friend finds his way to this site, I thought I’d reprint a piece I did in October 2011.  It is about my initial trepidations about attending, and why I came back over and over again.  Here it is:

Posted on October 18, 2011

I felt great trepidation once I had agreed to attend my first Burning Man Festival.  My fears focused on the many levels of misery I would experience during what seemed like an endless seven days in the desert.

Would I have to get naked? Would I have to take drugs? Would I suffer sunburn and dehydration? Would I get lost in a dust storm?

I was hoping to survive the event, and I certainly never expected to enjoy myself. What a surprise then to realize that Burning Man turned out to be not only fun but also the most pressure-free environment I had ever experienced in my life. Nothing was expected of me. Others may have gone naked (a small percentage, I might add), but no one expected it of me. Others might have done drugs (I definitely saw some marijuana being imbibed, but there was no demand that I do drugs). Others might have partied day and night, but I rested whenever I was tired. It was easy to take care of myself in the desert heat, and one of the prime directives of our camp was to “take care of each other.”

Best of all, from the moment I entered the gates, I felt a freeing spirit descend on me, and the weight of troubles and concerns lift off of my shoulders. It’s no wonder that I came back home noticeably younger looking and feeling.

Year One: Eric and I Lamplighting together at Burning Man 2005

Rather than my week in the desert being a miserable experience marked by sunstroke, sunburn and deep bodily embarrassment, it was the experience of a lifetime between myself and my son –remarkable since he was 40 years my junior and had little reason to stick around with his old man in this clearly youthful environment.

But stick with me he did. He watched me like a hawk, making certain his old man was not only okay, but having a great time and getting adequate rest and nutrition. In fact, the one time I had a bit too much to drink, he looked askance at me and said, “Dad, you’re drunk” in an accusing voice. I turned to him and slurred out the words, “Yes, I am,” and began laughing.

It was the greatest bonding experience ever between the two of us, and one we have never forgotten. Although we attended several more Burns together, we never went again without his mom’s presence, and it was never the same special “guy’s” event.

Year Two:  Judie enjoys her Barbie moment.

As wonderful as my experience with Eric had been, my fears would have been allayed if I had come alone. Nothing I have ever done, and no place I have ever gone, puts less pressure on you than Burning Man. Of course, that was my experience. And I would always caution you to carefully check out the group with whom you’re camping. Some rare camps do not observe the Burning Man spirit of “taking care of each other” and may haze newbies. It should be easy to find that out in advance. If you are camping in a theme camp, do some advance research to determine the history and reputation of the group. If you don’t like what you learn, find another group.

More about theme camps vs. camping on your own shortly.