Five Big Concerns and Ways to Resolve Them

Art Car Magic at Burning Man

Here are the major concerns for older people about Burning Man, and what to do about them:

1. The heat. Yeah, it can be hot out on the Playa, but it is – after all – a dry heat! In fact, the extremely low humidity (usually single digits) is actually a problem in itself. We try to take care of ourselves in several ways. First, we try to go out only mornings and nights. Mid-day is rest time when we stay inside our air-conditioned RV. Also, we never go anywhere without adequate water or other thirst-quenchers (such as Gatorade).

2. The dust. Some days are worse than others, and some people are more sensitive than others. Successfully negotiating the dusty landscape requires goggles and a dust mask. These are not items to scrimp on so buy goggles and face masks that are both effective and comfortable. Getting them on and off easily is important as well. It’s fine to shop online, but be sure that returning items is easy because you need to try them out before making a final decision.

3. Transportation. The main mode of transport is biking, but you don’t want to bring your $4,000 elite mountain bike. The dust is killer on gears and other delicate bike parts. If you can afford a fat-tire bike, you’ll do better on the variable Playa surface. But stick to basic bikes, or even old bikes that you can pick up at flea markets or on Craigslist. If powering a bike manually is a problem for you, then consider a bike with a supplemental electric motor. Another option is a Segway (expensive, but you may be able to rent one). If you’re planning to bike, make sure you’re in shape to do so. Get some miles in on a bike as time for the Burn approaches.

4. Porta-potties. Yes, you’re going to have to use them here at Burning Man. And, yes, they can look and smell disgusting. But there’s this: there are thousands of these “portos”– as some people call them – placed strategically across the Playa. They are cleaned twice a day by the contractors in charge of them. Additionally, certain theme camps have “private” portos that tend to be cleaner. Check with your theme camp (if you’re staying in one, which I recommend) to find out whether they have their own portos.

5. Showers. Most of the major theme camps have rudimentary showers, but you need to supply your own water and privacy is minimal. Wet wipes are a must for between shower clean up and many other uses. Bring plenty.

The single best answer to all of these challenges for older Burners is an RV. You can have at least some air conditioning, your own bathroom and shower facilities and a place to ride out some of those legendary dust storms with their white out conditions. But you’ll need to bring a well-equipped RV with a top-notch generator that can be run for long periods of time and is well-protected from dust (which can destroy a generator in a couple of days). You can’t run the air conditioner without a generator, so it’s critically important. You’ll also need an RV with large fresh water, and black and grey water storage so you can make it through the entire Burn without the need to dump tanks or re-fill your fresh water. It’s possible to have your tanks pumped out by the suppliers who clean the potties, but there’s no way to get fresh water delivered. Also, it costs around $85 dollars to have your tanks pumped out, vs. around $10 to do it at a dump site in off-playa.

Make sure you carry enough extra fresh water to re-fill your tank, if necessary, and that you have the right kind of equipment (funnels, pumps, etc.) to do so without spilling tons of water on the Playa. Even fresh water can become a problem when so much is spilled in one place that it creates a hole in the Playa surface.

There are other comfortable ways to live at Burning Man such as Shift Pods and other innovative living units that stay cooler than a tent. Some can even be air-conditioned with the help of a generator.

If it all sounds like too much trouble, then maybe it is for you. But you have to balance your level of difficulty with the value of experiencing Burning Man. It’s well worth the trade-offs for us.

Playa’s the Place to Celebrate

I celebrated my 615th birthday here the other day. Well, it was actually my 75th but Lashes couldn’t find a “7” to go on the cake so she put a 6 and a 1 instead. It was a surprise to see two cakes come out of our RV because they were so well hidden – NOT. I just completely missed the fact that there were two cakes in our fridge, in plain sight. But Lashes knows how easy I am to fool.

She, on the other hand, was un-trickable until her own 75th birthday late last year when I pulled off a surprise party that was exactly that: a surprise. I was probably more delighted with myself than she was with the party. The heavy lifting was done by my kids and their spouses, so I really can’t take credit.

Nonetheless, it reminded me of the multiple celebrations we’ve had out here on the Playa over our 12 years as Burners. In 2006, we renewed our wedding vows for our 40th anniversary in a ceremony we’ll never forget at the Hotel International Ashram Galactica. Our youngest walked his mom down the aisle. The Ashram people actually gave us a honeymoon suite to sleep in, and fed us a gourmet dinner cooked by a celebrity chef from L.A. Six years ago, we held a “Lashes 7.0” party at Lamplighters Village for her 70th birthday. 2017 marked another vow renewal for our 50th anniversary, with our older son Carousel performing the ceremony. We returned the favor the following year as I married Carousel and Unisee in a Unicorn Wedding at dawn in front of the Temple (covered in an earlier Sunrise Burner).

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Bugs in Love on Playa

The great part of celebrating milestones at Burning Man is that everybody within sight and sound of the event joins in for what might be called “Kumbaya moments.” It’s so great to feel the hugs of strangers out here in the desert. There’s no stand-offishness about human-to-human contact. There’s simply joy.

If you find that thought a little Pollyanish, I can assure you that it’s not my nature to be this way. For years, I tended to shy away from people, avoiding touching them at all cost. The Playa has turned me into a major-league hugger who’s looking for new people to meet so I can bring their experiences into my life.

Serving our Temple Guardian shifts we are often approached by people with questions, which then flow into conversations about who they are and what they’re mourning, grieving, or celebrating at the Temple. As a result, we’ve absorbed others’ stories about lost dads and moms and the regrets people have about the absence of intimacy or the rejection of parents that is often part of adolescent rebellion. Burners use the Temple to put a balm on those wounds. They don’t heal completely, but they become tolerable once they’ve been acknowledged.

At the Sunday night Temple burn, the crowd watches in near silence as the wishes and memorials left there go up in smoke – releasing much of that painful baggage. It’s a moment of clarity for many Burners.

On a practical note, how do people our age survive the Burn? We do it by living in an RV that is air-conditioned and has available power through our generator. Without the AC, it would be difficult to take our mid-day naps that allow us to keep going late into the night. We’re also careful to pack adequate numbers of our meds and supplements so we won’t run out during the Burn. Planning is crucial, especially for us older people. You’re going to be on your own to a great extent out here, so you need to think through every day and bring what you need. There are no pharmacies, convenience stores, or Wal-Marts on the Playa.

We’re Not Too Old for Burning Man; And Neither are You

Why would two retired 75-year-olds with a comfortable home and children and grandchildren to spoil hit the road in late summer to spend two weeks in the desert for the Burning Man Festival? Let me count the reasons:

1. It makes us feel young. It’s not just about being with young people (although our camp is filled with what we call “kids”), it’s also about stretching your mind and your body and getting those brain synapses firing again. Burning Man is an adventure in non-comfort-zone living in a harsh desert environment, and having fun doing it. That’s why we’ve gone 12 times since 2005 and plan to keep going until we can’t do so physically.

2. The creativity inspires us. We see art installations and art cars on the Playa that are unlike anything you’ll see elsewhere. There are monuments to the spiritual (the Temple), inventive ways to show the power of fire (the Fire Tornado), and astounding travelling artistic statements such as the Porcupine mutant vehicle. The desert surface is the artists’ canvas at Burning Man, and that space provides artistic opportunities unlike any art gallery or museum. We come back motivated by the infinite power of the human mind and with the desire to do more with our own lives – and that means staying active and engaged.

Playa Butterflies

3. The whimsy makes us laugh. We love that Burning Man never takes itself too seriously. There’s a wink behind every artificial palm tree, and a smile hidden in even the most assiduously constructed art pieces. Whenever we begin to make too much of day-to-day life, we only have to think about Burning Man to take it down a notch.

4. The people teach us about life. We’ve learned to look beyond outward appearances and dress (or, in some cases, the lack thereof) to find the connections we never knew existed between us and people who simply don’t look like us. It’s added a deep appreciation of diversity and a powerful desire to bring new, often exotic people into our lives.

5. Eroticism is our fountain of youth. Burning Man is not as sexually outrageous as some people believe, but there’s plenty of erotic reminders out there. A bit of nudity, a touch of provocative dress (by women and men), a multitude of camps and sites devoted to sex from an intellectual or practical perspective; the Playa exudes eroticism and the life-force that it represents. For us, as a couple married for nearly 53 years, it’s a constant reminder that sex remains valuable in human relationships, including our marriage. In fact, everything about our marriage has gotten better since we started going to Burning Man.

6. The desert gives us courage. On my first trip to Burning Man, I thought I would die out there in the heat, the blistering sun, and the dust. But instead of diminishing me, the desert raised me up to a higher level of confidence in surviving and thriving in an environment that I had feared. I’m not a daredevil because of Burning Man, but I did decide to start teaching skiing last season at age 74. And while I still worry about “losing a step” as I age, I realize that my experience – including Burning Man – can easily make up for lost horsepower.

We’re deeply involved in our Burning Man community, having taken on the responsibility of running a camp each year as well as participating in numerous off-Playa activities and meetings, including those at Burning Man Headquarters in San Francisco. The more you do for Burning Man, the more it does for you.