Camp Information What you need to know
Theme Camps and Burning Man
Burning Man hopes that as a future citizen, you will learn about and embrace the culture. The process of learning is known as acculturation, and its important to know certain things as you ponder joining a theme camp.
In Burning Man’s early years, there were almost no rules. Absolute freedom was a wonderful idea that could have been preserved if attendees always behaved responsibly. Though most participated with good intentions, over the years there have been many who harmed to the event or the land. Every rule and policy in place now is a direct reaction to misdeeds, which have been embedded in the culture.
Burning Man culture is a reflection of the attitudes most responsible for a successful event. It guides attendees toward being better human beings in an alternative society. Self-reliance and radical expression are just two of the guiding principles, but are particularly important to understanding the role of theme camps and their members.
There’s nothing easy about being a theme camp. There are only 1,400 theme camps in the temporary town of 70,000 known as Black Rock City and twice as many are rejected placement. Those selected are chosen for their wow factor and contribution to the entertainment and gifting ethos of Burning Man. This is an event where far more entertainment and interactivity is provided through volunteer participants than by the Burning Man organization itself.
The objective of a theme camp is to unify the collective efforts of members to produce art and interactivity. When there is full participation, all good things that are given circle back as gifts. This, we call Burner Karma. Attendees who fail to contribute through gifting and active participation are more like tourists, draining without replenishing the system. Burning Man ultimately wants everyone to be a participant and experience the fulfillment and wonder of Burner Karma. Our aim as a camp is to enhance this as much as we can and have a great time in the process. Every effort and accomplishment by our camp is part of the journey.
Put another way, purpose of a theme camp is not to provide comfort and services to members. Burning Man flatly rejects any theme camp that acts this way. However, they understand that being fabulous should be rewarded, so they allow camps to offer some amenities that make life little more pleasant for camp members. Basically, they don’t care that we do extra things for our members as long our members give back to the event through our projects.
Don’t join a camp expecting services. Anything a camp can offer you beyond nothing is an incredible gift to cherish. We’d be lucky if we recover enough from donations/dues to be reimbursed for half of what it costs to implement this camp. Somebody has to pay, no matter what, and it is usually small number bearing most of the strain. Approach them with kindness. gratitude and try not to increase their burdens.
Before reading this, be sure to absorb everything in the “Theme Camps and Burning Man” post. Behold the luxuries we share with our camp-mates that help us bring amazing things and super-karma to the Burning Man community.
- Kitchen: a place to prepare food and wash dishes. We dedicate two large tents to our kitchen, outfitted with propane stoves, wash basins, water pumps, cooking utensils, and lighting. You bring your own food and drink (including drinking water). The Burning Man principle of Leave No Trace applies here: take away everything you bring in. Any extra garbage is divided among camp members to remove on their trip out.
- Shower: While you can survive without a shower, your stay will be so much more pleasant if you can bathe. This year we’re renting a large wastewater tank and contracting for pumpout services. A deluxe shower sits next to it.
- Wash water: most of the dues are consumed in paying for water, storage, and disposal. Each liter of water weighs one kilogram (1 gallon=8 lbs). We’re planning for 1,000 gallons (8,000 pounds or 3,785 liters/kilograms) of water for washing bodies and dishes. Deducting 100 gallons for kitchen use, this averages to an allocation of 11 gallons of water per person during the event, 5 showers per person..
- Chill spaces: tents and shade areas to hang out and relax, chat with new friends, or just chill.
- Evening heat: camp offers a propane fire pit for members only.
- Security: by virtue of being part of a camp, all your camp members are looking out for you and helping to guard your few, but critical possessions.
- Guidance: the culture is mesmerizing and can be overwhelming. Existence at Burning Man is different than anywhere you have been, so our veteran members are available to introduce you to the highlights and help you navigate it safely.
- Creativity: camp members bask in the glory of our streetscape and camp, knowing that they all participated in making it so. There is freedom to do as much art as you want, perform as you wish, or become involved in our event offerings from yoga to DJ dances. We have a lot of resident artists to observe creating art and discussing their masterpieces.
Burning Man works in magical ways through transformative power. Driven by a desire for discovery, visit with willingness to contribute and without expectations. We do our best to ensure everyone has an epic experience, for the origin of our success rests not with a few people, but within us all.
Your Burner Karma begins long before the event; be keenly aware of how your interactions impact it. Our camp has an unwaivering core of wonderful people who joined us because they support our vision, projects and activities. Good Burners make a commitment and stick with it, expecting nothing and savor everything experienced and received as the wonderful gifts they are.
We receive a lot of questions that suggest that a sense of entitlement exists from default worlders who don’t understand how many sacrifices are made to bring projects to fruition. This is ALL volunteer. Last year we had 32 new people signed up for camp and then changed their mind without informing us, greatly strains our resources. As soon as we accept someone to camp, we adjust the camp plan and resources to accommodate them. Wasted communication robs time from activities necessary to bring camp to fruition and diverts attention from someone who will actually show up. Being demanding and inconsistent is a sad way to initiate the Burning Man experience. Simply put, it is very BAD burner karma. We shouldn’t have to say this: don’t keep shopping for a different camp after you’ve been accepted to one!
The camp and the Burn belong to all of us. It is a challenge for everyone to get there. Every physical item hauled to the desert arrives at great cost. Understand where this place is: smack in the middle of nowhere in a hostile environment. If you think it is a challenge to get yourself and your basic necessities there, ponder deeply how anything else arrives. There’s no government handout, no mysterious organization that magically provides for all your needs. Electricity can be generated onsite only by participants who buy generators running expensive fuel. Power is precious and earnestly applied to illuminate artwork, not to run appliances. Tthe only supplies are in Reno, several hours away. Burning Man is focused on dealing with government and creating temporary city infrastructure, establishing a foundation for everything to happen, relying on volunteers and the participants themselves to do everything else.
Burning Man pays for and coordinates emergency services and only supplies septic service in the form of portable outhouses, the contents of which are constantly emptied and hauled to Reno for disposal. There are no wells or running water. No garbage service. Everything you bring in must be taken out.
Everyone is responsible for themselves, pooling a few meager resources to exist. Camps always run a deficit that rests on the shoulders of a few. If you think dues are excessive, you aren’t thinking it through. Nobody is making money here, in fact, many go into debt to implement it. A camp’s main purpose is to deliver art and interactivity to the event. Creature comforts are a bonus, and we offer more than most. There’s no surplus.
Everyone has a long journey. If closer, their journey is saddled with hauling gear, material costs and building things to expand our collective experience. Be grateful for anything a camp can do to make your stay more tolerable. Anything beyond what you are able to do for yourself is a precious gift brought to you by others who understand the Burning Man ethos and make many personal sacrifices.
The Burning Man event has a huge bike problem: last year there were over 4,000 bikes abandoned at the end of the event. Apparently there are lot of people who buy cheap bikes on the way in and assume they are doing someone a favor by “donating” it to the event, or expecting to find a charitable group there who wants a bike. As a result, the Burning Man organization ends up with a huge mess to clean up because it is very difficult to dispose of the extra bikes. Someone has to pick them up from all over the event, load them onto trailers and haul them back to Reno or beyond. A typical flatbed trailer can typically haul 40 bikes. That’s 1,000 round unnecessary trips for those stuck with cleanup!
Karma Love Camp is trying to help alleviate the bike problem. Each year we take bike donations (for really good, quality bikes only) and invest a LOT of work to make it possible to reuse a bike the next year. To this end, we offer a special service for some of our camp members. We’ll sell you one of these reconditioned bikes and have it waiting for you in camp. At the end of the event, you can donate it back, or take it away (bikes are usually too trashed to recycle after their second burn). If you are going to be purchasing a bike anyway, why not help camp with fundraising and help Burning Man by using recycled bike that won’t be a burden to them.
If interested in helping even more, hang around after Burning Man is over to assist with cleaning up the camp gear, taking inventory, repacking and servicing the bikes for next time. Each bike has to be inspected, have decorations removed, pressure washed, repaired, lubed, inventoried, and stacked for storage. It takes 4-6 days after the event to get everything done, but the good news is: starting the Wednesday after the event the service road is open to everyone, which has a 20 mph speed limit, smooth as pavement, and no lines. When that road opens, it is only a 35 minute drive between camp and Gerlach, where we have land to work on our projects.
RESERVING A BIKE
We won’t offer a bike unless we are certain it works. After being in storage so long, a bike exposed to the desert can fail from just sitting around in spite of excessive cleaning. As the event nears, we feel more confident about the bikes we test. At this time, the conservative estimate is: there are 25 womens’ bikes and eight mens’ bikes available to camp members. Single-speed standard bikes are $80. Multi-speed bikes with front shocks, or the cooler cruiser-type bikes are $120. They are allocated in the following order:
- Dorm residents taking the Burner Express Bus.
- Burner Express Bus Riders.
- Dorm residents carpooling.
- All those carpooling.
- Everyone else.
If you are interested in securing a bike through camp, make your desire known in your camp application or soon after. If you are on the waiting list, let us know if you make other arrangements. With our program, your bike will be waiting in camp for you when you arrive.
We appreciate our distance members so much, we offer a special option to offset the burden of traveling so far to join us.
We construct several dormatory tents that are partitioned with fabric into four rooms each. They are anchored in such a way to be stable in the high wind bursts that hit the desert. Floors are tarp with area rugs, air mattress bed included. Adornments by camp members make it cozier. These tents are set up and ready for you when you arrive. All you need to bring is your own bedding.
– Must be traveling from extreme distance, especially internationally.
– Must arrive by Burner Express Bus or carpooling.
– Participating in, or leading camp events.
– Dorms are for women only.
– Preference for occupants arriving Saturday by Burner Express Bus.
You also need to know…
This program serves two additional purposes: recycle and reuse, and reduction of vehicle traffic.
Usually, you’d be buying a tent anyway, and then throwing it away after the event. The tents in the low price range are quite flimsy, known to collapse in the high winds or leak water and won’t have much room to move around.
You can stand up in our tents and we have engineers involved in the anchoring systems.
Theme camps are granted space based on the number of people being hosted and the scale of interactivity, NOT how many vehicles are parked. In fact, with more vehicles we lose credibility and too many make it impossible to fulfill camp functions. Nobody journeys to Burning Man to visit a parking lot. We have to hide vehicles from street view as much as possible.
This is another reason we offer dorm rooms. To offset the hardship and inflexibility from giving up driving a vehicle, we reduce the burden of mass in what must be brought.
With people from around the world interested in attending Burning Man, we find it exceedingly special when other countries choose to join us. There aren’t many better options for bonding with people from other cultures than the shared experience of Burning Man, the camp, and its many projects and gifting. We learn so much by hosting and we are all enlightened by the experience.
Our hope is that our international guests feel the same way about inclusion and immersion. We want to build diverse, deep and lasting kinships. We find that most feel the same, but there have been a few exceptions. We don’t feel anyone intentionally sets out to act separatist; with some groups from some countries, this just seems to happen. For example, sometimes visitors create and attend events for their country only. Granted, we are fully aware that Americans do this A LOT and that is an equally sad display. But this is Burning Man! One of the few places in the world where absolutely everyone is accepted, embraced and loved. Please don’t come to Burning Man only to surrounding yourself with your own countrymen. Hang with us…we appreciate your journey and we want to know you!
International is part of our camp culture, but not all camps enjoy hosting internationals and there’s a rational reason for this. Internationals are almost always unable to participate in the most difficult aspects of establishing a theme camp. Implementing a camp means getting together for a lot of physical work on projects long before the event, having the resources in the states to work on projects and collect gear, storing and maintaining that gear, then hauling a massive amount of gear to and from the event with trucks and trailers. 99% of internationals have no such capacity. While their journey may be expensive and difficult, and the logistics may be challenging with all the rentals, shopping and navigation required on the way in, the average camp participant in the states still spends far more money and time to make a camp possible.
We work hard to host internationals in our camp and they have always constituted more than half of our membership. We take on extra expenses and projects improve the experience for our long-distance guests. We feel our camp benefits greatly from the cultural infusion, the fascinating differences and the similarities in how we all appreciate the Burning Man experience together.
We don’t do everything for internationals. Every visitor to Burning Man is still expected to undertake the 10 Principles, especially radical self-reliance, which pre-event means DOING YOUR RESEARCH. Our role is not to hand you all the answers to the mysteries of Burning Man, but we will take you under our wing and help you once you arrive, aiding your quest for the transformational experience of a lifetime. We’re in this together!
About Open Camping
It’s amazing how much Burning Man has changed. Virgins or those who have skipped a number of years can’t imagine how difficult it can be to find a suitable site if they don’t affiliate themselves with a theme camp, art installation or mutant vehicle. Here’s a story from last year to illustrate:
The gates opened at midnight Saturday night instead of Sunday morning at 11am as they had years before. Like a game of musical chairs–but without the music–legions poured in. Those associated with a “placed” camp had a specific address to head for. The remainder consisted of either first-time visitors (virgins) or those who attended the event before (veterans).
When the gates open, hoards embark on a land rush, eager to stake a claim on a camping spot.
Veterans, familiar with the layout, tend to target a preferred area based on what they became familiar with in previous years. Nobody gets to see a map until the event begins, which the virgins are handed upon entry. Slowly they creep forward as they through the confusion confronting them, not entirely sure where they should go. They take off in a random direction seeking open camping (the areas not reserved for placed camps, the bulk of which are further out). The natural tendency is to go where you see activity, which creates a strong current toward the center. It seems like there are open spaces, but when you stop to unload, people yell at you for trespassing. You’ve stumbled into an area where all land has been claimed. There’s no room for you…you just don’t realize it yet.
Deciphering the borders between open camping and off-limits zones is difficult for even seasoned veterans during the day, nearly impossible at night. Many give up after an hour and settle on what they think is an open site, only to discover they are trespassing. This is exactly what happened to a small group on our theme camp site.
A group of six with a moving van and four vehicles had taken over 1/6th of our camp’s real estate during the night after our exhausted setup crew had gone to sleep. We had spent eight months working out how to utilize every square foot of land and had none to spare. It would be hugely unfair to our members who joined and paid dues to risk any space they were counting on. We asked the trespassers to leave nicely, explaining our situation, but they argued and refused to leave. The debate went on Sunday morning from from 8 am to 10am and by that time it was even more difficult to find a site to relocate to. The situation escalated. The authorities (Placement and Rangers) said we were correct and they would enforce eviction, but wanted us to keep trying to work it out ourselves. Our camp ended up offering to help them find a place to move to and we used our trucks and people to help them move their gear. We had were eight of our members running around for two hours, scouring a large radius. We finally talked someone in a back alley into giving up some space they didn’t need for these people, quite far from where they started.
This exercise showed how extremely difficult it is to just “show up” at Burning Man. Even those who enter as soon as the gates open have difficulty finding a place to camp in their preferred location. By the time they realize they have to look in places they wouldn’t normally want to camp, their second and third choices are gone. Some people say there is ample camping space, and they are correct. There is…way, way, way out on the furthest street from center, but everyone fights that option: it just feels so very, very far away from the interesting attractions. But the situation is still confusing, disorienting and the fact of geometry is that the closer you are to the center of a circle, the closer you are to everything. This makes a big difference when you’re tired while walking or biking back to your camp.
Sharing in the cost and effort to establish a theme camp may seem like a large commitment, but it means a lot to have a home; an assigned location you can be certain will alleviate the stress that many visitors experience during the land grab they would otherwise confront upon entry.