*/ ?>

Surviving the Dust At Burning Man

Filed Under Burning Man | 2012-08-19, 13:11

IMG_1139

Almost every year, a few weeks before Burning Man, word starts coming back from the playa that “it’s going to be dusty this year”. Most people that have been to the playa shrug this off with “it’s dusty every year”. This year however is a year to remind people that sometimes dusty doesn’t just mean annoying, it means potentially dangerous. As many know, 2011 had some of the best weather the event has ever seen. (No seriously, it was better last year.) Low winds, no dust storms, and almost perfect temperatures. This year may prove to be the exact opposite due to severe drought, high winds, and a lot more people to kick up dust.

Everyone’s gauge for what “dusty” is differs. My first year I showed up with a box of dust masks, full goggles, and even a two filter respirator. As the years have gone by I’ve made several trips back and forth to the playa for Burning Man and Juplaya and I now find myself usually running around with a pair of sunglasses and a bandana and calling that good. I still pack my respirator and googles just in case though as the playa can be an unpredictable and harsh mistress who doesn’t have a safe word.

Advice for Surviving Dust Storms at Burning Man

(You’ve already read the survival guide, right?)

1. Always have goggles and a dust mask on you

You can have them in your camelbak and never use them, but the one time you need them you’ll be glad you have them. Get a pair of goggles with replaceable lenses so you can have clear at night and tinted for the day.

2. Carry a GPS with your camp and other useful waypoints marked

Two years ago we found ourselves out in deep playa at night when a whiteout hit. We literally were walking blind except for my GPS. Without any sort of direction, it’s incredibly easy to get lost in a no-visibility situation and humans can’t walk straight. I’ve been using my Garmin eTrex Vista Hcx at the event for 4 years now. You can download GPS map files for Black Rock City here. Huge thanks to Will Keller for making these every year.

3. Stick together in a whiteout

It’s surprising how easy it is to lose friends in a whiteout, especially when it’s dark. We tend to use a “call” to keep everyone together. Pick a word or sound and whenever someone yells it, yell it back to them. It helps in keeping everyone aware of where everyone else is. Also it’s handy for quick cat herding when you want to leave crowded events on playa. And remember, megaphones can be used for more than just snark.

4. Get off your bike

If you’re riding your bike (or driving a car for that matter) and a whiteout hits, the first thing you should do is get off your bike. If you can’t see 2 feet in front of you, you don’t know what you’re about to hit. It could be rebar, it could be art, it could be a person, it could be a car. Chances are you’ll only be able to ride slightly faster than walking anyways, so be courteous to everyone else and walk it to shelter.

5. Tie down all the things

If you have any sort of structure, secure it. Carports are incredibly dangerous when they turn into tumbleweed. Even on the good weather years, a sudden gust of wind can send a carport flying. We like to use 3 ft pieces of rebar and multiple ratchet straps. Flying objects are probably the most dangerous thing during storms.

6. Get to shelter (carports, cars, RVs, etc)

Most of the dust storms we’ve experienced have been waited out in a well-secured carport with all the walls down. It stops some of the dust, provides some protection from flying objects, and that’s usually where the beer is. In really bad conditions, you want something a little stronger in between you and the dust and slightly larger flying things. Cars and RVs are better than carports for this. But for no reason should you try driving in a whiteout.

7. Embrace the experience

Once you’re sure that you’re in a safe place and your friends/neighbors/etc are too, embrace the experience. Anger, irritation, frustration, yelling, worrying, and being scared won’t make the dust go away any sooner. Weathering a dust storm on the playa is an experience you won’t get anywhere else.

Additional info

1 Comment



Cell Phones at Burning Man

Filed Under Burning Man, Events, Geek, Twitter | 2009-08-25, 14:17

Burning Man Iphone

While thousands are counting down the days until they arrive in Black Rock Desert for Burning Man this year, there’s already a number of people out there on the playa getting things ready….. and they’re calling and tweeting back to us looking for someone to bring the things they forgot. Yes, that’s right there is cell service on the playa this year. How do I know? I got a call from Rubin while he was sitting at the space reserved for our camp (Ardent Heavy Industries). In addition several others are tweeting up a storm: @SFSlim, @steve23, @Rubin110, @TKimball, @JosephPred, and more. And of course foursquare had to get in on the action and quickly added Black Rock City to their database so people could check in. As of this writing, SFSlim is the Mayor of The Man but we predict this to change once Steve23 hears wind of it.

The cell service appears to be limited to AT&T and Verizon, but from what we hear people are getting 5 bars inside Black Rock City. Apparently the service is mostly coming from a temporary tower that was installed on some leased land near Frog Pond, which is less than a mile from the trash fence that marks the border of Black Rock City. How are they doing it? According to @ChrisPetrell it’s a combination of solar/wind powered tower with a satellite uplink. It’s not official Burning Man cell coverage and the Burning Man Org has nothing to do with it, but DPW and other volunteers already on the playa are using it. In addition to this temporary tower, there are also permanent AT&T and Verizon towers south of Empire that people are reporting service from. And finally, there is a theme camp that is providing a GSM->VOIP gateway. I’m assuming this rumored theme camp is the same as the OpenBTS project I posted about last year.

But before you get your hopes up, know that the chance of this service making it through Burning Man without melting down is slim to none. Joseph Pred notes:

Important cell phone update: Temp site only supports 23 Verizon/CDMA users and no SMS. AT&T/GSM supports 35 users with SMS but limited EDGE.

This means you’ll have quite the battle with 40-50,000 other attendees if you need to make a call home. Rubin mentioned that he was already having trouble and the event is not due to start for almost a week. I think it’s still appropriate to tell your boss/significant other/etc that you are not contactable while out on the playa. Besides, do you really want to get that call about the firewall going down while you’re in the middle of 2pir surrounded by an actual wall of fire?

What do you guys think about cell phones on the playa? Good, bad, who cares?

original Man image from Dan Garcia

106 Comments