The first year we went was a fantastic disaster. One campmate – who had insisted she could take care of bringing a shade structure by herself – showed up with a jumble of random pieces that didn’t fit together or create anything large enough to actually provide shade for the four people in camp. With the next town a good three hour drive through the desert, we were forced to get creative with duct tape, plastic trash bags and the rain covers from our tents. By periodically re-taping the bags when they softened too much in the heat of the sun and staying nearby, ready to run back and hold it steady when a dust storm blew through, we managed to make the structure hold together.
Then we discovered she forgot the stove and half of the food and water she’d said she’d bring. She ended up staying most of that event with some other friends.
Our camp was so pathetic, people who saw it were actually concerned and came over to see if we were ok. Our neighbors gave us extra building supplies, brought us fabulous Bloody Marys and let us use their leftover BBq coals to cook. One experience of trying to boil tortellini on a Weber and cook quesadillas on a hot dashboard was enough. On the way home that year, we spent the hours in the car formulating our first Burning Man List. All of our mistakes went on the list of ‘Don’t Dos’ and the Bloody Mary went on the list of Must Haves.
Over the years we’ve kept Moleskine notebooks filled with a working List of What to Bring. It’s become our tradition that we revise it at the end of each event on the drive home, when everything is still fresh in our heads. What worked? What tanked? Experience has taught that it’s too hard to remember things 6 months down the road. Now we arrive from Germany just days before we set off into the desert each year. It’s always a hectic scramble to visit the family and get everything ready at the same time. If it wasn’t for The List, we’d probably show up at Burning Man without our tent.
Put aside remembering, even knowing the right thing to Burning Man is actually hard. The heat and dust can affect your mindset, changing what you want to eat, what you want to wear and what you need to be comfortable. I’ve planned a week’s worth of delicious food and then found myself listless and unwilling to cook, craving the hard boiled eggs the people next door were chowing on all week. The next year I’d show up with eggs, only to find that what I really wanted were cucumber sandwiches. In Germany, I discovered white wine spritzers and showed up that year with a stocked cooler, only to be seduced by a glass of red wine from a friend and abandoning the entire idea without ever uncorking one single bottle of my own. The same story with clothes. Shoes that looked cute, ended up killing me (still have scars). Tops that seemed perfect were too warm and constricting. It’s been ten years of trial and error. Over the years our list has become quite sophisticated.
Last year around this time, I discovered the ThisNext shopping site and with it found a fun new way to make lists for Burning Man. (Those who’ve snooped around the tabs at the top of the page will have already seen it.) I made a shopping list for fun and it turned out so well I’ve kept it going. Summer is here and I’ve started adding to it again. For those planning to go, thinking about it, or just curious what the big deal is, looking at other people’s shopping lists is actually a really good way to gain some more insight into what it’s like.
Last year Oliver was googling around doing exactly that when he came across what he thought was an terrific list.
“Look”, he called to me from across the apartment, “here’s a great Burning Man list, look at what’s on here. There people are just like us!”
Looking at his laptop I see my ThisNext entries. I almost didn’t have the heart to tell him that he hadn’t just found a kindred soul online. He’d found her already, almost ten years ago in the desert.