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Burning in an RV or a Tent?

Burning in an RV or a Tent?

Chances are you've just parked your RV in Black Rock City or you're staring with envy or disdain from your tent at the RVs that surround you. And you're wondering, which is the better Burning Man experience? Which is the real one?

Many have vented frustration at an underpowered RV lumbering up the hill from Nixon, or wondered if they didn't divide burners into an upper and lower class, jealous of those inside or feeling above those below. But in truth, there are as many valid ways to experience Burning Man as there are people there.

Yes, part of the reason some have an RV is that they can afford it, but some millionaires will be pitching tents. Burning Man senior staff, who will be spending much more than a week here are mostly in RVs.

For me, the greatest advantage and disadvantage of the RV are the same. It lets you take a little "vacation" from Black Rock City. Your thousand cubic foot packet of civilization lets you take your body away from the city for a while, most particularly for a night's sleep. Burning Man is almost always an exhausting experience, and it is not simply the elements that take their toll on you. The people, the creativity, the art, the sounds, all are meant to make you run at a higher level.

Inside the RV you can recharge. At night, you kick off dusty sandals and enter your eco-unfriendly but oh-so-wonderful heated shower. Cleansed, you crawl between clean sheets with your snuggle-mate, insert your earplugs until the Techno fades away and drift off to restorative sleep. (Ok, I may be a pariah for saying it, but it is possible to have too much Techno.)

The bathroom's right there in the middle of the night. Your fridge has cold drinks and ice cream when you want it. Hot and cold running water. Electricity (sometimes). A couch, a table. Air Conditioning.

That recharge can do wonders, and that means you'll get more out of Burning Man with your extra energy. That alone can be worth the price, for living BRC to the fullest is why we go. And you'll save a bit of time making and breaking camp.

And if, like me, you're getting a bit older and are not in prime physical condition, the ability to recharge may be more than useful, it may be necessary if you are going to withstand a week in the elements of the Black Rock Desert. There are people who simply couldn't come to the event without this ability.

But be clear, the time in your RV can be a vacation from Burning Man, so the time you spend inside is time you're not really at Burning Man. And it's so tempting to spend time inside, to work on things or just use the air conditioning.

In your tent, you're much more in tune with the desert and the city. You hear all the conversations around you, and sense the elements more. Even with a pad you're in contact with the desert itself as you sleep. And you can feel free to sleep elsewhere if the opportunity arises.

Of course the big downside to the RV is the $2,000 you'll probably spend on rental, enough to buy a great tent, airbed, cooler, toilet, generator and even propane fridge with change left over, and which you get to own in the end.

Be warned as well, it's going to take a lot of work to clean the dust out of a rental RV before you return it. Be courteous to other burners and don't scare the RV place away from renting to us again, as some have. Check out the Truck Washes in Fernley and Reno. If you have spare sheets, consider covering the furniture with them now.

And don't count on the water refill/dump. It might not come. Plan to conserve, and if it comes, then go wild.

Make Friends

If you're not careful, your RV can bother your neighbours. Here are some tips to make your trip better.

  • Think about where you park it. Offer it as a windbreak or anchor post. Plan the camp to make good use of the size, while not blocking the view.
  • Take care where your generator exhaust goes. Don't park pointing it anywhere near somebody's camp. It's designed to be noisy and smelly for those outside, pleasant for you. If you run it, let your neighbours plug in to your outside plug. Charge other people's batteries.
  • Better still try to run it as little as possible. When you do, invite neighbours in to enjoy the air conditioning.
  • During a storm, invite others in. An RV's big high windows are the best place to watch the spectacle of a Black Rock dust storm.
  • An RV is great in the long exodus line. Stopped and waiting? You have a house with you! Start a party with the cars near you in line.
  • Consider keeping the RV longer and explore Oregon, California, Nevada, Idaho, Yellowstone and especially Utah.
  • Share some of your ice cream. If you brought a blender, make smoothies. There is nothing quite like a smoothie in Black Rock City.
  • 2 years ago, my campmate John Perry Barlow and his friends spent the week slowly painting designs all over their rental RV with water soluble paints. In the end it was a true piece of playa art, made ephemeral not by fire but by the Gerlach kids' car wash service. Perhaps you can outdo him.

Overall, since you should never go to Burning Man just once, I recommend you try both the tent and RV experience, if you can afford it. Camp well, with consideration of your neighbours -- good advice in any event -- and you'll enjoy either experience.

For the next time

Consider trying both the RV and tent experience. Either way, next time bring batteries and low-power fluorescents and run that generator less. Costco has 115 amp hour RV batteries for $45. Or look at solar.