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Torrential rains have flooded the Burning Man festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, leaving tens of thousands of attendees stranded in the mud. Close to an inch of precipitation fell over the site starting on Friday, prompting organizers to halt entry and exit. With the playa turned into a giant mire, vehicles are immobilized and supplies cannot readily be replenished. Yet despite the challenging conditions, Burning Man’s communal ethos of radical self-reliance and collective effort continues shining through.
When warnings went out to conserve resources and shelter in place, participants banned together to make the best of the situation. Attendees are pooling food, sharing warm clothes and chargers, and keeping spirits high with music and dancing in the mud. For veterans of previous rainouts, the misery of being soaked and stuck is part of the quintessential Burning Man experience.
The Extreme Weather Tests Attendees’ Mettle
With the gates closed since Saturday and the parking lot-like exodus postponed, attendees face a test of endurance and community. Diplo walked 6 miles to exit the grounds, while former Obama solicitor general Neal Katyal undertook a “harrowing” midnight trek out. But most remain at the mercy of nature, awaiting vehicle passage to reopen.
Patrols are only allowing emergency and service vehicles like waste trucks through. Operations crews are working around the clock to transport supplies and improve infrastructure. But the full cleanup and recovery efforts can only begin once the weather improves and exits open.
It’s not the first time foul weather has derailed the event. In 2017, a lightning storm injured dozens of participants. Prior muddy years have led to ruined campsites and flooded RVs. But 2022’s extreme saturation is unprecedented. The Black Rock Desert is known for massive temperature swings and the potential for flash floods. It's all part of embracing the elements in a radically self-reliant way.
With its pop-up infrastructure, Burning Man was designed to handle adverse conditions. Failures in sanitation services and Wi-Fi access are inconvenient but temporary. The skin-of-your-teeth communal experience bonding people together outweighs the physical discomforts.
As longtime burner Joe Bamberg said, “People make do, it is part of the adventure.” Burning Man offers a chance to test limits and build community, whatever challenges may come.
Attendees Shelter in Place with Stubborn Optimism
Despite organizers warning of dire circumstances, optimism prevails across the playa. Attendee Anya Kamenetz said people are cheerfully pooling resources and moods remain upbeat. “It’s like any other Burning Man, just muddy,” according to volunteer Josh Lease. The party continues with music blasting and dancing in puddles.
This perseverance speaks to the passion and positivity driving Burning Man culture. Participants find joy in hardship by fully committing to the present experience. Burners also take pride in their self-reliance. With resources tight, they must depend on communal goodwill and their own wits to endure.
Tenets like decommodification and radical inclusion take on new meaning when survival needs intensify. As Burning Man emerges from the pandemic, this test of endurance reaffirms participants’ values and connections. They choose to shelter in place together with stubborn optimism rather than panic.
The Challenges Demonstrate Burning Man’s Ethos
In many ways, the rainy setback demonstrates the festival’s collaborative principles in action. Burning Man has always promoted self-reliance, urging participants to bring everything they need to survive. People must prepare to be fully responsible for their own welfare. This expectation equips attendees to handle adverse conditions in stride.
The organization reinforces the communal mindset in its communications, telling campers, “Get some rest and spend some quality time with your campmates.” Burners are advised to check on neighbors, assist when possible, and stay in warm, safe spaces. Making do with less and supporting each other is integral to the experience.
In a crowded Nevada desert temporarily forming a circular city, society is only as strong as its most vulnerable link. Infrastructure failures impact everyone, so collective welfare takes priority. Even minor disruptions provide opportunities to turn ideals into practice. For longtime burners, that’s a feature rather than a bug of Black Rock City’s ephemeral experiment.
Burning Man Persists as a Test of Communal Values
While forecasts predict the rains will clear after Monday, the exodus traffic jam has only been postponed. Once vehicles can traverse the muddy playa again, organizers face monumental logistics around safely evacuating thousands. Resources will be stretched thin, and communal patience tested again.
But as Burning Man emerges from its pandemic hiatus, these challenges feel meaningful. Attendees volunteered to gather in an unforgiving landscape because shared struggles forge deep connections. They come to gain hands-on lessons in creative problem-solving and communal resilience.
This year’s extreme weather and supply shortages will join the pantheon of difficult Burning Man experiences that enthusiasts proudly endured together. More than a party, Black Rock City is a radically participatory society where individuals voluntarily cooperate to overcome adversity. After the muck dries, 2022’s “rainpocalypse” will be woven into the tapestry of Burning Man lore.
Burning Man Traditions Carry On Despite Setbacks
One cherished tradition must wait until conditions improve: the ritual burning of the namesake effigy, postponed from Saturday night to Monday. But Burning Man’s culture persists, with music and creative expression continuing nonstop. Muddy camps are scenes of laughing, dancing and communal bonding.
BRC Airport has halted passenger flights in and out. But once the stranded exodus begins moving, volunteer pilots will again swoop in to fly those most in need off the playa. Mutual aid offerings like camps spreading food and emergency services persist in rain or shine.
Undeterred by the weather, volunteers with BRC’s Department of Public Works continue collecting trash recycling throughout the site. Leave No Trace principles still govern in the temporality Black Rock City community, where participants strive to make no lasting impact on the desert.
Challenges Strengthen Communal Bonds
When Burning Man emerged in the 1990s as an experimental community on a barren playa, it attracted those seeking meaning and human connection outside society’s traditional trappings. Material comforts and convenience are not the goal. Rather, Burning Man aims to foment personal growth, inclusion and communal reliance within ephemeral villages.
This year’s rains and shortages, causing discomfort but no harm, are fertile ground for those shared values to take root. Facing uncertainty together forges human connection. By overcoming hardship as an intentional community, Burning Man participants deepen their bonds and purpose.
While the outside world may see only spectacle and hedonism in the Black Rock Desert gathering, regular burners experience something more profound. They voluntarily embrace difficulty because it produces meaning and community. In the process, they glean that human beings can rely on ingenuity, generosity and one another to thrive in even the harshest environments.
A McNugget for the Soul
Burning Man demonstrates how cooperation and optimism can sustain a pop-up society, even temporarily, out on a scorching playa. For burners who faithfully make the pilgrimage, the strenuous journey is worth the perspective gained.
Beyond the art, music, and revelry, the shared experience delivers something more enduring: a sense of connection and resilience valued in a fragmented world. As a crucible for practicing communal principles, Burning Man provides, as one veteran put it, “a McNugget for the soul” to nourish participants throughout the year.
So amid all the 2022 headaches, most attendees carry on in good cheer. The archetypal Burning Man spirit persists, unbroken by the rains. Once floodwaters recede and traffic begins flowing anew, weary but enriched burners will make the long drive home — changed for the better after another year in the desert.
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