Burning Man 2023: ‘Radically Self-Reliant’ Festival Is Stuck in the Mud

A watery muddy play at Burning Man

“We are truly, literally and seriously stuck in the mud,” Eric P. Jansen said via email on Saturday. Jansen works for KQED, and said he would not be able to make it in for the next few days. “Access roads have to dry at least a day before anyone can drive on them,” he said. “[It’s a] huge logistics challenge to get so many people out on a two-mile dirt two-lane road with heavy thick alkali mud that even big trucks can’t drive on yet, as it sticks to tires in globs so big that wheels just can’t turn.”

Burning Man, the week-long festival in the Nevada desert, describes itself as “a network of people inspired by the values reflected in the Ten Principles and united in the pursuit of a more creative and connected existence in the world.”

While social media might make it seem like a disaster, Mohnot said yesterday was one of the most fun days he’s had since he began attending the festival in 2010.

“You can’t bike because the roads are not really passable, and because of that you end up talking to a lot more people than you normally do,” he said.

Mohnot, who also held his wedding at Burning Man this year, said some of the Burning Man principles — like radical self-reliance and gifting — are relevant to the current situation. “You share your food, you share your drinks, and it’s been pretty lovely so far.”

Two people stand dressed in Indian clothes with sand in the background.
Sheel Mohnot and Amruta Godbole at their wedding on the Playa at Burning Man on Thursday Aug. 31, 2023.

Water and portable toilets are the obvious concerns with a self-created community of more than 70,000 people. However, Mohnot said he’s seen a lot of people sharing. Around the corner from his camp is another camp with a sign saying “take as much water as you need.”

So far, the porta-potties have been fine, but “a few more days and it will be messy.”

Mohnot said he’s also seen that people are engineering-minded and able to figure things out — even in the mud there is creative problem-solving happening: “People have done things like, put your shoes on, then a plastic bag, then socks outside your shoes, because socks give you a little bit more traction in this mud,” he said.

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