A big topic of discussion every year is when to arrive and when to leave. It can be neatly broken into two lines of thought: embrace the line or avoid the line. This nice tidy grouping then gets all mucked up with the “you’re not doing it right” argument. How about we skip right by admonishments to do it correctly and choose what works for us individually? Are you with me on that?
A common question asked is “when is the best time to arrive at Burning Man?” Thousands of people ask this question every year. The do it right crowd always insists that you MUST arrive on Sunday when the gate opens, thereby committing to 8 hours in line. You don’t want to MISS something, do you? Well, yeah, I DO want to miss that line. I don’t do lines very well. I’m really not a very social person, and the line party doesn’t really float my boat. My first year, I spent over 4 hours in line and that was enough to cure me. Some people are much more social and really enjoy the line party. That’s great! I just won’t be in the vehicle behind you.
Some of the issues you will deal with in line are dust, needing to pee, falling asleep, needing to pee again, heat if it is Monday, more dust, you forgot to top off your gas, people ahead of you falling asleep…you get the picture. If you are aware and prepared for this, and the line seems like something you can handle, then go for it. The city vibe definitely evolves throughout the week, so being there Monday morning will feel different than being there later in the week.
I’m a Tuesday morning arriver. Missing Monday is worth it to me so that my crowd claustrophobia doesn’t kick in (it was crowd yikes that kept me from considering Burning Man for years). Someday I’d love to get early arrival in order to enjoy the different feel of the city while avoiding the line, but that would involve connecting with a camp, and I’m not ready to do that.
I spend Monday night in Susanville and then leave for the playa about 2 a.m. I take my super secret spooky desert route, thereby avoiding ALL traffic (yeah, I hate traffic, hate interstates, etc), and it takes less than an hour to get through the gate once I’m on the access road. No lines, no crowds. Just some cheerful early morning greeters. I’m through the gate by 7 a.m. at the latest. That gives me some morning coolness to set up my camp, and, having had a few hours sleep the night before, I’m ready to explore by late morning.
Exodus is pretty much the same thing in reverse: Everybody telling you the correct time to leave. It is both interesting and sad to watch as people pack up and bolt for the gate. Should we stay for the Man? Should we stay for the Temple? What’s the weather? Are there a lot of people in line already? Should we leave tonight? Should we leave in the morning?
Last year, I made it out right in front of the big Exodus line. Barely. I still took a little over 2 hours to get out, but that was nothing compared to the people behind me. The first year, I left at 4:30 am on Sunday. No traffic at all. That’s a great time to leave on Saturday, Sunday, or Monday morning, if you can do it. Last year, I planned to leave at that time on Monday morning, but Sunday afternoon I discovered I was out of good beer, and those weather reports were beginning to circulate.
I was trying to decide whether to hang around with a small stash of bad beer and wait for early morning, hoping it wouldn’t be wet, or just bolt. While I decided, I packed as fast as I could. Naturally, the winds in front of the weather were not helping. I watched the traffic leaving as I was frantically packing (wishing at that moment that I wasn’t solo as I looked at all of my piles) and decided that it was definitely increasing exponentially. That’s when I pitched all remaining stuff in my truck and bolted for the gate.
Two hours later I was on pavement, and an hour later, off pavement again on my super secret spooky desert route, I called my husband and asked about the weather. He said the weather people were all over the place with predictions, and the rain was scattered. He said that most of the rain seemed to be heading toward Black Rock Desert, so if I drove west I should be able to camp on Lassen Plateau without rain. Ha! Not a speck of rain until I got to the plateau. I ended up sleeping like a pretzel in my vehicle the first couple of hours that night, until the rain stopped and I could throw my bed out under a pine tree. Still better than the line I would still be in if I had left even one hour later. Heck, even a half hour later.
This year I plan to go back to the 4:30 a.m. departure time. I still can’t decide whether to stay for the Temple burn or leave Sunday morning. The city always feels a little sad to me on Sunday. This year I will have enough beer so that my decision will be based solely on my mood of the moment. Barring unforeseen weather of course.
My point with this is to know what you want and can tolerate in terms of entry, and know that being caught in Exodus is a slog when you are dirty and tired. Plan according to your desires, tolerance, and realistic expectations.