Furry Chris’ Playa Wisdom

Furry Chris’ Accumulated Playa Wisdom 2001 – 2013 [pdf]

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Food:

  • Buy food that you really like, since you’ll be taking at least half of it home.
  • Wet and salty foods are yummy.
    • Good cheese and crackers – At home, I like the sharp cheeses, but on the Playa I like the softer ones like Gouda. Stinky or runny cheeses won’t do well in the cooler.
    • Salami & pepperoni
    • Stuffed grape leaves
    • Tasty Bites Indian food
    • Chips and salsa and guacamole
  • Pistachios (already de-shelled, and not the reduced sodium type).
    • Nuts and seeds go rancid in the heat and light, so try to keep them cool and dark, and buy them right before you leave.
  • Trader Joe’s terriyaki chicken (just meat)
  • Double-bag the cheese and meat, and find some way to keep them above water in the cooler.
  • Buy the expensive soup. It’s twice the price of the cheap stuff, but it’s still cheap even compared to fast food.
  • Salty and dry is good
    • Chex mix
    • Salt and vinegar potato chips
    • A can of Pringles won’t get crushed in your backpack.
    • Too dry:  Triscuits, toast
  • Sweet and dry usually doesn’t taste good.
  • Sweet and wet is good:
    • Yogurt (Greek from TJs is great).
    • Cereal with milk is sooo good in the morning
    • Peanut butter on apples, or better yet, TJ almond butter with roasted flax seeds
    • Canned fruit
    • Pudding in a cup
    • Jello cups with fruit
    • Applesauce
    • Grapes hold well in the cooler.
    • Oranges hold well out of the cooler – even after a week.
    • If you have an RV with extra freezer space, ice cream sandwiches make great gifts, especially to virgins
  • Bring a lot of medium binder clips or chip clips, and extra Ziplocs
  • In my humble opinion, anything that requires any preparation whatsoever is bad, unless someone else is doing the cooking, and that is THE BEST food on the Playa. : )
  • If you have an RV with extra freezer space, ice cream sandwiches make great gifts, especially to virgins.

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Drink:

Even though I think I’m very conscious of my hydration, I forget and get dehydrated 2-3 times every week out there. You’d think I’d learn. Start hydrating as you head up the Sierras. On multiple occasions, on the way to the Playa, Glow Girl and I have both gotten dehydrated by the time we hit Reno.  Now that we realize why this happens, we’re hydrated and happy. And stopping every so often to pee.

  • Smart Water and Vitamin Water – The electrolytes will help with hangovers.
  • Some people like to freeze water bottles and put them in the cooler. I don’t, because they take up a lot of cooler space, and you can’t drink them until all the ice is melted. Instead, I like to freeze blocks of ice at home (using Tupperware), and then put the blocks (without the plastic) in the cooler.
  • Unsweetened coconut water is incredibly good.  $1.39 for a big can at Ranch 99 in Cupertino.
  • Caffeinated and non-caf sodas – you’ll be drinking them quickly.
  • Sugary salty Gatorade perks my energy back up during those late late nights. I wasn’t *that* tired, it was just an empty fuel tank.

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Alcohol:

  • Splurge on the good alcohol to share with your friends. Most people bring gallons of the cheap stuff, so do we. That’s good too (mmmm, icy cold margaritas!), but a bottle of Patron, Cabo Wabo, Cazadores, good bourbon, Jaegermeister
    good rum (like Captain Morgan’s Private Reserve is highly prized
    when you’re hours away from camp.. If you have the room, buy more mixers. At the end of the week, there will be bars stocked with alcohol but seeking cranberry juice, diet coke, and margarita mix. Coconut water plus coconut rum makes a great drink.
  • If I drink much during the day, and spend a lot of time in the sun, I don’t have much energy for the night.
  • I like mixed drinks at night, since they are stronger and since the porta potties are always too far from the Esplanade and usually yucky.
  • When you go out for the night, put your cocktail in a screw-top plastic bottle. Now you can put it in your backpack. Your hands are free for taking photographs and giving hugs.
  • Beware of the gifted magical cookies and brownies, unless you’re planning to spend the next 4 hours horizontal and speechless.

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Clothing:

  • Complete outfits, daytime and nighttime.
  • Pack costumes in duffel bags, put them inside your supply tent, preferably packaged as entire outfits. We used to use big clear plastic containers, but it was too much work to clean them after we got home. Now we just throw the duffels in the wash.
  • Bring a *warm* coat to wear at night. Although it is the desert, it will be cold. You’ll be wearing it probably every night, so make sure that you like it. You may want to buy a thrift-store coat and safety-pin some fur trim or patches or el-wire or neon colors onto it.
  • Keep a small key chain LED on you to light the porta-potties at night. They can get really bad.
  • Wear something that glows, outside of your coat, so you don’t get run over by bikes or cars. The glow stick around your neck is invisible if you are wearing a big fur Playa coat over top of it.
  • One old white t-shirt for EVERY DAY. I like to soak them in water before I put them on. Keeps me icy cold in the heat of the day while doing chores. This works incredibly well, but it does chafe the skin around your armpit after a few days. Aquafor helps here. You will never get the Playa out of these shirts. Bring them back next year. Bring a blank one, some camp may be doing iron-ons or tie-dye.
  • Extra socks. You can’t bring too many.
  • A sarong or utilikilt. As a guy, I don’t want to wear a t-shirt and shorts everywhere and feel like a tourist.
  • Shorts are great for camp set-up and tear-down, and for riding bikes.
  • Stevens Creek Surplus sells these cloth tubes that go around your neck. They’re handy for breathing during dust storms, and they keep your neck cool when you soak them in water.
  • There are times where I don’t want to touch anything dusty when I’m organizing our tent, so I put on latex gloves or work gloves.
    • By the end of the week, my hands are getting rough and dry.
    • Sometimes I wear cotton gloves while sleeping or as part of a costume with Aquafor (similar to Vaseline) on the inside.
  • Pack clean clothes for your drive out (and for Reno).
    • Put them in a duffel, inside a plastic bag.
    • Toss in a clean pair of shoes.
    • Change into this outfit once you are ready to drive off the Playa.

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Home at Home – Structure

  • Tents: Some friends enclose their tents inside of fully-enclosed carports. They provide protection from sun, dust, and wind.
    • An extra supply tent frees up your sleeping tent for sleeping.
    • We bought the Coleman 10 Person Weather Master for 2011. At $200, it’s not cheap, but it’s huge, strong, and the walls are almost vertical.  I can stand inside.
    • A stand-up shower tent works very well.  You can shower even when it’s a bit cold or dusty/windy.  At first I thought this was a bit ridiculous and puritanical for this event, but it makes the experience so much more enjoyable.
  • Hexayurts are cool in the daytime, warm at nighttime, mostly dust-proof, and quieter than a tent.  They give me a few hours of extra sleep every night.  Not quite an RV, and there is some hassle with setup and transportation, but they give you many of the benefits of an RV for a fraction of the cost.  I’m in love.
  • A Fan aimed at you keeps you reasonably cool, even in the daytime.
    • In 2012, we added an air conditioner. I found a small window unit on Craigslist for $50. I bought a small unit because they are lighter, use less power (mine uses 4 amps), and won’t take up as much space in my garage.
  • Securing – On your shade structure, use the small tent stakes at each foot and zip-tie all posts to rebar (thanks Sawdust for this tip). Use ropes to guy-wire the corners diagonally down to the ground. Remember that while there is a prevailing wind, it sometimes reverses.
  • Candy-cane your rebar, or at least cover the sharp tip with a tennis ball or a plastic bottle.
  • A fluorescent plug-in light to hang in your tent, or just outside of your tent.
  • Too many extension cords, is exactly the right amount. If you have a super-tent or RV, remember that you need a 100 foot 10-gauge power cord to handle the amperage.
  • Some people like to bring a big wide mouthed bottle that you keep in your sleeping quarters. One for each person. Some kind of a bag to put them in, on your way to the potties in the morning.
  • Good to have separate food and drink coolers. In the morning, after getting ice, use your cold melted cooler water to partially cool off a fresh set of drink cans. Some people use the water for misting. Keep a small bit of melted water in your drink cooler, to speed cooling.

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Transportation:

  • Make sure your spare car tire is inflated.
    • We have needed it 2 out of our 11 years.
    • The tread was still fine, but the tires still came apart, due to sun damage, heat, and overloading.
  • Obey the ridiculous speed limits in the small towns. They will nail you for going 30 in a 25. I’ve seen it happen to the car in front of me. In these slow zones, I shift my transmission into 2nd gear. This makes it easier for me to go slow, since it seems like I’m going that much faster.
  • Bring your comfiest shoes. Shoes that you can walk a whole day in. The color doesn’t really matter since they will be Playa-grey within minutes. No one is looking at your feet, especially at night. Put some fur boot covers on them if you need high fashion.
  • Your bike should be in top shape.You’re abusing it hardcore every day. Take it out for a test ride, at least a mile, pedaling hard, shifting and braking. You’ll be biking several miles every day on poor terrain. Will it handle bumpy rutted roads?
    • You may want to splurge and buy a high quality bright bike light for it (from a bike shop, it may cost as much as a cheap bike).
    • If you buy a cheap bike at a store, try it out, and compare it to the other identical bikes of the same model. At the grocery store, some apples are better than others, and the bin holds some rotten apples that no-one should every buy. The bike section of Walmart/Target has plenty of bad apples. Cheap parts are hard to wrench on.
      • Are the handlebars firmly connected to the front wheel?
      • Are the tires flat?
      • Do the front and rear brakes work?
      • Do both gear shifters work?
      • Pick up the bike and check if both wheels can spin freely without rubbing on the brake pads.
    • A used *real* mountain bike from Craigslist is probably better than a new Walmart one. Much easier to wrench on.
    • Fixing anything is 10x easier at home, in the shade of your garage, out of the sweltering heat, out of the wind and dust, you have your tools, there isn’t fun stuff going on, and you’re not sleep-deprived.
    • A child lock to secure your bike. Glimmer told me about these. They not secure enough for the real world, but they’re enough protection against the drunken yahoos. No need to memorize a combination. No key to lose.
    • I pack a spray can of Finish Line dry teflon lube.It works great on seized tent/backpack zippers, and on your bike chain. Cherry Bomb introduced me to it.
      • Wipe playa off of chain with a rag
      • Spray lube on chain while backpedaling with your other hand
      • Wipe excess lube off of chain with rag. It’s important to do this, otherwise the drippy chain will attract Playa dust. I hold the bike and wrap the rag around the bottom chain, while backpedaling with the other hand, to pull/scrape as much lube off as possible.
    • On the Playa, avoid the dust dunes. If you can’t, shift into lower gear before you hit them, pedal hard, and don’t make any turns. If you have the energy, they can be a lot of fun.

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Camera:

  • Extra memory cards for your trusty old digital camera.
  • If you don’t want to kill your expensive camera, consider buying a used Canon SD1100 from eBay for about $50.
    • I bought mine new a few years ago for full price. At the time, it was a top-rated pocket-size point-and-shoot.
    • Now it has dust inside of the lens after bringing it to the playa for 4 years. If I take a picture of a bright blue sky, you can see the dark dust splotches. And the lens won’t completely retract any more without a push.
    • So, I bought a spare identical camera from eBay. I will not fear the dust storms.
    • I love this camera because it’s mostly dust-proof, small enough to keep in my hand while I bike, takes great pictures, and also sensitive enough for good night shots. It even has a time-lapse mode
    • I don’t feel  bad about abusing it during a whiteout dust storm. Almost all of my Facebook pictures are from this small point-and-shoot 8 megapixel camera.
  • Take a picture of a sheet of paper with your name, phone, camp, and email address written on it. Keep that picture on the camera card.

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Roommates:

If you’re sharing a tent or camper, you will be spending many days together in cramped quarters. At times, you two will be sleep-deprived, dehydrated, hung-over, sunburned, or dust-cranky. In that state, it easy to get into a big stupid fight about some small inconsequential thing, like if person A moved person B’s stuff, and now it’s temporarily lost. We both do that from time to time.

  • Glow Girl and I think that the Playa strengthened our relationship, and we can see where it could *easily* cause big trouble.
  • Make it a point to forgive your partner for all of the small things that WILL go wrong.  There will be plenty of those.
  • If your relationship can survive Burning Man, it’s in pretty good shape.

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Misc:

  • Earplugs for thumping dance camps, and to sleep at night.
  • A sleep mask to keep the 9AM sunlight light off of your closed eyelids.
  • Bring everything you’ll need, but don’t bring things just because there is a chance that some friend might need it. That will fill up your tent *quick*. If you ask your neighbor to borrow something, you might make a new friend.
  • A spray bottle of water, and a spray bottle of soapy water.
  • Lots of paper towels.
  • Rubbing alcohol and rags to clean the sunscreen and dust off of dance poles.
  • Dark goggles for the daytime.
  • Clear goggles for night-time dust & wind, especially after the burns. One the fire starts, it can get very windy and dusty because of the air currents generated by a 5-alarm structure fire.
  • A good pair of work gloves, so you can help set up and tear down camp, your tents, shade structures, and help friends, while keeping your hands protected.
  • Many extra camp chairs, so you AND your friends can sit underneath your shade and enjoy a snack/beverage together. More friends will drop by unannounced and join you. All of them can’t sit on your cooler at the same time. Label your camp chairs so you take the right ones home with you.
  • A big backpack with no purpose other to hold all of your fire-spinning gear. You never know when inspiration will hit.
    • Put your name, camp, and address on a card inside your backpack.
    • Every night before we leave camp, we get our backpacks ready. I keep a list like this handy, to remember it all:
      • food w binder clip
      • water
      • drinks
      • tissues
      • Chapstick
      • earplugs
      • necklaces
      • hat
      • camera (charged)
      • keys
      • dust mask
      • cash for ice
      • dark goggles for daytime
      • clear goggles for night
      • also for night:
        • headlight
        • glow poi
        • suckers
        • glowsticks
    • to do before leaving:
      • snack
      • hydrate
      • move coolers to avoid sun
      • put away anything left on outdoor table
      • wash up, deoderant, sunscreen
      • one last trip to the bathroom
      • zip tent, lock camper door

Philosophy

  • If you’re having fun where you are, stay there.  Live in the NOW. If you ever find yourself bored for 10 minutes,then clear your mind, leave, wander, and keep your eyes open for the unexpected. KathyKatt has called that “The Furry Chris Principle”
  • Remember that Burning Man is a marathon, not a sprint.  You can go without sleep for a long weekend in Vegas, but it will catch up to you here.  It’s almost impossible to party every night without a break night.  Strategize.
  • Do not have any expectations for any event. You might grow bored at a big burn with 20,000 people, you might have the time of your life at a tiny back-street event. Someone wiser than me once said that Burning Man is like a box of chocolates.
  • Plan to do a lot of waiting at the Friday/Saturday/Sunday night burns. I think of it as a stationary art-car party, with a delayed bonfire in the background, and a great chance to mingle and take pictures of dressed-up friends and look at all the cool parked art cars. One the fire starts, it can get very windy and dusty because of the air currents generated by a 5-alarm structure fire.
  • And finally, ask for what you need. I take pride in being self sufficient. I find it hard to ask for anything. When I finally do break down and ask, the answer is almost always “YES”. There is so much love out on the Playa. On the Playa, ask me what I need.

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Exodus:

  • Prepare to be stuck in a long line the entire day. You will need meals, snacks, cold drinks, sunscreen, shade, music, and a way to entertain yourself and the people next to you in line.
  • The JRS says that the best times to leave are any night from 2am to dawn, Monday night after dark, or Saturday before the Man burns.
  • I say: why not leave on Tuesday? In the past, there has been no line, no waiting, less traffic, no frustration, and you can watch as the event disintegrates all day Monday. We might even find the Tuna Guys again.
    • The Reno Grand Sierra hotel always hosts a burner pool party on Monday/Tuesday of Exodus.  The pool is full of burners, a DJ is playing thumpa thumpa, and the bar serves pina coladas. Bring swimsuit, sunscreen, sunglasses, Playa hat, Playa bling. Have a drink first in your hotel room to bypass the loooong bar lines.Tip:bypass the long hotel check-in line, drop your bags off at the front desk, and ask for a pool key. Try to get there early because it gets cold and windy once the sun is low on the horizon.

Once you’re back home cleaning up:

  • Try to leave the mess in one place. For us, it’s the garage.  We park both cars on the street. This keep the rest of your house looking halfway sane.

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This is my pet project using Google App Engine + Python + CSS +HTML. It would make my day if you posted a dusty picture of yourself to the website.
Furry Chris