Derek Beenfeldt, MD, shares some playa safety tips, his favorite Burning Man tales from the past few years and what the event has come to mean to him.
Dust and extreme heat, tens of thousands of people, art, costumes and revelry — and the occasional intense thunderstorm, flooding and mass swarms of bugs — are all well-known aspects of Burning Man, an annual weeklong counterculture event.
So what is it about this artistic and experimental event that inspires thousands to flock to the remote and harsh Black Rock Desert landscape?
“I think there are many misconceptions about Burning Man,” says Derek Beenfeldt, MD, a family practice doctor with Renown Medical Group. “There is no doubt that you will see things there you won’t see on the city streets. However, the vast majority of things to see and do there outweigh the more peculiar aspects. The artwork, the people, the theme camps and the community itself is something to behold.”
Dr. Beenfeldt has attended Burning Man three times. While he was no stranger to being invited to the event, his Labor Day plans would often interfere — until a friend extended an invitation he couldn’t refuse.
“One of my friends wanted to celebrate his 40th birthday at Burning Man, and with plenty of notice, we committed to going,” Dr. Beenfeldt says. “It was simply amazing. I hadn’t seen too many photos, nor watched any videos. The first time I saw the playa at night was still one of the most memorable things I have experienced.”
Return to the Desert: Burning Man No. 2
He says his first Burning Man experience left a lasting impression on him and his wife — so much so that he arranged for a vow renewal on the playa during their second burn.
“My wife and I had just celebrated our 10th anniversary. Burning Man has been so influential that I arranged for us to renew our vows there,” Dr. Beenfeldt says. “There was this beautiful tilted church set up in the middle of the playa and my friend officiated the renewal of vows. We had close friends there with us. It was the highlight of my visits to Burning Man.”
In addition to being a member of a mobile Karaoke theme camp and renewing his vows, Dr. Beenfeldt has also worked in the medical tent at the event.
He says injuries are common and can happen at any time, and offers his tips for staying safe at Burning Man:
- Pay attention and set up during the daylight hours to lessen the chance of injury. “There were some traumatic injuries incurred while people were setting up their camps,” Dr. Beenfeldt says.
- Dehydration is a real risk. Burners should have water with them at all times while on the playa and be drinking it liberally.
- Shoes are recommended, as the alkaline in the playa dust can cause burns to the feet (also known as Playa Foot).
- There will be a dust storm, or many. “Eye protection is essential.” Dr. Beenfeldt says. “And since the dust storms are unpredictable, carry eye protection at all times.”
- Sensory overload does happen. “I find that I need a few days to relax before returning to work. My suggestion: Take a day or two off after Burning Man,” Dr. Beenfeldt says.
“You will often have people say, ‘You can’t explain Burning Man, you have to experience it.’ The artwork is breathtaking at times. The magnitude of creativity and innovation that goes into the art and theme camps is amazing,” Dr. Beenfeldt says. “I encourage everyone to give Burning Man a try, if only once. I had a degree of trepidation the first time I attended, but I have found it to be a great experience and one I will continue to pursue.”