Monday, August 10, 2009

How to shower behind a water truck at Burning Man

Getting clean on the playa is very difficult if you don't have access to a lot of water and a lot of infrastructure.

I've done the squirt bottle shower (always easiest if you have a friend to help you), the human carcass wash (if you don't mind a non-zero probability of being fondled by a stranger) and the wet-wipes (playa dust + near negative humidity renders these "dry-wipes" within seconds of their leaving their container. Also, they become MOOP).

The best free and easy way to get clean, in my opinion, is to get behind a water truck.

The water trucks travel the streets at irregular intervals spraying water in their wake to keep the road dust down. They move at a brisk walking pace. So one would think that all one has to do to get doused is to run up behind the truck, and stay in the stream. And while that's part of the solution, if one doesn't take care in how one does those things, one can get seriously maimed, or seriously messy. Why is it dangerous?

Because that water is turning the playa dust into a fine layer of playa mud which is atop a layer of playa dust which is atop a layer of hard as cement playa. It's making the functional equivalent of a vaseline-coated basketball court. And you think you can run on it. And you are wrong.

How to do it:

  1. Listen for the trucks. They give a little warning "toot toot" of their truck horns to warn those in front of them that they're coming.
  2. Get ready to get wet. You can be naked, or semi-clothed. Strip to what you intend to have on under the water. It's hard to run and strip at the same time, and if you do, you're likely tossing your clothes into fresh playa mud. This makes the net cleanliness gain negative. Strip first.
  3. Shoes off. Despite what you're going to hear about not running on the mud, once under the water, you are on the mud. And it will clog your footwear into an unholy mess of recently rehydrated clay-like mud. Again, net clean of your person doesn't increase. Muddy bare feet are much easier to clean back at camp than muddy playa footware. Go barefoot. And don't try to run in flip flops. Seriously, what do they do for you? Barefoot.
  4. Run for the truck, but not in the street. The very edge of the street, at the limit of the truck's spray radius will be very to semi-dry. It will therfore not be "as slippery as greased pig shit" (as my grandma says). So you can run on it. RUn for the truck on the dry part. Also, stop running on the dry part: many people slip and fall when they try to decelerate from a full sprint while cutting in behind the truck. They try to change speed rapidly on playa mud. They fall on the mud, hurt themselves, get filthy and fail to recover in time to get clean. Bad move. Instead, run a little past the truck, decelerate, then step behind it.
  5. Don't bring soap. You're about to get doused in gallons of luxuirous water. Your soap, no matter how biodegradable, is not a natural part of the fragile playa habitat. Your need to increase your experience of clean by the infinitesimal amount that water truck + soap yields over water truck alone does not outweight the playa's need not to have soap dumped on it.
  6. Be quick. There will be others wanting in. Share. Get your head while directly under the spray, then step aside to work the rest of yourself.
  7. Walk home. Running is bad. Also, you can greet your fans who were cheering for you as you ran naked down the street for a shower.