‘The most stunning thing I’ve ever witnessed’: Quincy man says flooding, mud didn’t affect enjoyment of Burning Man event

Sam and Jennie Dancer

Jennie and Sam Dancer spent last week at the Burning Man event in Black Rock Desert, Nev. | Photo courtesy of Sam Dancer

BLACK ROCK DESERT, Nev. — The Associated Press reported on Saturday an unusual late-summer storm turned the week-long Burning Man counterculture fest into a sloppy mess on Friday. The story said tens of thousands of partygoers were stuck in foot-deep mud and with no working toilets in the northern Nevada desert.

Sam Dancer of Quincy, Ill., who attended this year’s event, had a different perspective of what happened.

“I learned a valuable lesson. The world is full of s**t when it comes to overreacting to things when people are looking for a story to tell that’s not even there,” he said Tuesday afternoon as he and his wife, Jennie, were driving back to Quincy.

The annual gathering in the Black Rock Desert about 110 miles north of Reno typically attracts nearly 80,000 artists, musicians and activists for a mix of wilderness camping and avant-garde performances. However, disruptions have been part of the event’s recent history. Organizers temporarily closed entrances to the festival in 2018 due to dust storms, and they twice canceled the event during the pandemic.

More than a half an inch of rain fell at the festival site on Friday, causing flooding and foot-deep mud. A meteorologist with the National Weather Service told the Associated Press the average rainfall for September is 0.21 inches.

Roads were closed to vehicles after Friday’s rain.

“Rightfully so. (Keeping the roads open) would have completely destroyed everything. It doesn’t take much rain to make it a s**t show out there,” Dancer said. “It’s not like it was an absolute downpour or anything. All it takes is an eighth of an inch of water out there, and it’s an absolute mess.”

Organizers asked attendees not to walk out of the desert as others had done throughout the weekend. However, music producer DJ Diplo and comedian Chris Rock made it out after walking for six miles in the mud and hitching a ride with a fan, who offered them a lift on the back of his pickup truck.

At least one fatality was reported. Organizers said the death of a man in his 40s wasn’t weather-related. Dancer said he and his wife never feared for their safety.

“I woke up one day, and I had 30 text messages,” he said. “Are you OK? Are you alive? Do you have Ebola? Are people killing each other? It was some of the craziest things. I just wrote back, ‘Don’t worry about me. We’re in here literally having the best time of our lives.’”

Dancer said the event is much more than a music festival.

“A lot of people think it’s a place for people to just behave in a debaucherous manner, to go do drugs and have sex and just behave like an animal,” he said. “When I tell friends I’m going to Burning Man, they like they kind of look down at me, almost as if I’m going there to just partake in orgies and do a bunch of illegal drugs.

“It’s just not at all the case, but it’s nice that people think that because it just kind of keeps people out. I mean, it’s already huge. It’s 80,000 to 100,000 people out in the middle of the desert. It’s just incredible what they’re able to build and what they’re able to sustain. It’s simply a city that exists for an entire week, and people are there to blow your mind.”

Dancer said this is the second time he and his wife have attended Burning Man. He said he typically wakes up daily to eat breakfast before riding his bicycle. He returns to his RV for lunch, goes “out and about” again before returning home again for “a nice dinner.”

“The cool thing is when you go out and about, you get to go spectate,” Dancer said. “There’s bars, there’s art, there’s music, there’s food, there’s people, there’s people gifting things, there’s people putting on presentations and seminars and educating people. You name it, it’s there. It’s like an adult carnival. To me, it is like a contest for people to try to blow your mind.”

The event, remote on the best of days, emphasizes self-sufficiency. Amid the flooding, revelers were urged to conserve food and water. Most remained hunkered down at the site.

“It’s out in the middle of the desert. Like it’s not going to be easy,” Dancer said. “It would be crazy for someone to think they’re going to go out there and not face adversity. You’re essentially camping for 10 days There were five in our RV, and so you’re preparing food, three meals a day for five people. We ate well out here. Then you’re bringing out probably 100 gallons of water to make sure that you can stay up on your hydration and stay clean. It’s a lot of work to get out there and live there.

“You’re playing with fire a little bit. There’s a good chance you might get burned a little bit. That might mean walking across the city or getting a little muddy or maybe missing your flight home or having to wrap your shoes in trash bags so you could get around and not be soaking wet. It’s what you sign up for.”

The muddy roads had dried up enough by Monday afternoon to allow those in attendance to begin their trips home.

“I would still go to Burning Man, even if I could only go for 12 hours,” Dancer said. “It’s the most stunning thing I’ve ever witnessed in my life. No contest. People think the Grand Canyon is cool or the Eiffel Tower or whatever place that you visited that you think is the most beautiful place on the planet. (Burning Man is) that times 100,000. It’s something you can’t even comprehend.”

The Dancers own QTown CrossFit. Last month, Dancer won the championship of the men’s 35-39 age division at the CrossFit Games in Madison, Wis.

The Associated Press contributed information for this story.

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