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Celebrities hiked 6 miles to flee Burning Man. We spent 6 hours cleaning it.

Anneta Konstantinides   

Celebrities hiked 6 miles to flee Burning Man. We spent 6 hours cleaning it.
  • Many of the Burning Man 2023 headlines focused on celebrities fleeing the event after a storm hit.
  • While stars left, many of us stayed behind to rally the community and clean the playa.

As our RV drove away from Black Rock City, just as the playa was waking up to another sunrise, my phone came back to life.

After almost nine full days without service at Burning Man 2023, I watched as dozens of "Are you alive?" texts came flooding in. That's when I realized how bad the headlines must have been.

Burning Man has been in the news for years, especially after celebrities, CEOs, and influencers began joining the 70,000-plus people who flock to Black Rock City for over a week of art, music, fashion, and that indescribable playa magic at the end of every August. Although the event's founding principles are built on "radical self-reliance" and the beauty in gifting and community, many people seem to know it more as a playground for models and billionaires.

So it wasn't entirely surprising to me that when an unprecedented storm and shelter-in-place order hit Burning Man this year, most outlets focused on how the celebrities handled it. Stories about Diplo and Chris Rock's six-mile trek to flee Black Rock City, where they hitchhiked out with the help of a fan and their pick-up truck, or the Victoria's Secret model Kelly Gale and her fiancée, the "Suicide Squad" actor Joel Kinnaman, walking through the mud to "escape" the festival on Saturday, were all everyone knew about this year's event.

Headlines of the stars' departure from Black Rock City were dramatic. "Chris Rock and Diplo saved from Burning Man disaster" one read. "Celebs flee Burning Man desert festival hell," another said. I found them all hilarious — and pretty inaccurate.

I was one of thousands of people who stayed through the storm and helped clean

This year was my first Burning Man, and my experience couldn't have been more different from the way it's been portrayed by many outlets — and I think it's safe to say my camp was far less glamorous than any that were hosting international DJs, comedians, and supermodels.

While many have painted Burning Man 2023 as a disaster that became so scary and inhabitable people would do anything to leave, the truth is that most of us stayed for days after the storm. We also worked hard to keep the community spirit alive and the playa clean.

Once the sun rose and the mud had finally dried on September 3, my camp spent six hours using screwdrivers, knives, and our nails to peel off any trash that had gotten stuck to the mud, as well as dig up shoes and other items that had been buried in the slush of the storm.

We all stayed to watch the Man burn that night, and the playa was still full of Burners who had opted to stay and ride out the rest of their experience. As we hopped on different art cars and danced the night away among tens of thousands of people, it was clear the resilient Burner spirit was stronger than ever.

There are so many stories I wish people heard about Burning Man 2023 aside from the celebrity 'survival' stories

While Diplo's "great escape" got all the press, the DJ story I loved hearing from Burning Man was by Rinzen.

The Los Angeles-based DJ revealed on Instagram that he played an impromptu three-hour set when he came across hundreds of people dancing at Fluffy Cloud — a popular Burning Man installation — on the Saturday after the storm.

"The celebratory post-rain vibes made it such an emotional set," he wrote on Monday. "Personally I was overcome with joy that I still got to play."

Music kept spirits high at camps all throughout the weekend, my own included. Although we couldn't ride off on our bikes to catch big names on the playa, there were still nightly dance parties in our dome where my campmates showed off their own incredible skills. Their sets ended up being far more memorable than any of the famous acts I saw earlier that week — sorry Diplo!

The most ridiculous rumor to come out of Burning Man 2023 was claims of cannibalism, which appeared to start with Chris Rock.

But the truth was Burners were feeding each other throughout the storm with whatever they had on hand. When one of my friends got stuck on the Burner Express — which takes attendees out of Black Rock City and to the Reno or San Francisco airport — right after the storm hit on Friday, he said that a Burner who was camping nearby made over 100 quesadillas from their own supplies to feed everyone on the bus.

The following day, I watched as one of my campmates brought his grill on the dance floor of our neighboring camp's sunset party so he could sling his famous grilled cheese sandwiches for everyone.

Feel-good headlines will never get as much attention as "disasters" or Diplo. But these are the Burning Man stories I think everyone should know.

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