By Natasha Lewin

I’ve got 20 gallons of water, a plethora of avant-garde ensembles to outfit myself through at least six daily costume changes over eight days, enough pills, powders and pot to supply a small Utah rave and a surplus-sized Sam’s Club box of assorted condoms—bowl packed and loaded, Burning Man or bust.

I never trust anything in the desert. Spiders, coyotes, cacti, mirages—they’re all out there. Waiting for me. I wasn’t ever planning on partying out there, but they claimed Burning Man wasn’t just any party: It’s a festival — one that would apparently change my life. A community of creative people doing exactly what they want, whenever they want, however sleazy or profound. No money, no watches, no cell phones, no clothing... well, clothing is completely optional, but nowhere near necessary. There, I wouldn’t have to cringe at the sunrise or feel the urgent need to explain a previous night’s behavior—much less apologize for it.

And so I bought the $250 ticket I could’ve gotten for $150 if only I would’ve stopped reading about Burning Man online long enough to buy before the early deadline passed. Anyway, according to the Web site, I—as a “newbie” — would soon be submerging myself into a tundra of sorts, and would need to acquire protection from the elements. All of them, even snow. Ninety-to 110-degree weather during the day, 20- to 60- degree temps at night, plus white-outs—which are essentially blinding sandstorms kicked up from the desert’s floor (a.k.a. playa) — not to mention dehydration, playa tongue, playa foot, playa lip, playa herpes. The idea was to be prepared for all extreme conditions, all the while looking like something that bounded out of Liberace’s closet. By the time I was supposed to set sail for Reno, I’d packed five 15-gallon bins full of fuzzy hats, garter belts, first-aid kits, blinkies, band-aids, ChapSticks, Clif Bars and Neosporin. I even bought one of those dorky headlamps for bicyclists. But Lord, how I wish I’d stocked up on that ChapStick...