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The Assless Chapel Newsletter #9: Playa Heat Edition


My friend Curtis recently told me the story of when he first met me. My friend Danny and I had met a guy named John in Colorado, on our way to our first burn. John said we could camp with him and his camp. Somehow, we managed to find the right camp out on the outer rim street, even though that part of the city was nearly completely empty.

We began trying to set up a tarp, a tent, any shelter we could, because we were caught in a vicious dust storm. Of course, we fucked around for two miserable hours with nothing to show for it. I don’t know what exactly happened after that, but, after all the driving and failed set up, Danny and I were irritable and it was time to get drunk.

Fast forward to Curtis’ first impressions of us. Danny and I got lost from each other and that night, we got into a bit of a brotherly fight. The whole camp got to hear us drunkenly bellowing “You don’t know what I’ve been through! You don’t know what I’VE been through!” Eventually, the camp mom, Mona, yelled to us to “shut the fuck up – people are trying to sleep!” So, we shut up.

The next morning Curtis came to investigate these newcomers. He was greeted by two 22-year-old men, sprawled out naked-ish and unconscious on the bare Playa next to their car, surrounded by empty wine, whiskey and beer bottles. His first thoughts were, to put it mildly – as Curtis always does – more concerned than positive.

Danny and I had completely forgotten/forgiven our dispute that next morning. We also realized that were completely unprepared for Burning Man. I mean, we were resilient and we brought enough to survive – we were able to get a tent up that morning. Survival really wasn’t the issue.

But we were just floored by how outclassed we were by Curtis’ culinary generosity, Mona’s mothering nature, Ken’s hard-working infrastructure creation, the art everywhere, the participant orientation of our neighbors. We realized that we were a couple of yahoos who had inflicted ourselves upon our new camp and Black Rock City in general.

But we began to behave better and struck life-long friendships with the camp. Ken and I really hit it off. I remember laughing with him at absurd inside jokes while drinking rum and coke on top of some scaffolding with a great view. Curtis and I had several deep discussions over a cold beer. Years later, most of these folks made it to my Playa wedding that Danny organized.

I’m sharing this because, as I’ll go into, Curtis and Ken will be joining us! In addition, Alisha aka Lishy, a photographer and virgin, will also be joining. She seems to have done her research far more than Danny and I ever did. I’m guessing she won’t subject us to much drunken, nighttime bellowing.

Speaking of being prepared for the Playa and building infrastructure…


So, this is another one of those non-interesting subjects that I must sometimes put into our newsletter. I know that everyone here is familiar with the fact that the Playa is hot. But there is a difference between existing on the Playa and working on the Playa. I’m sure you’ve seen people work in high heat. They can safely do it not because they are stronger or tougher; nor is it a psychological issue. It’s because their bodies adjust over time in response to the experience of working in the heat. Their cells begin to function differently on a molecular level, while their vascular system and sweat glands adjust. Most of our group will be showing up to the build without having acclimated and, from what I’m seeing in the weather forecasts, it’s going to be a hot year.

I have a lot of training and experience with heat safety, from my years working in agriculture. A large majority of serious heat illness in California agriculture occurs in people who have not yet acclimated to it. To put it another way: someone who is not familiar with working in the heat can be at greater risk of heat stroke in 30C/86F than an experienced/acclimated person in 40C/104F. Nearly everyone contributing to build will be at high risk of heat illness.

Please read my advice below carefully, so we can all stay safe, while working efficiently to build The Assless Chapel. First, I am going to explain what our general protocols will be during the build to keep everyone safe. Then I will lay out the symptoms, treatment and prevention of different types of heat illness.

Working Safely in the Heat: The Basics

The keys to working safely in the heat are: breaks, shade, water, sensible clothing and, in severe conditions, staying wet.


A work crew is generally most efficient when everyone takes breaks together. To maximize this, I will be calling regular breaks for the whole group. Even a short break of 5 minutes allows your body to stop producing heat from the work it’s doing; to rehydrate and cool down with cold water; and to get in the shade, where the ambient temperature is lower. As the day gets hotter, I will call breaks increasingly often. Most will be only 5 minutes, but we’ll take a few longer ones, too.

Hopefully, these breaks will be enough for most of us. However, it is crucially important that everyone listen to his body and take an extra break here and there, if necessary. This isn’t an issue of toughness, but of biological need. And let’s also check in on each other to make sure everyone’s ok.


Breaks don’t help that much if you don’t have shade! All that means for us is that shade structures go up before anything else and, hopefully, before the heat of the day.


We all know to have plenty of water around. In the dry, high heat of the Playa, someone doing hard labor can lose more than a liter of water an hour, which is more than she can consistently drink. In fact, the body cannot absorb much more than a quarter liter of water every 15 minutes. This makes it important to pre-hydrate and drink water during every break, even when not thirsty. I am bringing a water cooler we can fill with ice so we have cold water on tap.

Another issue with sweating out all your water is that you also lose important minerals in the process, primarily sodium and potassium. Typically, you can replenish these with snacks during breaks and a stop for lunch. It’s important to eat foods that contain sodium and potassium. Dried fruit, lentils and beans have a lot of potassium. Banana chips and potato chips contain a lot of sodium and potassium.

Sensible Clothing

When working in the heat, I like to wear as little as possible. But that is not an effective way to stay cool in hot, dry weather. Light clothing that covers your whole body will provide insulation from the heat of the sun. You will never see vineyard workers or Bedouin out in the sun, wearing t-shirts. And, of course, clothing protects you from sunburn.

I also hate wearing hats. But hats provide you with mobile shade and help keep you cooler.

Keeping Wet: Dealing with Severe Heat

In mild weather, when work heats up your body, sweating provides more than enough moisture to keep your body at a safe temperature. Above 27C/80F this may not suffice for someone who is not acclimated to the conditions. On the Playa, nearly everyone has a decent tool to deal with this: a spray bottle full of cold water. A few spritzes during work breaks can genuinely help your body cool down.

Above 35C/95F­­ your body loses many of the tools it has to stay cool, as the ambient temperature is no longer low enough to emit your body heat into. At this point, things change drastically, as your body must sweat as much as possible and still may not be able to stay cool. In these conditions, I would send a farm crew home. But we will be doing easier work and will not go far from our cooling-down resources. A great trick to deal with this level of heat is to soak your hat in a bucket of ice-cold water, allowing your head to emit a great deal of your body heat. At 38C/100F,­­ I recommend plunging your shirt into the bucket, wringing it out and putting it on. I’ve used this technique to keep working in 44C/111F conditions, though I still felt pretty rough afterwards and wouldn’t recommend it.

Heat Illness: Learn from Reading not Experience!

These are listed in rough order of seriousness.


We all know this one. Just consider this a reminder to bring sunscreen, burn lotion and, if possible, a base tan to the Playa. Antony, not sure if it’s in the list, but if not, please include burn lotion in the camp first aid kit.

Heat Rash

Heat rash is likely when working on the Playa. It is a skin irritation caused by all the salt from your sweating and pores clogged by Playa dust (which trap the sweat under the skin.) You can prevent it by bathing (in whatever way you can on the Playa) and by using talcum powder. It can be treated with prickly heat powder – Antony can you please include a bottle in the first aid kit?

Heat Cramps

Heat cramps are painful muscle spasms that occur from sweating out potassium and sodium. Hopefully, you’re eating a diet that replenishes these nutrients during breaks. They can be treated with oral rehydration salts. Please add these to the first aid kit, Antony, they’re important for a variety of heat ailments.


One way your body cools off is to send blood to your skin and extremities to radiate the heat into the air. This takes some blood away from your brain. Sometimes, if you’re overheated and you stand up quickly or have been standing in place for a long time, you can faint. I had a friend faint from this on the Playa and fall face first onto a – luckily, bent – stick of rebar. She had a horrible black eye the rest of the week. This is prevented by the basics we already went over.

If one of us faints due to heat, but doesn’t have a more serious condition, do the following:

· Put him in a chair in the shade;

· Prop up his legs;

· Cool him down with a cold, wet rag on his forehead and a spray bottle;

· Have him slowly drink cold water, while you mix up oral rehydration salts for him to drink next.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is more serious than it sounds. If you push your body too hard in the heat, you can get severe symptoms, such as tingling skin, nausea and vomiting, dizziness, irritability, severe thirst, severe weakness, fever-level body temperature, profuse sweating, pupil dilation and decreased urine output. Again, prevention is key.

If one of us is suffering from heat exhaustion, this is what to do:

· Seat her in the shade and prop up her feet unless she is vomiting, in which case lay her down on her side;

· Remove excess clothing;

· Use fanning, spray bottles and wet rags to begin cooling her down;

· Meanwhile, have someone fill up 4 Ziploc bags with ice to place in her armpits and inner thighs;

· Have her slowly drink cold water, while someone mixes up oral rehydration salts;

· Send for an EMT from one of the medical stations;

· Do not leave this person alone for at least 15 minutes after she returns to normal.

Heat Stroke

I hate to even mention this one, but I would be wrong to leave it out of this discussion. Heat stroke is the most severe form of heat illness. Hundreds of people die every year from heat stroke in the US. If someone were to get heat stroke on the Playa, the chances of survival would be very low. Medical treatment involves an ice bath and infusion of cool liquids directly into the veins. Early symptoms include behavioral changes, confusion, delirium, dizziness, weakness, agitation, combativeness, slurred speech, nausea, vomiting, shitting oneself and seizures.

If this were to happen to someone, we would treat as with heat exhaustion, but with a strong emphasis on getting help right away and much more aggressively cooling his body (more ice packs). It would be imperative that the person going to get help explain that the patient is experiencing full heat stroke, so the EMTs would know to call for a helicopter and bring infusion bags (someone suffering from heat stroke may not be able to safely drink water). The patient would most likely need to be laid on his side, not sat down in a chair.


I submitted the Married ‘Til Monday ceremonies to Playa events. Unfortunately, the WhatWhereWhen booklet is already full! We’ll be listed online, but not in the booklet. I will make a chalkboard we can use to advertise these events. The first two will be hosted at our camp Monday at 9p and Tuesday at 11a. The final event will take place at the Empyrean temple at 6:00a on Wednesday. Feel free to come, but no obligation – I’m not hosting it at camp, since I know it’s sleeping time for most people.

Sia got me the finalized marriage certificate files. I’ve attached them to the email, including our logo, for anyone who wants to use it for something. I got some laughs at the local print shop today while getting this stack of wedding certificates printed out.

But I’m just keeping you guys waiting for a bunch of big, good news. In no particular order:

Curtis and Ken will be joining us on Thursday of build week – driving all the way out from Colorado. They are well-equipped and skilled. Curtis will be meeting with me to discuss him and Ken taking on some of the pre-build work, like the altar. Which is great news because I’ve been stressed about getting everything done. This does create another issue, however, which is that we’ll have to dedicate more space to vehicles. That, combined with the way our shade situation has unfolded, means we need to redo the layout. I’ll put Yosi and Curtis in charge of that.

Speaking of shade structure: I was dropping off some baby clothes and lunch for a friend with a newborn yesterday. After that, I picked something up from him that he will let me borrow for the burn: a geodesic dome! All parts included. He thinks it’s 26’ in diameter! But he may be misremembering. Hopefully, Sia and I can put it up in advance. We’ll see.

Finally, let’s also welcome Lishy to the group. She’ll be driving in from Eugene, Oregon. She’s a skilled photographer and will be bringing still, video and instant camera capabilities! She’s also an experienced camper and has been learning all she can about Burning Man. She should be an easy virgin to acculturate and I’m really excited to have her with us. Lishy will not be coming during build week, but will stay for break and will arrive Sunday evening (if I can finagle another WAP, then we can get her in a bit earlier).


No Black Rock City news this week, but here’s a picture of Empyrean Temple:


As you know, I asked BORG to give us 4 Thursday entry passes and 7 Friday passes. They gave us 4 of each. I’ve asked them to reconsider and give us 6 and 3. They said that 8 is the max, but they’ll think about it.

I did get them to verify that we are at 4:15 and C, which is just a bit different than shown on the unofficial map.


[boring, unimportant stuff redacted]


I just want to share with you all how happy I am about the way the camp is coming together. I’m so happy that we have a couple of my first burnmates joining me the year I put together a theme camp. I’m so happy we’ll have 3 virgins joining. I’m so happy we’ll have two couples who I get to marry and who help make the camp. I’m so happy we have Sia, who is so dedicated to making this happen. I’m so happy we have Red, who was there for me at my two most emotional burns. I’m so happy we have Lishy to [apparently, I somehow lost the text here.]

The Man burns in 45 days.

The picture below has some sort of filter, but it’s a sculpture previously placed at Burning Man that lived by the side of the road a couple miles from my house, in the middle of nowhere, for a few years before some rich winery douche bought it. My kids used to play on it.

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