RENO, Nev.—Tens of thousands of people bogged down in mud from heavy rains all weekend at the Burning Man festival began their mass exodus out of the Black Rock Desert this week, after one confirmed death last Friday still under investigation.
On Labor Day, the “burners,” as the festival goers call themselves, jammed the main roads out of the event—about 112 miles south of Reno—for tens of miles in motor homes, trucks, and RV trailers, and cars loaded with camping gear.
About 73,000 people with more than 33,000 vehicle permits, attended the week-long event, known for its counter-culture atmosphere and free-spirit attitudes. In normal weather conditions, it takes about 40 hours for all the burners to exit the site, according to media reports.
Nadya Martynemko, 37, of Seattle, left before the finale on Monday night, when the giant Burning Man effigy was set ablaze.
“Everyone in my camp decided to stay because it was kind of mud everywhere,” she told The Epoch Times at Reno International Airport, more than 110 miles southwest of the festival.
When her friend, Anastasia, had to leave to catch a flight back to Europe, Martynemko found their vehicle submerged in about six inches of mud and water but decided to push it out.
“We had help from other burners,” she said. “We got stuck in the mud like four times, but we pushed it out four times, and we helped two more people who were stuck as well. It took about three hours to get from the gate to the normal road. We were very happy that we made it out,” she said.
Growing up in a rural area in eastern Russia, Ms. Martynemko learned how to deal with problems like getting stuck. But, for many city dwellers who seldom drive on dirt roads, getting stuck can seem overwhelming, she said.
“It’s easier for me,” she said. “For me, situations like that are not so crazy. I was a little bit disappointed that this generation [of] millennials doesn’t know simple things,” Ms. Martynemko said.
She attended her first Burning Man festival in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns when public events were banned. This year was her second experience.
Deni Haapameri, of Finland, rode his bicycle out of the event on Monday evening. He told The Epoch Times he would have liked to see the finale but was exhausted and headed to a comfortable hotel room in Reno instead.
“I think there was a bit of sadness due to some hindrances to the art installations,” he said.
The mud was “surprisingly hard to walk in,” and riding his bike in it was “impossible,” he said.
But, despite the inclement weather, Mr. Haapameri said the rainstorms were “beautiful.”
“People were really tired, and I think it forced people to rest more out there,” he said. “I’ve never experienced anything like this in this type of environment.”
“We heard about several stories the media was sharing; one of them being that there was some kind of Ebola virus going on out here,” he said with a smirk on his face.
According to the event’s organizers, the report of a viral outbreak is unfounded and untrue.
“We also heard about dust storms and even a hurricane, but this did not happen from what I experienced,” Mr. Haapameri said.
The Burning Man’s 2023 theme, “Animalia,” celebrates “the animal world and our place in it,” according to Stuart Mangrum, the Director of Burning Man Project’s Philosophical Center.
It explores “animals real and imagined, mythic and remembered” and “the curious mental constructs that allow us to believe that imagined animals are real, real animals are imagined, and that somehow, despite all evidence to the contrary, mankind is somehow not part of the animal kingdom.”
One man, Leon Reece, 32, died at the event Sept. 1. The Pershing County Sheriff’s Office stated the cause of death is under investigation, but pending toxicology reports.
Jess “B,” who didn’t want to reveal her last name, 33, of Chicago, attended the event with her partner, but was at the airport in Reno by Monday morning.
“The mud was pretty rough the first night [Friday],” she said, adding it was easiest to walk barefoot through the muck. “It was supposed to rain for a couple of hours, but it rained for eight hours.”
She added that some news reports were “overblown.”
The portable toilets weren’t overflowing after the first night of rain as reported, and people seemed well stocked up with supplies, unlike what some media had reported, she said.
“And, we read something about Ebola,” she said, laughing. “I don't know where that came from.”
Overall, as a “first-time burner,” Ms. B said she appreciated the experience.
“It was a nice community out there, and the art was incredible,” she said. “It was mind-blowing.”
In response to some reports of rampant drug use and wild sexual activities, Ms. B said there was “some drug use,” and “an orgy tent” listed on the itinerary.
“I’m not sure how that was,” she said.
Tracy Smith, a Reno resident told the Epoch Times he charged burners $350 a carload to drive them from the nearby town of Gerlach to Reno, about $200 less than the rates of some Reno-based taxicab companies.
By Monday night, thousands of burners had already left the event, and some were hitchhiking down the road to just get home, Mr. Smith said.
“They’ve had enough,” he said Monday night. “It’s just a mass exodus.”
According to some burners, vehicle lineups to exit the site were 7.5 hours long.
As of midday Monday, about 64,000 people remained on the site as organizers recommended that they stay until Tuesday to alleviate traffic congestion.