The Shade Structure is the expedition’s “living room”, and the hub of our mutual experience. The structure’s original 1300 square foot layout hasn’t changed from OKNOTOK Year One in 2009, but in 2012 we replaced the structure’s original aluminum frame with wood. The wood frame consists of vermillion painted 12 foot crossbeams and eight foot columns, and the move to a wood frame was a major step towards making the structure feel like a home instead of a hippy crash pad. The original aluminum frame was certainly strong enough, but did not “feel” good, whereas wood is both strong and good-feeling. The red paint job is especially invigorating in contrast to both the white wasteland of the playa and the unpainted materials of the vast majority of shade structures on the playa.
However, the 2012 wood frame was far too complex to build. We used off-the-shelf brackets that required over 20 screws each, and the 2x4 crossbeams required diagonal bracing at each column. Thus, the 2012 structure frame easily took four times as long to build as previous years. Unacceptable! So, for 2013 I designed steel brackets that Clay then had custom fabricated for the expedition. These brackets weigh 45 pounds each and accept 4x4s from all six directions, requiring only one hand-tightened bolt per crossbeam and column. They are awesome and I love them!
But love can be blinding, and it led to my biggest mistake of 2013: not pre-building the entire structure as we’ve done every year previous. This serious error resulted in considerable difficulty during Monday’s build, as we discovered on-playa that our supposedly 12-foot crossbeams varied in length, including one beam that was two full inches too long! It turns out that “12 foot” lumber can exhibit considerable variability in length, which is not compatible with utterly rigid steel brackets.
I had no inkling of this variability, and it was hard lesson for the build crew to learn under the hot Monday sun.
Shade Structure Interior
The 2013 structure interior was entirely new! New carpeting, new custom-built and painted furniture, new cushions, new porch swing, and, for the first time, a dining room complete with a table big enough for the whole camp to enjoy our fabulous meals together! It is no small accomplishment to keep a playa interior space tidy, so big props to everyone for helping reset everything each day.
With a 30-foot long counter top, 24 feet of shelving, and a new chest freezer, the 2013 kitchen enabled a new level of playa eating. We’ve gone through several iterations of kitchens over the years, but I feel 2013 kitchen layout, with some improvements (lighting!), will be with us for a while.
Shower & Disco Tower
The shower has always been my biggest challenge, but 2013’s shower was roomy inside and strong enough to climb! The Disco Tower was built using the same plan as the shower, only 12 feet high instead of eight, and served as a landmark for our entire neighborhood. We put them both into the truck assembled, which allowed us to use them as packing “frames” around our bikes, which, alongside the Great Standardization of Crates, enabled us to pack the truck faster and more efficiently than ever before.
Standardization of Crates
The Great Standardization of Crates made the load-unload-load-unload process smoother than ever, and I can’t thank everyone enough for going along with it. The previous years’ utterly random collection personal belonging containers was impossible to pack quickly or well.
Though the expedition’s 2009 generator had been serviced before every Burning Man, it failed Wednesday on-playa: the rope on the pull-starter snapped! A broken rope seems like a simple, fixable thing, but it was indeed fatal, despite the noble efforts of Chief and Clay. A (very) friendly playa-neighbor loaned us a generator for Wednesday night, and early Thursday morning Clay and I took Andrew to the Reno airport as planned, after which we made an unplanned stop at a Honda store where Clay purchased the expedition a new, very excellent, very quiet generator that should last us many years.
Our first solar system consists two 100 watt panels charging a battery array that keeps the lights on when the generator runs out of gas. No more come home to a dead camp! Eventually, as panel, battery, and lighting tech improves, we’ll be able to run the whole camp with solar.