I scoured many of these forums before we hired our RV this year and wanted to reflect on my own experiences and provide tips for others who may be as anally retentive and over-organized as me. It was my third burn but my first in an RV and despite the hellish logistics I would definitely hire one again. Hopefully it will be easier second time round. This post is mostly geared at international burners who have limited time and resources and so there won’t be any mention of swamp coolers and hexayurts. The booking process:
Like everyone says – do this early, AKA by December the year before. Every week you leave it the price goes up. Every RV in California will be rented for BM so don’t worry if you’re only stuck with Cruise America to chose from. It ultimately comes down to bad luck if yours breaks down or the generator stops working. Don’t delay – just book now. Also, understand that there’s really only about 4 major companies that rent RV’s. Road Bear is actually Star Drive, Motouris is also known as Pure RV, Apollo is also known as Star RV etc.
You might find it easier to use a ‘broker’ like ideamerge.com who has access to multiple RV companies and their real-time availability and they might have customer service staff in your country that you can speak to on the phone. Important to note:
whether using a broker or the RV Company directly – understand that filing in the online form to check RV availability for your dates means nothing. They might say they have a 5 person RV left at $3500 but they actually don’t have it in stock or it’s actually $4700. Availability online does not reflect actual availability - you need to speak/email a real person to confirm there are some left and at what price. Understand how your RV works before you pick it up:
Watch this video http://bit.ly/YC87H0
(there are probably others for the other companies). You don’t need to know most of the stuff about rigging things up to camp sites – you won’t be doing that.
And thanks to Michael for compiling this helpful guide – print and bring with you. http://titanradiator.com/rv/Burning_Man_camping.pdfIn summary
– there are two separate batteries; one for the engine and one for ‘everything else’ i.e. to run the fridge, the lights inside, the water pump etc. Therefore the fridge stays on and cold the whole time as it runs off the accessories battery (and uses the propane gas tank as fuel, not the main gas tank). A panel next to the door indicates the levels:
• of gas you have left to run the fridge (you will pick it up with a full tank and this will last the whole week easy)
• of grey water filled up from sinks and shower
• of black water levels filled up from toilets
• of fresh water left on board (don’t use for drinking. Washing dishes and self is fine)
• of battery power left for the generator. The generator runs off the main gas tank and uses about a gallon an hour. This powers your air con. The generator also powers the ‘accessories’ battery. It generally wont let you turn it on if your fuel tank is less than a quarter as it saves fuel so you can get home. (We bought a bottle of 30 weight generator oil out of over-preparation anxiety but never used it).Picking up your RV
When we booked ours the pickup location was listed as SF but it was actually Fremont, about 50 mins away. We caught the BART to Fremont station from Downtown/Union Square then a cab. I initially imagined there might be about 20 or so RV’s and if we got there early we would get the best pick. Not so. These RV pickup depots are huge with about 400 vehicles in them and your RV is already assigned. Expect to spend at least 2-4 hours here waiting to get your paperwork then your vehicle. They will be super busy on burn pickup days so don’t expect much attention or a guided tour of how to use the RV. They just handed over our keys and were like ‘have a good time’.Gas
Get it is Wadsworth. Fill up as it’s the closest reliable place to BRC (closer then Reno) and you never know how much gas you will use in ingress/exodus or with your generator on playa. It cost about $200 to fill ours up.If hiring an RV from San Fran don’t leave it to Reno to get your supplies
There are Wal-Mart’s, hardware and grocery stores all over the i-80 that wont be overcrowded and will still have a full supply of sleeping bags, baby wipes, vinegar and shade options – use them. We ended up buying all our food from a 24 hour Savemart in Truckee and it was blissfully peaceful and took 30 mins. Similarly a hardware store that wasn’t in Reno was happy to cut some metal poles to size for a fellow camper’s shade structure. Cleaning supplies
We bought a broom, dust pan and broom, vinegar, spay bottle, carpet matt, a bunch of cleaning cloths, paper towel, gardening gloves and latex gloves, all of which came in handy. A sink plug and dishwashing liquid will be added next time. Driving the RV
We had three people – one to drive, one to navigate and one to nap and this worked well. I preferred driving exodus as no lane changing was required and it’s pretty straightforward. I managed with highways ok as there are wide shoulders and big lanes, albeit I did have sweaty palms. Everything is fine if you have someone in the passenger seat for moral support and navigation. Don’t let this put you off hiring one – you will be fine. Even on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. Hints and tips: staying dust free and cool
This is the part that makes hiring an RV all worth it. With a bit of minimal effort our RV was clean, cool and dust free the whole time. We easily slept till 11.30am when needed and could nap even without the air con on. I have to admit that having the RV did make me a little less social this year as I would have spent more time in communal shade structure otherwise. But as much as I’d love to bring excess tents, shades structures, fark tents, and make hexayurts, this is not realistic for international travellers who are limited to one suitcase and whatever they can buy in Reno that they are prepared to throw out or gift afterwards.Silver bubble wrap on windows with gaffer tape is a must
We bought a big roll and a small roll from Lowes I think it was. Cut it to size for each window. Tape over the whole window with painters/gaffer/blue tape. Yes its expensive but it works and doesn’t leave sticky reside like duct tape does. If you cover the whole outside window including the seams no dust gets in, really. Even in dust storms. Also cover the inside two air vents/windows above the beds, from the inside. You can probably do all this in the line while waiting to arrive at the gate – leaving the windscreen till last obviously. We had to get on each others shoulders to reach the outside top windows – fun! I imagine ladders would also work but be less hilarious for on lookers. This worked sooo well. It was like being in a 5 star hotel compared to previous years camping. Dust free, cool and clean.Cover seats and dash with old sheets
I brought a bunch of old sheets sheets for home and they worked a treat. Over the drivers and passengers seat, dashboard, over the beds and over the table seats and lounge chair. The RV was so easy to keep clean this way. You could probably also buy these at a good will/charity store but being an international burners it was easier just to stuff them in my suitcase.Close dashboard vents and tape up
Self explanatory.Ban shoes
Use a bucket/tub at the door for shoes. Never allow shoes in on anyone. Have a piece of carpet/matt at the top step so people can sit down to take off their shoes. Our RV stayed sooo clean just by doing this. Emptying the grey and black water while on playa AKA getting an RV service
We were lucky we were part of a theme-camp that prearranged and paid for this to happen on the Thursday and someone in our camp was allocated to arrange this. It went seamlessly and meant we weren’t worried at all about overflow. You can flag down the RV service trucks on playa and pay $50-75 cash if you want this service. It can be a pain to actually sit around and wait for them though and take up your valuable time. Pre arrange if you can. They also fill up fresh water I believe but that’s never really an issue as you will have your own drinking water in battles – the main issue when hiring an RV is that grey and black water fill up too fast…How to avoid grey and black water filling up too fast
There are more elaborate threads on this but essentially:
• Don’t have too many people in the RV. We had 3 in a 5 person, worked well.
• Don’t poop, only wee in the toilet
• Don’t shower
• Don’t leave any water running e.g. washing dishes (buy and bring a sink plug)
• Use water sparingly
• Turn the water pump off when not in use. Problem solving: dead accessories battery/generator
We had a problem in that when we picked ours up from the rental company the accessories battery was flat i.e. the engine worked and we could drive around but we couldn’t turn on the fridge, air con, lights, water pump, levels indicator, generator. Of course there were no others to switch it with as it was burner central pick up time so we were stuck with this sucker. It was a shitty battery and got worse over the week but we kept temporarily bringing it back to life by starting the engine while parked, revving the accelerator to give the generator enough gas to switch it on at the panel till it kicked in (requires one person in the drivers seat and another at the panel) and then leaving the generator on for at least 20 mins to an hour so that would charge the accessories battery enough for the water pump, lights, fridge etc. to work. Such a pain in the arse to do this at 3am when everything started beeping ‘I’m flat’ but hey it’s all part of the radical self reliance fun. We were just unlucky to get this RV. Therefore our fridge worked ‘sometimes’ and the air con worked when we could be bothered going through this process. Keep the water pump switched to off when not in use. Problem solving: leaking black/grey water
Our RV didn’t come with a ‘cap/cover’ for the grey water hose underneath. We found this out the hard way when we realised grey/black water was leaking straight onto playa (yes we mooped it out, yes it was gross). Make sure your grey/black water valves are ‘closed’ before you start using any water on board (find them underneath the RV and push them in to close) and keep a funnel and large bottle underneath any valves while parked on playa just in case.Cleaning the RV
We had read forums about how this could take 6 hours and costs $200-$500 bucks. It took 2-3 of us 90 mins and cost, wait for it, $15. We took it to a self-service car wash in Reno where you pay for the time used for the hose and vacuum. It took 20 mins to clean the outside with a high-pressure hose (and was ridiculously fun) that had lots of different detergent/pressure options, including an engine clean and shammy air dry. Don’t forget to do the undercarriage. The inside we wiped down with cloths, vinegar-water and then vacuumed everything including curtains. Because we used the outside silver bubble wrap and no shoes rule, there was hardly any dust in it anyway. Also the rental companies aren’t super fussy about the level of cleanliness, they just want it to be clean enough to hire to someone else i.e. no layer of gross dust. When we returned ours they said of the 200 returned that day most were pretty clean and only about 6 people returned there’s completely dirty/filthy so they were overall happy with burners. Getting rid of trash and everything else
Wholefoods in Reno had a depot set up this year collect to not just trash but all recycleables, old bikes, non-perishable food, our sheets and pillows and sleeping bags, kitchen stuff etc. We just donated them $20 to take literally everything off our hands, most of which was going to local charities. Everyone wins.
Hope this is helpful to someone!