After Burning Man 2017

Well, that was quite an adventure!

After nine days in the desert running the theme camp “Cupcake Cafe” at Burning Man, I returned to the house exhausted but satisfied. I need to say that having excellent campmates makes it easier to run things. Here’s how everything went.

Cupcakes and Frosting

Delicious cupcakes are even more delicious in the desert!

The whole point of the the Cupcake Cafe is to provide delicious frosted cupcakes to Burning Man participants. In this we succeeded completely! From Buttercup Cakes I purchased unfrosted mini cupcakes and prefilled tubes of frosting. The mini cupcakes were kept frozen in full-size food pans, and the tubes of frosting were kept refrigerated. All we needed to do was thaw the cupcakes, warm the frosting, decorate, and serve. We served 50 cupcakes on Tuesday and then 90 cupcakes on each of the next five days from Wednesday though Sunday.

After arriving at Burning Man, I reorganized the cupcakes so that each food pan had an assortment of all cake flavors. In this way we could remove a single pan and decorate a variety of cupcakes. I also reorganized the frosting tubes to avoid using the smallest tips (I found that they did not let us apply enough frosting through their small orifices).

Since the 11 food pans that I provided naturally hold 9×5=45 mini cupcakes each, next year I’ll order exactly 11×45=495 cupcakes. Our original mix of 250/150/100 for the three flavors could be adjusted to 220/165/110 to make equal numbers of cupcakes in each of the 11 pans.

The Shade Structure

It survived, and so did we!

The new Celina 30’×30′ frame tent survived the Tuesday afternoon wind storm without damage—even while pop-up shelters of nearby camps were tossed and crumpled. During the storm, we did need to hold the unattached end of the wall fabric at the doorway to keep the wall from flapping and the wind from entering the tent. When I decided to bring a commercial frame tent to Burning Man I was a bit concerned because I’ve seen no other frame tents during past events, but the tent seemed to work well. Nonetheless, I plan on looking at a few changes:

  1. Find a better way to secure the wall-ends that make the doorway. I have nylon straps that may work for this purpose. I’ll look into using them.
  2. Secure the bottoms of the walls by running a cord through the fabric’s bottom grommets and tying the cords’ ends to the frame. I will need to weld new rings to the frame fittings.
  3. Help support the middle of the wall fabric during wind storms by creating an “X” of cord across each 8’×15′ panel, tying the ends of the cords to the new rings on the fittings.
  4. Park the truck and trailer on the west side of the tent to help block wind from the likely direction of wind storms.

Other than the Tuesday excitement, the frame tent seemed comfortable, although at the end of the week, as dust had settled on the roof, it seemed to have warmed slightly. I observed that the dome shelter of prior years also seems to warm as its fabric becomes dusted. Perhaps I’ll find a way to remove the dust from the frame tent’s roof fabric.

We separated the public and private halves of the tent using an interior fabric wall. The pipe-and-drape system that was adapted to support the wall worked well. The private side contained four tents, the shower structure, and room for costumes and ice chests.

Bike Rack

No more bikes piled in front of the camp!

The new bike rack provided storage for all of our bikes. The rack was easy to set it up and easy to tear down. However, my selection of slightly wider spacing for the bars meant that it was more likely that bikes would tilt over after being parked.

Cupcake Cafe Sign

The best LED sign on the playa!

Thanks to Victoria and Matt for creating the wonderful LED sign. Its animation was exactly right, and it survived being tossed about in the wind storm.

Hand Wash Station

Never before have I felt so clean at Burning Man!

The hand-wash station worked without troubles. Although when I first applied power to the pump, the connection between the PEX fitting and the hot-water valve of the sink leaked. It appears that I need to change the washer in that fitting.


  • Easily installed.

A 12-volt power supply provided two main sources of lighting: a 30-foot rope light along the interior wall and a 75-watt-equivalent LED spot uplight in the dining area. These lights were adequate. The 75-watt-equivalent LED spot uplight was mounted to provide illumination in the dining area, but it did not adequately illuminate the kitchen. Next year I’ll get a second LED spot uplight for the kitchen area.

We turned lights on and off by plugging and unplugging PowerPole connectors at the power supply. Next year I will create a switch panel to simplify lighting control.

Generator Controller and Sound Box

  • Complete failure.

The generator controller for the 2-kW generator did not work as expected. I ended up getting a new 3-kW generator and running it with Eco mode off. There were multiple problems:

  1. I suspect that relays switching in the generator controller caused large current surges in the electrical load. The inverter of the EU2000i generator failed as it was presented with such a changing load. Also, the combined load of the freezer and the refrigerator was exactly equal to the load capacity of the EU2000i. So the EU2000i ended up being unusable.
  2. The idea of avoiding simultaneously running the freezer and refrigerator only makes sense in steady state. A major problem arose after someone opened the freezer door. Then the freezer runs for quite a long time, starving the refrigerator of the power that it needs to maintain its temperature. I observed that the refrigerator’s temperature would rise significantly, and so I disconnected the generator controller completely.
  3. Since the new EU3000i Handi is a different shape than the EU2000i, and since the sound box had been designed for the EU2000i, we couldn’t use the sound box during the event. Also, without a sound box, the EU3000i Handi ingested more dust than it would have in a box with a snorkel. I’ll need to determine if the exhaust and cooling air of the EU3000i Handi generator can be directed through a duct, as is possible with the EU2000i, and if so, next year I’ll build a new sound box for it.

Purchasing Gasoline

  • In theory…

This year I opened an account at Burning Man’s Petrol station so that I could purchase gasoline on site. The idea was to avoid storing large quantities of fuel in camp. Unexpectedly, the gasoline line at the station was very slow, probably because they had only two pumps. Normal gasoline stations have six to ten pumps. In addition, the station was filling tanks of truck-based art cars, which can take 80 gallons of gasoline instead of merely the 14 or so gallons of automobiles. I heard that one art car waited in line for five hours! Instead of waiting through such silliness, I arrived in the morning before they opened and waited less than 30 minutes.

Purchasing Potable Water

  • Mostly a good idea.

Since a food camp needs to use a great deal of water for cleaning and sanitizing, it’s best to have water delivered to a tank on site. I brought my own 65-gallon tank and had MECO Reno fill it for $1.50 per gallon. This was mostly a good idea. A company truck showed for the initial fill on Tuesday, but they were a no-show for the scheduled refill on Friday. I needed to put the camp on water rationing until I found a potable-water truck on Saturday to fill our tank.

Next year I plan on having a larger trailer, and so I may just carry 120 gallons of potable water to the playa myself instead of relying on MECO Reno to arrive when scheduled.


  • The easiest showers to date, but could be improved.

The shower has two pumps. One provides clear water to a vegetable sprayer (which one uses as a shower nozzle), and another drains the shower pan into the sump.

I found that the vegetable sprayer worked well, but one needed to use it in quick bursts to avoid using all of one’s water quickly. Several people avoided using the clear-water pump and simply bathed with a bucket of water.

The PahaQue shower tent worked as designed, collecting waste water in its pan, but emptying the waste water was a chore. First, one needed to prime the shower-pan pump, and second one needed to manipulate the shower pan to collect water into one corner. For next year I plan on making a small elevated platform so that the pan will drain on its own.

Graywater Pump

  • No more evaporation ponds for me!

The sump pump worked well, conveying graywater from a small, plastic trash can through a garden hose and into the 65-gallon graywater tank. We ended up filling the tank with 60 gallons of graywater and also filling five-gallon buckets with an additional 10 gallons of graywater. The $1 per gallon cost of having the graywater pumped was reasonable.


Overall, this was one of the most successful camps that I’ve run, but I cannot claim sole credit. Camp members helped during camp construction and teardown, and everyone got along. Many thanks to Jordan, Lani, Mark, Matt, Mike, Rebecca, and Victoria.

I hope to return Cupcake Cafe to Burning Man in 2018.