Friday, September 19, 2014

Burning Man 2014 - The Drive Up

Everyone loves to look at pictures of the drive up to Burning Man!  


What? Just get to the pics of the art and the spectacle of this amazing festival and skip all the boring desert landscapes and interior car shots? Never! 

For therein lies a tale, a saga, an epic adventure worth the retelling.

Desert and mountains alongside the 395 freeway

My original plan had been to ride along with another burner, so as to spare my own car the wear-and-tear.  In my quest for a traveling companion, I screened about 15 or more parties, and the one I chose dropped out. Then, a contact through the local burners group on Yahoo yielded a potential ride, but he ended up being a little too shaky and tentative for me.  Then I heard of someone else from that network who was driving up in an RV and was looking for passengers to share gas expenses.  I was picturing something like my ride from last year, which was a nice solid RV with a 27 foot trailer big enough for all my gear, which is no small amount of camp gear.  Unfortunately, this one turned out to be a rather rickety vehicle, and the trailer was tiny, only big enough for the bikes that were already in it.  The plan to ride along was shot, as my car was overstuffed with gear and it could never fit.  So, I was down to my last resort, driving my own car up myself.  Incidentally, this ended up being a better choice, as that particular RV broke down several times on the way and coming back.

I, the free radical, in my packed Honda Accord, driving.

So I left early afternoon on Sunday.  My car had a few issues on the way: the speedometer gave out, then the cruise control, and the engine was straining a bit to get up the hills. But I made it, driving through the night, to reach Gerlach in the early morning.

500 or so miles of relatively-featureless desert? Yeah, we got that!

From the road, as I approached the tiny town of Gerlach, the last stop before Burning Man, I could see lightning striking the area ahead, and sheets of rain that looked like it was over the playa.  This did not look promising.  In Gerlach, I was informed that the entry gate to Burning Man was closed due to the rain mucking up the roads, and people were being turned back.  I was advised to stay in Gerlach, while the playa was drying out.  I did for about an hour, napping in my car as a light sprinkle fell.  Upon waking, I noticed that I was the only one who'd stopped in Gerlach, and all the other cars were going on ahead, so I determined to do likewise, and got back on the road.  I was heading for a closed gate, but at least I'd be in line to get in, I thought.

Gerlach, Nevada. Thunderstorm over the playa, to the left. 

This turned out to be the right move, as I had soon claimed a place in the long line of vehicles waiting to get in, once the gate opened.  There was some trepidation, and disappointment, as it appeared I would miss a day on the playa, and lose valuable set-up time.  Also, I would likely miss the event I was running that evening, Laughter Yoga.

My car, loaded with gear, on the side of the road, waiting.

However, having driven all night, I had no problem with stopping for awhile, and set up a nice bed on the side of the road, with a canvas drop cloth, some old sofa cushions, pillows, and an umbrella for the sun.  I had a lovely nap stretched out on this comfy makeshift bed.

The line, facing towards the gate.  So close, yet so far!

The line of cars naturally included many colorful characters, large and small groups of burners with all different styles, from young hipster ravers, to older moms with kids.  There was some communing of the various burners in line, but mostly an anxiety and eagerness to move forward hung over all.  Some of my fellow travelers pulled their bikes out and rode up and down the line, perhaps looking for friends, or the party scene.  Near me, a large RV played music and sounds of drunken people wafted down the road. The police were ever-present in all this, and began announcing over their PA's that we would all be turned around, and sent back up the road, back to Reno, some seventy miles back the way we came.  At the time, all of the cars were parked on the highway, and blocking traffic. The police had a legitimate beef with this arrangement. But not many people seemed to be going along with the going-back-to-Reno plan; it was frankly ridiculous.  True, Gerlach and Empire were towns too small and sleepy to handle a few thousand vehicles parking there, so Reno was the only choice.  But most of us knew to stay in place, since we were this close to the playa, and determined to move only forward.  A few vehicles were ordered directly by police to turn around and drive away, up the road, so they naturally did.  Whether they simply drove out of sight, and got back in line, we'll never know, but I know I would've done so.  So the cops pushed, and yelled for us to turn around; this was mostly happening about a quarter mile up the road from me, so I was safe for the moment.  There was much push-back, and no doubt some legal wrangling from some law-savvy burners, and a compromise was reached, that all cars that wanted to remain in line would pull off the road and wait off the road, so as to allow traffic through.  Some vehicles seemed content to go back, perhaps because the radio was announcing that the gate would likely be closed until noon the next day, and we'd be stuck outside the gate all night.  I and many others were more than happy to camp all night and into the next day.  I had all my gear with me for a comfortable night, and was dead-set against driving back to Reno. Also, I highly doubted that they would keep us outside the gate all night.  The event staff would want to get the gate running as soon as possible, as they had tens of thousands of vehicles to process and couldn't afford to delay any longer than absolutely necessary.

The way back to Gerlach and Reno.  My fellow burners waiting in line along the side of the 447.

The police also tried desperately to keep burners in their vehicles, and, principally, off the road, whether on bike or on foot.  It was truly a safety hazard for them, and a delay and hazard to the many safety and law enforcement vehicles that had to traverse the road. Of course, the exuberant burners wanted nothing more than to use the road as bike-path, foot-path and dance floor.

The sunset hitting the clouds over the mountains.

I was calm through all this, taking it all in stride.  Sure, I wanted to be in the event, but I knew I eventually would be, and there was no sense rushing onto the playa while it was wet, since the wet ground turns to peanut butter and gums up any vehicle's tires and wheel wells.  I just rested, listened to BMIR, the burning man info radio, and ate my snacks.   

The clouds at "golden hour"

Also, wandering off the road to relieve myself, I was able to get a closer look at this landscape which I'd only ever zoomed past before.  Despite being a desert, it was vibrant, alive.  The plants were all adapted for this climate and there were numerous holes in the ground that must have housed rodents, snakes, scorpions, and other creatures that thrived in this environment and provided prey for the hawks and buzzards overhead.  The sky was gorgeous when the sun went down behind the hills.

Black Rock Canyon sunset

Eventually, at about 7:30, we got the word down the line that the gate was being reopened and the line would be moving.  Sure enough, after not much longer we slowly turned back onto the road and got in line for the gate.  Now I was in for more waiting, in the massive line for the entry gate, but that ended up taking a mere two hours, putting me in my camp roughly around 10:30pm, safe and sound, and happy as a clam.

Gently-sloping foothills around BRC

What a journey! Many have expressed sympathy for my being stuck for 12 hours along the side of the highway, and having missed half a day of burning man.  But I have no regrets, no complaints; it all went perfectly according to plan.  Of course, no one could predict that a thunderstorm would pour all over the playa, locking up traffic, but all were prepared for just such an occurrence, or should have been.  Mostly, my late arrival was due to poor planning on my part, and I hope to do better next year, if I am lucky enough to return next year.  

Now on to My Burning Man 2014 Adventure! (next post...)

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