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Burning Man Aftermath

Back in Austin, yipee! Ah, my clean apartment, my clean kitchen, my clean rugs, my bed, and my downstairs neighbor’s yapping dogs. I got in about 1 PM and promptly went to sleep again. I dropped off four rolls of film this afternoon, so I should be ready to start selecting and scanning in pictures tomorrow night. I didn’t take as many pictures at BM, I figured many others would have solved that problem so I concentrated on things I found interesting.

Here’s the official wrap-up. Ever hear the phrase, “The journey is the destination?” This is one of those sort of journeys. I departed Saturday morning and arrived in Phoenix very early Sunday morning. I had heard rumors that I-10 was going to be 80 MPH in Texas, it was a pleasant surprise when it turned out to be true. West Texas wasn’t as desolate as I thought it would be, there were many vehicles on the road. New Mexico and Arizona had active highways as well. I was rather impressed by the large wind farm somewhere out by Fort Stockton, there had to be hundreds of wind turbines there.

US Border Patrol was out and about all through west Texas and New Mexico. At some point I-10 was completely barricaded off, forcing everyone to go through a border patrol inspection station. I don’t know what they were looking for, they would take one look at a vehicle and just wave it through.

I reached El Paso around 3 PM. Mexico wasn’t too far away, clearly visible from the interstate. From what I could see of Juarez, it is a total shithole of a city. Acres and acres of tiny houses and mobile homes piled up on the sides of hills. I stopped at Home Depot and picked up the rest of my PVC pipe and 2x4s for the greywater pond. Interestingly, the mexican kid behind the counter at KFC was very articulate in his English, much more so than the usual g-money ebonics I’m used to here.

I rolled into Phoenix and found the first motel I could find with internet access, in the first of a couple of expensive motel choices. Had I stayed in Tuscon I would’ve had my choice of seedy motels for $29.95/night. I was researching my final shopping choices for dry ice and other supplies when I realized it would be late when I got to Reno, so I had better find the remaining few items in Las Vegas.

I bought a ridiculously huge 5′ fiberglass 5/8-wavelength CB from a truckstop. I figured out I can receive a intelligible signal 24 miles away, but that also means when I’m on a busy stretch of road I hear *everything* within 24 miles. All the truckers were dead-on with their state trooper calls, I don’t think I ran across any that were unexpected. The scanner wasn’t as useful, the in-car repeater monitoring picked up on a lot of junk, and troopers didn’t call out their positions unless they were in pursuit.

Since I couldn’t get into Burning Man until after midnight, I slept in a bit and made a few tourist stops. I didn’t know it when I did the planning, but highway 93 took me right across Hoover Dam. Leading up to the lake was some really awesome canyons and hilly roads. A few miles out from the dam the highway was diverted off to a Homeland Security checkpoint where they “searched” the bed of my truck. I concluded there were looking for people that had the capability of carrying a few thousand pounds of explosives, so had I been carrying some 55-gallon drums then they might be a little more interested. Anyways, I took pictures of the upstream side of the dam. I realized what a tourist trap the place was and didn’t feel like fighting my way through a tour. My hypothesis is that a smart person would drive up from Lake Mead in order to take pictures of the damn face itself.

Welcome to fabulous Las Vegas. Man, what a sensory overload experience. The city was really busy and I decided to go drag the strip to see what it was all about. There’s so many things to see and people everywhere, even at noon; I can vaguely imagine what it must be like at night. I abandoned my plans for stocking up on dry ice when I realized my coolers had been baking in the 90+ F heat all day long and it would take extra ice to stabilize them.

I took 93 out of Vegas, following the western Nevada border. Looking at the GPS, I saw that Badwater was only 40 miles out of my way. Badwater, Death Valley, California is the lowest point in North America at -280 feet below sea level. Most special to me is the fact it that it’s where the Badwater Ultramarathon starts. It ends up 135 miles away at the trailhead of Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiental US.

I think Badwater is the most middle of nowhere you can get. I want to go back out there and stay a while. It’s like, find the small town, hang a left, drive to the Furnace Creek Inn that you didn’t expect to be there, go 12 more miles into the valley. Every few miles there’s roads running off into the mountains for things like natural bridges, offroading passes and the Devil’s Golf Course which is a big salt plain. The surrounding mountains and hills are very colorful, with some rich brown, red and tan rocks.

It’s dead quiet at Badwater. With all my radios off all I could hear was road noise. At 5 PM it was 115 F degrees with no wind and very little humidity (making the heat index well over 125 F). The air felt so heavy to breathe and began to sting my nose a bit like I had inhaled chili powder. Eventually I got a nosebleed from it. I can barely imagine what it’s like to run a ultramarathon there. I took obligitory pictures of the signs and wandered out to the salt plains for a bit. There was a decent amount of visitors out there. High up on the cliff face is a sign that reads ‘-SEA LEVEL-‘.

Driving west out of the valley I ran across the “town” of Furnace Creek. I like these places where you think “who would possibly want to live out there” then poof there’s a settlement with at least a casino and gas station. Petrol was a lovely $3.77 per gallon. After Furnace Creek I didn’t see another soul on the road for 40-50 miles. I was fully expecting bandits to have the road blocked off somewhere feigning trouble so they could loot my gasoline.

It was nearing midnight and I had all the supplies I really needed so I passed up Reno. I stocked up on ice at Fallon, thinking that the stores on the interstate before Gerlach would be running low (they weren’t). I met some cranky and bitter clerk at the Chevron station who was upset from dealing with burners all night long. Apparently somebody had tried to pay for gas with a department store credit card, and another just threw their pump nozzle on the ground after fueling stopped.

Onward to Gerlach! There were 77 or so miles between the interstate and Gerlach. I could see the lights of clumps of vehicles stretching out into the distance. The clumping was annoying; there would be a totally overloaded Toyota truck or RV going 45 miles per hour and a chain of 7-10 vehicles stuck behind them because there was no place to pass. Nothing else new this year; you could still buy indian tacos on the side of the road, Nixon police were busy stopping speeders.

The city was “shifted” a mile or two from its usual location, requring a longer drive out on the playa. My truck was searched yet again, this time by the angry bitter ticket people looking for any un-ticketed passengers I might be smuggling in under my back seat, in my toolbox, or among all my crates in the back.

I made it in and headed up to 3:00 & Hope to look for the others. A large number of people had already made it in. Later I’d find out from crazy DPW guy that a few thousand people showed up way early, Nevada State Police and BLM decided the highways couldn’t handle the gridlock and forced to let them into the event early. After circling around a few times I found Steve, but no Alex & Victoria. It was sort of a problem if either one of us didn’t show up; I had the sledge hammers for driving in rebar for shade structures, Alex & Victoria had my tent. An hour or so later they showed up and all was well. We moved down to 5:00 & Hope because some big sound installation was already going up not far from our intended site.

By now the sun had started to rise and we all started working on our respective homes for the coming week. The vise on the truck was invaluable, we all used it heavily to cut and bend rebar anchors. Despite the fact that I somewhat carefully designed my monkey hut and partially assembled it at home, it was immediately obvious it was going to cause me trouble. I had built it with the side facing the wind instead of allowing the wind to blow through it. The sides kept blowing inward and I had to sink more rebar to keep it tied down. Gluing the joints together with PVC cement and pulling my truck along side helped somewhat. I will definately not be using that style next year; I’ll either go all out and build a yurt or buy a Costco carport. In any case, at the end of the day it did keep my tent out of the direct sun.

Monday was particularly hot and windy. There were constant dust storms all throughout the day, so we basically wound up sitting around drinking, talking, sleeping, and adjusting to the desert. We wandered around a bit at night, there was a decent amount of life for being a Monday.

The solar panels I brought were performing beautifully. I had bought the heaviest deep-cycle marine battery I could find (more lead is a good thing). Since it’s the desert with nothing around for 10 miles, you easily get at least 8-10 hours of direct sun to generate power with. By mid-morning Tuesday the battery was completely topped off and I actually had to rig up some lights to burn off excess juice to keep the cheap-o charge controller happy. A sane controller would just stop charging the batteries, but this one decided to buzz in alarm all the time which was rather annoying. Running fans inside tents is a great thing to have, it makes for enjoyable afternoon naps. I was surprised at how much light the little 5 W 12 volt lamps put off. I didn’t buy a larger inverter, because I didn’t have anything I really needed AC for. Now to find what other 12 volt gizmos I can rig up. A 12 V vacuum cleaner for the desert from Love’s anyone?

I don’t remember much about Tuesday; it was hot and windy too.

By Wednesday, people cooking bacon for breakfast was smelling pretty damn good. I was yearning for some more interesting food, and my somewhat-interesting food wasn’t going to last the week. I briefly toyed with going to Gerlach to see what could be found there. Fortunate for me, Alex was working on the Land Rover and decided he needed a new water pump. This required driving into Reno, staying the night to wait for the parts department of a Rover dealership to open. I jumped at the opportunity to venture out, off we went. Thank you BMORG for charging each of us $20 to leave.

Being at Burning Man makes you appreciate the things you take for granted in life. Color (by the end of the week everything is tan), scents (smell is the first thing to go), air conditioning, motel rooms, flush toilets, running water, cute clean girls at Olive Garden, heaping mounds of pasta at said Olive Garden.

While at Harbor Freight looking for rope, I saw they had my solar kit for $50 less on sale !@#!@! Went to Wal-Mart, bought a new cooler and stocked up on fresh cut steaks. I made a mention of “Should we go buy more rebar? Ha ha what would we need that for?” Time would tell me the answer.

We got the water pump and headed back to the desert. When we returned, my shade structure was in pieces. Apparently we had missed the mother of all dust storms from the north on Wednesday. Steve and Kirsten taking down my shade was the only way it could be saved, it had popped out all of my rebar stakes. While Alex worked on replacing his water pump, I worked on rebuilding my home. I brought out my spare tarps, making for a smaller surface area and re-bending some 1/2″ rebar stakes for the tarps. Then sewed it all to the PVC frame with rope. Sucker going nowhere was the plan.

Apparently I carry nearly all the tools necessary to change a water pump in the middle of nowhere. Alex had to manufacture a few breaker bars, but a few hours later it was complete.

Thursday night we ventured back out to the playa. The big dust storm was part of a cold front as it had cooled off considerably during the night. There was now the awesome flame cannon setup, which consisted of the 10-12 computer controlled propane tank cannons shooting fireballs into the air. I’m positively convinced I want to build a cannon orchestra now. If anything it would be a spectacular way to blow myself up. There was also now a serpent-skeleton thing too with fire coming out of its backbone. Dr. Megavolt was there too with his twin Tessla coils putting on a show. Of course it’s pointless for me to try describing all of this. Pictures should be up soon.

Friday evening we lit up the poi and spun for a while. Curse not having practiced in a while! At BM you tend to attract a bit of an audience. We coaxed one of our neighbors out to practice with us, who caught on quickly; she then spun fire that night for the first time, whee!

The Department of Public Works (DPW) folks are the ones behind the scene at Burning Man who are building out the infrastructure for the city. They’re all a little loony. We had one guy camp a few spots over who would drop by every now and then. He had first solicited our help in setting up his shade, he said he had been living out of the back of his Surburban for the past 37 days. I guess if you’ve been out there for a month, you’d be a bit “off” too. I asked how long people tend to stay out there after the event was over, he said normally another 30-40 days but he was leaving early because he couldn’t stand it anymore.

Saturday I wandered around for the last time. There was great deal more people that had just came in over Thursday and Friday. I got voted “not hot” by a bunch of college kids (“khaki is so last year”) sitting out on their tailgate. Even though I cheated Wednesday night, you tend to sneer and cop an attitude about people who show up late in the week and judge them by how clean their vehicles/clothes/bikes are. You also start screaming “slow down” and “get off my lawn” at people driving around too.

We watched the Man burn from a distance back at camp. I was sort of indifferent of walking all the way out to watch, when I could sit there and still see it all while eating steak I had grilled.

At daylight Sunday morning I got up and broke camp. There was a steady stream of folks already leaving, but there was no exodus congestion yet. First thing I did was went to Love’s on the interstate and took a long hot shower. Then I went to Reno and found pizza. Best damn pizza ever, even if it was from Pizza Hut.

This is where the return roadtrip started. Somewhere between Reno and Sacramento I had to stop and sleep for a bit, I was getting very drowsy while driving since I didn’t sleep well. I was unprepared for the amount of mountain driving that took place on I-80, but it made the scenery worthwhile. I had intended to drive over to San Francisco just so I could take a picture of my truck with the Golden Gate bridge from the Marin county side. When I saw the amount of traffic at Sac, I figured it had to be way worse in the city and just headed south.

I made it to Los Angeles at 8:30 PM and there was bumper to bumper traffic (imagine that). I had some friends in LA that I would’ve liked to visit, but I didn’t give them any warning and I was running out of time. At least I can say I’ve been there now. I think I’d like to go back sometime soon and visit.

So three days later, here I am back home in Austin. My pristine apartment has been overrun by clothes and gear strown everywhere sorted into “clean” and “dirty” piles. There’s a river of dried playa dust running down my driveway from where I was washing stuff off in the back of the truck. Once again I was coated in dust from cleaning my stuff and doing laundry.

I must say that 60+ hours in a vehicle alone gives a person a great deal of time to think about things and life. I still don’t have all the answers, but it makes me consider what exactly it is I’m doing here.

I’m still on Pacific time, so it feels way early; I’m sure that’ll hurt in the morning. I’m undecided if I’m sad about returning to the workplace tomorrow or if I should be glad I’m not driving anymore.

Burning Man needs less RVs and more mortar attacks. In the movie Vertical Limit, there’s a scene where a Pakastani soldier says “Well, 3 o’clock, time to wake up the Indians”, followed by artillery fire. It would be awesome to shoot tennis balls or something across the city to “wake up the 3 o’clock arm”.

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