I have to say from the start that this Burning Man was definitely not my best. I arrived physically and emotionally tired from my default life. A rapidly worsening knee problem followed me to the playa. My bike arrived with a flat back tire. A sense of disengagement dogged me throughout the week. My crowd fear kicked in. I felt lonely, which I don’t usually have a problem with.
This happens. Not every year can be a great year. Last year I was bursting with energy. This year I had none. I did have some fun. Met some nice people. Saw some cool stuff. But I will tend to think of this year as the year of unfulfilled promise. You always miss things at Burning Man. I just missed more than usual.
The week started with some logistical craziness. I always arrive early Tuesday morning, right at sunrise, after spending the night in Susanville. On Monday, before I left, I was glued to the webcast, watching a deserted playa, damp and puddled. It was obvious that the Gate was closed.
As I pondered how that might affect my Tuesday morning arrival, my husband called to inform me that my route over Highway 299 was compromised at Weaverville, with a fire that had already closed the road once and was threatening to do so again. At the very least, I would likely find myself in backed-up controlled traffic, breathing heavy smoke. At the worst, I would get turned around. After some quick checking, I decided to take a huge detour. Instead of driving directly east to Redding and Susanville, I drove north to Oregon, then east and back south again, until I connected with Highway 89 by Mount Shasta.
My detour added an extra 3 1/2 hours to my driving day, but once I got off the I-5 segment at Mount Shasta, it was clear sailing with beautiful scenery and nice weather.
I stopped to sniff the pine trees before continuing on to Susanville. The manager of my favorite motel in Susanville, The River Inn, gave me an extra detour-to-Oregon discount that beat my AAA discount. Was that cool or what?
After getting my room, I went out for pizza and beer. Got the WORST service ever in a place not known for good service. sigh. Took my leftovers back to the room (food for the next day or so), had a beer, watched a little television, tried to find news about the gate closure, called my best friend and had her look stuff up, and finally called my husband for a final logistics powwow about the closure. We decided that whatever I saw when I got to Highway 447 in the morning would determine my subsequent decisions. Good enough. Time for bed. I set up a 3:15 a.m. wake-up call to back up my 2;45 wake up time and went to bed.
No problem getting up in the morning, and I even puttered around a bit to wait for the wake-up call at 3:15, because I didn’t want to bother cancelling it, and I wanted to force myself to wait for that gate opening. I drank a couple of cans of iced coffee and headed out for my super secret spooky desert route, aka the Wendell cutoff, Sand Pass road, Surprise Valley road, and Smoke Creek road.
Most of my drive was in the dark. I drove slowly, as usual, and I noticed that I was a bit heavy in the rear. No major biggie. The truck still handled fine on the gravel curves. I watched the sky lighten as I made the bend to the east and began to approach Highway 447. As I rolled to a stop, an obvious burner came into sight from my left, coming south on 447. Yay! Road open, let’s roll!
I pulled onto the highway after the vehicle passed, and I cruised the last 7 miles to the turn. As I took the shortcut turn at the refuse transfer station, sunrise began over the mountains to the east. Traffic was light, and spaced nicely as I drove the final few miles to the turn off-pavement. The recent rain made the slow cruise to the Gate a dust-free cruise.
The census people wanted to know why everybody was following each other in one lane. I said because there weren’t very many of us and we were spacey and following taillights. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.
The census, Gate, and Greeters all went quickly, and I was at my campsite less than a half hour past my original pre-closure timeframe. The weather was perfect, my spot was open, and I was ready to set up my home. Home is important to me, because I’m a major introvert. Burning Man can be hard on us introverts, so we need a refuge. I put a lot of effort into my refuge.
I got my tent up quickly, and, thanks to the glory of bungee balls (omg, my first year with these sweeties), my shade structure went up with amazing speed. I didn’t even need help this time. How strange. Of all things that went completely right, my strung together, catawampus shade structure went up like it had a blueprint or something. Imagine that. It pays to review your previous year’s structure and make changes. And bungee balls are definitely my BFF’s.
I was glad for the success of the shade structure and accompanying patio floor, because the flat back tire on my bike was a major disappointment. That meant I would have to walk to town (I camp at 5:20 and K). With my bad knee, that was bad news. Whatever. I did it anyway. Hobbled all the way to Center camp and the Man. Wandered the Souk, which I loved and wish I had spent more time at. Ultimately, the Russian Library caught my attention. That’s foreshadowing.
This charming zebracorn provided me with unexpected entertainment. I was so entranced that I forgot to pull out my camera. As I was walking away from the Man perimeter, 4 people approached from the opposite direction. They spotted the zebracorn and were instantly captivated. One of the women ran over and climbed aboard. She turned it on and began driving in circles. I was laughing and staring over toward the Souk, wondering if a frantic zebracorn driver would come pelting out. Then the woman’s friends joined in. Another climbed aboard with the first. They did a few spins and whoops. They climbed down and let their other friend on. More circles and whoops. I was walking backwards, watching their fun. No frantic zebracorn driver. The group tired of their ride and moved on.
When I limped my way back home after visits to the cafe, post office, and other landmarks, I discovered that I had a tiny blister from not wearing socks with my crocs. Are you kidding? I haven’t had a blister in 20 fucking years. Oh well. Lots of moleskin. May as well use it before it rots.
Later in the day, I took my bike for a walk, tracking down one of the bike repair shops I had read about at Playa Info. The one I was really looking for wasn’t on the list, but as I walked to the address of the listed one, I encountered the one I really wanted: Elliott’s Bicycle Repair and Tap Room. Oh yeah. But it was closed for the day. Damn. Shit. I noted the open hours for the following day and limped on to the other repair shop. They were also closed, as best I could tell, and seemed to be mostly self-serve.
I had brought most of my own bicycle repair stuff, but not having had a regular bike for many years, I wasn’t comfortable dealing with the weird gear changer on my back wheel (and it turned out that the “tool kit” my husband had in his truck, compared to MY tool kit I usually carried, was missing anything that could loosen my back wheel bolts). So I slowly limped home, saying a second hello to the two guys in the shade of that RV around4:30 and J (Saying hello to them became a habit).
Having used up my leg power and knee, I spent the evening on my marvelous patio, drinking beer. And didn’t notice yet that I wasn’t very hungry (I based my food supply on my previous year’s consumption).
Due to overworking my knee during the day, I didn’t go out wandering on Tuesday night.
I headed slowly to Center Cafe for coffee. Early morning at the cafe is my favorite time. It is quiet. Many people sleeping here and there. Some strange thing happening on the main stage, with an audience of sleeping people.
After taking some pictures of the quiet cafe and sleeping people, I discovered that I had forgotten to bring money for coffee. Damn it! It’s not like I didn’t have plenty of cans of iced coffee back at camp, but I was in the mood to sip a hot cup while watching the morning blossom on the playa. Oh well. I hobbled my way back home and spent the morning adding decorative touches to my patio.
When it was about time to head over to Elliott’s Bike Repair, my nice neighbors informed me that one of them had a flat tire, and wanted to know if they could tag along. So we all trudged the few blocks to the repair shop, pushing our bikes. We got there right at the start of the repair hours, so we were close to the head of the fix-it line. Elliott started working on my bike, after eying my strange gear changer for a minute. He said my tube may have exploded when I went to higher elevation. It was the original tube, so I wasn’t surprised. I had a spare, and Elliott had me up and running in no time. In the meantime, his friend was hosting the Tap Room portion of the operation, and we sipped beer in the shade while waiting for my neighbor’s bike to be fixed. He had the wrong tube, so he donated that in exchange for the right one.
I met a very nice young man while I was waiting (and SO cute, omg). He was friendly and sweet, and had a gorgeous smile (stop that, you dirty old lady). We chatted while our stuff was being fixed, and later in the day I happened to stop at a camp for margaritas, realized I had forgotten my ID, and was asking if I looked old enough (I most definitely do). That’s when I discovered that one of the bartenders was the cute guy I had met earlier. He said he knew me and I got my margarita. When I left I got a hug too.
I spent the rest of the day exploring the streets in my part of town, dancing to drums on one street (ouch), watching a zipline on another street, having that margarita, saying hi to those guys in the RV shade, dropping off a postcard at the post office (and donating some stamps and post cards), visiting with my neighbors, and drinking beer. In the early evening, I spent an hour at a meet and greet, but I didn’t feel that comfortable with the people there so I headed on home, strung my LED xmas lights, drank a beer, and went to bed.
The next day dawned bright and beautiful, so I headed out on the playa. The blasted Embrace thing was creeping me out from a distance, so I rode over to see if it was less creepy close up. Not. I DID NOT like this piece of art. It was like some creepy aliens pushing out of the dirt to breed. It invoked no positive response in me at all.
I found this cabinet out there, so I put my Paul Revere doll in front of it. The cabinet appeared to be some sort of “cabinet of curiosities” idea, but it was poorly executed. Just a tape recorder playing a woman telling a story. This concept was neat, but whoever did it did not put much thought and effort into it. I was disappointed.
My knee was hurting, so I spent most of the rest of the day hanging out on my patio. I wandered far enough to meet some neighbors across the street, down the street, and behind me. We had a very nice little neighborhood going. Everybody exchanged some gifts and background. I made bloody marys with bacon for myself and my neighbor, John.
I headed back downtown on my bike after dark to see the Core burn. My knee immediately started hurting, so I parked myself not far off the Esplanade, with my bike lights for visibility. I opened a beer and watched the night life around me.
I hadn’t been paying attention as I watched the lights moving to and fro, so I was rather startled when the giant fireball erupted. If I wasn’t such a space case this year, the fireworks would have warned me. But no, I was just sitting there thinking, “ooh, pretty!”
At that point, completely frustrated with my knee, I decided to head back to camp. I got the pleasure of waiting and waving while a DPW parade went by.
Friday, of course, was the day of wind. There’s always at least one of those. My neighbors had signed up for an art tour, so off they went. They came back a bit disappointed in their “whiteout” tour. Typical day in Black Rock City.
I spent the morning on my patio, trying to decide what to do. The wind blew. The dust flew. People pedaled by with dust masks on (I had bandannas, dust masks, and a respirator. It was my knee, not my lungs, keeping me off the streets). I got as far in my decision making as deciding that IF I stayed, I would need a book, because it was going to be a long weekend of sitting if I didn’t have something to read. I still hadn’t made a final decision about whether to stay or go. And I kicked myself for not having brought a book (who the hell has time to read at Burning Man?). I set out for a short ride downtown in search of reading material. I had already read the latest edition of the paper. The other paper, The Beacon, could not be found by me. After finding nothing around Center Camp, I decided to try the Russian Library out at the souk. It took some browsing, since most of the books were in Russian, but I finally found some young adult fiction by what looked like a Russian author.
I stopped at Arctica for ice before I left downtown, and then headed back to my camp to sulk mostly. The wind howled through the day, as I drank beer with my back to it. I read a little, but mostly thought about my options. I finally decided that, lacking anything stronger than tylenol and beer for my screaming knee, I was going to have to leave. Sigh. So much I hadn’t seen yet. Goddamn it!
One tip that a desert rat like me should know. If you are going to spend the day with your back to the wind, you should turn around once in a while and check your load-bearing poles. Unfortunately, I didn’t do that. Right around sunset, the wind was getting gusty and squirrely. The neighbors behind me had been gone all afternoon, and their stuff was starting to get blown around.
They apparently came back to their camp about that time, but I had ducked into my tent to get something. Suddenly I heard chaos outside. The wind had picked up and gone crazy for a minute. I stepped back out of my tent (I swear I was in there for less than 2 minutes) and found that my neighbors had “tped” my shade structure. They were running around chasing rolls of tp and paper towels, tubs and bins were blowing around, the other neighbors were grabbing loose items, tp was flapping all over the side of my patio, and then suddenly, in the last big gust, the one most load-bearing pole in my structure suddenly bent in half. Oh great. Why did I put the cheap pole on that corner, knowing that was the direction the wind came from most of the time?
Because the wind was still blowing hard, I immediately dropped my other poles and shoved my shade structure off to the side of my patio. If I had been staying, it would be an easy fix in the morning with no wind. I had spare poles. But I had already decided to go, so after another beer, my neighbors helped me pull up some of the stakes and fold up the shade cloth. That was nice, since it is hard to fold large objects in the wind.
When I told my neighbors that I was giving up because of my knee, they were sad (they were awesome neighbors and were having a ball), and they offered to help take down more stuff. I told them to get the hell out into the city and have fun, because I had all evening to organize and pack.
A major part of my decision to leave included the decision to not go straight home. I was going to go find a quiet campground somewhere (Lassen Plateau) and spend the rest of my Burning Man week sitting under the pine trees (Pine Cone Man), with a restroom 200 feet away instead of 2 1/2 blocks. With this pleasant thought in mind, I spent the evening packing. I left the tent up and went to bed.
I got up early and packed up my tent, anxious to start a new phase of my vacation. I bid a fond farewell to my crazy city in the desert, and then I headed on out the Gate Road.
One of my final turns before Susanville. In Susanville, I had some breakfast and then bought a book at the grocery store. Then I headed up to the Lassen Plateau to look for camping. The first place I tried had run out of water, so there were just a couple of creepy guys camping. Nope. I headed for another spot I had been many years before, but the road I was on was being repaved and the workers had removed ALL the signs for the roads connecting to it. There was supposed to be a road about 4 miles down the main road, but I was just cruising along enjoying the morning when I realized that I had definitely gone more than 4 miles. I turned around, checked my map, checked a few side roads, and finally found the one I was looking for. Sort of. I actually ended up at a different lake just over the hill from the one I was looking for (who the hell put in all of those dirt roads back there?) Little campground. Hardly any people. Quiet. Pine trees. Okay, I’m home.
Aside from the fact that I love camping in pine trees at least as much as I love camping in the desert, this second phase of my trip had one major unexpected benefit. I took everything out of my truck, cleaned all the playa dust out of and off my truck, hung all my shadecloth and wall hangings for two days, organized everything, and put it back in the truck all clean and folded. THAT was awesome. It made arriving at home SO much nicer. And I had plenty of time. I stayed 2 1/2 days, reading and puttering.
Using the nightscene setting on my camera, I discovered that I could create my own Pine Cone Man light show by waving the camera around while pointing it at the colored lights on my tent. I’m sure I looked pretty silly in the early morning dark, waving my camera and giggling.
I took one last look around at my Pine Cone Man camp before heading home.