Now Leaving Reality, Return Date Uncertain

So long to the world I live in and the life I know!

For a week or so, anyway.

Yes, I’m in Nevada, about to enter Black Rock City on the playa, for my first-ever Burning Man experience. While I’m immersed in whatever mind-blowing universe they’ve built there, I will be disconnected from “defaultia” as they call it – i.e. no Internet or phone or texting. This is due in part because BM culture expects you to do so, and in part because cell phone service is so bad there anyway.

I’ll do my best to take some photos, although excessive “recording” of the event is also frowned upon, the mantra being, “participate, don’t be a tourist.” Plus there are tons of photos from past Burns on the Internet, and I’m sure there will be another bumper crop from this year.

So, here’s a brief summary of the week leading up to my getting here:

Saturday & Sunday: Manage Zero Waste at two local races. Major time suck. No time to pack.

Monday & Tuesday: Business trip in Chicago. Got back late Tuesday. No time to pack.

Wednesday: Do some shopping for the trip, then work Zero Waste at an evening race. Can’t pack because I need my car to hold race stuff.

Thursday: More shopping. Finally attempted to pack car. Fill interior, hitch bag, and roof bag, with still more stuff to get in there somehow. Strap bulky and unwieldy camping cot to roof and hope it holds.

Burning Man 2018 - Jeep packed up

Packed up except for camping cot. At this point I was still trying to figure out where to put it.

Planned departure: 2:30 p.m. Leave driveway: 6:00 p.m. Cot flips over within a quarter mile. Go to hardware store for tie-downs and strap cot to bike rack. Leave Ann Arbor 7:30 p.m. Arrive in Iowa City for the night at 2:30 a.m. Central time.

Friday: After a few hours sleep, drive 750 miles to Cheyenne, Wyoming. There’s a lot of Iowa, and even more of Nebraska. And it feels like every mile of I-80 is under construction.

Burning Man 2018 - Fat Dogs store

Saturday: Decent night’s sleep. Random guy in hotel parking lot strikes up conversation with me. He recommends I go to the Chuckwagon in Laramie for breakfast. Go to Safeway for final shopping, drive to Laramie to fill tank, and guess what I see right off the exit:

IMG_20180825_104826

Guy next to me at the counter strikes up conversation. Turns out he’s from Michigan and now is a rancher. He was also an instructor at Wyo Tech, an auto tech institute, and now is a part owner and helping keep it going.

Burning Man 2018 - Me with Jim at Outlaw Cafe in Laramie - 2

Wyoming people are the friendliest! And their cinnamon rolls are obscene.

Continue on, stop at Delle, UT for gas. Restroom out of order. So is soda machine. Why? “Someone shot our well,” the counter guy says. Yep, I’m out West all right.

Burning Man 2018 - Cowboy Cafe - Delle UT - Art on Wall - funny

After 785 miles, arrive in Winnemucca, Nevada. Just a couple of hours to reach Fernley, then onto 447 for God knows how long a wait to get into BRC. Better sign off now. I need all the sleep I can get.

See you when I emerge from the playa!

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Done Lots of Sweating – Time to Burn!

BEEN A LITTLE WARM THIS SUMMER, hasn’t it. But it hasn’t stopped me from training. Even the VM150, with its two days of 90+ degree heat and blazing sun, was useful to me.

What for? Well, in three weeks I head to the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, for a small social gathering they call Burning Man.

Photo: Aaron Logan on Flickr, Creative Commons license.

The five-cent summary is that BM is a week-long event in the middle of the desert. A city is constructed on bare playa, 70,000 people move in, wear outlandish clothing, do outlandish stuff, burn this giant figure, and then they all go home. If you’d like to learn more (and I encourage you so to do), just Google “Burning Man” and you’ll get all the information and photos you can manage. You could start here, for example.

Photo: Steve Jurvetson on Flickr, Creative Commons license.

The following Q&A comes in part from those who already know, and in part from what I can hear in your heads as you are reading this.

Q. So, Jeff, ummm….. why?

Believe it or not, BM had never really been on my list of things to experience [1] until recently. But I’d been aware that they return the desert completely to its natural state afterward. They take Leave No Trace and zero waste principles VERY seriously. This I have to see.

Oh, and there’s a 50K there, too. Which is the main reason I’m going. [2]

Q. So, Jeff, how on earth does one prepare for a week-long stay in the middle of nowhere, be entirely self-sufficient, and stay cool, hydrated, and reasonably sane?

I’m still trying to figure that out. Fortunately, they provide a “Survival Guide” with all the essential information one needs. I’ll provide details as I finish up planning and stocking up, I promise.

Q. So, Jeff, let’s assume you really do intend to run 31 miles in the desert. How are you training for it?

Well, I’ve been running…

Cycling…

A little 70-mile jaunt up the Leelenau Trail to Suttons Bay last month.

And hitting it hard at Body Specs

It helped that I took my time recovering this year after my big race, instead of trying to rush back into full activity (like the previous two years). I’d credit greater maturity and wisdom, but really it was a sore knee that took several weeks to heal completely.

And although the heat’s been annoying, it’s helped me stay acclimated to what’s coming up. Nature has my permission to cool things off starting in September.

(To be continued – I’ll share as much as I can of my careful, meticulous planning and frantic, last-minute panicky decisions. I’ll let you guess what there will be more of.)

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[1] You’ll never catch me using the ghoulish phrase, “bucket list.” When I’m dead I won’t care what I did or didn’t see/do. I focus on experiencing life, not death. Plus I don’t like the imagery.

[2] That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Sorry, Getting Older Doesn’t Suck

Yesterday I was at the annual picnic for the tech company I work at, conversing with some folks around my age. I don’t remember what sparked it, but someone made a remark about how getting old sucks.

“I can’t think of a single good thing about getting older,” she said.

And everyone else agreed.

I said being over 50 allowed me to start my big race an hour earlier. People chuckled but no one built on that small offering, so I let the topic go. My co-workers are well aware that I do not lead the avvv-erage middle-age lifestyle, and I didn’t want it to turn into a “me vs. the rest of them” comparison. But I can’t agree with the attitude that getting older contains nothing to appreciate.

I won’t generalize here; I understand that everyone’s life experience is different, and factors like genetics, environment, and educational and work opportunities all play a role in how things turn out. So I’ll just cover a few things I personally appreciate about this point in my life (age 56) and what I can look forward to.

One is the very pleasant surprise of continued physical fitness. Since I started running races at age 47, my strength and stamina have only improved. This year I ran my longest race ever, and am on track for my most yearly miles run, too. Terrific trainers, a sensible diet, and appropriate rest have all contributed, but in the end it’s the desire to reach for new goals that keeps me out there. And that desire is as strong and motivating as ever.

Bike ride today to recover from yesterday’s long run? I’m in!

My outlook has changed, too. Little things bother me much less than they used to. Annoying people, bad drivers, certain football teams losing – I’ve learned how to let go and move on, at least most of the time. It’s really liberating.

I’ve also lived long enough to pick up on some longer cycles. Economic downturns? Social upheavals? Don’t like our current set of politicians? This, too, shall pass. (I’m not saying sit back and do nothing – absolutely be an activist for something you really believe in – but understand that time really does change everything.)

And I care a lot less about what other people think of me, or whatever crazy adventure I happen to pursue. Why? I learned that most people never thought about me much in the first place. But that’s not what’s in the mind of someone fresh out of college and looking for a job, or raising kids (oh, man, are parents sensitive or what?) or trying to get in with the latest “cool group.” (*) It takes life (i.e. time on Earth) to figure that out.

Even my wife was okay with WNBR. (But she knows what I look like naked.)

Case in point: I can go to a naked bike ride and not be the least self-conscious about it. People taking photos? So what? Good luck trying to humiliate or blackmail me. No worries about scandalizing my parents, since they’ve both passed. And my daughters? With my youngest approaching 30, it’s too late to corrupt them further. Deal with it, kiddos.

 

Now, obviously I can’t keep up my current activities forever. At some point, what I’m able to do, and what I want to do, will change. But that’s okay. As my Aikido instructors like to say, every end is also a beginning. What those beginnings will be, I have no idea.

But mystery is part of what makes life fascinating, isn’t it? And ongoing discovery and pursuit of new things is part of what makes it fulfilling. That’s what I believe makes the rest of my life worth living.

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(*) Note: groups that are actually cool – like runners – are happy to accept you as you are. At any age.

The Night of 10,000 Moons: WNBR Portland

NOTICE: This post includes photos that may be NSFW. But why would you be reading this at work? Shame on you! But be sure to read this the minute you get home.

I WUZ DARED.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Which is why I was at Cathedral Park at 9:00 p.m. last Saturday, geared up and appropriately dressed for WNBR Portland. Which stands for:

World Naked Bike Ride

Officially, the WNBR is a protest against excessive use of fossil fuels and the far too many car-bicycle accidents. Lately it’s added body positivity as a theme, and indeed I saw all ages and all body types there, naked and not ashamed.

While it contains the word, “Naked,” WNBR is actually a “Bare As You Dare” event. Riders ranged from fully clothed to underwear down to birthday suits. I saw colorful hats and costumes, and lots of decorative patterns and slogans in body paint applied by on-site volunteers.

(Click to see full gallery from KATU.)

So how bare did I dare? Well, let me put it this way. I didn’t fly all the way from Michigan to Oregon to ride in skivvies.

A quick recap of how I got here: back in 2014, I was heading to Portland to visit friends, and mentioned this to a co-worker who lives there. “Oh, are you going to do the naked bike ride?” he asked. The what? Had to go look that up!

The 2014 ride had already taken place, but I told him I was open to the idea. He seemed skeptical – a bit too much. So it was on. For the next three years I would have other commitments that weekend. But this year, all the stars lined up.

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

So what was it like?

NOTICE #2: I did not take a lot of photos of the event. It took all my attention just to keep my bike on the road and stay in the experience. But there are plenty of event photos from this year and previous years on the Internet. So I’ve heard.

In sum, it blew my mind from start to finish. There is no way I can fully describe everything I saw and heard. So here are a few things that stood out to me:

  • Walking past a bike shop near the park, its sign reading, “Open until 10:00 – Naked or Not” with several people inside already naked.
  • Feeling alone and awkward in a park full of 10,000 people. I was envious of everyone who’d come in a group. (I got over it when the ride started.)

Starting line. (And I’m up near the front.)

  • On the bike, surrounded by a visual riot of colors, motion, and bare flesh, which intensified as it got dark. Trying to take in everything around me but not focus too long on any one thing – or two 😉 – and dodging other riders doing the same.

  • Naked dancers on a bridge over the I-5 expressway, a long line of slow-moving cars passing beneath them. Both sexes participated, but frankly I think the men danced better. (One of those photo ops I wished I’d taken now.)
  • A bike towing speakers playing rock music with an odd twist. For example, a Bee Gees vocal track mixed onto AC/DC’s “Back in Black.”
  • Finishing with no idea where we were. No one knew! Finally, someone handing out after-party flyers told me. She asked how I liked the ride, and I quipped it was, ‘good training for Burning Man.” And she’d been there! I was naked, chatting casually with an equally naked woman about another event dedicated to self-expression. Surreal!

And here are a few other questions people have asked me.

  • Weren’t you uncomfortable riding like that?

A: Not at all. If you sit properly then other bits don’t get in the way.

  • What was the route?

A: It changes every year, and they keep it a secret for obvious reasons (except to the police, of course). This year we went through North Portland, mostly through residential neighborhoods, with some bars or retail here and there. We ended up at Woodlawn Park, and from there people hung out (sorry) or dispersed to the after-parties.

Just some of the action at Woodlawn Park post-ride.

  • What about traffic? Were there a lot of cars?

A:  The police covered the route and directed traffic, so most of the time we had the roads to ourselves and right of way at intersections. A few cars did make it onto our route (probably leaving their neighborhoods) but we just went around them. I don’t think they particularly minded.

  • And spectators?

A:  Yep, people turned out for much of the way, but the riders far outnumbered the spectators. I felt completely safe and even a touch superior! I’m out riding in the buff and you’re cowering in clothes on the sidewalk. Most of them just watched, but some waved and cheered (and we waved and cheered back). A couple women even returned the favor by flashing us!

Curiously, I saw entire families at the sides of the road, including kids of all ages. I guess if you want to teach them body positivity, that’s one way. It was Portland, after all.

I’d like to sign off this post with a request to all my readers: When you’re driving, please, please, please, be alert for cyclists, and SLOW DOWN and give them space when passing. I’ve ridden naked just once, but I feel naked (as in vulnerable) any time I’m on a busy road.

So please – be awake, be alert, and be sober. Or these clothes stay off.

NOTICE #3: If you were expecting any “nothing to hide” photos of me, sorry. Not that I had any taken (or would post them if I had), but they’re not yet back from the studio. I understand they’re still repairing their cameras.