Entering Black Rock City: The Way In to Way Out

It took me four days driving across the country to get to Black Rock City, home of Burning Man. And nearly the same amount of time to get in.

Well, maybe a bit less.

The drive up Highway 447 from Fernley, Nevada was mainly empty and uneventful, except for a few enclaves that provided evidence of what lay further up ahead.

Just one of many WTF moments on Highway 447.

Fake fur is some kind of big deal on the playa. Masks, sunglasses, pasties and tutus, of course, are essential gear.

What surprised me were the number of various and sundry signs all pleading a need for tickets. Really? You came all this way hoping someone would just happen to have an extra $425.00 ticket? People are amazing.

I arrived on the playa around 1:00 p.m. on August 26. As I passed the volunteers waving cars ahead, my nav app told me to “continue for five miles.” I thought it was nuts. How deep into the desert could BRC really be?

About five miles, actually. And the dust was blowing. Bad enough that they had to close the Gate for a few hours.

So what does one do facing a wait of several hours in a dust storm?

Read. Snack on popcorn. Get out and stretch. People watch. Wonder why every line is moving but yours. And every now and then, put car in gear and roll forward fifty yards or so. But everyone else is cool about it. People even got out and danced. And yes, apparently clothing was already optional.

Note the “Need Tickets” sign on the RV. If they don’t have a ticket for everyone, the entire vehicle will be turned away. Wow.

At 9:30 p.m. I finally approached the long-awaited, semi-mythical Gate, which is just wooden booths with waiting volunteers. One of them checked my ticket, and after a lame, “this looks fake” joke, waved me through. At last, I could enter the City and find somewhere to camp!

Well, not just yet. A mile or so ahead was the “greeter” stations, where I spent close to another hour in line. Once there, I received a “Welcome home!” and hug from another volunteer, and as a Burner Virgin, had to ring the “first timer” bell and create an obligatory dust angel. Then I asked where I should go next.

“Oh, I don’t know,” he said helpfully. “There’s probably more space on the 3:00 side, so you can try that. That’s over to your right.”

Uh-huh. It’s dark, I’m tired and hungry, and I have no freaking idea where I’m going. I drive off slowly and decide to follow a car ahead of me off to the right. Slowly shapes appear – tents and camps lined along curving roads. I drive around for awhile, not sure what I’m looking for, but eventually see empty space next to a large camp. The folks there tell me I’m good.

So I unpack and begin to lay out the car shelter that will protect my tent and other stuff from wind and dust. Out of nowhere, a City Marshall appears and gives me a hug, then tells me this space is reserved for campers arriving tomorrow.

Frustrating for sure, but how can you get mad at someone who’s just hugged you? So I patiently explain that I’m new here, and clueless, and the camp next door said this was free space. He looks around a bit and says okay, but asks me to make sure no one else takes the rest of it. Deal! I get back to work, and despite never having put up the shelter by myself, all goes smoothly, and I set up my sleeping tent and cot inside.

It’s well after midnight but I’m not ready for bed and the City never sleeps, so off into the lights and noise I go. I’m very close to a tall lighted sculpture that makes a terrific landmark, so no fear of getting lost.

This would turn out to be, “Camp IllumiNaughty” and get as loud audibly as visually.

This is the BRC idea of whimsy.

After walking for maybe 30 minutes I’m ready to turn in. I’m here for a week, after all. No sense in trying to cram everything in at once. The dust storm has subsided, it’s a clear, cool night, and I sleep well.

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Up next: My first full day in the City, how I got my “playa name,” and more!

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Reality Calls: Back from Black Rock City

I’m back!

Actually, I’ve been back for a while now.

Nearly a month, in fact.

I know what you’re thinking.

Where have you been? I hear you all asking. What have you been doing? Why haven’t you written?

I could make some lame excuse about being continually busy working big races, unpacking and cleaning up, catching up on very important business paperwork, dealing with issues at my office job, recovering from an illness, and getting in some running.

So that’s what I’ll go with.

The good news is that I’m loaded with stories about what happened at Black Rock City. And while there’s no way I can fully describe what it’s like to be among 70,000 generous, hard-partying, free-expressing people, I can share the highlights from this one guy’s point of view. Stories to start very soon – watch this space!

For now, I can tell you what it was like to emerge from the fantasy bubble of BRC with its gifting economy, no responsibilities, unbelievable art, and people of all sizes, shapes, and clothing options, back to the “default world” where money, deadlines, and personal agendas are inescapably embedded into our lives.

It wasn’t that bad.

First, I had time. I avoided the shock of leaving BRC, hopping on a plane, and being back home in one day. By driving across the country over several days, I could ease back into real life and spend some serious time reflecting on the experience. And you know, Party Town is fun for a short time but I don’t see it as a long-term lifestyle. The faults and challenges of the real world, and dealing with and overcoming them, is part of what makes life fulfilling for me.

That said, there are some practices and principles of Burning Man that are well worth carrying over into daily life, at least to some degree. What are those? Stay tuned – I will be sure to tell you!

Here’s a little taste of what’s to come.

As always, thanks for reading. See you again soon!

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!

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.