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