Monday, September 13, 2004

Burning Man 2004 1: Driving and Arrival

I'm skipping BM 2001 and 2002 for various reasons. I'm also going to skip out on a lot of stuff that happened before the event, including a lot of driving, because it's kind of dull.

I was supposed to leave here Friday morning, which would have put me in Black Rock City sometime early Saturday night, which was good. As usual, it didn't work out that way.

I decided, since I was so far ahead of schedule, to have a little party for myself--this was definitely a bad idea, and while it was a good party, I wound up leaving town with about 3 hours of sleep under my belt. I also completely spaced on my personal gear, so by the time I hit the playa I had a plate but no fork, no water bottle, and too few clothes. All of my sunscreen had been in bottles in the garage since 2002, and was less than effective (as those of you who saw me out there can testify).

My first stop was to be in Denver, CO to pick up some carpet and hook up with a small subset of our camp, whereupon we were to caravan together through the mountains. The plan started unraveling immediately when I didn't show up in Denver til somewhere around 4am, and promptly got lost with the directions given to me. As a result, I was only able to crash for a couple of hours before having to help load the carpet and resume my journey.

Which was all well and good--a couple of hours in a bed, especially this late in the trip, was unexpected good fortune. I didn't sleep in another one til this past Saturday...almost exactly two weeks to the day.

Anyway, carpet loaded, I set out on a fine, crisp Saturday morning--and promptly got lost in Denver. Things were already happening too fast for me on the road, and of course I hadn't asked for any sort of directions. I was supposed to take I25 north to Cheyenne, which is an easy task once you get on the highway, but there are some rather tricky turns in the downtown Denver area that resulted in me and a big van/trailer full of carpet and drugs cruising around some of the rather seedier parts of the city. But I perservered, and after an hour or so I was back on the job.

At this point I began to worry about my cellphone. It's lonely driving by yourself, and talking to someone kept my eyes open. Consequently, I called a number of folks who were past Burners, mainly just to rub it in (er, I mean tell them I'd be thinking of them). But since Sprint's "nationwide network" is a bad joke, I spent the majority of my time making those calls at an analogue roaming rate, which drains both my wallet and, for some reason, my battery.

And I don't have a car charger.

So I spent the majority of my time driving to Denver in utter loneliness, saving my phone juice for the calls I was going to have to make once I got up there. I stopped once, in a big truck stop, and did some shopping-found a whole display of various cellphone chargers, but none save one with my adapter. This one had a series of adapters, which I found really convenient--unfortunately, it was AC powered, that is, I needed a wall plug to use it, so it was completely useless in my vehicle. In fact, it turned out to be useless anyway, as I found while trying to charge it in someone's living room in Denver. It just didn't fucking work.

So, frustrated, behind schedule, and without much sleep, I set off up I25, hoping to see an electronics/wireless store on the side of the highway--if I didn't find one in Denver, I was probably screwed, because Wyoming doesn't have much on the highways and SLC is just too fucking scary for me to drive around in.

Thankfully, I found a place before leaving town, then couldn't reach the exit. Half an hour passed while I fought bad traffic (of course there was construction nearby, eh?), but ultimately I overcame and rolled into a massive parking lot.

The only charger they had cost me thirty fucking dollars. Thirty dollars, kids. For a freakin' battery charger. It's a NICE one, yes, but I didn't need nice. I needed cheap. No dice.

I was hungry, and the van needed gas. I rolled across the road, pulled into a crowded parking lot, and started dicking with gas pumps. To no avail. I help a pair of elderly lesbians unlock their gas tank, but the pumps just aren't working for me here--another stop, before finally hitting the road to Nevada.

The charger works, but it's rather difficult to talk on the phone while driving, which fact I recognize because I get a check in call from the NYC peeps as I'm giving the gas station attendant the finger and driving away. Everyone's behind, luckily--Denver crew is still loading, since it had been raining most of the week, and NYC crew's flights had been canceled, resulting in a serious loss of time and an even more serious taxi ride across all of NYC. Awesome.

Thus began a drive across Colorado and almost ALL of Wyoming. It's beautiful country, at least the beginning of the drive, through Laramie--then things start drying out and everything you see reminds you of Nevada, which is a serious wasteland. It also reminds you of how much farther you have to drive, and with this comes...Fear of Utah.

Utah just jumps right into your face when you're driving 80 West, because you descend, it seems, the entire height of the Rocky Mountains in one steep, winding swoop, generally in the dark, with all sorts of small cars zipping past and semi's rolling by, seemingly out of control. I've talked about this before, but it was doubly scary with the big van and trailer, which is tall enough to have a profile, which is bad news when you've got crosswinds, never mind steep twisty roads to contend with.

And then, just when I thought "we're almost out of here," they started the construction zone.

This zone started just about the time the right lane of the highway became an "exit only" lane, and also just about the time we made a turn that got me a faceful of glare from the setting Utah sun. All traffic not exiting was effectively funneled into about three quarters of a lane, which really just meant I had to worry about backing traffic up behind me, since I was trying to keep the speed of the vehicle down to about 60 mph...

After a few more harrowing miles, I broke out onto the plains of Utah.

Which, don't get me wrong, are pretty. The city of SLC is pretty, too, from a speeding van. The traffic ain't so pleasant, but you can't have everything, can you?

Strangely, I'd had a dream about part of the salt plains west of SLC several months previously. Nothing of consequence in the actual dream, but the deja vu was frightening, on as little sleep as I was operating with. Seeing it all in the half-light of sunset was eerie as well.

Soon enough it was dark, or what passes for dark in that area of the world--there was a huge white moon behind my shoulder, bright enough that I kept hallucinating headlights beside me. It was not true, generally, and this contributed greatly to a sense of loneliness and, ultimately, of standing still despite driving flat out. I was tired, I realized, very tired--and my mind was starting to play tricks on me.

Finally, I entered Nevada, and was able to check on my companions in the silver bus (by this time well behind me). We agreed that it would be several hours before they showed, so I elected to wait for them in the parking lot of a grocery store they like in Winnemucca NV. This was the last stop, really, before hitting the desert. This was the cold beer and ice place, the bread-and-veggies place, the toothpaste and bandaid place. It was also across the street from a rootin' tootin' wild west casino, and not the best place for someone as tetched in the head as me to try and catch up on sleep.

One of the more interesting things about driving in a big van in this part of the world is that the vehicle heats up as you drive-then, when you stop, the cold night air will cause the metal to cool off rapidly, resulting in some rather unnerving pops and thumps. It took me a few circuits around the trailer to realize that this was just physics, and not some drunk Nevadans bent on stealing the contents of Image Node's trailer. This was all further complicated by some real life drunk Nevadans (or tourists, who knows?) yee-hawing across the street. Upshot: very little sleep, but enough to keep me going.

I woke before dawn, and the grocery was still closed. No silver bus in sight, either. I was depressed and lonely and wished I was back home.

The grocery didn't open til 7am, and my clock said it was 5:30--time was slipping away rapidly-I was about 12 hours behind schedule, and I had all the gear. Until I arrived back on the playa, a large portion of Image Node would be standing around staring at each other in the heat. I didn't want that--so I headed out, hoping the silver bus wouldn't be far behind.

Four hours later, I pulled off the interstate and stopped for gas--the last stop I'd make in this world for over a week. I filled up with gas, bought some beer for the Greeters, and took off again. A couple of hours after that, I was Home.

Our position on the Esplanade was close to 8:30 (that is, on the left hand side of the horseshoe, slightly less than halfway from Center Camp), and as I drove slowly up the street, I saw what was to be my closest set of friends for the next week preparing to worry about me. I pulled in, and after enthusiastic greetings were exchanged, I was introduced to the new people and we went to work.


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