Home > Uncategorized > Getting to Black Rock City, a.k.a. Burning Man

Getting to Black Rock City, a.k.a. Burning Man

August 28/Day 42. Today I awake before dawn, as is my habit on travel days. By first light I’ve completed final preparations and hitch up the trailer. I always feel a little guilty because the noise of my diesel  must surely rouse other campers from their slumber. Slowly I thread my way through the winding, narrow roads of the campground until I reach the highway, where I can settle in to do the real long-distance driving that I love.

It’s less than 400 miles to Burning Man, outside the little town of Gerlach NV. Though that’s an easy day’s drive, my plan is to break it into two legs by spending the night in or around Alturas CA, thereby setting myself up for a quick two-hour run to The Burn  tomorrow morning. When I reach Alturas, the town is swarming with Burners stocking up on groceries, gas, and liquor. The veterans appear to be continuing to Burning Man today, rather than staging for a run tomorrow.

Supposedly, no one is allowed into Burning Man until 12:01 a.m. on Monday, so I question the rationale for driving straight through and waiting at the gate in a long line, as opposed to settling down here for the night. But taking my cue from the old-timers, I decide to continue all the way to Burning Man this evening.

Driving  out of Alturas, the very last town before Gerlach is Cedarville CA, 90 miles. Cedarville is a quaint hamlet, much like Comfort TX—a few shops on Main Street and not much else. But the enterprising citizens of Cedarville have turned this day into an event. The old folks are all sitting under the trees on lawn chairs in front of the post office, chatting and enjoying the parade of weird people and strangely decorated vehicles passing through. The more entrepreneurial among them have set up hot dog stands, T-shirt racks, a band and even an ice cream parlor on the sidewalks along the road. It’s a special annual day in the life of their community.

The drive from Cedarville is almost like a stately procession. A narrow winding road, the speed limit is 55, but the long line of cars seems content to trundle along at 40 mph, spaced an even 50 yards apart, knowing that at the end of their drive they face a long wait at the BM gate anyway. So there is this slow motorcade, stretching, for all I know, the entire 90 miles between Cedarville and Gerlach.

Just at dusk, I pass through Gerlach and drive the last nine miles to Burning Man. There, the line of cars is divided into six lanes marked by traffic cones as it proceeds onto the desert “playa,” the flat, alkali, dry lakebed where Burning Man takes place. For the next three and a half hours I inch forward about two car lengths at a time, shut off the engine and wait for 10 minutes, then start up and repeat.

There are three checkpoints I have to go through before I can enter Black Rock City, the name by which the Burning Man site is known. First, an attendant simply checks to see if have my ticket. Then more inching forward. Second, they do a check of the vehicle, which in my case includes the trailer. They enter it, check the rooms, look in the closet, etc. until they’re satisfied there aren’t any stowaways onboard. At $320 a ticket, the temptation to sneak someone in would certainly present itself. More inching forward, endlessly. The third checkpoint is the “greeters.”  They ask me to get out of my truck and about four of them cheerily hug me and welcome me to Burning Man. Then they ask if I’m “virgin,” which means is this my first Burning Man? I answer “Yes,” knowing that there’s some ritual in store for first-timers.

Shrieking with glee and shouting “Virgin! Virgin!,” seven or eight greeters form a ring around, me holding hands. Now, I’m told, we’re going to play Ring Around the Rosy—and guess who gets to fall down, they ask? They enthusiastically sing the nursery rhyme, skipping in a circle around me. When they sing “all fall down,” I plop to the ground, trying to be a good sport. “No, no,” they exclaim. “Flat!” So I have to lay flat on my back; then they tell me to make a dust angel, like we used to do in the snow as children. Finishing that, I’m about to get up. “No, roll over on your stomach,” they order. “Now swim!” So I perform a vigorous breast-stroke in the dust.

Of course by the time the ritual is over, I’m completely covered with the talc-fine powder of the playa. The stuff is literally like baby powder, without the pleasant fragrance. I’ve been baptized.

By now it’s 12:10 a.m. August 29th—Monday morning. Finally back in my truck, I’m free to find a camping spot anywhere on the 25 square miles allocated for Black Rock City. Scores of other vehicles are also roaming the playa, stirring up dust to near zero visibility. There are signs designating different sectors of the playa but they’re impossible to read through the dust and darkness. By sheer luck, I locate a sign near where I’m to meet Gary and Samuel, my brother-in-law and nephew, later today. I stop, climb into the camper without even unhitching, and fall asleep directly.

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