Day 4: I was up at 6 AM local time Monday, August 30. I'd already loaded the water jugs, so I just took one quick shower–my last hot shower for a week– and pulled out of Ely within the hour. It was more than just a crisp morning–it was downright chilly out. The early morning sunshine was bright, making the shadowed hills even darker. Far ahead, grey clouds crept along close to the ground. A sign beside the road said there was a "moderate" fire danger ahead. Just after 9 AM (Oklahoma time) I crossed the Robinson Pass– 7,607 feet. I was heading straight west, and sunlight exploded from my rear-view mirrors. I crossed the wide, green Jakes Valley, and actually encountered some traffic. After the next major summit on the road, a sign warned of a "Major Deer Crossing" ahead. (Not just a deer crossing– a major deer crossing.) The road went through a bunch of twists and turns before entering another wide valley.

I thought highway planning across Nevada must not have been much of a challenge for early surveyors. It looked like they got out a big map of the state, laid a big ruler between two points, drew a straight line and said yeah, that's good. From the Newark Valley, the road climbed over the Pancake Summit (6,700 feet above sea level) and back down into the West Valley. Charcoal grey and umber mountains brooded on either side of the road. Down in the Newkirk-Long Valley, I passed the turnoff for a town called Fishcreek. There was a sharp grade up to the Pinto Summit, and then over to the town of Eureka, which I made just after 10 AM Oklahoma time. It was a crisp, quiet morning in Eureka, and I stopped at a little gas station to top off my tank and to clean the bugs off my windshield. Some of those bugs had traveled with me since Texas. The oil was good, too. I bought a Dr. Pepper and some string cheese from Brandi, the brunette running the place. Eureka was an old Nevada mining town, and I took some pictures of the older buildings.
West of Eureka, the traffic picked up a little, but seeing any other traffic at all  would constitute "a little." Driving across the expansive Bean Flat, I had just put some Dave Matthews in the CD player when traffic suddenly came to a stop. There was some road work ahead, so I had to wait with several other vehicles until a shepherd truck could take us past the three miles of construction. Road work ended right at the Lander County line. The next peak was the Hickison Summit, and the road took long graceful curves through the foothills beyond before taking me into the Toiyabe National Forest. The lush green mountains were a welcome sight after the flat nothingness I'd seen so much of. I noticed rural mailboxes in Nevada often opened on the side away from the road. Mailmen had to pull completely off the road to deliver the mail, and in those cases they didn't need to be on the right side of the vehicles. Why didn't everybody do that? Some impressive bald mountains rose around me ahead of there, and I topped the Austin Summit, 7,484 feet above sea level. Within a distance of just a couple of miles, the road took some dizzying switchbacks down the slopes in a scary plunge of almost a thousand feet before ending in the old mining town of Austin, Nevada. The descent was so harrowing I had to stop by the side of the road and catch my breath. As I sat there, a heavily-loaded SUV carrying bicycles and PVC pipe headed west down the road. PVC pipe? Were they headed to Burning Man, too? I took a minute to look around Austin before taking off again. The Catholic church there was a landmark, having been built in 1866.

From Austin, the highway descended into the Reese River Valley, a former trail of the Pony Express. All through Nevada, I kept passing through valleys big enough to drop New York into. It must have been quite a sight for 19th century settlers crossing those valleys, emigrating to the promised land of California. I can't imagine the guts they had to have to cross those valleys, struggle over those daunting summits... only to find another impressive valley between them and their goal. Lots of them didn't make it, either, and the old trails were littered with graves at almost every step. The scale of the landscape was overwhelming. I thought of the Japanese tourists I saw at Arches and wondered, what must they have thought? What must it be like to live your whole life on a small, industrialized island and then encounter the wide, raw expanses of the American west?  Heck, I grew up here, and I was overwhelmed. I kept seeing some species of mouse zip across the road: a tiny creature, with a long, high tail. I also came up on a dog-sized animal on the side of the road, and realized it was a buzzard. The bird didn't even look up from his roadkill snack as I passed.

About an hour west of Austin, quite unexpectedly and without any warning, I came upon a tree covered with thousands of shoes. It was the famous Shoe Tree. I'd seen something about it online, but I wasn't prepared for such a surreal sight. Every branch on the tree was layered with every kind of shoe imaginable. The trunk of the tree was off the road in a shallow creekbed, which was littered with hundreds of shoes that had fallen over the years. It looked like passers-by had tried to arrange the cobbler flotsam into a Shoe Branch, or Shoe Plank. I was soon back in an area of open range again. After Drumm Summit, I drove across a dry lake bed. A sign pointed to the Rawhide Turnoff, and then I drove across a bigger dry lake bed, which went on and on to the horizon. Off to the north, a huge, pale sand dune crouched beside the hills. As I drove through the lake bed, I saw the most remarkable thing. In the pale, crusty earth alongside the highway, people had taken dark rocks and spelled out words with them: "Tom + Amy," "Roman + Kaylee," "Luv ‘95," "Jennifer + Scott"... This went on for miles and miles. There was no telling how many years some of those names had been there. There was hardly any wind at all.

A few miles down the road, surrounded by nothing but harsh, dry land, I came across a small group of mobile homes, surrounded by a barbed-wire fence. The sign out front said Salt Wells Bordello. I didn't see any cars out front. I figured either it was a slow day, or everyone went in through the rear. Barely a mile or so down the road was another bordello, called the Lazy Something– the sign was broken. I thought it odd that there would be two bordellos so close to each other way out in the middle of nowhere... and then, about a mile down the road, I came to the turnoff for the Fallon Naval Air Station. Ah-ha. It wasn't long before I came to the town of Fallon, a little after 1:30 Oklahoma time. I stopped for some gas at a convenience store, and I would've got some beer, too, but nothing said how much the beer cost. There were no prices marked anywere. That didn't seem very convenient to me. In the parking lot, I spotted the car with the PVC pipes that I'd seen that morning. I drove through Fallon, and stopped at the Wal-Mart there for some supplies. There were a handful of other burners rummaging through the aisles, too, and I think I saw a guy with a Ranger hat. Wal-Mart didn't have everything I wanted, so I went next door to the Safeway, where I found beer and food. In the parking lot, someone had left their big cup of soda on the pavement. The car next to mine backed up and rolled right over it. Soda pop splashed all over the asphalt. Well, I thought, it had a good life...

I made Fernley by 3 PM, Oklahoma time, but I didn't head straight on to the desert. Instead, I took Interstate 80 west into Sparks. There was a camp that put out a call requesting people to give folks a lift to Burning Man. I wanted to help, but didn't want to volunteer ahead of time in case I was running late. I still had plenty of sunlight left, so I opted to help. The directions took me straight to a crowded, bustling suburban home. Tents, equipment, boxes and bags were piled everywhere. Three tanned people were coming up the street pushing a loaded grocery cart. I found the owner around back in the pool with his lady friend. He introduced me to a guy who needed a ride. I never really got his name, so I just called him Dill. He was taking lots of water to the desert, too: 23 gallons. He filled up the last of his jugs with the garden hose, and then we loaded them in the back of my van. We headed back to Fernley, and the turnoff for the road north. While I was still in range of a cellphone tower, I tried to call home, but the line was busy.

Dill and I turned off the interstate and started down the long, lonely 2-lane road to Gerlach. It was his first Burn. On the road back to Fernley, he talked about the naughty camps, and how he'd heard women at Burning Man would just ambush guys on the street for sex. He also took the advice to stay well-hydrated in the desert. All the way down the road, he was sucking on his camelback, gulping down lots and lots of water. By the time we got to Empire, an hour down the road, he really needed to go to the bathroom. Lots of burners were stopping in Empire for their last chance at supplies. The Empire general store was ready for them. The place was stocked with Burning Man books, calendars and DVD's. I got a t-shirt; I couldn't really afford it, but it was an impulse buy. When I was ready to go, I had to go looking for my passenger, who had stopped for an Indian taco.

We headed on our way. I carefully kept to the speed limit, because of all the law enforcement present for the event. Traffic was heavy but not slow going through Gerlach. As soon as we were out of town and across the railroad tracks, I looked down the playa– and I could see Black Rock City! Already, the first day of the event, it was big enough to see from miles away. We hit a bottleneck going through the Gate, and even though there were several lines, I kept getting in the slow one. A short-haired girl came wandering down the line of cars, frantically going from vehicle to vehicle. From what I could gather, her boyfriend told her he'd meet her at the gate with her ticket– and then he dumped her. So, she was stuck at the gate, miles from home, with no ticket and no place to camp. I never knew what happened to her. We finally rolled up to the gate. A lovely lady in a tutu greeted us, and since Dill was a newbie, she had him get out of the car, drop his pants for a spanking, and then ring a bell, yelling, "I am here!" She cleared us and we were in. I'd made it! Tapestry had returned to Burning Man!

First thing, I had to drop Dill off. He was camping at his camp, way over near the 9 O'Clock road. Since he was the first of his group to arrive, it took us a while to find where he was supposed to be. (The thing that kind of ticked me off was that one of his water jugs had sprung a leak. It took two days for the back of my van to dry out.) Once I got him unloaded, I headed out for the camp I was staying with. It wasn't that far from Center Camp. They already had their big common tent set up. I met a very nice girl from Idaho named Amy. She was camping in the van next to mine. Someone offered me a very welcome cold beer. The sun was just getting ready to set by that time. Once I got the mattress inflated, the tarp over the car and the back window taped up, I unhooked my bicycle and went for a ride out to the Man. The surface of the playa was different that how I remembered it the year before. Instead of packed, hard earth, it was squishy– kind of like a big, crunchy pie crust. There were a couple of places where my bike wheels literally sank into the dust, and I almost wiped-out. I went back and sat with some of the other camp people. Met a nice girl named Honey, a guy from Denmark, and a beautiful, redheaded Irish Catholic dominatrix who offered me a pipeful of pot. I got to go on a ride in an art car. We rode around a while. People were still arriving in Black Rock City, but already there were plenty of art cars rolling around and plenty of parties underway. Music and lights were everywhere. After we got back to camp, I went walking around. I found myself down at the Hair of the Dog. They were still setting up, too. I got to finally meet Lisa D. face to face. She was really neat. I also met up with a beautiful blonde girl named Colleen. Gomer Hendrix was there– I remembered him giving me one of his CD's the year before, so I gave him one of my favorite CD's. I went back to camp, and the weight of the day finally came down on me. It wasn't very late at all that I crawled into the back of Satori and curled up for a good night's sleep.
Highway 50, west of Austin, Nevada
Satori on the "Loneliest Road"
The famous Nevada "Shoe Tree"
Stocking up in Empire, Nevada
Burners head north towards Gerlach
Black Rock City, from miles away

  Prologue -- Day 1 -- Day 2 -- Day 3 -- Day 4 -- Day 5 -- Day 6 -- Day 7 -- Day 8 -- Day 9 -- Day 10 -- Day 11 -- Day 12 -- Day 13 -- Day 14 -- Epilogue
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All original content (c)opyright 2004 by Tim Frayser