On the way to Ely, I noticed Satori was running a little hot. A check under the hood showed she was a little low on oil, so I put in a quart. That helped. At the grocery store across the street from the motel, I found some supplies for the bar, as well as a couple of presents for other camps I'd planned to visit. The bill was less than I expected, but that wasn't much of a relief. I counted the cash I had left, and found I'd already spent half the money I'd brought for my trip– and the trip wasn't nearly half over. I wouldn't need money once I got to the playa, but getting home afterwards might be tricky. Breakfast was an apple and a can of V-8.
I took some pictures around Ely (which is pronounced E-LEE) and then took off a little after 9 AM local time. I was back on the loneliest road in America: Highway 50– familiar roads again. I relaxed and just enjoyed the passing scenery. The mountains of Nevada can be really pretty. Every now and then, I'd pass through a little town and think, I could live here. Traffic was light on the road west. A pickup passed me with a big dog leaning out the passenger side, scouting out the upcoming highway. Time passed quickly. I made it to Eureka in about an hour, and made a pit stop at a store called the E-Z Stop. Besides selling gasoline, the little store had an ATM, a Laundromat, a pool table, slot machines and groceries. If it had a bar, a guy would never have to leave. I began to notice a plastic smell as I continued down the road. Not burning plastic, just a thick plastic chemical smell. I couldn't figure out where it was coming from. A half hour down the road, I passed a guy on a bicycle making his way slowly eastward. On an uphill grade, I passed a fire crew mulling around a helicopter parked on the shoulder of the road. The fire danger was pretty high that day.
The only thing I really dreaded on that leg of the trip was the Austin Summit. I kept telling myself I'd come down it before; I could handle it. Yellow grassy peaks surround the summit, which tops out at 7,484 feet. Within two miles, down a scary, narrow road, you descend to 6,575 feet, the elevation of the town of Austin, Nevada. I keep thinking that road must be a lot more fun going up than coming down. I continued through town without stopping. The plastic smell seemed to be gone. Crossing the Reese River Valley, I watched dust devils dance over the dusty plain. One dust devil, the size of a house, appeared right in front of me, twirled once or twice, and then disappeared without a trace. I waved to truckers as they passed. At New Pass Summit, the road goes through a cut in the hillside that looks big enough to drop a 20-story building into. The sky was completely clear. Horizon to horizon, the same shade of blue.
Exactly 209 miles west of Ely, I came to the Nevada Shoe Tree. It's easy to spot coming down the highway: it's right at where the road goes between two squat hills. You just don't notice the thousands of shoes hanging off it until you're right in front of it. That's what kind of surprised me the first time I came across the Shoe Tree. It's completely unannounced and unexpected– it's just there, this big tree covered with shoes in the middle of nowhere. Since that first time, I kept thinking there should be something more there, something where visitors could leave their mark. So, I stopped beneath the Shoe Tree and left something there. I left a guest book. It was a blank book my sister had given me for Christmas years before, stored in a plastic container to protect it. For my Geocaching friends, I also included a little plastic man in the box. That way, people passing by could sign the book and leave their impressions. There's not much at the actually site, so I stuck the box under the big log near in front of the tree. I hoped it would be easy to find. Is it still there? Did it get stolen by the next person that found it, or blown away by the weather? I don't know.
The Shoe Tree was where I noticed the plastic smell again, but it wasn't coming from Satori. It was coming from upwind, from the west. I figured it must have been some truck making that smell. Three miles west of the Shoe Tree is Middlegate Junction, which is little more than a store and a couple of buildings. Down the road, I came to a dry lake bed, brilliantly white in the sunlight. That was where I came across the Sand Mountain. There's a recreation area and even an old Pony Express station there. A little ways further, about Mile Marker 36, was where names started appearing in the pale dust alongside the road. On both sides, local kids had written their names in the sand using dark rocks. The names go on for miles, right up until the road passes the high wire fence around the Salt Wells Bordello. I arrived in Fallon just after 2 PM local time. I got bar supplies in Ely, but shopped around for a little extra beer, just in case. Also, the chill of sleeping in Monument Valley told me I didn't have enough blankets, so I picked up another sleeping bag. Nights can get downright nippy in the desert. A sign advertised a Reno country western radio station, K-HOG. It was 94 degrees out. It was 28 more miles to Fernley. The wind really picked up– clouds of dust made the highway ahead disappear. Signs told motorists to turn on headlights, just in case. I stopped at a convenience store for $10 of gas. At the pay phone, I called my wife and my Mom to tell them I loved them before heading off into the desert. I told my wife I'd be out of the world for a week. She figured if she needed to contact me, she'd call the highway patrol, but I knew they'd be too busy to track down one guy in a camp of over 30,000 people. By 3:30, I was headed down the road to Gerlach, 77 miles from Fernley.
A nice girl at the Greeter's Station pointed me in the right direction, and I pulled into Black Rock City. Hair of the Dog was situated on the corner of 4:30 and Gestalt, just a stone's throw from the outermost circle of the city. The good news was that it was catty-corner from the restrooms. I pulled up to the corner. All that was there was the bar, a few vehicles and some tents. Mark was there, working on getting the generator set up. I parked Satori and got my bicycle down off the rack. I started to put the tarps over the windows. I also got to unload some of the supplies out of my car.
Next door, the Costco Soulmate Exchange was already set up and running. I got a drink from their bar. The running gag they were telling everyone was that they were not the guys that had been running the Costco camp for years. Those folks had actually put their entire camp up on Ebay, and these guys were the high bidders... that was the story. I think that's where I met Alexa, a very friendly girl with red hair, and her friend Bad Doggie, a dark-haired girl that looked like a dancer I used to know. Back in camp, I got warm welcomes from Dogg, Billy, D-Mo and Lisa D. It was great to see them all again. The sun was setting about that time. I walked over to Center Camp, which already had music and dancers performing under their canopy. At Playa Info, I left a message for the girl I had met the year before. I didn't know if she'd be at Burning Man that year, or if she'd ever want to see me again, or if she'd go by Playa Info, or if she'd even see the message– but I felt like I had to try. A notice on the wall said there were already over 11,000 people on the playa. It was really windy.
Going back to camp, the stars were out. I thought I found a satellite, but it was bouncing erratically up in the sky. I think I decided it was some space junk entering the atmosphere. It was dark when I got back to HOTD. Billy was cooking up some barbecue on a grill. We ended up having a fantastic meal, with beef, baked potatoes and corn on the cob. It was the best meal I'd had in days. I met Alex, a lively girl, who was putting up her dome next to my car. She kept moving it to new places. A beautiful girl named Elizabeth came by, looking for Star, but Star wasn't supposed to arrive until Wednesday or so. Elizabeth said she'd come back, but I never saw her again. Lisa, Mark and I went out riding our bikes. We went past the Esplanade and out onto the open playa. There was much more art that year than in 2004, with interesting pieces all over the place. We rode past a tall, wooden clock tower, with all sorts of intricate gears and connections. Mark had a problem with his bike, and when we got our lights on it, we saw that somehow a bungee cord had gotten wrapped around the gears. Where it came from, we didn't know. It finally had to be cut off. That's where we lost track of Lisa, but we knew where she was headed. One of the camps on the Esplanade had built a life-sized Mousetrap game, complete with the rickety staircase, which they used with bowling balls instead of marbles. They were supposed to set it off at 10 PM, but there were technical difficulties that evening.
We went through Center Camp, and ended up at Spike's Vampire
Bar. There were willowy women pole dancing on a little stage, and the bar
was serving some concoction out of blood storage bags hanging from the
ceiling. It was very crowded. The wind was relentless that evening, and
many people were abandoning efforts to get their tents up and just crashing
in their cars. Back at camp, I was exhausted, so I got ready to call it
a night. I set up my bed in the back of Satori, got my blankets all lined
out, and was just about to go to sleep when I thought I'd get a drink of
water first. In the dark, I fumbled with the top, and then the canteen
slipped out of my hands. I heard the glug-glug-glug of water pouring out
of the canteen. By the time I found it and got the cap back on, my mattress,
blankets, pillows and clothes were all soaking wet. Everything was a total
mess. There wasn't anything I could do about it until morning, and I was
too tired to do anything about it, so I found the only strip of mattress
that wasn't wet, pulled the dry part of the sleeping bag over me and fell
into a fitful sleep, my tarp flapping in the wind.
Spike's Vampire Bar
|Last updated: September, 2005
All original content (c)opyright 2005 by Tim Frayser