Day 11, Monday, September 5: Something woke me up in the middle of the night. I squinted at my watch and then closed my eyes again. I dozed on and off for what seemed a half hour. When I looked at my watch again, however, three hours had passed. I must have slept after all. I climbed out of the back of the van. It was still dark out, but the bar was jumping, with lots of people, a band on stage and someone singing. There was a big, furry bus parked next to the shade structure. I looked around, and didn't recognize anybody in the bar, not one person. It was like this busload of people showed up and took over.

I hit the porta potties one last time. Back in camp, I pulled the big tarp off my van. Playa dust had found it's way underneath after all. The night sky sparkled above me. The desert sky never fails to make me smile. It was time to go. I loaded up my gear and tarps, turned on my brake lights, and inched my way out from between the tents and RV's. Once out on the road I turned on my headlights. There were only two other vehicles poking along between me and the Greeter's station, and I passed them both. I didn't see anybody at the Gate. It was right before dawn, and from campsite to highway it only took me 13 minutes to get out. I wasn't a quarter mile down the road when I spotted a trash bag on the side of the road, its contents spewed along the shoulder. Then I passed another trash bag, and then another. Between the playa and Nixon I saw way too many Kamikaze trashbags in the road, the result of careless people not tying their gear down properly. People like that gave Burning Man a bad name.

Passing through Gerlach, I saw signs protesting a proposed coal-burning energy plant that a company wanted to build in the area. Residents didn't like the idea of pollution from the plant contaminating their homes. One sign read: "Coal Power– Energy for the End Times." The early morning air was calm and brisk. The sun slowly rose over my left shoulder as I drove the long, straight road south from Gerlach. Pyramid Lake was blue and very pretty as I passed by. Just the other side of Nixon, I came upon an art car: a giant, steel mesh human head, happily tooling down the road. My gas light came on just as I was going through Wadsworth. I guess it was a good idea to borrow that gallon of gas.

I made it to Fernley at a quarter past 7, local time. The sun was bright in the east. As soon as I got in range of a cell tower, my cellphone started buzzing with text messages. I had eight messages waiting for me. I stopped at the truck stop in Fernley and called home. Everything was okay–everybody was still alive. I filled up Satori with $40 of gas at $3.09 a gallon and hit the road. It was 413 miles to Las Vegas. It was a beautiful morning. The sun was bright, the air smelled clean, and the road ahead was mostly empty. The road to Las Vegas had not changed much since my drive through in 2003. I spent my time admiring the golden Nevada landscape. I drove over a rise and into Silver Springs, in the middle of a pretty valley. I passed some lush farmlands that thinned out as I climbed into higher elevations.

The stunning blue waters of Walker Lake took me by surprise. Going through Hawthorne, I passed a lonely train depot. Hawthorne was the site of a big army ammunition storage facility, and the town was pretty proud of it, too. I kept to the speed limit passing through, but I suddenly found a county sheriff's car following me. He kept following me as I left the city limits. A couple of miles down the road, I pulled over and let him pass. Just in case he was looking for a reason to pull me over, I tied a red bandana to the bicycle on the back. It was a gorgeous, cloudless day in western Nevada. I had my CD player, but that morning I left it off. Sometimes, I like to drive with the windows down and just listen to the whoosh of the wind.

Past Luning, I came onto some open range, so I kept my eyes open. In Mina, somebody was building an extraordinary house. They set up a yacht alongside the road, then cut a hole all the way through it to form an arch for the house being built on the far side. I also passed a brothel, as well as a sign for "desert lobster." It seems a local businessman was raising fresh-water lobsters until the state closed him down, for some reason. At "Graffiti Junction," I stopped to make sure my bike was tied down securely. The landscape was desolate and wild. To the west, it looked like there was already snow on the peaks.

I stopped in Tonopah for some gas, where it cost $3.15 a gallon. As I was filling up, I talked to the guy in the next car over. He was heading home from a trip to Yellowstone, and was mad about the high gas prices. He said, "I think everybody the voted for Mr. Bush –myself, included– just got a big slap in the face." Tonopah is full of cool, 19th century buildings, many of which were, unfortunately, empty and up for sale. The city hall had a statue of a miner carrying an injured comrade, an homage to the town's 19th century mining days. I passed a seafood restaurant called the Cranky Crab, and the high school ("home of the Muckers"). Southeast of Tonopah was where I started seeing tall cactus. That's also when I remembered: I'd left my water jugs behind in camp! Dang it! All I could do was hope they found good homes.
Some fellow burners passed me on the highway. I could tell by the fuzzy pink bicycles strapped on the back of their vehicle. It slowly turned into a very hot day. I drove through Beatty about 1 PM local time. There was some local conflict with the Bank of America there. The Motel 6 offered rooms for $37 a night, but for only "one person." I was still 115 miles from Las Vegas. The wind turned vengeful as I traveled through the picturesque Amagosa Valley, which slowed me down. A half hour out of Beatty I went through Death Valley Junction, the closest I got to Death Valley that trip. Just outside of Mercury, Nevada, I passed south of the Nevada Test Site, where hundreds of nuclear bombs had been detonated back in the 1950's and ‘60's. That was where the road widened to four lanes. I figured I had been on 2-lane roads for most of the previous 2,333 miles. I was still an hour from Vegas.
At Cactus Springs, I passed the USAF Desert Warfare School. A sign warned me "Military Exercise in Progress," but I didn't see anything unusual. Just after 3 PM local time, I rolled into the outskirts of Las Vegas.  I didn't feel so good. My mouth was very dry, my muscles were achy, and I felt a little sick to my stomach. I realized those were the early signs of dehydration. I hurried down the road, and pulled into my motel as quickly as I could. As soon as I got in, I made sure to drink a lot of water, then I took a looooong, long hot shower. It felt wonderful. That was when I turned on the news and got caught up on all the damage done by Hurricane Katrina. The devastation was heartbreaking. After resting for a while, I cleaned up, found some clean clothes, and went for a walk. I found a buffet place and chowed down on roast beef, fish, soup, potatoes, rice, sausage and salad. Down on the Strip, I picked up some presents for people and looked through the M&M store. One of the souveniur shops had Internet access: $5 for 20 minutes, so I logged on. I was able to catch up on what some of my friends had been doing for the past week. I updated my online journal to let people know I was still alive, still in Nevada but headed homeward.

Back at the motel, I ran myself a hot bath and soaked in it. That's when I found a bunch of scrapes, bumps, bruises, cuts, callouses, blisters and sore spots I didn't even realize I had. The desert had taken its toll on me. I tried to call home on my cellphone, but it wouldn't charge up. It even made an ominous electric crackling noise when it kicked out. When I couldn't get a dial tone on the room phone, I realized it was because there was no cord connecting it to the wall. I complained to the front desk, but they couldn't find a spare cord. It didn't matter– the phone were set up so that I couldn't call long distance, anyway. I couldn't even get text messages. I finally said the heck with it and went on to bed.

I hoped somebody remembered to let Dicky out of that box...


The view from the Las Vegas Motel 6 parking lot
Beginnings -- 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 -- Endings
Gerlach Coal Plant 
Tonopah, Nevada 
Desert Lobster 
Silver Springs 
Motel 6 
Nevada Test Site 
All original content (c)opyright 2005 by Tim Frayser 
Last Updated: February, 2006