Still on Central Time instead of Mountain Time, I pulled out of the park right at 9 AM. I stopped right outside the park to look at the waterfalls coming off the Minidoka Dam, which made Lake Wolcott. The air was very cool. I got turned around in Acequia but found the main road again after going over a canal.
|In Rupert, there was lots of train activity. It looked like it might
be a railroad hub. A sign at the Uptown Motel said it featured “furnished
rooms.” I passed the Stinker gas station and got on Interstate 84, headed
It was 44 miles to Twin Falls. The sky was filled with broken clouds. Sunbeams poked down on patchwork fields of corn, soybeans and potatoes. Wild sunflowers lined the highway. I passed miles of farmland and crossed over a couple of long canals. A line of low mountains trailed along the southern horizon. It was cool enough to drive with the windows up. I passed the first exit for Twin Falls, but the one I wanted was down the road.
|The only evidence of Knivel’s jump attempt was the remnants of the earthen ramp built on the south rim of the canyon. You can still see it from the bridge. I remarked how green everything was, and the lady said it was because of all the water and irrigation canals. “If it wasn’t for the water, we’d look like Nevada,” she said with a shudder.|
|Shoshone Falls were thrilling. There was a observation platform that let you get very close. It was kind of cloudy and not the best day for taking pictures, but the skies cooperated long enough to let in a sunbeam so that I could see a rainbow over the falls. A nice lady took my picture. There was even a penny crushing machine! I started to head out to find a place to eat breakfast but decided to eat there: an orange, a can of V-8, and my last hard boiled egg. I stayed there until 11:30, and then headed out.|
The radio was playing the greatest hits of the ‘70’s. Mountains loomed in the distance, but the land ahead of me was gently rolling plains. Croplands spread out to the horizon. The sky was still overcast. I crossed another canal, and saw the next mile was adopted by Peace Lutheran Church. The houses of small family farms lined the highway. Out in a wheat field, a combine sat ready to go to work. The road pointed straight south. In my rear view mirror, I saw a pickup coming up behind me very fast, obviously speeding. It swept over to the northbound lane to pass me. Just then, I started going over a low hill, and saw the helmet of a motorcyclist coming up fast. I slammed on my brakes, giving the pickup room to pass me before it smashed head-on into the motorcycle. The pickup zoomed ahead to a farm a couple of miles down the road, leaving a cloud of dust and thrown gravel when it finally stopped. Jerk.
I passed another RV park about 20 miles from Twin Falls. I had to pull over to let an ambulance pass me. I caught up with it a few miles down the road, parked next to a pair of northbound cars. The land turned dryer, and changed from farmland to open range. I had the road all to myself: there were no more vehicles in sight. This was new territory for me, a road I’d never been down before. It wasn’t until I got close to the Nevada border than traffic picked up. The radio news said Hurricane Irene was headed for Virginia.
|I went under an overpass that had no road or train tracks, and I realized it was there so that the wildlife could get across the highway safely. There was another one about ten miles down the road. In the distance, I could see snow-capped mountains. The wind was really blowing. I passed the BLM sign for Fort Hall, which was an outpost on the Emigrant Trail.|
|It was just after 2 PM (noon, local time) when I rolled into Wells, Nevada. There were a couple of big motels near the interstate, but I explored a little and found a bunch of closed motels, some with tumbleweeds literally in the parking lots. The empty downtown area apparently had a colorful history. After the railroads came to town, there was a huge opium den right on Front Street. Heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey was discovered in Wells, working as a bouncer. Many historic buildings in town were damaged by a 2008 earthquake.|
Back on the interstate, I passed the California Trail Center. A sign
warned of construction for the next 10 miles. Outside of Carlin, a cluster
of buildings with a tower in the middle turned out to be the Crisis and
Emergency Management Institute, run by the University of Nevada.
|There were dark clouds to the southwest when I crossed the Eureka County line. Big trucks struggled to get over the steep highway at Emigrant Pass. From there, I could see rain falling way to the south.|
Back on the interstate, I passed a line of billboards for the Wild Horse Saloon. It was 69 miles to Lovelock. I kept seeing cars and RVs loaded down with supplies and bicycles. The western Sun was very bright. There were lots of trucks parked outside the Alamo Casino in Puckerbrush, Exit 151. At the Humboldt exit, I could see the shimmer of water off to the north. It was the reservoir for Rye Patch Recreation Area. Before I planned to get to the playa Saturday evening, I thought about camping there overnight. Alongside the highway, a long section was scorched by a recent brush fire. When I breezed through Lovelock, I was still 57 miles from Fernley. I’d also considered camping in Fernley Saturday night, but one advantage of going straight on to the playa was that it was one less night of camping fees for me. It was just before 7 PM and very hot when I crossed the Churchill County line. I listened to the wind whooshing through my open windows. The road started to get thick with cars loaded with camping gear. I knew where they were headed. A rental truck with Arkansas plates passed me. About a half hour from Fernley, the windshield got splattered with rain! It didn’t last long. Aside from the traffic, it was a lonely stretch of road. The packets of human habitation between Lovelock and Fernley were few and far between. I spotted a couple of calico horses grazing in a salt marsh.
It was just after 7:30 when I exited at Fernley. A pickup with Michigan plates pulled a loaded-down trailer. I found the Walmart, but before going in I called the RV park where I planned to stay after leaving Burning Man. I made a reservation for the Monday evening after the event. They said their office closed at 6 PM, so if it didn’t get there before that (say, if I got hung up in the exodus) they’d have my papers pinned up on the board outside. The Walmart parking lot was full, and when I went inside, there were literally no shopping carts available. I managed to grab the last shopping basket. I’d made a list of things to pick up on my way to the playa, but I didn’t get all of them. I did get ice and bread and some extra cans of food, and beer, but I kept my purchases light.
I made a pit stop at the Love’s truck stop on the edge of town. The store was already selling I SURVIVED BURNING MAN t-shirts. There was a guy out front with a sign, looking for an extra ticket. He claimed he had a ticket because he was with a group, but it fell through at the last minute. I wished him luck. I made one last phone call home, and then headed out north. It was 8:38. The Sun was very bright in the west as I crossed the Truckee River. Signs warned travelers that Burning Man was sold out—there would be no tickets for sale ahead. As I headed north, there were a handful of vehicles ahead of me on the road. I was a little surprised to see so many, on the Saturday before the event. More cars lined up behind me.
It was just after 10 when I passed through Empire. The store seemed to be open and doing a brisk business. From there, it was a straight shot to Gerlach, a long line of red tail lights before me. Even after sunset, Gerlach was bustling. The main street was lined with lots of businesses, bright lights, neon and glow sticks, selling last-minute supplies. Bruno’s was still open. I went straight on through town and headed north. I couldn’t believe traffic could be so heavy that time of night. The playa was dark and vast as I followed the line of cars ahead of me. It seemed to swallow all light.
Ten minutes after leaving Gerlach, I pulled off the highway and onto
the gravel road leading down to the playa. Twenty minutes after that, traffic
came to a stop. I was in one of four lanes heading into the darkness. Everything
was at a standstill. In the distance, I could see the flash of lightning.
I found BMIR and started listening to music. About 15 minutes later, everyone
moved forward about 50 yards, then stopped again. Someone that looked like
he was with the Gate walked by the stopped cars. I asked what we were supposed
to do, and he just said, “Sit tight.” Nobody knew what else to do, or what
was going on. Once again, I thought it would have benefited everyone to
write down what the situation was and have someone take it to BMIR for
broadcast so that we’d all know. I could see bright lights up ahead. Was
that the Gate? A girl in a Budget Rental truck jumped out to hug a friend.
|Nobody was rude or rowdy; sitting in line was just part of the whole experience.|
About an hour and a half after pulling off the pavement, I finally pulled to the front of the line. I was at the Gate. Beyond the Gate, I could see five rows of cars lining up for a the Greeter’s station. One of the Gate people pointed me to the Will Call area, off to the left of the lines. He told me to go get my ticket, then come back and “pick a lane.” I parked next to a bus, left with the engine running, and walked up to the Will Call window. The very nice girl checked my ID and Early Entry Pass, then took my cash. She gave me my ticket with a cheerful disposition, and I was quickly back in my van, lined up in another lane. There was an empty lane for “staff,” and I wondered if Rangers counted as staff. I decided against it when a huge RV pulled into the empty lane and then had to back out again. Instead, the behemoth pulled up behind me. At half past midnight, I moved up a little, then turned off the engine to save gas. The van kept vibrating, however, due to the running engines all around me.
I Drove up 6 O’clock, within sight of Center Camp, and turned onto the
ring road, named Rod’s Road for the event. Not much was visible in the
darkness, but then I spotted Sparty, the official Hair of the Dog cargo
van, and knew I’d found the right place. It was a big, empty space, but
Sweets was there, and I met the lovely Susanne. I settled down with a beer,
glad to not be moving. I was on-playa in time for the Ranger meeting that
evening, but by the time I got through the Gate it was over. I figured
I’d catch up to them later. Billy D showed up out of the darkness and had
some chips & salsa. He said Star might make it after all, arriving
maybe Tuesday. I met a beautiful DPD girl called Rana. It turned out the
first hour people were on site, somebody stole the big red dog:
the symbol of Hair of the Dog. The first hour! The weight of the day caught
up with me, and I suddenly became very tired. I rolled out my sleeping
bag in the back of Satori and laid down for the night.It wasn’t until later
that I wondered: did I save that motorcyclist’s life on Highway 93 when
I let the pickup pass me? I’m sure I’ll never know.