I dreamed I was in a contest where you had to combine the lyrics of two songs to make a third, hopefully better, song… I woke up at 2:30. The skies were clear, and the stars were amazing. I pulled the blankets back over me and immediately fell back asleep… I woke up at 7:30. The Sun had not yet breached the horizon. It was Saturday, August 27th. In the pale light, I could see fishermen heading towards the lake. A passing disc golfer asked where the showers were. Two guys inflated a raft in the parking lot and then carried it to the water.
 
I took a couple of shirts to the nearby restrooms and washed them in the sink. There were people all around the blue spigot. The park really filled up overnight. There were RVs and trailers everywhere. Disc golf must be a big deal around here, I thought. I wondered if there were more spigots over in the day use area. While drying out my shirts, a guy with a goatee said there was a line to use the shower. One shower for dozens of camp sites? I remembered Hair of the Dog would have a shower, so I wasn’t worried. On my smartphone, Star had an emergency come up; it made her unable to attend Burning Man, and she put her ticket up for sale. In the news, Hurricane Irene was hitting the East Coast. The lake was very pretty that early in the morning.
Satori’s oil was a little low, so I put in a quart. I loaded up and drove around to the day use area. At the ranger station, I asked where a water spigot was. The ranger pointed me to one over by a gazebo, 50 yards from the road. That meant I had to carry my water jugs all the way over and back to fill them. I had forgotten how much 7 gallons of water weighs. Bugs were everywhere: flies, mosquitoes, and clouds of annoying little gnats. They must sell a lot of bug spray in Idaho, I figured. I filled up the big jugs, my canteens, and even the empty Dr. Pepper bottles I’d collected so far on the trip. I was determined to not run out of water like I had at Juplaya. Even that early, disc golfers were out practicing, hitting the—links? Chains? What did they call them?

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 west. 

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. 

I got off Interstate 84 at Exit 173 and headed south on Highway 93. Right away, I started seeing dark volcanic-looking rocks beside the road. A yellow crop dusting plane buzzed low over a nearby field. Suddenly, the landscape dropped away, and I pulled off the road to look into an amazing abyss: the Snake River Canyon.
I made a quick crossing of the amazing Perrine Bridge and pulled off at the visitor’s center. There was a family of Germans tourists in the parking lot. The canyon was deep, but the floor was wide and green. I could see houses and farms parked next to the river below. An observation platform stuck way out over the edge of the canyon. It turned out there were regular base jumpers that would parachute off the middle of the bridge, always on the east side. A whimsical statue of the bridge’s designer graced the grounds.
There was a 9/11 monument outside the visitor center’s porch. Inside, I looked at the shot glasses and various post cards and t-shirts. One shirt had Evel Kinevel’s skycycle dropping into the canyon, with him saying, “Houston, we have a problem.” I got to talking with one of the ladies behind the counter about Kinevel. “He was a bummer,” the lady said. “He never paid his bills." She said it was a circus when he tried to jump over the canyon. “Biker gangs came in, people were running around naked—it was not a good time.” It turned out her nephew was the helicopter pilot who pulled Knivel’s skycycle out of the river. Knivel never paid him, either.
 
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. 
I got some stuff, and then asked for directions to Shoshone Falls. The lady was kind enough to give me a map. The path took me through some residential neighborhoods and past the local Mormon church, a tall golden figure standing high atop the spire. I found the turnoff for the falls and turned north. The narrow road dove off the canyon rim and swept down towards the river in steep, sometimes one-lane switchbacks. I remembered the Rockies, and thought Satori would not like going back up that grade. There was a fee to get into the little park, and I drove down to park near the gift stand.
 
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 climb back up the hill wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I followed the directions I got at the bridge, looking for Addison Road and not finding it. I turned west on 3900 Road, and it happened to turn into Addison as it went through Twin Falls. I stopped at a Chevron station and got $20 worth of gas. They gave me a discount for paying in cash. As per directions, Addison took me out of town to Highway 93, about five miles out of town. It was a quarter after noon when I turned south, 109 miles to Wells, Nevada.

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 came around a corner, and mountains suddenly loomed in front of me. I crossed the Nevada border right before 1 PM and went through the town of Jackson. The speed limit was 45 as I passed one casino after another. I also entered the Pacific Time Zone. The smartphone clock kept going back and forth. Outside of town, the speed limit rose to 70. I was 67 miles from Wells, and a sign told me to turn my headlights on. The clouds looked like they were breaking up as I passed the Salmon Creek rest area. The landscape in all directions was stark and dramatic. Cattle were abscent from the picture, and I wondered if cows could find enough to graze on out there. I did pass a ziggurat of hay out in a field. A few miles out of Jackson I went through Contact, which seemed to be just an oil company field office. Wild flowers grew everywhere. I got behind a semi truck, and was following it when three SUVs got behind me. We traveled along in a convoy for about 10 miles before the SUVs passed each other and then me. I finally got ahead of the truck.
 
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. 
It was about a quarter after 2 when I got on Interstate 80 headed west. It was 50 miles to Elko. The surface of the highway was very rough, for some reason. A long ridge of mountains lined up to my left. I could see some snow-capped peaks in the distance. Big clouds rose to the west. There was a full house of vehicles at the Starr Valley RV Park when I passed by. A red van with California plates zoomed by, the passenger’s feet propped high on the dashboard. It was just after 3 PM when I got to Elko. That was where I pulled off and got $20 worth of gas. When I was waiting in line to pay, the guy in front of me was counting out his change as he flirted with the pretty clerk. “You know how difficult we men are,” he said. “I know,” she replied with a deadpan face. “I just moved out on one.”

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. 
It was 4:20 when I got to Battle Mountain. It was 51 miles to Winnemucca, two hours from Lovelock. I was keeping track of the time, because there was a Ranger meeting late that evening on the playa. It would be close, but I figured I’d make it. There was a steep climb about Mile Marker 203, right before the Golconda Summit (elevation 5,159 feet). Beyond that, wide valley opened up before me. I’d been on that road before, but Nevada kept surprising me. I pulled off the highway at Winnemucca, because I needed to mail a birthday card. Driving through town, I passed the Hi-Desert RV Park, the Tapestry Boutique, some casinos, and the local BLM office. I stopped at a Mavrick gas station and got $30 worth of gas. I stopped at the visitor’s center to mail the card, but there was a lot of music inside. A volunteer stopped me and pointed me to a mailbox outside. “We’re having an event,” she said.

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 slow going down the Arthur S. (“Action”) Jackson Highway with all the sudden traffic. In the west, the Sun had fallen behind the mountains, the light creating beautiful colors everywhere. The clouds were as golden as I’d ever seen; they were the color Renaissance painters would have used for the armor of God. Thirty miles from Gerlach, traffic slowed down for a rolling road block up ahead. The truck in question finally pulled over to let everybody pass. An hour and twenty minutes after leaving Fernley, the last rays of the Sun poked out from behind the western range.

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. 
One by one, each car moved forward a few feet. After a while, my line made a big move forward, but then another lane was opened and a bunch of cars went ahead of me. A pair of German-speaking girls jogged past towards the back of the line. Little by little, I inched closer to the lights. I wondered, were they prepared to process this many people, on a Saturday night? Each of the lines began to move forward in turn, one car length at a time. A guy was walking back from the front of the line. I asked him what was going on, and he just shook his head. “It’s a mess.”

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.

Inch by inch I moved forward, until, just after 1 AM, I made it to the Greeter’s station. I knew where Hair of the Dog was camped, but the Greeter couldn’t find it on his list. He told me to just find a place for the night and then worry about it in the morning. Even at that late hour, a day before the Gate officially opened, the campsite was full of what had to be thousands of people. Did they all have Early Entry Passes? All of them? I knew where I was going.

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.
 

  
Prologue Aug. 24  Aug. 25 Aug. 26 Aug. 27 Aug. 28 
 Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday Monday
Sept.6 Sept. 7 Sept. 8  Sept. 9 & Epilogue
Original content (c)opyright 2011 by Tim Frayser
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