The alarm clock went off at 5 AM. I got about …4 hours of sleep? Outside,
all was dark, except for construction lights set up on a distant street.
There were a couple of trucks blocking the road out to the Esplanade. Amazingly,
the right rear tire didn’t seem low any more. I used the potty, and loaded
up my bicycle on the bike rack. It was Tuesday, September 4th, and within
a half hour of waking up I was moving out of camp. All the street signs
had been stolen as of Sunday night, so my Exodus was a little confusing
until I found the outer ring road. It was completely dark, no sounds at
all. I saw no other vehicles moving.
I came up on the DPW shack. A guy stepped up and offered to wash my
windshield, for which I was grateful. “Headed to Reno?” he asked.
“No.” “Salt Lake?” “Well, eastward,” I said. “So… Salt Lake,”
he concluded, and I just replied, “Uh, yeah.” I gave them the bag of chips
I was gifted after the Temple burn, and they seemed happy. The Gate was
completely empty when I passed through, dust swirling around a lonely lamp.
A truck appeared and rumbled past me.
The ground was very bumpy, and I had to slow down to keep from shaking
the van apart. I kept looking behind me, fearful the bike would be bounced
off its rack. A truck pulling a horse trailer passed me on the right. The
road was jarring and uneven. I remembered the story of a guy coming down
the Jungo Road, where it was so bad he actually got two flat tires--
at the same time. I tried to take it easy, but everything was bouncing
around. More cars appeared and passed me. It began to get light in the
east, and I could see just how much dust was in the air. Ahead, the pavement
finally appeared. I waved at a handful of Perimiter folks at the exit and
pulled up onto the asphalt. I was out! It took 49 minutes to get from camp
to pavement—not too shabby.
It occurred to me that it could be dangerous to wait until after
the event to leave. The traffic might be lighter, but there was much less
infrastructure to assist you if something went wrong. There were fewer
people on-playa to help you. A truck pulling an art car passed me, followed
by an RV. The RV kept changing lanes, like it was going to pass the truck,
but then pulled back. They were apparently together, because presently
the truck got the message and they both pulled over. It was 6:27 when I
pulled into Gerlach. There was no movement anywhere, except for the BLM
Ranger cars at Bruno’s Motel. A Sheriff’s pickup was parked on the side.
Crossing the railroad tracks, I could see emergency lights ahead. Traffic
stopped for about five minutes, and then we got waved through. The first
thing I saw was debris scattered across the south side of the road, including
something that looked like the roof of a car. Passing a fire truck, I saw
a car lying on its side in the southbound lane, more wreckage scattered
about. It was a horrific crash. I pulled over in Empire to catch my breath.
Inside the store, I told a local about the wrecked car. “Was he still hangin’
out?” the guy asked. Eeek. There were lots of supplies in the store,
but no cold soda pop, so I moved on.
Sunlight was on the western mountains as I pulled out. I was mostly
alone on the highway. Every other time I’d left Burning Man, the side roads
off Highway 447 have been crowded with cars and vehicles: early risers
catching a nap after beating the Exodus rush. That year, however, the side
roads were mostly empty. I did pass one car parked beside the wide company
turn-off, the driver sound asleep in the shade on an inflatable mattress.
Where was everybody? It was 7:15 when I passed a tow truck pulling a car
out of the ditch. It had turned into a bright, sunny morning. A half hour
later, Pyramid Lake came into view. I carefully observed the speed limit
going through Nixon. The air was cool. There was a lot of playa blowing
around inside the van, making me sneeze and giving me a sinus headache.
It was 8:18 when I rolled into Fernley. I pulled into the truck stop
and tossed my little bag of trash into the dumpster. Inside, I cleaned
up, brushed my teeth, and called home. I looked pretty gnarly in the mirror.
A trucker in the bathroom said, “You been to the Burning Man, too?” He
just laughed. I got a Dr. Pepper and headed east on Highway 50. It was
25 miles to Fallon. I stopped at a gas station in Fallon and got $30 worth
Heading out of town, I pulled over at Grimes Point to see the petroglyphs.
There were bathrooms and a couple of picnic tables, but that early in the
day I was the only one there. There are thousands of petroglyphs all over
Grimes Point. The trail doesn’t take you by all of them, but you get to
see some good ones. Nine thousand years ago, the hill was a peninsula sticking
out into a lake that covered most of western Nevada. There were people
living there four thousand years before Stonehenge. Circling back around
on the trail, a horned toad skittered in front of me, checking me out.
There were a couple climbing out of a van when I returned to the parking
lot. “Did you go to Burning Man?” they asked, after seeing my playa-streaked
car. They asked about rain, and said they got “hammered” by storms while
they were in Utah. Across the highway, fighter jets from the Fallon Naval
Air Station flew in formation. I headed east on 50, driving across the
ancient, dry lake bed. The bordello I’d passed years before was burned
to the ground, a high fence protecting the remains. I slowed down so that
a pickup could pass a motorcycle. The road was lined with beautiful, exposed
geologic formations. I crossed Sand Springs Pass, and the road descended
into an ancient lake bed. Nearby was a B-17 practice range.
It was shortly before 11 when I crossed over the Drumm Summit, gateway
to yet another wide valley. The road to Fairview Peak, famous for exposed
earthquake faults, was just past the summit. At Middlegate, it was 64 miles
to Austin, and that’s when I pulled over. I’d heard someone cut down the
famous Shoe Tree, but I had to see for myself. The trunk lay unceremoniously
in the nearby ditch, chopped up in pieces by some heartless jerk. It was
just a tree-- it didn't do anything wrong. Some people just can’t stand
for there to be any fun in the world. There was a memorial to the Shoe
Tree, signed by dozens of people. The trunk and some surrounding acres
were scorched by fire, but I don’t know if that was related to the vandalism.
Farewell, Shoe Tree; the world is a less whimsical place without you.
Down the road, I passed the ruins of an old Pony Express station at Cold
Springs. Side roads led to little congregations of life in the desert,
like Antelope, or Alpine. Twenty five miles from Austin, I drove through
some big cuts in the mountains. I could tell I was climbing in elevation:
the vegetation began to get lusher, the plants bigger and closer together.
I crossed over New Pass Summit, elevation 6,348 feet, and marveled at how
well Satori was doing with high elevations. The Mount Airy summit down
the road was no problem, either. I realized my sinuses were clearing up.
Austin, Nevada advertises itself as “Little Town, Big Outdoors.” It was
just past noon when I pulled over for lunch. I walked into the International
Café, which had hardwood floors and a big picture of W.C. Fields
on the wall. I was the only customer. The table had a turnstile with spices,
salsa, and some short books to read. I ordered the half-pound burger. It
came with a toasted sesame seed bun, iced tea, and French fries as thick
as your finger, all for $10. It was a friendly, down-home place, and I
felt comfortable there. Back at the van, I put in a quart of oil and let
it cool off for a while before tackling the summit. A truck with a dusty
bike on the back zoomed through town.
As I headed out, I passed the Owl Club and the True Value Hardware
store. Gas was selling for $4.29 a gallon. I headed up the hill, which
always spooked me going the other direction. Satori labored at the grade,
slowing down to 45 and less, but she topped the Austin Summit with ease.
I was definitely in the mountains of Nevada. It was two hours to Ely. I
passed the turn for the Bob Scott Campground, and about a half hour later
crossed over the Hickson Summit. I had thought about stopping to check
out the Hickson Petroglyphs, but the dirt road into the tall brush gave
me pause, and I kept going. My hair was still saturated with playa dust.
It was spiked out, like I was some kind of Japanese anime character. I
tried out the Fleetwood Mac CD I found on the playa, and it worked… sort
of. There’s a whole lot of nothing between Austin and Eureka. It was a
good thing I brought music to listen to. The radio couldn’t find a station
anywhere. It looked like sunset in Baker would be just after 7 PM.
I arrived in Eureka, Nevada just after 2 o’clock. It was a neat little
town. There was a classic opera house down the street from a brand new
hotel. The fire station had seven bays for fire trucks. There was a steep
climb to the Pinto Summit, but I emerged into some really pretty country.
Crossing the White Pine County line, I descended into the wide Newark Valley.
Not far past the Pancake Summit, there were some spectacular views of the
valley beyond, as the road headed towards Antelope Mountain. Heading for
Little Antelope Summit, the grade got steep, and signs warned of falling
rocks in the road. I passed green fields and tree-covered mountains. The
wind really picked up. Past Illipah, it was another steep climb to Robinson
The air smelled of juniper, and got cool as I closed in on Ely. There
was a big mine outside of town, the cliffs dwarfing a dump truck I saw
riding along the crest. Ely, Nevada was a green , vibrant town with a pretty
city park. It looked like there were some Civil War graves in the cemetery.
It turned out Nevada sent 1,200 men to fight for the Union. I pulled into
the Conoco station and got $20 worth of gas. A hunter in grey fatigues
filling up his Ford F150 pickup recognized the playa dust on the van. He
used to live in Reno. “I know about Black Rock,” he said, and he too asked
if we got rain on the playa.
As I was leaving town, I noticed the gas as the Shoshone Nation gas
station was 5 cents cheaper. A sign reported the local fire danger was
“high.” I found a news station, and tried to catch up. Down the road, I
pulled into the wide Spring Valley, but it had changed since my last visit.
The base of the valley was filled with a long array of wind-powered generators,
gently turning in the wind. Gone were the emerald-colored fields I remembered,
replaced with acres of yellowed grass. It was just a big valley. I began
the long, steady climb into the Snake Range. White, fluffy clouds meandered
across a pretty blue sky. Satori was straining at 35 MPH until we crossed
Sacramento Pass (7,154 feet).
Two miles passed the summit, I pulled over to take a look at the BLM campsite.
There were bathrooms and trash cans, and it seemed clean enough to camp
in. Several of the campsites were taken, and it looked like they had been
there a while. Past the turnoff for Great Basin National Park and Baker,
Nevada, I kept on Highway 50 as it started down into Snake Valley. Just
after 5 PM, I pulled over at the Border Inn, literally right on the Utah
state line. Previous correspondence told me they would only charge me $5
to camp, but the guy at the counter said that since I wasn’t using any
hook-ups I could just park for free! Sweet! The showers were still $5 each,
so I paid my money and took a long, hot shower. I had to wait for the hot
water, but when it came on it stayed on. The place had a laundry, so I
got some change and washed a big load of clothes. There was no phone service
available, so I tried to send the Missus a text message.
Showered, with clean clothes, I still had a little daylight left, so
I went into the store/bar/casino/restaurant and had a beer. The bartender’s
name was Kevin, and he was watching a show about old airplanes on the History
Channel. Going back to the van, I couldn’t find my wallet, and spent a
frantic five minutes looking all over until I found it… where I always
put it when I don’t have it on me. I must’ve been tired. That was a few
more grey hairs for the collection. I got out the folding table and the
propane stove and cooked up a can of stew, with Fritos in place of crackers.
The sunset was beautiful, and even in the parking lot I felt like I had
it all to myself. The temperature dropped suddenly as soon as the Sun went
down. I drove 446 miles that day, almost all the way across Nevada. Was
it still Tuesday?
As soon as it got dark, I bundled up in the back of Satori and quickly
fell asleep… I woke at 2 AM. I slept for 6 hours? Wow. On my way to the
bathrooms, I marveled at how quiet it was, no sound, no wind… no dust!
The Moon still obscured any serious stargazing, but the stars I could see
were brilliant. Back inside Satori, I heard a car pull up nearby and stop.
I heard the car door open… but I didn’t hear the door shut. I looked
up, and saw the car, but didn’t see anybody in the parking lot. Did I not
look up quick enough? Could he have been wearing soft shoes? Was it
a maniac with a hook escaped from an insane asylum? I bundled up under
my sleeping bags, and kept one of my kali sticks close by, just in case…
Last updated: September, 2012