The half Moon greeted me from directly above when I woke up Friday morning, September 7th. It was just before sunrise. I’d had an uneasy night, waking every few hours. I checked my email on my smartphone, then went to the showers with my last pair of clean underwear. I had the RV park showers all to myself, because pretty much every other person in the park had an RV with its own shower. The Sun was up and brilliantly bright when I came out of the showers. I did not relish driving into such blinding brightness, so I thought I’d give the Sun a chance to rise a little before heading out. I had $29 cash left. Satori’s oil was just below the full level. It was 7:37 New Mexico time when I started up the van, but I had to stop to put my folding table in the back. (I’d put it in front of the car so that I wouldn’t forget it.)
Traffic was heavy going through Albuquerque, made worse by the glare of the morning Sun. Traffic lightened up as soon as I passed the I-25 interchange. It was 266 miles to Amarillo. The radio news talked about the Republican and Democratic conventions, both of which I missed while in the playa. I soon pulled away from the mountains around Albuquerque and entered the Great Plains. I was low on gas, so I pulled into Clines Corners, where I was going to fill up the tank—but not for $3.99 a gallon. The interior was a mix of Southwestern themes and 1950’s art deco. I got a Dr. Pepper, and found my package of beef jerky. Back on the road, I listened to some music. It was just after 10 when I went through Santa Rosa, for the third time that year? It was 54 miles to Tucumcari. I stopped munching on the jerky when the Dr. Pepper ran out. Crosswinds began to get pretty formidable when I got to Tucumcari.

It was two hours to Amarillo. The crosswinds turned into an awful headwind. It wasn’t anything Satori couldn’t handle, but it made for some tough going. There was a lot of dust in the air when I crossed the border into Texas, and the Central Time Zone: 11:53 suddenly became 12:53. The wind was just howling as I passed Exit 18. I checked the smartphone: the Weather Channel said Amarillo was getting wind gusts of up to 35 MPH. The van was really getting bounced around by the wind. Hi-profile vehicles like semi trucks were swerving around thr road. The sky darkened from all the dust in the air. I watched a dust devil swirl around in a field and thought, You call that a dust devil? Where I just came from, we have dust dragons! Wind powered generators were happily spinning at Wildorado, which should be the name of my next rock band. A tumbleweed actually rolled across the road in front of me. I passed Cadillac Ranch right before 2, which put me in Amarillo.

At Exit 75, the gas light came on, so I pulled off and stopped for lunch at the Big Texan. I went ahead and put on pants to eat inside. The steak was delicious. I got to keep the cup my sweet tea came in. The Big Texan just started brewing their own beer, and in the middle of the afternoon the bar was completely full. A customer watched with fascination as I got a crushed penny from the machine. I used the Visa card to get $50 worth of gas ($3.59 a gallon, much more reasonable). It was 3:18 when I got back on I-40. It was 253 miles to Oklahoma City—would I be home by 9? There was not as much dust in the air, but the wind was still fierce. It was just before 4 when I passed the big cross in Groom.

I forgot to check the oil while I was in Amarillo, so I pulled over at the big rest area near Alanreed. The wind was really blowing. I put in a gallon of oil and let the engine cool for a few minutes. The van rocked back and forth in the wind as I sat parked in the lot. It looked like I wouldn’t be home until 10. It was 5:21 when I crossed the border into Oklahoma. The roads were wet, like it had recently rained. Big, dark clouds appeared ahead. I noticed west-bound cars all had their lights on. I stopped at Woodward to check the straps on the bike rack. When I went inside a convenience store to use the bathroom, I accidentally went into the woman’s rest room. The door frame hid the WO part of the sign, so all I saw was the MAN’S. I wondered why the clerk gave me such a funny look.
Back on the interstate, passing trucks kept suddenly swerving into my lane, pushed over by the stiff wind. The setting Sun fell behind some clouds. I swerved to miss a turtle in the road, which Dad always said meant that rain was coming. Alongside the road, trees were bent over by the wind. Wind powered generators were spinning like carnival pinwheels. My back hurt.

Twenty-two miles from El Reno, it began to rain. I turned on my headlights. Just then, my rear view mirror lit up with a red light. It was the setting Sun, giving its final bow of the day. 

Lightning flashed ahead. Twenty miles from Oklahoma City, the sky was lit up with multiple bursts of lightning. I was still hours from home. At Yukon, the clouds were very low to the ground. Cloud-to-ground lightning exploded around me as I entered Oklahoma City. Darkness came quickly. I drove through the city and pulled off at Exit 137. I got a few extra gallons to get me home.  At the Tulsa exit, a semi rig almost jackknifed itself making a sudden turn in front of me. Wind and rain were heavy as I drove down the turnpike. Trucks kept passing me, and the light reflecting off the wet asphalt got confusing. At one point, construction narrowed traffic to one lane. The K rails on either side suddenly closed in, getting narrower and narrower, and I thought the van was going to scrape against both sides before I burst out of the tight lane. As soon as I was clear of the Death Star Trench, the rain let up and then stopped. Stars appeared. I was no more than a few feet past the Turner Turnpike toll booth, the Missus called me on my cell. She said, “I expected you home several hours ago.” That made two of us. It was another hour before I rolled up into the driveway. In 17 days on the road, I’d traveled 3,676 miles. It felt good to be home.

This was a odd year. The sheer numbers of new people kept the energy up, but the "feel" seemed to be off. People kept coming up to the camp, looking for a trash can... apparently unaware of any of the principles of Burning Man, which include taking care of your own crap. I met a bunch of really cool people this year, heard a lot of music, saw a lot of art, but I also encountered a lot of clueless, entitled people that just showed up to party. I think the harsh weather conditions served as a necessary wake-up call for them. I think it was the weather, and not so much scary Exodus stories, that sent so many people packing early.

I don't think the Org will be doing the lottery again. It seemed too much of a cluster fau paux to repeat... but even if they did, I can't see scalpers trying to make a buck off it again. This was the first year the population of Black Rock City actually went down. Some had been talking about it growing in upcoming years, and keep growing until it rose to 100,000 or more, but I think that was assuming everybody that came to Burning Man kept coming back. Any event, organization or group is bound to undergo attrition, something that's very hard to measure. Some people show up, but don't return. How do you count people that aren't there? Also, Burning Man isn't like a big event like Wrestlemania or the Super Bowl. You can't just drop what you're doing on a whim, drive two hours off the interstate, wait in line for six hours, and spend a week being pounded by dust storms. It's not like that. Burning Man is something you have to plan for. It's estimated that as many as 8,000 tickets did not get used this year. If you figure an average of $300 a ticket, somebody lost a lot of money on Burning Man, and they're unlikely to repeat the gamble. Personally, if the population of Black Rock City leveled off to a managable number, that would be fine with me.

That really was a bird I saw outside of Center Camp! What I didn’t know until after I returned home, was that it wasn’t a pelican… it was a goose! A goose had gotten lost and ended up in the Black Rock Desert. I wasn't crazy! A couple of days later, Rangers Halston and Beauty caught and took care of the animal-- which indeed did have a big wing span-- until it could be safely released into the wild.

All in all, I felt pretty good about my performance as a Ranger that year. I think I did a good job, and the Sandmen rocked. For the second year in a row, the burn didn't have any runners, something I attribute to our presence holding the line. Deterrence works!

This year's trip took 17 days for me. Seventeen days was a long time to be away from home. It wasn't like I saw a lot of stuff on the way, either. The extra time was mostly due to trying to get in early and wait to leave after it was over, in order to avoid the crowds. I'm not so sure that's a good idea anymore. By attending Burning Man, I've already accepted the chance of a certain level of inconvenience. (Heck, the ticket says I accept the chance of death just by showing up.) If I can shave days off my travel time in return for spending a few hours in line, I'm thinking that might be a fair trade. 

The theme for Burning Man that year was "Fertility," which usually symbolizes the beginning of life, but the most fertile soil comes from decaying plants-- the ending of other things, a grand circle in the natural process of life and death. 

Native American traditions say that all things have a time to live, and a time to die, and everything-- from animals to people to cities --should be allowed to return to the Earth once its time is done. Some consider the preservation of ancient ruins, such as the sites at Chaco Canyon, an interruption of a natutal process.

People, cities, pets, relationships... they are born, they live, and then they die. That's the way it goes. What we preserve from that existence, what we choose to remember, sinks in and becomes part of us.

Like ancient sites, we can look back on episodes in our lives as a place of inspiration, or a crumbling ruin. It's what we learn from the experience that's important. 

Prologue  Aug. 22  Aug. 23  Aug. 24  Aug. 25 
Sunday  Monday  Tuesday  Wednesday  Thursday  Friday  Saturday  Sunday  Monday 
Sept. 4  Sept. 5  Sept. 6  Sept. 7 & Epilogue
Original material (c)opyright 2012 by Tim Frayser
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Last updated: September, 2012