There was no storm when I woke at 3 AM to use the potties. There were
some clouds, but still plenty of stars out. I could see the headlights
of vehicles heading out of the city. A lot of people were leaving… but
there were still lots of people to go. The sound of a car engine woke me
up at 6:30 Monday morning, September 2nd. I walked out to watch
the beautiful sunrise, my last in Black Rock City. It had not rained in
the night, as predicted. The wind wasn't even blowing. The flags at Center
Camp were limp from the still air. The Captain had moved his truck in the
night, so I was able to open up Satori’s back end and get started packing.
|A steady stream of vehicles moved down the roads. All around, vacant
spaces marked where tents and motor homes had been all week. I cooked a
can of stew for my breakfast and washed my hair, then got started taking
down my tent. I got everything packed away and tied down on Satori’s roof
by 9 AM. The nice lady next door said goodbye. Across the service road,
the ninja toilets were being dismantled.
I helped load the truck with equipment, boxes and leftover booze. After
running out of booze in 2012, we had a surplus of leftover liquor. The
last thing in the truck was the trash and bags of recyclables. Everything
was in the truck by 11 AM. I said bye to Steph, Brian, and Rerun, and got
a hug from Billy. They figured they’d be in Reno by sunset.
I got dressed for my last Ranger shift. Ranger Hazelnut checked me
in. I talked to Kitsune, hoping to “ranger some shade” that day, and he
said, “Good luck finding some.” Camps were packing up right and left. A
girl came over with a broken bike, and I pinched my thumb helping to fix
it. Around back, Ranger Kermit said the Exodus was a 6-hour wait as of
10 that morning, and that was before two RVs broke down in line. Sanctuary
I got paired up with Cap’n Ron, a ten-year veteran. He was at the Denver
training, but he didn’t remember me. Rangers Madtown and Fuzzy briefed
the afternoon shift. Everything was shutting down, including medical services.
Somebody spotted a live opossum near 5 & E. Duney paid me a big personal
compliment; it was unexpected and appreciated. Cap’n Ron and I got assigned
to patrol from 8 to 10 o’clock. He drove to Burning Man in an 18-wheel
semi truck all the way from Colorado. I’d always wondered if they would
be good to camp in, and apparently they make terrific RVs, especially the
ones with a big cab in the back for sleeping. He noticed all the street
signs that had been stolen as souvenirs; not just the signs, but the plastic
markers on the posts so emergency personnel could find addresses.
We met up with a guy who lost his car. On Craigslist, he met up with
a girl who offered to help pay gas in return for a ride to Burning Man.
Once they unloaded his stuff at his camp, she borrowed his Chevy Astro
van to take her stuff to her camp… and he didn’t see her again. Of course,
he wanted his van back. We offered to contact law enforcement, but since
they weren’t planning to leave until Tuesday, he wasn’t worried yet. We
reported it, and from then on we kept seeing Astro vans all over the place.
At 8:30 & B, we ran into Coco, and once again I did not have the
gifts I had intended to give her. Somebody reported people were dumping
their grey water into the porta potties. Unless we witnessed it, there
wasn’t much we could do. Cap’n Ron stopped to talk to somebody else who
drove a big rig in, and I said hi to Ranger Mammoth.
Dark clouds loomed to the north. Trash was everywhere. Somebody left a
plastic bag behind, so I started using that as a trash bag. One camp left
behind a whole set of couches and plush chairs. Another camp was thoughtful
enough to pack their garbage in trash bags, but then left the bags behind.
The wind brought a big plastic flower past us. I tried to get it, then
Cap’n Ron tried to get it, and we must have chased that silly thing three
blocks in the blinding dust before we caught it. We spotted a tiny Smartcar
parked at one camp next to a trailer. It didn’t seem possible a car like
that would have a gas tank big enough to make it out to the desert. I wondered
how many Smartcars you could fit in the trailer of a semi. A guy on the
Esplanade told us he’d locked himself out of his car. AAA was on-site,
handling those calls, and Khaki walked us through how to get to the AAA
channel to call for help. That’s when I found out the hard way the microphone
on my radio didn’t work. AAA noted the location, but added “It’s gonna
take a while.”
||Just about then, we got slammed with a massive white-out. Visibility
dropped to 50 yards. We hunkered down at Outpost Tokyo to wait it out.
Ranger Grooves was there. A man came up to report his girlfriend was missing.
They had been riding around together that morning, and when he turned around
she had disappeared. He hadn’t seen her for 3 hours. He took off before
we could get more information, but he wasn’t hard to find. Khaki needed
“real world information” for reports like that.
That led us to “the opossum incident.” Cap’n Ron’s daughter worked
with animals, and when we went on-shift he offered her services to help
catch the rogue opossum. Khaki called him to follow up on the report, so
we took off across the inner playa for his camp, way over on the opposite
side of the city. He talked about serendipity, and how things just seem
to work out sometimes. His daughter was a big Doctor Who fan, and they
met up with a guy who brought a full-sized Tardis out the playa. It turned
out he didn’t want to take it back, so his daughter was delighted to take
it. It was still standing outside their camp when we arrived. Cap’n Ron’s
daughter was glad to help, so we started back across the inner playa, back
where we’d just come from.
The radio announced it was raining at the Gate. In the distance, thunder
boomed across the dusty plain. Dark clouds moved in. Riding into a fierce
headwind, we felt it starting to rain. It was surreal zooming across the
blank desert plain, the air full of moisture and energy, tentacles of dust
swirling all around. I was very winded, pedaling against the stiff breeze,
and Cap’n Ron kept looking back to see if I was okay. I was sucking air
when we found the camp with the reported opossum… but, upon investigation,
we discovered it had “been taken care of.” I don’t know if they ate it
or what, but the creature was no longer an issue. It was all very anticlimactic.
Cap’n Ron’s daughter was disappointed she didn’t get a critter to play
with, and rode back to their camp. The rain only lasted a couple of minutes.
The ground was already dry again.
We rode over to Tokyo to recover from the hard ride. Okay, I needed
to recover. The Batsignal had been tied up at Tokyo, but high winds forced
it to be taken down. I helped some other Rangers dismantle the camp’s bar.
I also had to go back when I realized I’d left my Camelbak behind. It was
getting towards the end of our shift, so we started working out way down
the Esplanade towards Center Camp. Cap’n Ron kept meeting up with friends,
like a bunch at a storytelling camp. Just as it was getting time for shift
change, Khaki broadcasted we needed to stay out in the field a little longer.
It seemed they were having trouble rounding up enough Rangers for the evening
shift. We met up with some other Rangers and patrolled the closed Center
Camp until we were finally called in.
All I was thinking about was getting a bite to eat in the commissary
and hitting the road. When I went to check in my radio, Hazelnut stopped
me and said I had almost enough hours logged to qualify for a special
ticket in 2014. I needed to stay on shift just a little longer. “How much
longer?” I asked. “Twenty minutes,” she said. Aaaagh! So, I went
back around to Sanctuary and helped them find some trash bags. Hazelnut
logged me out with 0.06 hours to spare. Ha! Supper was some tasty little
steaks. I got to wave at Cap’n Ron and tell him it was nice working with
Back in camp, the Captain’s tent and my van were all that remained.
I made one last trip to the potties, loaded up the bicycle on the rack,
and pulled out of camp at 7:15, waving goodbye to Robin and Shelly. The
Sun was just going down. The radio was predicting a 6 to 7-hour wait
in Exodus. When I got to the DPW drop-off point, they stopped the RV
in front of me to make sure their bicycles were secure on top. They let
me go around, even though I didn’t have any leftovers to donate. A sign
announced it was 4 miles to the highway. Some folks stood next to a little
bus holding a handmade sign: MECHANIC. There were several rows of cars
Twenty minutes from camp I came to a halt and turned off my engine. I could
see about a dozen vehicles all around me. The long wait to get to the highway
began. Twilight fell. Little by little, the lines inched forward. A big
art car rolled past me. I could see porta potties had been set up at intervals
along both sides of the exit lanes. At a quarter to 8, I could see a long
line of red lights ahead. We inched forward past the “2 miles to highway”
sign and stopped again. A guy on a bike equipped with a sail cruised between
the stopped vehicles. In the darkness to my right, I could hear some man
talking. To my left, an unseen woman sang a blues song. I fully expected
the line I was in to move the slowest.
As it got dark, a man walked down the lines with a megaphone; he announced
the Gate had been closed for the night because of a “sharknado.” He later
confessed, over the megaphone, “I’m just a douchebag.” I listed to music
and updates on BMIR, but I didn’t want to wear my car battery down, so
I got out my MP3 player. A little after 8, somebody shot off some fireworks.
After a half hour of sitting in line, the car behind me finally turned
off its headlights. A double-decker bus in a different lane rolled by.
Just before 9, everyone moved forward about a mile, then we all came to
a stop again. They were “pulsing” the traffic, letting chunks of traffic
through and waiting until the road was clear before sending out the next
bunch. A very light breeze rose out of the desert. At 9:15, I yawned. It
had already been a long day. A rental truck in the next lane sat with its
engine idling for over a half hour. Some folks got out of their cars to
stretch their legs.
We moved again. A sign ahead said we were entering the 45-60 minute zone.
We rolled past that and stopped near the 15-30 minute time zone. Ahead,
I could see lanes of traffic merging, a line of red lights snaking up the
short rise to the highway. “So close! So very close!” yelled a woman
behind me. I could see where they stopped the lines of traffic up ahead,
about four vehicles in front of me. When it was our turn to move forward,
the lanes quickly merged into two as we climbed towards the highway. Just
over four hours after leaving camp, I was back on pavement… going 5 MPH.
It took almost 40 minutes to make it to Gerlach. Cars were parked around
hamburger and hot dog stands. I was a little surprised to see Bruno’s closed,
but then, it was after midnight. A couple of big RVs were stopped beside
the road. I got through Gerlach and almost got up to the speed limit after
crossing the railroad tracks. At Empire, traffic got bumper-to-bumper and
slowed to a crawl. Cars in front of me swerved for a guy riding a bicycle
along the tiny shoulder.
|At 9:25, the wind picked up. We moved again, and I could see big lights
way up ahead. People in the other cars were starting to get impatient,
going around slower cars and switching lanes. I didn’t see much point to
that. Eventually, we’d all be merging onto one 2-lane road. I decided I
wasn't going to worry about it. People with walkie-talkies moved among
the cars, reminding people to turn on their headlights after being stopped
for so long. The Smartcar Cap’n Ron and I saw drove past me.
At 10:22, a man walked past me with a gas can. A few minutes later,
there was movement, but only for a couple of lanes.
Along every side road or flat patch of ground, cars, trucks and motor
homes were parked, waiting for morning. I drove on. It was 1:33 when I
rolled around Marble Bluff, thankful it was too dark to see anything. A
lot of cars were stopped in Nixon at the Indian taco huts. Police cars
with flashing lights reminded everyone they were in the real world again.
Three hours after hitting the pavement and seven hours
after leaving camp, I made it to the edge of civilization -- also
known as Fernley, Nevada. I stopped to throw my garbage into the big dumpster
at the truck stop, then drove through town. The RV park seemed farther
away than it really was. There was new blacktop on the highway out of town,
and it seemed to eat up the light from my headlights. (I later discovered
my headlight switch had malfunctioned; my headlights were really off
as I left town. It's a wonder I didn't get stopped by the police.)
Desert Rose had my overnight packet waiting for me on the bulletin board
when I arrived. I had no trouble finding my parking spot. I grabbed my
towel, shampoo and my last clean clothes and headed for the showers. That
first shower after leaving the playa always feels like being born again
in a new world. I was too tired to do a load of laundry, like I’d planned
to do, so I got ready for bed. I’d been up for 21 hours. In the back
of Satori, sleep soon overtook me. I didn’t ride on one art car the whole
week I was at Burning Man.
Last updated: September, 2013