leaving burning man

Burning Man is the opposite of creature comfort. — Dan Greening

I left Burning Man two days after arriving. It wasn’t that Burning Man sucked this year, it’s that the weather sucked. The art was first-rate, and there were some pieces that had amazing promise, like “The Three Faces of Man”, with three 15′ tall faces. One was steel and cried fire, the second was wood and cried sand, and the last was covered in sod (grass) and cried water. There was a 10′ tall flaming heart. There were literally hundreds of wonderful pieces of art on the playa.

Unfortunately, every day seemed to consist of a fairly steady dust storm, alternating with light rain (just enough to create some mud). Our 2 PVC geodesic domes held up fairly well, but the dust blew under the domes onto our floor, which fairly soon was indistinguishable from the desert floor. In heavy winds, the upwind side of the dome would collapse inwards, only to bounce back out when the wind let up. After the first night, we found that the rebar stakes holding down our tent had cut through the loop cords, causing several walls of our structure to flap about without support. Thankfully, the tent as a whole held up, and we had repair cord.

We pulled all of the rebar and replaced it with plastic stakes, which worked fairly well, but would occasionally pull out of the ground. This we could deal with. You would be hanging out with friends in the shelter, talking loud to be heard above the flapping of the dome in the wind, when one wall would start flapping worse than the others. Two people would get up, grab a sledge hammer, and go out into the storm. The sound of pounding would be heard, and a few moments later the two would return, eyebrows, lashes, and all body hair white with playa dust.

(from left) Hez, Melissa, Andy, Ron, Dan, and Brent at Camp Hole Club

After a few days of this my hair was matted into a very cool mad scientist explosion, my sleeping bag covered in dust, and baby wipes my only respite from total scuzziness. I decided that I wanted a chance of scenery. I told my campmates, who were very understanding, and on Friday morning I drove south out of Burning Man, returning to Carson City. I expect I missed a lot of great stuff, but my mind was elsewhere, worried about preparing my van for the trip south.

In Carson City I’ve been busy making my van more liveable. I spent about 2 hours in a do-it-yourself carwash cleaning off the damage from the Black Rock Desert. I’ve mostly cleared the floor, shuffling things around and repacking. By the time Jeanne gets here on Sunday I’ll be ready to go. I’ve decided that I’m a home body. If I’m going to be comfortable on this trip, I need to make the van more homey. Clearing the floor was a major step in this direction. Now I can actually get into the van whenever I feel like it, without having to move stuff around. Even though I pulled into the RV park on Friday night too late for a shower, I slept a lot better than I had the past few nights.

Now I’m sitting in the parking lot of Kinko’s, where I’m going to connect to the internet and send this dispatch. As I’m sitting here, Wade Hodges comes by to talk. I ran into Wade last time I was here at a laundromat / bar. Wade’s rugged but outgoing, and looks like he should be a supporting actor in a western. The sort of guy who could get the gal but instead opts for a life on the range, the sort of guy who if he did get the gal would Do The Right Thing and marry her, the sort of guy who drinks hard but never gets mean.

Wade Hodges, action geologist

This time I find out more about Wade. He’s a ‘Consulting Exploration Geologist’ whose business card reads “Dedicated to the search for GOLD using features of practical exploration significance…………… and a smile!” Wade tells me a story about doing some prospecting at a small village in the Amazon Basin, upriver from Belem. He was drinking at a small bar, just three adobe walls and beer, when two locals in the corner got to disagreeing on something. Faster than Wade could see, one had whipped his machete off of his back and slammed it deep into the wooden table, severing the end of each finger on his companion’s hand. Then the guy with the machete started shooting. One bullet went through Wade’s jeep. Luckily none went through Wade. As Wade tells the story, no one acted like this was terribly unusual.

Wade also told me a story about friends of his who were prospecting in Colombia. They were warned by one faction or other a few times to move along, but they didn’t pay attention. They were found at the bottom of a 3,000 foot ravine. It took two weeks to recover the bodies.

Now, strangely enough, these sorts of stories make me want to make this trip more. One of the best things you can take back from any sort of adventure is stories, and these were doozies. Granted, it would have sucked if Wade had been killed. (No point in getting great stories and then dying.) But he wasn’t killed, and he shared these great stories with me. I’d love to have some of these sorts of stories to give my friends.

One time Dan and I were driving through Sequoia or Yellowstone or one of those National Parks. We spotted two bear cubs off to one side of a trail, and a big black momma bear off to the other. They were about 100′ apart. The cubs were cavorting, as cubs do, and momma’s attention was centered squarely on Dan and I. I started moving down the trail. As I got closer and closer to the line connecting momma and cubs, momma got larger and larger. Her fur was expanding the same way an angry cat’s does. Now, I know this is a dumb-shit thing to do, but I was fascinated. I wanted to see how big she would get and when she’d charge.

Dan eventually swooped in and pulled me away. I didn’t think she’d chase me for very long (after all, I would be running away from the cubs), so I didn’t think I was in that much danger. Maybe I was. I definitely was getting an adrenalin rush. And I like the story. (And so does Dan, who tells it more often than I do.)

The most memorable camping trips I’ve taken have been those where someone has almost died. (They didn’t, so the memories aren’t tragic.) Fear for your life, or that of someone else, has a fixitive quality. I want some of those ‘living on the edge’ stories from this trip. (I can imagine Jeanne reading this and saying “Oh shit!”.) What fun would it be to come back and say “Yup, the food was pretty good and we stayed at some nice RV parks. I got diarrhea once, though.”?

From where I’m sitting in my van, I can see snow on the hills outside of Carson City. There is a cool breeze blowing through the door of the van. It’s a sunny day.


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