Chapter 5 – Where I Kill Some Time in Reno, Just to Watch it Die

Originally posted 11/11/2008

Sunday August 22nd dawned bright and clear.  Today, there would be no rush.  I looked out over Reno from my 16th floor room at Circus Circus and could see the hills glowing in the distance as the sun rose.

Looking out across Reno from the 16th floor of Circus-Circus

Looking out across Reno from the 16th floor of Circus-Circus

I fired up the laptop, grabbed an internet connection and sent off email and some of the pictures I’d taken so far.  I also wanted to check the Lamplighters intranet for any last minutes items they would need for the kitchen or any of the evening meals we all contribute to while camped there.  There had been several cancellations in the last three days but others had already taken up the slack by volunteering to cover the missing items.

I grabbed breakfast downstairs in one of the hotel restaurants and went out to check on the RV.  My agenda for the day was simple;  get organized, get dry ice, fill the two 6 gallon water cans, the 5 gallon gas can, and finish grocery shopping.  Then I would wait until I could head north to Gerlach and join the crowds entering the playa at 12:01am.  Why would I go at the busiest time?  For the full experience, of course!

I found a great deal of activity in the lot beside the hotel.  Several burners were there doing last minute prep work on bikes, securing loaded trailers of gear, and some just lounging in lawn chairs, waiting to head north themselves. When I climbed into the RV, I looked out across the parking lot and saw a box truck with the name ‘Clean Burn’ on the back.  This was not just an omen (I hoped) but a very strange coincidence.  More than ten years earlier, when I was an independent IT contractor, Clean Burn was one of my clients, and they were headquartered in my native Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  From reading the back of the truck, I could see that they had offices in other locations as well now. The truck was NOT one of the vehicles prepping for Burning Man.

Since I had basically thrown everything into the RV in order to get moving the day before, I started getting organized.  I rearranged the RVs table as a bed and set both coolers on it.  This would keep them off the floor and insulated.  The big cooler would hold 50 pounds of dry ice and several partially filled jugs of water.  The jugs would stay frozen most of the week.  Each day one jug would be transferred to the smaller cooler to act as an ice block and after if melted, the water would be drinkable if needed. (With 5 cases of bottled water available, the likelihood of needing it as drinking water was pretty low, but I always like to be prepared).

[Note: I am sitting here writing this today and drinking from a one liter bottle of water that was part of the third case of water - after all this time, I still have two cases left! And they all have that beautiful playa dust sheen on them ]

After setting up the coolers I unpacked other equipment and items into drawers and cupboards.  Then I worked on getting my bike lights put on.  After that,  I just sat back to relax for a change.  This was the first day since I started this trip, where I wasn’t going to be driving all day long.  It gave me a chance to contemplate the trip and what lay ahead.  I had spent 18 months reading everything I could on Burning Man, but I was still not sure what to expect. How would I be viewed, at my age of 52, and would I truly be accepted as a burner?  Was Burning Man really the place they claimed, truly accepting of everybody who came and participated?  Or would I just seem like some tourist and draw criticism?  I was sure of one thing, I was going there, not just to observe, but to participate and be a part of the entire process. I had come this far, I had the ticket, nothing would stop me from trying to fulfill that goal.

Around 2:30 in the afternoon I decided it was time to head off the lot and follow my maps to the supermarket parking lot where they were selling water to put into large containers.  I headed out and up the street, passing the supermarket lot because it was set back behind other buildings.  Further down the street, however, I happened across the dry ice place and pulled in to get some for the coolers.  It was a good thing I arrived when I did,  they were going to close at 3:00, despite the fact that they originally said they would be open until 5:00 on Sunday. Several other burners were there ahead of me and one of them was kind enough to tell me where to turn to get over to the supermarket.

Fifty pounds of dry ice looks like a stack of five large school books.  Each book or brick is ten pounds.  I arranged the bricks on the bottom of the big cooler using heavy winter gloves.  Now it was time to get those jugs filled and let them sit on the  dry ice to freeze up.

I headed back up the street to the supermarket and found more ‘controlled’ chaos.  Folks were pumping potable water from large 55 gallon barrels into their own containers, then going in to the supermarket to pay by the gallon.  I partially filled my 1 and 2 gallon jugs and placed them in the cooler.  Then I went shopping.  I picked up some microwavable meals (non-frozen) and some frozen PBJ sandwiches along with several other food items and juices.  I also picked up two bottles of Rum.  While I do not drink, the chatter on the Lamplighters forum and intra net indicated that they always seemed to run out of rum before vodka each year. So I decided to help out and bring some extra along.

One more thing remained to be done.  I left the grocery store and headed down the road to the local Costco.  I had volunteered to bring a 24 pack of cola for mixers and then amended it to 48.  But considering how much they needed them, I picked up 3 cases instead and a case of lemon-lime soda as well.  This would prove to be the right move, since, as the week at Burning Man went on, and the camp bar kept running out, I was able to help replenish when they needed it most.

I killed some time in the parking lot there, watching other burners stocking their RVs and looking in the other stores at the strip mall.  I even got pan-handled by a guy claiming he needed money for gas to get home.  As the shadows lengthened in the afternoon, I filled up the gas tank and five gallon gas can and headed out onto route 80 for the drive to Fernley.

Fernley is a nice, small town, about 35 miles east of Reno.  They have a new strip mall there across from a new-looking Wal-box. All conveniently located at the off-ramp from 80.  I pulled into the shopping area and picked up a few last minute items at the drug store there.  Then I went to the Pizza Factory and ate my last meal before leaving civilization behind.  I topped my evening meal off with a malted milkshake from the ice cream parlor next to where I was parked. Other burners had gathered here for the same reasons.  They were all waiting until later in the evening to start their trek to Gerlach and Burning Man.  After calling home to remind them that I would be off the cell phone grid in a few hours. I sat back and read a book until I dozed off.

Around 11:30 that evening ,I awoke and noticed that many of the burners in the parking lot had already headed out.  It was time for me to get going too.  I eased onto route 80 headed west, and almost immediately eased off the West Fernley exit to the east fork of route 427.  I was just one of many vehicles headed up this route.  Route 427 runs northwest into Wadsworth, NV where the west branch meets it at route 447. The west branch 0f 427 comes from another exit, farther west on 80. A steady line of traffic also came from the west branch and merged onto 447.  Route 447 heads almost due north through the Pyramid Lake Indian reservation and then to Nixon, Empire, Gerlach and beyond Gerlach, into California and Oregon where they meet Nevada.

Route 447 has a posted speed limit of 65 but that night, with the heavy traffic, 45mph was the fastest speed, except through the smaller towns.  If you’ve ever seen the movie ‘field of dreams’ there is a scene at the end showing a long line of headlights. Cars are lined up to get to the farm where the field of dreams is.  Imagine that line in reverse – with tail lights and much much longer than the one in the movie.  Thats 447 on Sunday night just before Burning Man opens the gates. Tail lights as far as you can see up the road. And with the open country there, you can see a very long way.

After two hours on route 447, I finally arrived in Gerlach.  It was almost 2am but the town was busy.  Stores were open, gas stations were doing a brisk business, folks were stocking up at the last possible minute.  I drove on, turning northeast onto route 34 which runs along the northern edge of the playa.  Shortly after turning onto 34, traffic came to a stop.  The line of traffic extended from the ’12 mile road’ almost all the way back to Gerlach. Once off the main road, I had to drive for at least another 7-10 miles or so through the gates before reaching Black Rock City.

Looking from the entrance road across the desert to the greeters, miles away.

Looking from the entrance road across the desert toward the greeters gates, miles away.

I have no idea how long it took to get from the 12 mile road entrance, I was in a daze.  After 18 months of planning, saving, and more than 3000 miles of driving and I had finally made it to Burning Man.

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