Monday, September 20, 2010

Camping Out West...Day 78...Thursday, September 2, 2010...Burning Man Day #4

Lots of sleep and plenty of water have done the trick. I'm feeling good this morning...ready to head out for new adventures. The Cafe at Center Camp sells coffee, so that's my first stop. Two cups later, and I feel like a million bucks...I'm also hungry.
So I set off on my bike because I know that somewhere, somebody is going to be cooking breakfast. And sure enough, five minutes later, I'm having pancakes for breakfast at the "Pancake Camp". They've got big griddles and large bowls of batter...and they're cooking up pancakes as fast as people can eat them.
Thus fortified, I'm back on my bike and heading to the far end of camp. There are several seminars" today...tantric massage, converting to solar energy, "fisting" (women only, so I have to skip that one).
I should, at this point, mention something about photographs. You've probably noticed that I haven't taken too many "close-ups", not even the folks in my camp. There's some real "sensitivity" here on that issue. In an atmosphere that encourages "being yourself", there's a healthy respect for privacy. And, in the Internet Age, people here don't want any "candid" photos ending up on somebody's website. I understand and respect have not taken as many photos as I'd like.
Around 2:00PM or so, it's really hot (really). So, I head back to camp and pull up a chair in the shade to read for awhile. Around 4:00PM, I have a little "snack"...cheddar cheese, hard salami, Ritz crackers and red wine...excellent!
My "snack" has made me sleepy, so I decide that it's a good time for a nap...avoid the afternoon heat and rest up for tonight! As always, I'm "out like a light". When next I open my eyes, it's after 8:00PM...near dark and much cooler out.
I'm hungry, so I fire up the grill and throw on a steak for dinner. That, some chips, and the rest of the red wine from "snack time" make for a pretty good dinner.
Well-fed and well-rested, it's time to venture out into the night. My inability to navigate in the dark (particularly after a few cocktails) is legendary. I can get lost coming back a hundred feet from the bathroom to my camp site. at Burning Man, I have come prepared. Months ago, before I even thought of coming here, I bought something called a "Backtracker", made by Bushnell (famous for their binoculars). It's a simple GPS unit about the size of a hockey puck. You turn it on, wait to lock on to the GS signal, and then push a button to "store" your position (like the location of my camper). When you want to return to your stored location, you just tun on the Backtracker, and an arrow points you in the right location, and a digital display tells you how far away you are...ingenious! Just a few days here, and it's already saved my butt at least a dozen times.
So now I'm wandering the numbered streets again in search of tonight's adventures. There are many...over the course of the next five hours, I stop to play poker, have a "spaghetti taco", hear a poetry reading, watch another foreign horror film, meet a lot of fun new people...and...consume several handmade Margaritas, some red wine, more home-brewed beer and God only knows what else...everyone is very hospitable.
Around 2:00AM, I head back to "Center Camp", out around the Burning Man statue and further out into the desert away from the crowds.
Soon, I'm all alone...and I lay down on my back and look up at the sky. The night is clear and the stars are's beautiful. Then, I'm up and, with the help of the "Backtracker", I'm headed back a mile or so to camp.
Sleep comes fast and easy tonight.

Subsequent to Burning Man, one of my camp mates "Cheese Simon" posted a video on YouTube. He asked a bunch of folks to sing "Don't Stop Me Now" and filmed the results. I'm including a link here to that'll have to copy it and paste it in as "Blogspot" is not cooperating in my attempts to create a real "link" You can see parts of our camp, get a look at some of my fellow camp mates and, perhaps, get a better feel for what things were like.
*Caution, video does contain some mild nudity.

Camping Out West....Day 77...Wednesday, September 1, 2010...Burning Man Day #3

My eyes are barely open this morning when I realize that I have made a serious mistake. While I was careful yesterday to stay hydrated during the day, I was not so careful last night. Out the is just as important to drink plenty of water in the evening as it is during the day.
And...last night while I was eagerly "swilling down" the dirty martinis made with pickle juice, the cold shots of Absinthe and the home-brewed beers, I was not drinking any water. At home, you can get away with that...but out here, the desert always makes you pay the price...and, this morning, I am paying a heavy price. So...I chug down two litres of water and half of a large bottle of Gatorade. This helps to relieve the chills, cramping and dizziness...somewhat. Now partially rehydrated, I crawl back inside the camper to sleep another hour or two.
Around 10:00AM, I head over to the main part of our camp...still somewhat shaky. I've got a big roll of Mexican Chorizo to contribute to breakfast and, soon, that's cooking up with some scrambled eggs. The food helps, and I'm now functioning at around 75%.
Part of the Burning Man "philosophy" is to leave the "playa" as you found it. That means no littering of any kind...not so much as a cigarette butt. It also means that you can not dump your cooking/cleaning water or even your cooler water. I volunteer to help build a "grey water evaporator". My new friend, Hoopy, has designed a system and brought all of the things that we need to build it. Soon, several of us are using PVC pipe and a large black tarp to create a collecting pond. At each end, we secure sawhorses and from those, we string a line to hang some sheets. The sheets wick up and help to evaporate the water. It's simple, works.
But a couple of hours of working in the sun, even while drinking plenty of water, just knocks me out. So, as soon as my work is completed, I'm back in the camper and sound asleep. By the time that I wake up, it's after 8:00PM and already dark outside. I have neither the energy nor the desire to cook an elaborate dinner, so tonight I'm having a can of "Steakhouse Chili" from Costco along with a lot of water.
Except for my "volunteer work", this has been a lost I'm thinking that now I've got to make something of the night.
So, for the next four hours or so, I just wander...out to "Center Camp" and beyond...out towards the Burning Man structure. Thousands of people are out there with me...wandering.
I get a few shots of the Cafe in Center Camp and a few photos of the activity out away from camp. Along the way, I stop for an hour to watch a horror movie on a huge's one of several "theaters" here. I stop again at the camp that's serving dirty martinis made with pickle juice...tonight I have just one, instead of the four last night. I'm also drinking one litre of water every sense repeating the same mistake.
Sometime around 1:00AM, I'm back at the camper. A good night's sleep, and I'll be ready for a day of exploring tomorrow.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Camping Out West...Day 76...Tuesday, August 31, 2010...Burning Man Day #2

I have slept well...despite waking up twice during the night. The first time, around 1:30AM, I awoke to see/hear a vehicle lighted up like the state of Texas rolling down my street, playing county western music. This was a "mutant vehicle"...think of them as motorized parade floats as envisioned by Salvador Dali. Later, around 3:30AM, I again awoke, this time to the sound of Techno music from one side and and a female voice singing opera from the center camp.
After the long day yesterday, I'm sleeping in this morning. Around 10:00AM, I walk over to the main part of my camp...and people are cooking breakfast. One gal, Stacey, has a real "touch" for cooking for a large group. People have contributed "stuff" for breakfast, and Stacey is mixing this with that to create a pretty darn good meal.
This is my first day for "exploring" so, after breakfast, I set out.
As I may have mentioned, Burning Man is laid out in a semi-circle. There are "streets" that correspond to hours and half hours on a clock...from 2:00 to 10:00. Intersecting these are "lettered streets"...A (Athens), B (Baghdad), C (Cairo), D (Detroit), etc.
My camp is near 6:30 and Athens, so I head out on foot toward 10:00 on Athens. Along the way, I discover one (of many) of the nice things about Burning Man...the tradition of "gifting". Many "camps" have a food or beverage (or both) theme...and so, all along the way, there are friendly people handing out great food...others are handing out beer, wine, and other homemade beverages. These are all "gifts" as there is no money used at Burning Man (except for ice or coffee in Center Camp). And, it's a chance to sit down and converse with different people from all over the U.S. and all over the world.
Now I'm on Baghdad heading from 10:00 to 2:00...and it's clear that many people have given a lot of thought to the "shelters" at their camps. There are the usual tents, but there are also "structures" built with wood, aluminum, name it. There's a whole lot of creativity here.
Burning Man offers people the chance, for eight days, to be whoever or whatever they want to define themselves. So many of us are "defined" by our job, our family, our past. At Burning Man, you define yourself. So...there are lots of elaborate "costumes" of a sort. Some people wear nothing at's whatever YOU want to be.
As I near the 6:30 position, I stop back at the camper for water...this is a desert environment, and it is critical to stay hydrated.
So...I continue to walk...traversing B (Baghdad, C (Cairo), etc. All along the way, I'm stopping for a bite to eat, a cocktail, a conversation. Soon, it's 6:00PM...and I've been out in the sun all day. After a short rest, I haul my little Weber Grill, plus charcoal, etc., over to the main part of my camp and proceed to grill up about eight pounds or so of Tandoori chicken. Back when I first decided to come to Burning Man, I thought that Tandoori chicken would be a great thing to "gift" to the people in my camp. About the time that the second batch of chicken comes off the grill, the bus arrives with the remaining members of our camp. They set off days ago from Ann Arbor, and their journey has been a difficult one...the first bus broke down in Illinois...they found another bus. The second bus had brake problems...they fixed it...fuel filter problems...they fixed it. And now, at last, they have made it to Burning Man.
So, for an hour or so, we all pitch in and help unload the bus...tents, sleeping bags, and also the rest of the stuff that we need to complete our "maze". Bus unloaded, I'm back to grill duty. People are tired and hungry...the chicken does the trick...soon, it's all gone.
Later, after dark, I'm out again to explore...this time the area around the Central Camp. There's a little bit of everything...more food/drink, music (of all varieties)...there are two camps showing movies on giant screens (European films and classic American horror). And, all around, there are people (50,000+ at this Burning Man)...and those "mutant vehicles"...some look like giant birds...or sailing ships...or animals...I've never seen anything like it.
By 1:00AM or so, I am "whipped" (or, perhaps, overstimulated). As I'm climbing into the camper, I look up into the night sky. People have sent up several illuminated weather I'm drifting off to sleep, it's like I'm on another planet...this one with four "moons" instead of just one.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Camping Out West...Day 75...Monday, August 30, 2010...The Trip to Burning Man

I'm up really early this morning after a restless night. I must confess that, on this particular morning, I'm a little nervous. Normally, I tend to do things without "over thinking" them. I evaluate the options, assess the risks, then just do it...whatever "it" is. But, this morning, I'm "over thinking" Burning Man...there's the drive up there, then getting into the event, then finding my "camp"...all in a crowd expected to top 50,000.
After coffee, I'm loading up the Escape. I packed most of my supplies yesterday, but I waited until this morning to pack the cooler. Soon, I'm packed up and saying my farewells to Tom. It has been great to have the opportunity to spend time with him after so long.
At 9:00AM, "on the dot", I'm off. First, I work my way through Reno to I-80. From there, it's a about fort-five miles to the exit for Gerlach. Traffic on I-80 seems backups or delays. Then, I exit I-80 and pick up Route 447, north to Gerlach. As I head north, the traffic starts to pick up...rising the crest of a hill, I can see a long line of cars, vans, motor homes, etc. in front of and behind me. Still, I make pretty good time on the 80 miles or so run to Gerlach. Along the way, it's hard to miss the heavy law enforcement "presence"...local police, county sheriffs, State police...they're stationed every few miles along the way. I also notice that a lot of my fellow "Burners" are having problems...quite a few cars, vans, etc. are stalled along the way.
At Gerlach, I turn east for the final ten miles to Burning Man. Turning into the entrance, the traffic is now heavy (really, really heavy). Soon, I'm in one of eight long (really long) lines of vehicles. The line moves slow...really slow. But people, including me, are out of their vehicles walking around...chatting with fellow "Burners". Four and a half hours later, I am directed out of line to "will call" to pick up my ticket. The line at will call is long (really long), and it's oven an hour and a half before I'm back in the vehicle line, ticket in hand.
Now the wind has picked up, and the swirling dust is so thick that you can hardly see ten feet. They hold Burning Man in the middle of the Black Rock Desert on land leased from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The whole area is covered by a layer of very fine, high-alkali dust...and, when the wind picks up, it gets pretty dusty.
It's another hour and a half or so before I finally get to the "gate"...a few questions (no firearms, fireworks, etc.) and I'm "in"...well, almost "in". Now I'm in line to to get to the "greeters"...they answer questions and help with directions. I pick the wrong line, as my "greeter" is a hairy older guy as opposed to the cute gal in the next line over. As a "Virgin Burner", the custom is to get out of your vehicle, lay down, roll around in the dust, and ring a large bell...OK...I comply.
Te Burning Man "site" is laid out in a large semi-circle. Main streets correspond to hours on the clock...from 3:00 on the right to 9:00 on the left. Intersecting these streets are cross streets alphabetically named..."B" is "Baghdad, "C" is Cairo, "D" is Detroit, etc. My "camp" is in the top and middle of the semi-circle at the inner Ring Road and 8:30. So...I turn down 6:30 and head into the crowd. I'm having trouble finding the Ring Road, but a couple of volunteer "Rangers" try to point me in the right direction. The problem is that the Ring Road has it's own set of "hours on the clock", and those "hours" are different than the rest of the site. So...I'm driving along...totally lost...when it starts to rain. That Black Rock Desert dust, known by fellow Burners as "Playa Dust", becomes stiff as cement when it gets wet and...soon...there's a couple of inches of it caked on my tires. Still lost, but convinced that I'm close, I pull over and head out on foot...big mistake. By the time I walk twenty feet, the mud has built up on my shoes...they're higher than those of a Bourbon Street stripper.
Now cold, wet, muddy, hungry, thirsty and thoroughly discourage, I head back to the Escape and resume my aimless driving. And then, a small "miracle". A guy walks over to my vehicle and, seeing that I'm thoroughly lost, asks me where I'm heading. I tell him the name of my it turns out,,,that's HIS camp. I made it! Well, not quite. I still have to go forward a hundred yards or so to turn onto a one-way service road to get to the parking for my camp. My new friend and camp mate, Barnaby, tells me he'll be waiting with a cold beer. So...I start forward and, after 50 yards or so, I'm directed to stop by a Ranger. Because of the rain, all traffic has been stopped. So...I'm less than fifty yards from but I can't get there...yet. The wait is over a half hour and, after ten minutes or so, Barnaby catches up with me to make sure everything is OK...I feel most reassured. During the wait, a beautiful rainbow appears...then a second one...a good omen!
Then, the traffic stop is lifted, I'm in my "spot" and I'm enjoying that cold beer with Barnaby and his wife. And, as Barnaby puts it..."Bill, you're home". That I am.
Now relaxed, I meet some of my other camp mates. The bulk of our camp is arriving by bus, but no one knows for sure when. They've had mechanical problems and, at last word, were on their second bus of the trip from Michigan.
As night falls, the temperature's cold. With my famous knack for getting lost, I decide to stay close to camp. A can of "Steakhouse Chili", while not "gourmet", is an easy dinner. A few beers and, by 10:00PM or so, I'm ready for bed. There will be plenty of time for exploring tomorrow and over the days to come.
It has been a long (really long) day. But...I made it. And for seven days, I've got a new "home".

Camping Out West...Days 72-74...Friday-Sunday...August 27-29, 2010...Back to Reno

Friday morning, I'm taking my time before leaving for Reno. It's only a four hour or so drive, so I'm not in any big hurry. I've had a great time in the Napa Valley...visited the wineries that I wanted to see...ate at the restaurants that I wanted to try (an old favorite and some great new places).
Around 11:00AM, I'm finally on the road, rolling through the last of the vineyards. I'm concerned that my "arthritis" might act up while I'm at Burning past Sacramento, I take a little detour to the town of Orangevale for a stop at the "Magnolia Wellness Center". They're friendly people and, once I explain my problem, they're happy to recommend the proper "treatment". It's great to be treated with such "THC"...oops...I mean "TLC".
Then, I'm headed back up and over the Sierra Nevadas for the last time on this trip. As before, it's slow going on a mostly uphill route. But, once I reach the summit of Donner Pass, it's all downhill into Reno.
I make it to Tom's around 4:30PM or so...cocktail time! And, for dinner, Tom whips up a great dinner of homemade Tagliatelle pasta with a light tomato sauce...delicious.
Saturday morning, Tom and I are both up early. It's going to be a busy day of shopping...gotta stock up for Burning Man. First we stop at Costco for some prime steaks and some big packages of chicken (I'm going to make a couple of big batches of Tandoori chicken to grill at Burning Man). Then, we're off to two grocery stores for pasta, pasta sauce, bread, etc.
At every stop today, you could tell that Burning Man was quickly approaching...lots of people were stocking up on things...particularly water. The people of Reno seem to have mixed feelings about Burning Man...the merchants like it because there's a big boost to sales, but others have a less than charitable view.
For dinner, I grill up a couple of those prime steaks from Costco, and Tom makes baked potatoes and squash on the grill.
Sunday morning, I head out on my own in the Escape to fuel up for tomorrow's trip. Along the way, I stop at the bank, pick up ice, and stop at a Border's to post a quick blog entry. Then, I head back, and Tom and I go back to Costco for "brunch". On Sundays at Costco, they hand out lots of samples of food...ham and cheese sandwiches, pasta, grilled beef, ice cream bars, etc. It's easy to "build" a meal with appetizers, main course and dessert.
Tom and I spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing, watching sports and planning out tomorrow's trip. Around 5:00PM or so, we head out for dinner with Tom's Mom and Aunt to the nicest of the local casinos, the Peppermill. Their steakhouse is excellent...I have a wonderful piece of prime rib, and we all share a terrific bottle of California Cab. Then, it's back home. I'm calling it an early night...BIG day tomorrow.