Day 14: Magical ride

Yesterday was so exhausting that I sleep for nine hours on an air mattress without waking up once, while the soft slow bass of far off electronic music mixes with the wind and dust outside my tent. I wake to a chaos of supplies I dumped randomly, in the hope that I would wake with the energy to sort through it. I do, and, after a cup of coffee, I do.

This day is as dusty as yesterday, with short bursts of almost no visibility. I’m determined to survive in this and I fill the day with getting settled in to my camp and doing a little preliminary exploration. The beach bike I have brought to the playa is perfect, its fat tires riding smooth and sturdy over the desert.

As twilight comes, the winds stop, and the world takes on a carnival glow. Color is everywhere, blinking and twinkling in the most unexpected of shapes. My camp mates invite me out for a bike ride on the deep playa, that place away from the campers where art cars roam and art installations glitter, waiting to be admired.

Today’s rule of the road? Don’t let a day determine for you how the evening will go. I shrug off my dusty scarf and join them.

Our first stop is at the DMV, Department of Mutant Vehicles, where many of the art cars are lined up waiting to get their permits to roam. Yes, even at Burning Man one stands in line to get a permit.

We pause to take in their beauty, then we head out, each stopping to admire whatever shiny thing takes our fancy. Groups seldom stay together out here, as I learn, but often find themselves magically reuniting.

Magic is the word of the night for me. The world around me has turned from a dust bowl into a dream of a fantasy tale set in a science fiction world created by a magician. It goes on as far as my eyes can see, with a depth and scale no screen could capture.

I stop my bike and just stare, somewhere between amazement and disbelief.

Many camps near the edge of the open playa offer drinks or dancing. One has set up a roller rink.

Music of all kinds plays around me. I am surprised by the number of classic rock tunes I recognize as they mix with the ever present dance music. I hear this particular old favorite at least twice, and deem it the song of the day.

Day 13. Dusty Virgin

I’ve decided to not set an alarm, but to let my body pick when it is time to go. It must be ready for the adventure ahead, because I’m up at dawn and wide awake. I load the last of my things into Olive Oil, my trusty FJ Cruiser, and she and I begin the 100 mile drive that has worried me since I left home twelve days ago.

I’m headed north from Fernley Nevada to the Black Rock Desert to participate in an annual ritual of creativity, self-reliance and playfulness known as Burning Man. I’ve never gone before, making me what is known as a virgin burner. It’s been a few years since I’ve been called a virgin anything.

Law enforcement officials are known for lining this drive and pulling over drivers for minor infractions during the start of this event. I’m not carrying anything illegal, but the prospect of being searched on the side of the road has me nervous.

I have an early access pass, but it looks like a lot of other people do too. I join the line of ants making its way towards the playa as we all scrupulously follow every speed limit, and always come to a complete stop. It’s my lucky day. No one bothers me or anyone around me.

By 9:15 I’ve reached my destination, or at least I think I have. I don’t realize how slow a process it is to enter this event. I inch my way forward to the gate in eight lanes of traffic. The dust is sometimes so heavy that I cannot see well enough to stay in my lane so I move over to the edge, so I can follow the flagging. At one point I can’t see more than five feet from my front window and I start to have serious doubts about the wisdom of being here.

As the hours wear on, I text my family final farewells. I eat my lunch. I play yesterday’s theme song, Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, a couple of times. After a while, I need to pee so bad that I leave my car keys with the strangers in the car behind me so they can inch my vehicle along for me while I run to the porta-potties. Such trust seems perfectly natural here. Besides, where exactly could they go with my car, anyway?

Nearly four hours after arriving, I arrive. My ticket is examined, my car is searched, and I am officially greeted. Virgins like me are invited to make a dust angle in the desert’s fine alkaline soil and to ring a bell to let the playa know we are here. I realize this is a more emotional moment than expected when I hit the bell with a vigor that surprises me and everyone else.

As I make my way through the labyrinth leading to my camp, I put on my goggles and my scarf. I’m about to set up a tent in the dust. I don’t know why, but I am so glad to be here.

Today’s rule of the road? Don’t let a little dust stop you from doing what you want to do.

And today’s song. What else could it be?

If you’d like to read a short blurb from each day of my journey, check out
Day 1. The Journey of 6000 miles
Day 2. Rules of the Road
Day 3. Just Don’t
Day 4. Bloom Here.
Day 5. Yes Aretha. Respect.
Day 6. No Trucks. Just Corn.
Day 7. Cry
Day 8. There’s No Place Like Home
Day 9. It’s Okay to Ask a Human for Help
Day 10. Always Bring an Onion
Day 11. Gimme Three Steps Towards Nevada
Day 12. I Want to Scream.
Day 13. Dusty Virgin
Day 14: Magical ride
Day 15. As Nice as I Want to Be
Day 16. What Rules? What Road?
Day 17. If you get interrupted by a parade …
Day 18. I, Human
Day 19. A Border Crossing
Day 20. Someone to Help Me Get Home
Day 21. Time flies like an arrow and ….
Day 22. Stop, or Else …
Day 23. What’s Your Reality?
Day 24. If it seems ridiculous …
Day 25. Backing Up
Day 26. To Stop a Hurricane
Day 27. Lights Along My Path
Day 28. Grateful