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

Day 6. No Trucks. Just Corn.

Heading down the road this morning, and my sister wants me to turn my 5 /12 hour, 367 mile trip into a six hour trip. The mileage is about the same but I’d be keeping to the less driven State Highway 20 which, she swears, lacks the wall-to-wall trucks Interstate 80 is known for. You will have a better day, she insists.

Okay. What’s half an hour? I figure out early to turn my phone off, so I don’t have to listen to it trying to reroute me down to 80 every five minutes, and I head out into the corn fields. Literally, there are corn fields on every side of me as far as the eye can see.

Should I have gone the other route? Should I have planned for this route ahead of time and found a place to stay in Sioux City instead? Should I have filled gas before I left because it doesn’t look like there are a lot of gas stations out here in these corn fields? Should I this? Should I that?

I hush myself. Rule six needs to be no second guessing, I decide. The cornfields are lovely. The trucks are few. Iowa stretches on out to the sky. The day is mild, so I roll my windows down low and turn my music up high. The corn won’t mind the noise at all.

I open my play list of songs about being on the road, and sing along with the first one that happens to play. It fits right in, and I think even the corn likes it.

Day 5. Yes Aretha. Respect.

I’m five days into this road trip, and yesterday one of my personal heroes died. Aretha Franklin was lots of people’s hero, and today the media is filled with tributes to her and snippets of her music.

I’m also into day three of a visit with my only sister. We live nearly a thousand miles apart, both of us in small towns not easily reached, We try to see each other once a year. The first couple of days are always of flurry of missing each other and getting caught up and then by day three we rediscover the many ways we are different.

We’ve gotten better at smoothing over those inevitable rough edges, I think, and it all boils down to a single word. I respect the person she is, and vice versa. She respects my beliefs even when she doesn’t share them. I respect her right to have different tastes. She respects my right to have different priorities. She gets to be her, I get to be me. And we both treat each other with — let’s spell it now — R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

It does wonders for us and I swear it would do wonders for the rest of the world too, especially in those areas where it is sorely lacking. I’m going to make it my personal Rule of the Road #5.

Thank you, Aretha Franklin, for all the music you gave us, and for all the inspiration. Tomorrow, I’m heading southwest into Nebraska, seeking song #6, and my sixth rule of the road. Tonight, I’m just going to enjoy the music.

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