It is an interestingly boring ride from Reno to Gerlach. You go further and further into this desert wasteland, and notice a lot of nothing that is amazingly different than what you have seen before... This place could be straight out of a Mad Max movie, or perhaps Mordor on a sunny day. Somehow, despite the strong winds that whip through the region, the mountains surrounding the valley are incredibly sharp and dark looking, like gigantic flint tools that primitive man designed to strip the hide off of some ancient, sacred beast. Somehow, erosion doesn't seem to touch this place... There were no trees to be seen... only the occasional odd ovoid rock formations sticking out of the playa, like some ancient sponge formation at the bottom of a deep sea. This whole area used to be a gigantic lake that stretched for hundreds of miles; it is now as dry as death's head.
The ride is quick, yet arduous... the road goes on forever in a straight line, with few distinguishing features, but it is starkly beautiful. Fortunately, you can legally drive at 70 MPH along most of the distance... which was a treat, coming from California. This pace slows to a crawl through the little towns along the route. After passing large strips of playa, we finally reach the area around Gerlach. We pass a sign that says "Welcome to Nowhere". Appropriate enough. A few weathered locals line the gas station like spectators to a parade. We see trucks for Burning Man's vaunted Black Rock Rangers, motorcyclists in extravagant leather. We are close. After filling off, we head up the road towards a vast collection of tents, vehicles, and impromptu buildings on the playa. This is Black Rock City... The path leads off the road, across a rough patch of rutted dust, and finally onto smooth playa. The playa is a fairly smooth surface... yet cracked here and there... you can hardly call the surface of the playa soil, since there is little that can be called organic about the slightly fissured alkaline clay surface. Normally, the playa is like baked brick most every day of the year, but Burning Man, with its mass of cars and humanity, creates a constant teaming ocean of dust. If you drive too fast and kick up large clouds of dust, you will most certainly attract ill will and bad karma, as dust storms can be a major irritant.
After a lengthy wait at will-call, we get our tickets and head into camp. It is noon, but fortunately, the temperature is only around 83 degrees. We soon discover, however, that the sun is more direct and that the environment itself seems to suck the moisture out of your body.
The design of Black Rock City is unique. Here's a map. I was located at around 7:00 and Heart, staying at the Poly Paradise camp. Despite the fact that I am polyamorous, this was the wrong choice of camp for me... too many 40-50something, naked, freelove hippies lusting after Kirsten and I. Oooky! I should have stayed closer to Thunderdome at 9:00 and Head. Lotsa fun there, and a cooler, younger crowd... including Rebecca, an old friend of mine from the days I managed a little store called Underground Records in downtown San Jose. Best job I ever had... Too bad it didn't come with 10,000 shares of stock in a market-leading high-tech firm. ;)
First day was kind of a pain... We saw Sarah, who is actually a kinda cool 40-something woman we met at a Poly event. She was helpful, and we started setting up camp next to her tent area. Shortly after, I was greeted by a nude, 40-something male. (By the end of the week, this kinda nudity wouldn't phase me much... you find yourself looking kinda past nude people after awhile... eyes focusing through them somehow until they become another obsticle to navigate around... sorta like that homeless guy you pass every day...) Well, this nude guy wasn't going to let me off so easily, and decided to greet me with a hug. Whee... this was going to be quite a trip. There must've been an unwritten law at Burning Man... guys can be naked, but only if they aren't cute.
We spent about 30 minutes unpacking and setting up before we realized just how potentially stupid being in the middle of a desert without drinking constantly really is. In a very short amount of time, we were dehydrated and crabby... We got the clue, got our water, and worked through it. I had to kinda prod Kirsten to get as much done as soon as possible, since I knew the weather could get unpredictable and the nights could get very dark, very quickly.
Fortunately, we got everything done by about 4:30... which, incidentally, was about when the first of the dust storms hit. We collapsed into our tent and rode out the storms, resting a bit and listening to the radio and CD's... There must have been about 6 different pirate radio stations set up by Burning Man participants, with some pretty cool music at times. There were also two repetative radio broadcasts with information regarding the weather, events, etc. that looped continuously. These always seemed to have old, inaccurate weather forecasts. I poked around in the next day or two, looking for some kind of Internet connection to the outside world... but there wasn't any such obvious creature, which was probably just as well. It took me a few days to get over my lack of connectivity, but I think I actually started to appreciate it after that point...
In amongst all this, Kirsten braided my hair. This was something I definitely wanted, since I didn't want it hopelessly tangled by the winds.
Not much haps that particular night... we went to the Arena, which had a so-so band playing at the time. We then walked out to the Burning Man, and I climbed the stairs to the top... nice view! We tried to find Death Guild, but didn't have any luck, so when we got back to the tent, we grabbed the map and headed off to 9:30 and head. Death Guild was, unfortunately, not protected from the weather... shortly after we arrived, it started sprinkling and the DJ system lost power, so we headed back and packed in for the night.
The age and sexuality thing would be the biggest problem with the camp... it was like being around your parents and their friends... the only difference is that they were all having sex with each other. I mean, you know that your parents do it, but you don't actually want to be reminded of it.