Never Get Off The Boat

I wrote this essay for Eplaya in May 2012. It is about my impressions of our drive to the burn at night in 2011. Perhaps some readers will be able to grasp the sense of wonder birgins can experience on their first trip to BM from this.

Fernley Nevada, Sunday at 10:30 P.M.
My hands are shaking as I top off the RV and fill some spare gas cans. Fear, excitement, anticipation, I am a bundle of nerves stretched to the limit. A decade of desire and a year of planning are about to come to fruition as we prepare to depart for the unknown. Rather than drive this boat through town, we hop on the interstate for one exit only to find our exit closed for construction.

We jump off at the second exit and head back towards Wadsworth on 427 careful not to exceed any speed limits. We pass a last outpost of civilization - a small gas station jammed with vehicles and signs for people selling tickets. The activity seems almost feverish. We pass it and press on into the darkness. Shortly we swing a left turn onto 447 and immediately see a sign that says something about Burning Man being sold out.

Few lights are visible anywhere and the darkened landscape takes on a surrealistic aspect. I have a growing unease as it seems to be going too smoothly. As we get north of Wadsworth, we see hundreds of red lights and are baffled as to their source. It is too soon to see the playa so what could they be? Another 10 minutes and we find out - we have reached the line of vehicles heading to the burn and take our place at the back of the convoy. At least traveling this way we won't have as much concern about hitting a cow.

The sense of surrealism keeps growing in me and I find myself thinking how much this reminds me of the movie Apocalypse Now and traveling up the river. I even imagine I am hearing some of the noises from that soundtrack. Things slow to a crawl. There are flashing lights ahead with about 10 vehicles on the side of the road. A LEO directs us around a camper whose wheel appears to have fallen off. Breaking down out here is a sobering thought.

We press on and the tension mounts. What little we can see of the landscape seems totally alien. Eventually we see a sign for Empire and I have another river flashback as we pass through the abandoned town. Soon we are approaching Gerlach and the convoy slows to a crawl. This tiny town is truly the edge of the frontier, but for now is all lit up and a hotbed of activity with people selling things a burner might want or need. I think how much I would like to visit it when the circus isn't in town.

We press on and follow the line of tail lights. Up ahead we see the occasional vehicle light up with some EL wire. We tune in BMIR and eventually reach the turn off. As we turn off the pavement it seems like the point of no return. Although we have been driving through a rather alien surrealistic environment, I begin to realize just how alien a landscape the playa is. No amount of photos or video can prepare you for it. It is like driving to another planet. My one regret is that I couldn't see most of the signs along the entrance road in the dark. But that is tempered by having experienced one of the most interesting drives of my life. I'm sure it would have been far more mundane in daylight.

Shortly we are at a stop at the end of the largest line of traffic I have ever seen, and after many hours in line arrive at the greeters as the sun comes up.

It is time to get off the boat.

2012 Update
In 2012 we drove in during the day and had early admission passes. Although there was more to see in the daylight and we were on the entry line for less than 10 minutes, it was not nearly as interesting. Perhaps because it was day time or perhaps I have become a bit jaded. I will probably never get that sense of wonder and magic from the drive again - so treasure your first arrival to the playa.