Black Rock City is laid out using a semi-circular grid system. The main roads are numbered and are oriented toward the Man, which is at the center of Burning Man. The circular roads are in alphabetical order with names based on the theme of the year. Say the theme was Wildlife, A street might be Aardvark, B street Baboon, etc.
The well laid out street system makes it easy to get around— in the beginning— during the day. The story changes at night when lack of light, stolen signs, liberal doses of free alcohol and mass chaos seems to rule, especially later in the week when the full 70,000 plus people are present. Then, it’s easy to get lost. Throw in a zero visibility dust storm and it is almost impossible not to. Common sense and Burning Man tell you to stay put.
I was lost for an hour once during such a storm. We had gone out to watch a burn, which was scheduled at dusk in the far reaches of the Playa near the apex of the map shown above. As the fire burned down, a huge dust storm hit, leaving Peggy, our friend Beth, and me— along with a few thousand other Burners and mutant vehicles to find our way home. It bordered on scary, made more so by large mutant vehicles appearing out of nowhere. When the storm cleared enough to get our bearings, we found we had walked in a huge circle out on the Playa. We returned to camp caked in dust and exhausted. Now, I carry a compass.
You don’t need a dust storm to get lost, however. Here’s a story I related earlier this week in one of my comments: A young man drove up from San Francisco to Burning Man. He was a first timer, a virgin Burner eager to get out and explore. He parked his car, quickly set up camp, and headed off to play. When he returned to his camp later that night, he discovered that someone had stolen his car, his tent, his food and all of his gear. He reported his situation to the Burning Man staff and they found the unfortunate fellow a ride back to SF. End of story.
But not quite. A few days after the event, he received a call from BMO. His car, his tent, his food, and all of his gear had been found— right where he had left them. That was how lost he had been. If this seems a bit far-fetched, consider the following photos.
After the above story and photos, it might seem that it would be impossible to get away from the crowds. Actually it’s easy, assuming you are willing to head out into the Playa. Even the area surrounding the Man is relatively unoccupied unless a major event is taking place. Very few make it to the outer boundaries. Showing up early in the week or leaving late also reduces the crowds that peak on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
NEXT POST: I’ll take you for a walk through Black Rock City.
If you have been following my Burning Man posts over the past couple of months, you now have a fair idea of what mutant vehicles look like. Today, I am moving off of the Playa and into Black Rock City, starting with a look at the structures built by large camps (villages). A camp is usually made up of people who share a common interest or background. All of these photos were taken during the 11 years I have attended the event: 2004-5-6-7-9-10-12-13-14-15 and 17. It is interesting to note that these structures are built to last one week, going up at the beginning of Burning Man and coming down at the end.
NEXT POST: A view of Black Rock City outside of the large camps, out in the boonies where I lived.
The Burning Man Organization, BMO, works hard to insure that the mutant vehicles that wander across the Playa and through Black Rock City are both creative and safe. The process starts with an application from Burners who want to bring a mutant vehicle to the annual event. A photo or detailed drawing of the vehicle must accompany the application. A committee then reviews the applications for originality and safety. Numbers are strictly limited. Burning Man is primarily a walking/bicycling event. Upon arrival the mutant vehicle must check in with the Department of Mutant Vehicles, DMV, and pass a safety inspection before receiving a license. Vehicles that shoot out fire must pass even more stringent requirements.
I am wrapping up my series on Burning Man’s mutant vehicles today. There are, after all, another 14 categories of photos from my 11 years of attending the far-out happening in Nevada’s remote Black Rock Desert. Being last, however, does not mean least. Most of these simply didn’t fit into the groups I created. Take this eye, for example.
Well, enough on body parts, already. I’ve written a fair amount about steampunk at Burning Man, especially as it applies to mutant vehicles. Here’s a couple more.
Burning Man constantly throbs with the sound of heavy metal music. I always carry sound makers to reduce its impact on my beauty rest. A number of large venues are found throughout Black Rock City. Mutant vehicles carry on the tradition out on the Playa. Whenever one stops to whip out the tunes, Burners gather around to dance. There’s no question about the intention of the boom box mutant vehicle. Large speakers are another sure guarantee that loud music is about to happen.
With music rolling across the Playa, it’s not surprising that there was also a bar. This one was hauled by an old tractor.
What if Picasso made it to Burning Man. The first mutant vehicle below might be what he would create. The second would be more likely to be found among the ‘primitive’ painters who were inspired by the South Pacific and exotic tropical islands.
Big things come in small packages, as the diamond merchants like to remind us, over and over.
There were times that communication with Curt was critical. For example: Circumstances sometimes required that I change my location from where we had agreed to meet. That’s where the trekker telegraph came in handy! Curt was hiking north to south while most through-hikers were traveling south to north. This meant that the majority of hikers I met at the trailhead would pass Curt along the way. Much to my delight, I could send messages with them. They had a true appreciation of just how difficult the hike was and were more than supportive of Curt’s adventure. They were also used to sharing information with fellow hikers. (It didn’t hurt that I bribed them with apples, apple juice, fresh water, peanut butter, scones and beer.) I’d give them his card with his photo and away they would go. The more worried I was, the more hikers I gave the message to. Curt laughingly told me when he came out at Burney Falls that he had heard I was in a new location some 13 times! Good thing, since I was several miles away from where he was expecting me. Laugh all you want, Curt.
I truly enjoyed getting to know the through-hikers. I was amazed at the variety of ages, genders, nationalities, repeat trekkers, segment trekkers, first timers, and seasoned hikers. They all had stories to tell and were glad to share. They also wanted to hear about Curt. We had a sign on the back of our van that featured his adventure.
The sign also drew people in at campgrounds and in the small towns where I shopped along the way. They would stop by to visit, ask questions, share personal or family stories about the PCT, and often ask how they might help out. I distributed lots of Curt’s cards.
Trail angels are people who volunteer to support trekkers by providing water, food, lodging, and transportation along the way. We met a great one in Seiad Valley. Jeanine had hiked the PCT, as had her son. She lived near Burney Falls and regularly supported through hikers on the 30-mile section south of the Falls where there wasn’t any water. She immediately offered to help Curt, becoming a friend to be cherished! I saw her again near Burney Falls where I had a fun lunch with her and her friends. Later, she and her husband joined both of us for pizza in Burney. Her information about the trail was invaluable. The lack of water combined with 105 F temperatures ultimately persuaded Curt to save the Burney section for another time, however.
Other people jumped in to help whenever help was needed. My friend Barbara and her husband Carl, long time hikers, gave us a ride to Mt. Ashland where we started the TMT. Tim and Sandra Holt in Dunsmuir, friends from Curt’s past, offered to let our nephew Jay leave his car at their home when Jay joined Curt for a 100-mile segment. My own trail angel activities paid dividends. One couple I had given a ride to, drove all the way to Sonora Pass just to check on me and to see if there was any news from Curt!
RV Angels is a new category! I made that one up but I have a few stories of campground hosts and RV Park hosts who helped me out. I was traveling without reservations for most of the trip as I needed the flexibility to be where I was needed most. The challenge was finding space. One host (in Chester) who had no open spaces heard my story, told me to wait a moment, made a call, and then returned to tell me she had a spot. That night she returned and said I could stay as long as I needed! Another host (in Burney Falls) offered her private phone number for emergencies and her private internet server so that I would have consistent service. Another host (Lake Tahoe/Truckee) squeezed me in between some big rigs and said she would find a spot for me if I needed to stay longer.
Several friendships were made. Some will continue to grow over the next few years. A favorite story is about Linda. I had just returned to Quivera (the van) and saw Linda with her quilting supplies, sewing machine, and materials spread out over the picnic table. Yes, I love quilting so, of course, I had to introduce myself and rave about her skill! Next thing I know we are sharing a glass of wine and just having a great time talking a mile a minute! She and her husband Pete were part of a local group that RV together. The men would go fishing and the women would quilt. Then all would party in the evening. Turns out she grew up in the Lassen NP area and still had a summer home. We agreed we would tackle Lassen Peak next summer. When we finally returned home in September, Linda had sent me the quilt that I had so admired. What a gem!
Then there was the homemade coconut cream pie. Jeanine and her friends had recommended a restaurant in Falls River. It was known for its coconut cream pie. Curt was excited; he loves coconut cream pie. Bad news, they were out. Good news, when the baker heard Curt’s story, she headed into the kitchen and made another pie!! Little things mean a lot. Curt claimed it was it best he has ever eaten. (I wonder if that had anything to do with eating backpacking food for weeks?)
Family connections:Yes, I worried about Curt on the trail. That is who I am. Our kids were great about checking in regularly. They were also receiving the evening messages from Spot, the GPS tracker, letting them know where Curt was and that all was well. What was best, though, was that our 13-year-old grandson Ethan joined Curt for one segment and Jay, our 30-year-old nephew, joined him for another. Now I could relax. A bonus came along with Ethan. Our daughter Tasha and her other son, Cody, joined me and we were able to play for a week.
Birthday at Castle Crags:Believe it or not, I have never spent my birthday alone! I LOVE birthdays and have turned mine into a day per decade celebration. So, this summer was a bit different. However, there were a few surprises. Of course, the kids called. Then I received a phone call from Jay and Curt who stopped on top of a mountain and discovered a cell signal. I had answered concerned about an emergency and was greeted by a stirring rendition of Happy Birthday to you! What fun! To celebrate, I then called our friend Sandra Holt and invited her to join me for train-car dining at the Railroad Park where the wait staff spoiled me rotten. OK, I really was not alone.
On being by myself:One afternoon I was enjoying a beautiful spot at my campsite in a forest campground about ten miles from Sonora Pass. Shaded by pine trees and enjoying incredible mountain views, I pulled out my guitar and softly sang and played my favorite folk songs (Think 60s-70s.) I noticed a father and daughter standing behind the van and listening discretely. When I picked up some artistic word searches I had been designing, the two of them approached. The father said his daughter had a question: Was the TMT sign on the van true? Yes. Then what did I do with myself each day?
It was a good question. I had never really traveled on my own in the RV. There was plenty of down time while I waited for Curt. My day included reading (lots), playing the guitar, writing a daily journal, creating artistic word searches (the daughter got quite excited about this and offered to test them for me!), following the news, keeping the RV resupplied, researching campgrounds, hiking, and supporting Curt. I used social media when I had an internet connection to keep up with friends and my responsibilities as President of the Friends of Ruch Library.
Hiking alone in the woods by myself was also a first. Walking 2 to 3-miles daily on local trails wasn’t a problem. Longer hikes presented a bit more of a challenge. First, I had to get used to the quiet. Then there was the expectation of encountering large, furry animals on my own. Deer fine. The mama bear and her two cubs was another story— especially when they decided to walk toward me. Being directionally challenged, I am always concerned about getting lost. I paid real close attention every time the trail split, carried a whistle, and loaded up with water and snacks. My conclusion, I love hiking but I prefer to hike with Curt. (Grin.) We finished off our adventure by backpacking together in the Three Sisters Wilderness of Oregon.
This wraps up my observations. I was reminded that being back in nature does rebalance the mind. The think time and quiet time when wandering in the woods cannot be matched. There is a good reason that Curt and I are soulmates. So, here’s to our next adventure. I am thinking the PCT in Oregon deserves much more of our attention!
Curt knew I would be nervous without detailed planning of trails, mileage, rendezvous points, and alternatives. With 50 years of backpacking experience including planning, organizing and leading backpack treks for 30, he is something of an expert on the subject. Having a GPS/Spot Gen 3 tracker along was a new experience for him, however. He could upload his location each night via satellite and I could track his progress on my maps. He could also use Spot to signal for emergency help if needed and carried a cell phone, which he could use in the rare times he had cell service or if he had to hike out for some reason.
Then there was the unexpected— lack of water, smoke, fire, and possible injuries on the trail plus my challenges on the road of finding campgrounds and spaces near trailheads, power outages, limited cell service, and RV repair issues.
The first part of the trek introduced us to water shortages! Following mountain ridges over much of its length, the PCT is noted for its limited supply. The mild winter of 2017-18 with its lack of snow fall in the Siskiyous, Cascades and Sierras made it worse. Streams that would normally have been running through July were dry. Springs were sometimes a mere trickle. Even though we had downloaded the most recent information from the PCT site on water sources, the situation was changing rapidly. Our first day on the trail from Mt. Ashland proved the point.
We had planned a 10-mile day since it was our first day out. There had been sufficient water over the first seven miles. It wasn’t the case when we came to our planned camp site. Curt parked me in a pleasant location and took our water bottles down into the canyon where a stream was located. And came back empty. The stream was dry. “The map shows that there’s a spring in about a quarter of a mile off on a side road,” he announced. “We can camp there.” I loaded my pack and away we went. The spring was also dry. Have I mentioned that I was getting grumpy? Our options now appeared to be hiking three miles back or three miles ahead on the trail. “Let’s try farther down the canyon,” he suggested as a third alternative. I dutifully followed along. Fortunately, we hit water in a half mile. Curt’s experience with all-things-woodsy had paid off. The creek, by the way, was the headwaters of the Applegate River, which runs past our front yard.
We had just set up our tent when crashing thunder announced a deluge. I made it inside dry. Curt came in soaked. Mother Nature was having fun at our expense!
The greatest surprise and challenge was fire and smoke. The thought of making a fast exit ahead of a fire was always on our minds, but smoke was the main problem. Curt’s many years of working with the American Lung Association had educated him to the danger. “Wildfire smoke can be extremely harmful to the lungs, especially for children, older adults and those with asthma, COPD and bronchitis or a chronic heart disease or diabetes,” ALA warns. “I resemble one of those categories,” Curt said. Older people are to stay inside and avoid strenuous exercise. Ha!
Fires started to impact the plan as soon as Castle Crags and smoke changed the trail plan totally in Chester when we couldn’t see a hundred yards into the forest. As Curt has shared on his blog, he had to alter his journey to avoid the worst of smoke and fire. Was I worried? Yes! The most difficult situation encountered was at Sonora Pass. I awoke the morning I was to meet him there to learn that a new fire had started on the far side of the pass. As I waited, I watched the smoke billowing from the fire grow larger and larger. When Curt hadn’t arrived several hours after I expected him, I became quite concerned. Fortunately, a long skinny fellow with the trail name of Bone came hiking up to our RV.
“You must be Peggy,” he said. When I responded yes, he told me that he had passed my missing buddy on the trail. Curt had asked him to pass on the information that he was fine and should be along in an hour or two. Much relieved, I settled in to wait and invited Bone to charge his cell phone in our van and have a cold beer. After Curt’s safe arrival (he tells the story in his blog), we drove to an RV campground for the night and learned that the pass and the PCT trail had been closed after we left!
While Curt was facing challenges out on the trail, I also had my share doing back up. As I mentioned earlier, I’d had lots of experience in camping with the RV. But I was a newbie at camping alone. Fires and lightning caused outages at campgrounds and RV parks, cell phone service was often spotty, And Quivera, our RV, demanded attention. Internal lights, the awning, and the air conditioning unit all had issues.
Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem. We’d just find a shop that serviced RVs. But the local shops had a common response: “If you have a problem, call 30 days in advance for a reservation.” Does anyone else see a problem here? Repairs were up to me. Fine. The awning jammed, my solution? U-tube! I fixed it. Internal lights out? I read the manual, rewired the one I needed to read by and decided to let the other three go. AC servicing: well, other than pumping out playa dust from Burning Man— a forever problem— it was still working. Why worry?
There was a good ending to my efforts to find an RV service shop. I stopped by Camping World in Rockland near Sacramento and talked with the service staff. One of them walked out with me, confirmed that I would need to replace the awning eventually but told me bungee cords were a great temporary solution. He then replaced all the lights for me. Last but not least, he told me how to flush the AC with a hose. There was no charge for his good advice and help!
Next up: I will talk about the help that was generously offered to me along the way and a unique way of communicating with Curt: The Trekker Telegraph. Bone was a good example.
When Curt first shared that he wanted to celebrate his 75thbirthday hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail, I was not surprised. He has 50 years of backpacking experience and loves wandering in the woods. Then he added the 1000-mile goal. That surprised me! There were so many questions. Reading about the challenges faced by Bill Bryson in A Walk in the Woodsand Cheryl Strayed in Wildadded more. Their combined ages when they started their adventures was less than Curt’s. The conversations and planning began.
The first question was, can we (yes, we) physically do this? I had every intention of joining Curt on the trail whenever possible. He had introduced me to backpacking in 1980 and I, too, had fallen in love with the sport. But there was this age thing— for both of us. I’m 68, a child bride perhaps from Curt’s perspective, but not in the reality of miles traveled in life. Off we went for a week’s backpacking trial run on the 40-mile Rogue River Trail. Other than Curt falling down a cliff (well, only 20 feet head first) after his trekking pole collapsed, suffering minimal damage to his arm, and bouncing back on the trail, it was a beautiful adventure and a confirmation that we could still backpack longer distances with a bit of practice and preparation.
The next question was how much could I backpack with Curt and still provide support along the way? I was to be his ‘trail angel’ in PCT lingo. I’d be driving our 22’ Pleasure Way RV/van as the support vehicle. We had been traveling in it for years sharing driving responsibilities, so I was confident I could manage. It was to be my first solo trip, however! My job included carrying three months of food and other backpacking necessities and resupplying Curt between trail segments. There was the fine print of course— and other duties as required (grin).One was that I’d greet Curt with a big smile, a hug, and a cold beer when he came off each segment. Given that my young/old husband had survived another 70 to 100 miles of backpacking through the wilderness over challenging terrain, the smiles and hugs were really easy! My presence would also offer a comfortable break from the trail and provide the flexibility of changing mileage, timelines, and length of breaks if needed. It was an advantage that few PCT hikers have. Curt is spoiled rotten, what can I say.
Realistically, I would not be able to backpack much of the way without someone moving the van from Point A to Point B. However, we could backpack the first segment together from Mt. Ashland to Seiad Valley which would be a great confidence builder for both of us. The rest we would figure out on the run! Once we hiked into Seiad Valley, 6 days and 60 miles later, I was assured Curt could do anything he put his mind to! (So could I.) Still, waving goodbye to him as he left Seiad Valley on his first solo segment up through the Marble Mountains was hard. “If you don’t come out, Curt, I am coming in after you,” I told him and meant it. He had looked nervous and said, “Call Tony first.” I am geographically challenged when it comes to finding my way around in the woods. Tony is our Coast Guard pilot son who has participated in numerous rescue operations.
NEXT POST: When the unexpected happens along the PCT. Peggy’s perspective: Part 2.
Duane Flatmo lives in Eureka California, a short 3 plus hours away from where I live and a million miles away in imagination. Wanting to create a new creature, he struggled with a concept that would live up to his fantastic El Pulpo Mechanico.
Rabid Transit was his answer. Like El Pulpo, Rabid Transit was created from items gathered at a local junk yard in Eureka. Note El Pulpo’s legs made out of abandoned barrels.
Never Was Haul comes as a Victorian home on wheels with a cow catcher on the front. (Cow catchers are what trains use to put on the front of their engines to remove cattle, moose and buffalo from the tracks.) Born in Berkeley as part of the steam punk art movement, Never Was Haul has been to Burning Man many times.
For sheer fun, I’d have to list the large vase mutant vehicle shown below as a top candidate. I was even more entertained when I discovered it changed colors at night.
Several trains have appeared at Burning Man. There has even been a caboose, the Dust Bus, which proudly claims it is part of the Nor Cal Black Rock Railroad..
Before trains, people got across the US in Conestoga wagons. The Oregon Trail passes through the Black Rock Desert not too far from Burning Man and would have seen many of these wagons carrying pioneers west, among them, my Great, Great Grandmother.
I’ll finish today’s post with four individual mutant vehicles:
NEXT POST: Peggy’s perspective on our hike on the PCT this past summer.
Once again I am returning to Burning Man on my blog and posting photos from the 11 years I have attended the event: 2004-5-6-7-9-10-12-13-14-15 and 17. As I have over the past couple of weeks, I am focusing on mutant vehicles today.
I’ve featured some pretty wild land and sea creatures in my past several posts. Today and Wednesday I’ll be introducing mutant vehicles that are closer to their cousins in real life. For example, a number of retired school and city busses make it to Burning Man. While their look has changed, they more or less maintain their original form like the school bus featured above and below.
Do you remember the cult film Mad Max where Mel Gibson and a cast of seedy characters went at each other with souped up, modified vehicles? Well, there is a whole genre of mutant vehicles at Burning Man that look like they belong in the movie, or a demolition derby. These vehicles are not among my favorites but I find them interesting and they belong in any compilation of Burning Man mutants. Besides, some of you might say, “Wow, that’s my dream car!”
Art cars are different than mutant vehicles. They are simply highly decorated cars. Therefore they aren’t allowed to roam the playa and have to be parked. None-the-less, some of them make their way to Burning Man and are on display. Here are a few examples.
I think of the following vehicles as modern day ‘hot rods,’ so I googled ‘hot rods at Burning Man’ and what did I find? My photos of ‘Burning Man hot rods’ from earlier posts. Oh well. Here they are again for those of you who haven’t been following me for several years.
NEXT POST: More mutant vehicles including trains and planes!
Our son Tony, his wife Cammie and our grandkids are visiting from Florida and wanted to go skiing, so we took them up to Mt. Ashland, which is where I started my journey south on the Pacific Crest Trail this past summer. It was a gorgeous day with lots of fresh snow so I thought I would share some of the photos.
NEXT POST: A wrap up on Burning Man’s mutant vehicles.
As noted in my last post, I’ve been sorting through and categorizing my Burning Man photos from the 11 years I have attended the event: 2004-5-6-7-9-10-12-13-14-15 and 17. I’ve created 15 categories and will do posts on several of my favorites from each category over the next several weeks.
Burning Man’s home, the Black Rock Desert, wasn’t always a desert. 15,000 years ago it was part of the huge, 500 foot deep Lake Lahontan. Given this, it isn’t surprising that many mutant vehicles take on an appearance of having once swum in its murky waters, or boated across them. Creatures range from an octopus to a hermit crab; Boats from a sailing ship to a yacht. Today’s post features some of the more fishy things about Burning Man.
NEXT POST: Peggy provides her perspective on our hike down the Pacific Crest Trail last summer.
The Bush Devil Ate Sam is an important record and a serious story, yet told easily, and with delightful humor. This is one of the most satisfying books I have ever read, because it entertained me thoroughly AND made me feel better informed. —Hilary Custance Green: British Author... Click on the image to learn more about my book, the Bush Devil Ate Sam, and find out where it can be ordered.
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