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24 hours on the Playa - MtnVwPilot

Jul. 10th, 2006 08:17 am 24 hours on the Playa

I just got back from 24 hours on the Playa, a quick foretaste of Burning Man, hanging out at the Black Rock Rangers' annual on-Playa training weekend. I completed the training last month in San Francisco, so I wasn't required to be there, but it's a great weekend for hanging out on the Playa doing all the stuff you're not allowed to do during Burning Man itself (drive across the Playa, visit the hot springs, go target shooting, play with the dogs, etc.).

For the past couple of weeks, Ranger Mickey and I had been talking about going up for the event, but it didn't look like we were going to be able to make it due to various scheduling constraints... Then, about 8:30pm on Friday night, I get an IM from Mickey that says "Hey, my schedule for the weekend just cleared, wanna go to the Playa after all? We can drive all night and be there by morning..." OK, sure, why not; life's an adventure! So, a couple of hours of packing and loading my little SUV-let, and we were on our way!

The rest of the weekend is a pleasant blur of good company and not enough sleep... ;-)

We stopped in Reno in the middle of the night for groceries and such. We drove around until we found a Safeway that was open at 2am.

On our way back to the freeway, we happened to pass a 24-hour Super Wal*Mart. Mickey had never been in one, and wanted something we hadn't been able to find at Safeway but which he thought they might have, so we pulled in for a quick stop. It was amusing to see the look on his face, as he stepped into the store and realized just how huge it is...

We got up to the Playa just at sunrise on Saturday morning; very spectacular. There were scattered thunderstorms out on the Playa and the surrounding hills; lots of fun to watch the lightning, and beautiful to see virga form as the rain often evaporated before hitting the ground.

We arrived on the Playa and found the Ranger camp just as the sun was actually coming above the horizon, and just in time for a huge wind and dust storm. Ah, yes, we're home! ;-) Camp was just starting to stir, and we shanghai'd DirtWitch (the lead trainer) for what was supposed to be a quick trip back into Gerlach for breakfast at Bruno's.

Just before we left camp, it started raining at the camp, turning all the surface dust onto the Playa into a thin layer of slick sticky mud.

You know all that advice about not driving on the Playa when it's raining, and just waiting for it to end and then another hour or so for the Playa to dry again? Believe it... The rainstorm was forming about a half-inch of slick mud atop the Playa, and I could barely keep the SUVlet moving in more or less the right direction. We spent the several minutes that it took us to get back to the main road (what should have been a 30-second drive) discussing how ironic and embarrassing it would be if we got stuck out there, and the other Rangers had to come rescue us; we heard later that the other Rangers, back in camp, had been watching our slow and unsteady progress and gleefully contemplating the ribbing they'd give us when that came to pass. We managed to fight our way free unassisted, though, so they were disappointed... ;-)

Discovering that I couldn't go faster than 25 mph without the SUVlet shaking badly because of all the mud stuck to the wheels.

Spending 10 minutes using BBQ tools (hey, they were what I had handy!) to remove an inch-thick layer of mud from the insides of the rear wheels; we must have removed at least 5 pounds of mud from each wheel.

Discovering that I could now get up to 60 mph before the vehicle started shaking badly enough to worry me.

Breakfast with Mickey and DirtWitch at Bruno's in beautiful downtown Gerlach (which is also charming uptown Gerlach and pleasant midtown Gerlach), then back to the Playa so DirtWitch could begin leading the training.

Finding that everybody else was in the process of relocating camp to right next to the Playa entrance road, in case the rain came back and the mud got worse. The effort involved in moving camp apparently appeased the weather gods, and there was no more rain for the rest of the weekend. The mud from the morning's showers had pretty much dried out by noon, and by the end of the day you would have sworn from the cracked and dusty appearance of the Playa that it hadn't rained there in weeks.

After helping relocate camp and set up the shade structures, DirtWitch began the training. Since I'd completed it a few weeks before in SF, and since I'd only gotten about 30 minutes of sleep the night before, I retired to the truck, started the engine and air conditioner, and stretched out for a nap.

I woke up a few hours later, just as the training was finishing and the time was declared to be "beer:30". The rest of the evening was a pleasant blur of socializing, snacking, drinking, and a potluck dinner. I had brought a couple of "Fred's special marinated tri-tips" (the ones that look like they're covered in road tar before you cook them) from Schaub's at Stanford, and they were a big hit...

After dinner, a bunch of us we drove across the Playa to one of the natural hot springs for a soak. Great fun, especially the drive back in the dark across the open Playa; good thing I had my GPS, or finding camp might have taken a while! Simply amazing to be driving at 60+ MPH across the dry lakebed; it was smoother than the highway!

Then a very pleasant few hours of sitting around the burn barrel, chatting with friends old and new.

It was cool to indulge in all sorts of stuff that's not allowed during BM: visiting the hot springs, driving on the Playa, playing with the dogs. One of the dogs was the most gorgeous mix of Border Collie and Great Pyrenees. Black and white coloration of the BC, with the larger size and silkier coat of the GP, and apparently the best temperament characteristics of both breeds; simply marvelous.

There was only one kid at the event, Thomas, and he was amusing and endearing himself to pretty much everybody. He was born several months prematurely but is now the very picture of a strapping two year old, who loves to throw back his head and laugh with his whole body at the slightest provocation (or none at all).

I woke up early on Sunday morning, just as the sky was turning pink on the horizon. I spent a magical hour or so warming myself by the embers in the burn barrel, watching the stars wink out overhead as the sun rose to greet the day, munching tortillas warmed on top of the burn barrel, listening to gentle Ranger snores from all around me.

Then, it was pack up, load up, and get back to the real world.

The Rangers are a great group of folks, and the Playa is a magical place. I'm really looking forward to being a part of that this year.

The Man burns in 54 days! ;-)

7 comments - Leave a commentPrevious Entry Share Next Entry


Date:July 10th, 2006 06:23 pm (UTC)
Thank you for writing that up! I'm sad we won't be joining you this year, but we'll be off on our own adventures. Have a great time!!!
Date:July 10th, 2006 10:36 pm (UTC)
Run into Ranger Enigma?
Date:July 10th, 2006 10:38 pm (UTC)
Yup. He and J were very popular; they brought super-frozen ice cream for Saturday night and bagels/lox/schmear for Sunday morning. ;-)
Date:July 10th, 2006 11:59 pm (UTC)


I don't think I've ever seen a more enthusiastic post out of ya, it's almost poetic!

Date:July 11th, 2006 05:30 am (UTC)

Nicely done, sir. Where are you camping this year?

(Always eager to draft more rangers into Fandango's fold, if you're interested...)
Date:July 11th, 2006 05:45 am (UTC)
Thanks! Same as usual, with Save-The-Man, part of CampIAm. We've applied for Esplanade space this year, but won't know for another month or so where we'll be. Drop by the Oasis Dome; they'll probably have a good idea where to find me!
Date:July 11th, 2006 05:49 am (UTC)

Well, alternatively, drop by the Fandango Village. There's a 98% chance I'll be behind the bar, pouring 'heavy' for Rangers. (And, well, anybody else that wants a drink.)

But I do hope to see you out there.