Wednesday, 8 October 2014

On To Monday. The Morning.

So I went to bed on Sunday, tired but happy, not quite sleeping deeply that night as I got used to being back at Burning Man... the constancy of noise, the fact of being very much elsewhere and remembering that while eye covers and earplugs help, you still hear art cars driving past, and feel the background bass that thrums from somewhere else right through your body via the playa floor, and you still get flashes of headlights or fire-flame-throwers and you know that that first night is going to be more about "sleeping" in a restful sort of way than it is about actually getting any restful sort of sleep.

I must have had a few hours at some point because I remember coming half awake dreaming about rain.

I don't know if you have those dreams where you're dreaming you're going pee and then you wake up realizing that you really really have to actually go pee and thank goodness you woke up in time?

Well, there I was, early Monday morning dreaming that it was raining.  Dreaming about rain on my tent and rain outside and I sort of started to come half awake because I remember knowing it was light out (maybe I'd taken off my eye mask) and thinking that there must have been a flame-throwing art car driving past and then my brain started to really wake up and put it all together.

I took my ear plugs out.

I listened.

And that's when I saw the flash of lightning!

It hadn't been a dream.  It WAS lightly raining.  And I wasn't hearing art cars booming and throwing off light, I was hearing thunder and lightning.

Well, this was exciting!

Honestly, that was my first thought.  "I'M SO EXCITED! I'M AT BURNING MAN AND IT'S RAINING!"

I knew rain sometimes happened (yes, even in the desert) and I was (of course!) prepared.  I also knew that you're not supposed to walk or bike or drive when it rains and so I wanted to make it to the portapotties and back before the playa got too too muddy.

I threw on some clothes, checked the time (sixish in the morning!) and unzipped my tent, stepping right into a little puddle.  Whoops.

Yes, I had thrown up a rain fly on the tent, but I hadn't actually bothered setting it up as I might do were I camping here on the West Coast, so the rain had dripped oddly and made a little puddle that I had stepped into.  (I would later learn this was a bigger issue than stepping into a little puddle in a temperate rainforest.)

I unlocked our bikes and moved them under the shade shelter, as I didn't want the rain to rust the playa dust into the metal of our chains so early in the week.  I checked to make sure my rain fly was as well laid out as it could be and then I speed walked gleefully to the porta potties.  I was so ridiculously happy getting to witness rain at Burning Man.  I knew I was safe and comfortable and had enough food type snacks to survive the day if we were stranded in camp, and we would be fine.  I even had an umbrella!  And rain slickers.

I had a huge grin on my face as I walked, not yet realizing that the slightly wetted playa surface was making my shoes into platforms!  The floors of the porta potties were pretty muddy and I was curious to see how this all would play out.

I got back to my tent, and had to change shoes, the ones I had walked in were now thoroughly coated and difficult to walk in.  I made a mental note to be more careful about walking on wet playa surface.

I sat under our shelter, trying to clean my shoe treads.  (I'd read in the extended forecast that there might be rain Monday afternoon, so I'd done some research and bought a small implement to poke the mud/clay out of my treads, but it was hard work... I set them aside after a few minutes to try to dry more.)  As I sat there, watching the light rain fall, I started to count the time between flashes of lightning and thunder claps.

It... was getting closer.  And louder.

Actually really a whole lot louder.

Connor was still asleep.  Or at least hadn't come out of his truck yet, so at this point I figured I was the only one awake in our neighbourhood.

And then there was another flash and crack of lightning and thunder and I realized I wasn't the only one awake.

"My chair just zapped me!"

"My bike just shocked me!"

I heard people shouting to each other that they'd felt some electricity and then it flashed again and the legs of our shade shelter sparked.

I was a little bit frightened.

Frightened because I've never actually been that close to lightning (we don't get much of it where I live and it's always just sort of a pretty thing far away in the sky) and I don't really know how to be safe around it and here it was making things directly around me spark and be... literally shocking!

I ran to the back of Connor's truck.  He was awake.  Had lifted up the latch thing and I poked my head in.

"Connor!  Where's the safest place for me to be right now!"  And right as I said that there was a MASSIVE flash of lightning and the loudest, most frighteningly huge crash of thunder I've ever ever heard in my life.

The whole place lit up and I've never heard anything that angrily loud.

Connor says my eyes went huge.  I have no reason to believe they didn't.  But he told me that a vehicle, with rubber wheels was the safest spot and I should jump in.

And I did.

I left muddy prints on the back of his fender, but I climbed in (shoes left on the side) and huddled next to him while we watched the rain and thunder and lightning crashing around us.

At some point, the (newbie) guys next to us started up their RV's generator and the exhaust came directly into our little safe zone.  I wasn't impressed with this (they'd parked way way too close to us) but wasn't willing to stomp out into the rain to tell them they were killing us.


After a while the rain let up and the storm seemed to have passed so Connor and I got out of his truck.

It was still rain-cloudy and sprinkling a bit (which, omg makes me think of this, awwww) and we both just kind of stood there...

Connor was happy too.  It was his first time seeing rain at Burning Man and somehow it made us both feel at home.  Look, I'm wearing pants!  I'm wearing a jacket!  We're at Burning Man and not boiling hot!  Because I will admit, that was one of my thoughts... that the rain would somehow bring down the temperature for the week, or at least for that day and that that would help.

We were a little bit at a loss because we'd been supposed to go that morning to find our meal plan place (I think I mentioned before, but I'd found an amazing chef online who for a really good rate would provide us with two meals a day) and so we had to fend for ourselves for breakfast as we'd missed the window of time breakfast would have been served.

The playa surface sticks to anything that touches it when it's wet.  And while the rain hadn't been torrential, it had soaked the surface and would take a while to dry.  Add to that the fact that it was still cloudy and it was going to be a long while before it dried.

I did see the odd vehicle or two drive by and I wanted to shake my finger at them.  It clearly states in about a gazillion different places that when it rains you can not, do not, should not drive... at all.  It chews up the surface of the playa if you do, not to mention it sticks like concrete to your tires.  I found this out last year when I drove my bike over a spot where the water trucks had just sprayed.  Bad mistake.  Never repeated.  And it's not like just the one rotation of the tire gets covered... it's layer after layer after layer.

Later in the morning I saw a girl "bike" past.  Her bike was barely functioning because she had such a thick layer of playa mud caked onto her tires that the rain deflector fender things were stopping the wheel from turning.  She was mad that the fenders were placed so close to the wheel.  I just shook my head at it... you can't use transportation on the playa when it's wet or still drying dudes... seriously.

I don't even know if her bike will have been usable for a couple of days.  Seriously.

I hadn't brought big bags to use as boot-rain-covers, but will do so for next year.  Apparently that's the best way to get around; to cover your shoes with plastic bags.  Someone also suggested (I read later online) that playa mud doesn't stick to bare feet, but I'm not willing to try that one as playa foot is apparently quite uncomfortable.  (The alkali of the playa is not good on your skin.)

At some point that morning we made our way out on foot to try to get ice.  There was a huge line at the nine o'clock ice plaza, but we needed it and made the decision to wait it out.  I wish we hadn't.

I was tired.  And, yes, you got it... grumpy.  And waiting in line does nothing to make that better for me.  I wasn't in the mood to spend an hour or two standing there chatting with the nice people around us, or with Connor.  I did my best to distract myself and stay positive.  A lovely gal came and played her violin on top of a lifeguard tower in the middle of the plaza (I know, I say that to people who've never been before and it just sounds like... what?) and then as she and her beautiful prom type peach dress were walking away the crowd cheered so much that she shyly made her way back and played us a few more songs.

The line got bigger and bigger and one of the volunteers from the ice place came out to let us know they were delayed for a couple of reasons.  One being that three of their volunteers had been hit by lightning that morning.  So many of the structures in Burning Man are constructed with metal and this one was a metal geo-dome.  He said that they'd all been taken to medical and one was still under observation... shaken and feeling "off" but fine.  They all felt lucky things hadn't been worse, but still, it was delaying their opening.

One of the guys we were chatting with eventually (like... an hour or so in) offered to go get us all beers.  We declined, but as fate works, five minutes after he left, they opened and the line started to move.  D'oh!

He managed to catch back up with us at the entry and we happily all parted ways with our ice.  Yay.

We chatted with folks on our walk back (there was an art car camp based out of Victoria we saw) and heard more stories of people getting "hit" by lightning.  There was the guy who had his hand on the metal of his art car who got a jolt through his arm, or the lady in the RV across from us who said their RV got hit and she peed her pants.

I don't know how these things work ("these things" being lightning) but it seems to me our general area was struck.  I don't know if it was one big hit or several small ones, but most of the rest of Burning Man seemed to have been left alone while our side and area certainly had strikes.

I don't know, I still thought the whole thing was cool.

I didn't know, that outside, they'd closed the gate (I mean, I figured, there was no traffic) and that thousands of people were stuck in line, or on the highway, or being turned around and sent back to Reno...or somewhere.  When I heard this, and heard it made National news (Festival closed for first time ever, duh duh duuuuuuuuh!) and that people were delayed for half a day or more, I felt extremely lucky.  We'd been safe and sound and all set up and comfortable.

And we'd just had a pretty good morning.  Even if the hours in the ice line had utterly grumped me out.

I wondered to myself if I should have abandoned Connor and said "this is making me so beyond miserable, can you get the ice yourself please?" but I still have that sort of guilty feeling conscience where I didn't want to leave him to do the "dirty" work that was really for both of our benefit.

Le sigh.

Plus, the fact that I was feeling grumpy at Burning Man was making me even grumpier.


Elliott said...

Lightening can be very scary. I grew up in the thunderstorm capital of Ontario and had lots of scary experiences. More than once a storm blew up out of nowhere and we had to leave our clubs on the golf course and run barefoot to shelter (that was when we wore steel spikes in the shoes). One time it was so close we had to lie in a little valley while the storm passed over...very scary.

I can only imagine how big your eyes got. I've been in some storms where the lightening and thunder happen at the same time...very close.

I hope the trip got better...which I think we already know that it did.

Jason Langlois said...


Victoria said...

Elliott, it was RIGHT THERE! And no little valleys to run into! Just... flat desert and lots of metal ;)

Totally, eh Jason?