Eleven o'clock rolled round and I for real checked out and figured I would go grab some stuff from the van and figure out what to do while they fixed it or... whatever had to happen. But when I arrived, planning on grabbing my camera and taking some shots around town, they were just finishing up and the fellow was taking it for a test drive. What?
I chatted away with (or got chatted to by) an older fellow from Klamath Falls (guess this was the best mechanic around the larger area or something) about baseball and God (I just politely nodded and listened) and the guy came back and said it was ready to go.
They'd managed to duplicate whatever had cut out and then had gone ahead and replaced the starter relay (I dunno) but they'd also accidentally noticed a coolant leak (a BAD thing to take where I was going, not just for the heat, but also for leaking onto the playa... oh and because HEAT!) and had fixed that too and I was ready to be on my way. They said.
I... wasn't so sure. But I paid, and thanked them profusely and told them I hoped I would not see them again, such being the nature of their business!
I then took my van and myself and drove the couple of blocks to the parking lot across from the hotel I'd been staying at and I called Jason.
We talked, and I told him I'd asked the mechanic if he was comfortable sending me over the pass (the tow truck driver had warned me to watch my engine heat over the pass and to remember there was no service up there, and my friends had both told me how scary the pass was so I was extra nervous) and he'd said "as comfortable as I can be in a vehicle this old".... sigh. I wasn't comfortable at all.
But Jason assured me he felt really solid about the van. That the issue this morning was just her starting issue and that she hadn't started again because I'd not had her in park. He told me the engine is great (he and his mechanic friends had all agreed) and that I was good to go. I popped the lid and added some engine coolant stuff to the... uh.. radiator (?) overflow because they'd put in all new fluids and so the coolant... um... I forget... extra good helpful stuff needed put in again, so I did that and I put in some oil and then I sat for a while, engine lid up.... not wanting to go. Again.
One of the police officers who'd helped push me off the road earlier drove up and asked if I was broken down again. I said no, I was just gathering myself before I headed out and I thanked him again for helping and he said no problem and went on his way, but I figured I should probably get going.... So I told Jason I was going to get off the phone and just do it.
He was a little nervous about the pass too, and made me promise I'd call as soon as I got to the next gas station (last gas station, really) and we figured it should take X amount of time but that I was going to go VERY slowly and use all the pull overs and gear down like big trucks did, so he said he'd give me an hour and a half to call before he worried. Ok, fair enough. So I, once again, pulled myself together somehow and.... headed back out into that side road and pulled out into the main road and.... SHE KEPT GOING!
Ok. This was... going to be scary but.... I could do it... I could do it.
Jason had looked at the route on some bicycling site that shows you the route or I don't know, and had talked me through where the pull out things were, but there was very little traffic anyway and I figured I'd be ok. Enough.
I climbed the pass, keeping my speed decent and watching the GPS a little for upcoming curves. (They were big ones) And then I saw the "trucks use lower gear" sign and I pulled into the pull over spot that's for just that and went huh... I'm at the top... that wasn't awful at all! My engine temp was fine and I was feeling ok about things and so I geared down and headed back onto the road.
It was a little less fun going down... I got traffic behind me (a couple of trucks that seemed quite patient but I still felt a little bad) and pulled over the one time I was able to, and then still had more traffic behind me, and the first downward curve I hit scared the life out of me so I just slowed way way down for them (even in second gear) and mentally apologized to the people behind me, but knowing that the pass wasn't all that long (we'd figured it to be about half an hour at top speed and I was already half way so I figured they wouldn't be stuck behind slow, cautious, scared me for too too long) There was a construction stop at some point (which I thought was weird) and the curving descents were all quite scary to me but soon enough .... it was done. The road levelled out, and I pulled over and well... that wasn't bad at all at all! The Pacific Northwest roads on day one had been WAY worse than that. Sure, these hills on this pass were big and that was very different driving, but no one was pushing me, and I was able to take more time, and it was short! I'd known there was an end coming! I DID THE BIG PASS! YAY! Now I knew the road and I was nearly there! EEEEEEE!!!!!
I stopped at the last gas station (last gas station before getting to Burning Man when coming from the North) and it was blissfully empty. I realized I'd missed all the weekend "bad" traffic by being "late" and it was actually pretty nice. Quiet. Calm.
I pulled into the back lot to use the potties they set up for the hoards of burners, and I went to call Jason to let him know I'd made it and it was fine! Crap. No service. Shoot. He'd worry. Um... Maybe there'd be service soon? I didn't remember from previous years, but probably there would be service in a while. He knew this stretch was a low service area, but I was worried he'd be worried. Whoops. I sent him mental apologies... and headed back on the road.
The next bit, dare I say it? Was actually, almost, kind of ... well, nice. (insert smile here)
There was no one on the road but me. Really. For long stretches of time. I can not tell you what a relief this was. And when there was traffic, there was almost always the ability for them to pass, which I'd happily sidle over to let them do. I had a hint of music, and while the sun had turned on FULL BLAST once I'd hit the road past the gas station, it was all ok... I was heading to the hot place anyway, this was just the edge of it welcoming me!
I'll spoiler alert you now, so you're not reading the rest of this worried... nothing else went wrong. I had a bit of a scare when I was stupid and took my eyes off the road reaching for something and that was the last time I did that, but other than that and an "am I lost?" moment, things went perfectly. So you can relax and read on without worry now, ok? OK!
I put on the music I always put on at this part of the drive and tried to take in the scenery as best I could and I slowed down when the scary turns showed up (especially after I didn't slow down "enough" for the first one and got scared) and I let my speed vary from "who cares" to "oh, am I actually going too fast? whoops!" and I drove towards the desert. My desert. I was nearly there! AT BURNING MAN!
I felt good. It's a beautiful drive. I missed being in the passenger seat able to take it ALL in, but I was still seeing the beauty as I drove. I'll say it again... this part of this drive is really really beautiful. Even now I can see it in my head. It's a beautiful drive. I wished I'd had a go pro or something to record it so Jason could see what he'd helped get me to... I was lucky to be there, and I'd gotten there all by myself. Well, physically, anyway... mentally and emotionally, I'd gotten there with Jason's support... but the driving? I'd done that. Me. LOOK WHERE I WAS!
The lack, or low volume, of traffic was delightful although there was still the occasional burner RACING past me once I got closer, in general, it was me and the van out on the empty road. Ahhhh, if only it was always like this!
I'd been a little nervous about the exact details of getting there (there's some kind of side road that you can cut down to avoid going sort of backwards, but I wasn't sure my GPS was aware of it, although I was fairly sure I'd found it the night before and programmed it in properly, my fingers were still kind of crossed) and I was a little anxious about my gas gauge (did I have enough to get there AND back????) I kept getting nearer and nearer. How long would the wait to get in be? Would I be cool enough?
I got nearer and nearer and then up ahead I could see it! The playa... there it was!
And there also was a lot of traffic! But all flowing.... Hmmm, did I dare to hope that my entry wouldn't be too bad? Nope, no jinxing of things, it would be what it would be...
I took the side road, and pulled over... because... huh? Was I... did.. no one else was following me? Um... did I screw up? But then... more cars came my way so... I... went on... and yes, in the traffic line! WOOT!
And it just kept flowing. No stopping. Fairly heavy traffic, but not stopping. OOoh this was good!
And then I had cell service again, FINALLY! I called Jason (via bluetooth... SAFETY!) I told him I couldn't hear him over the noise (open window and fan and all) but that I was safe, I'd made it, and I hadn't had service until then, SORRY! but I was THERE! BLACK ROCK DESERT! I COULD SEE IT! And then, I was actually, for real there. I was pulling off of the paved highway onto the "road" that leads into Black Rock City. Oh wow. I... I DID IT!!!!
I DID IT! I DID IT, I DID IT, I DID IT!!!! I WAS THERE! I'D DONE IT! YOU GUYS! I MADE IT TO BLACK ROCK, I'D DRIVEN ALL THE WAY TO BURNING MAN! BY MYSELF! ME! I DID IT!!!!!!
There's a sign at the entry to Burning Man that we've never stopped at... always too eager to get in and get set up but I pulled over... I stopped. I got out. I took photos. I celebrated. I texted Jason. I called him again. I was there. I sent photographic evidence. The van in front of the sign. I WAS THERE!
Oh, and then I taped off the battery vent on the side of the van like he'd wanted me to, and then I changed shoes (out of sandals and into socks and runners) and then I peed (into my "pee bottle", using my pee funnel, because once you're in line, if you're on your own, you can't just stop and head to a potty when the line stops.. or else you might not make it back to your vehicle... so I peed there and... damn... I was at Burning Man. Wow.
I got back into the entry line and ... was... in the entry line at Burning Man. Wow.
I'd closed up all my windows and the top vent and I started to laugh as the playa dust seeped in anyway. Heh. So much for keeping the dust out. You can't drive faster than 10mph on gate road, so I took some camera phone shots and texted Jason (shhhh, don't tell, I felt bad doing it!) and I just kept... driving towards gate. Drinking my water, listening to my music, shaking my head at the people driving too fast (you're going to get pulled over!) or pulling into a lane that had just been watered down (you're going to get mud caked tires! NEWBIE!) And I smiled at the cars around me and I was so so so so so very happy. You guys? I was at Burning Man. I'd driven myself there. I hadn't been sure the whole time I was doing it if I'd actually ever do it, but I'd done it. I was there.
At 10mph it takes about 45 minutes to get from highway to gate... and... it looked like I was going to just drive right in... with no stopping, or no line. Wow... this whole 'not arriving when everyone else arrives' thing was looking better and better! Maybe it wasn't worth "gaining" a day to do the long long waits in line I'd done before and knew many people had done... hmmm... something to ponder....I kept driving and soon enough, I saw gate up ahead... but... wait, still no line? WHAT? Damn! I was going to drive straight in, I was! YESSSSS!!! An hour after I hit gate road and I was already getting my ticket checked? SWEET!
I was so happy to see the gate gal, and happy to have her check my van (for stowaways and illegal items... fireworks, weapons, animals, etc.) and happy to have my ticket and vehicle pass scanned and happy to thank her for her time (volunteers everywhere, man!) and I was happy happy happy.
I was happy to drive ahead a bit and hit the greeters. To stop my vehicle, turn off the engine, get out and get a MASSIVE HUG BECAUSE I'D MADE IT, MY FIRST SOLO DRIVE EVER! And then to get extra hugs because of it and then to do a dust angel because it was like being a virgin all over again... I'd done it. MYSELF! NO ONE ELSE! And then I was really, truly in the city. For reals. At Burning Man. I was. There. Wow.
I didn't really care about anything else, to be honest. I was there.
I made my way to the camp area where I'd be camping, I asked for the camp "mayor", I found her, introduced myself and she pointed to where abouts I could park. I drove my van in, I turned her around, and I parked. I parked my van in the spot I would be camping for the week, on the playa of the Black Rock Desert, in Burning Man. In Nevada. USA. Where I'd just arrived. After three and a half days of awful. I'd gotten through it all. Somehow. And I was there. Wow.
And I had complete, full cell service. Huh. Disappointing, but hey... the new normal out there. I texted Jason. And I texted the friend (online only) who'd set me up with the camp and the volunteer work and he was just coming home from his shift and he texted me back from ten feet away, just like we'd joked he do, and then we met and hugged and man... I was there!
He wanted me to have a beer, but I don't really drink out there and I wanted to get unpacked and settled. So I pulled my bike out (and locked it up... always lock up your bike!) and I pulled out my shower curtains (I keep old shower curtains once they go mouldy to bring to Burning Man) and I covered the front of the van (driving area) and I taped off the outside air vent openings and I was frustrated that the green painter's tape wasn't sticking, but it was all I had and I'd not known it wouldn't work so well. At some point it was dinner (camp dues in the case of this camp covered meals as well as a camp shower and stuff)... I'd arrived around four... lost my phone for a while, but friend.. who needs a name... uh... Joe... Joe called it and I found it, but it was a good reminder that playa brain was kicking in. (The heat and especially the elevation take a while to get used to and they conspire to turn your brain kind of dumb.) Dinner was SPAGHETTI!!! GLUTEN!!!!
I told them I wasn't supposed to eat it but that for the week I was saying "screw it" and eating as much gluten as I wanted. And man I miss gluten so so much. And damn if I didn't have a second serving of spaghetti! I MISS YOU GLUTEN!!!!!!
I ate. And sat there ... being... there. Then it was sunset. And a gorgeous one at that and everything was both surreal and not surreal. I was here. On playa. Watching a beautiful sunset over those mountains. Sigh.
Back at the van there was playa EVERYWHERE. Already. Like, everywhere. And I hadn't left the doors open that long or anything, that stuff just gets in. Sigh. You can see it filtering through the air even when it's still.
I tried to organize things... and then I took myself and my bike out onto playa with Joe and his virgin (to Burning Man!) friend to watch the "event has started!" fireworks and they went off to do some dancing (and who knows what else) and I took myself back to my van... after stopping in what I'd not quite experience before... I'm calling it a blackout, because all of a sudden it went black... I guess I'd not been in a dust storm at night before, but all the lights went away and I couldn't see. It was a blackout situation for a few minutes, but it passed quickly, and i headed back to my van to finish unpacking.
(I'm sure some people like to get there and party right away but I like to get there and get settled... and keep hydrated... see? I learned my lesson from last year!)
I went to fill up my water bottle but the pump I'd bought didn't fit the containers I'd bought and we knew this before I left but using it on playa made a lot more mess than I'd anticipated and dripping water on a floor that was already covered in playa made for mud. And mud made of playa is bad. Ugh. My water system was a mess. Literally. Ugh. Ah well, janky things are what you deal with out there. I'd figure it out. But ugh. I knew better.
I called it a night not long after that and had this moment of realization that this was not a tent! HEY! I turned on the inverter (the one Jason had shocked himself installing... I assume I mentioned that?) and plugged in the fan and man oh man! I had a (solar powered!) fan! IN BED! This was SO MUCH BETTER than my tent, comfort wise, WOOT! HAPPY!
Yeah... it's nice to live in your home... that made me happy. I even put a smiley face AND a heart on my notes that night!
But as drained as I was, I wasn't sleepy. It was 1 am (I noted) as I was writing my notes for the day and I'd been up since 4 am.... that was a loooooong day. I also noted that I hadn't peed yet (since my initial pee at the sign upon entry) and that wasn't good, but hey, I was there, and I was putting fluids in me and I just had to remember the desert drains you of your fluids and my body and my intake just had to get used to it all... but yeah, the fact I hadn't peed in all the time I'd been on playa made me a little nervous (ten hours of not peeing is a little bit not good, especially in the desert when you are consciously watching your intake....) I tried to read, but couldn't focus. And at who knows what o'clock, I turned off the lights (and fan... ahhhh bliss... and inverter) and I went to sleep.
In my bed. In my van. That I'd driven. By myself. All the way to Burning Man.