Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Stepping out of my tent in the late morning found me alone in what had only 12 hours before been a busy neighborhood.

The burn was over, and the Exodus begins.  In truth, remnants of the city will remain in the desert for the next three months, as a small army of volunteers works to clean up after the event, attempting to keep the playa as pristine as possible and erasing any traces that a city of 50,000 existed here for a week.

I bussled around for a bit, packing up what I could take with me and donating that which I could not.  Monday is when the majority of people leave, and most of the day is occupied by a massive traffic jam as people try to get off the playa and back to the roads.  Of course, motorcycles aren't limited to such petty situations as that, and I cut through an estimated 3-hour backup in about ten minutes.

After only 15 minutes on the highway though, everything stopped in an epic que.

(And I know that no one looks good after a week in the desert, but jesus fucking christ if that isn't the most hideous troll-monster hambeast I've ever seen)

Again, by taking advantage of the smaller size of my chosen means of transportation, I passed it all by in a few minutes, finding the source of the backup about ten miles of solid que later.


Good news is that no one appeared hurt.  There was a small cluster of people standing by the flipped trailer who'd been in the SUV, and they all appeared shaken, but unharmed.  Farther down the road when I stopped for noms, I heard scuttlebutt confirmation that everyone had been wearing their seat belts, and had walked away with only minor bruises.

Om nom nom nom nom!

I got back to the interstate and headed back to Reno.  Stopping at a highway rest stop, it was apparent that they'd delt extensively with Burners before.

I got another hotel for the night, enjoying a shower that turned the run-off water a pale brown.  I went out to dinner with some people that I'd linked up with during the Exodus, and spent the night in a real bed that wasn't covered in dust.  Which was pretty awesome, I will say  :D

I spent most of the next day running errands around Reno.  I had clothes to wash, and the bike was long over-due for an oil change.   It sounds weird, but changing the oil in the parking lot is one of the more enjoyable parts of living on the road.  I'll never tire of the slightly confused look on the auto part store employee's faces after I walk back in ten minutes after buying supplies with the old oil in a plastic baggie.

In my time floating around town that day, numerous people asked me why there were so many vehicles around that were all so filthy and covered in the same sort of dust.  It's not hard to spot a burner for at least a couple weeks after the event; even six months later as I write this, I STILL find playa dust in some of my things.

It was late afternoon by the time I headed out of Reno, plodding east along Rt 50.  I intended to ride into the night and make camp again at the Hickerson Petroglyphs, but altered my plans when I found the gas station I stopped at offered free camping, as well as free internet.  I'm drawn to an open wi-fi signal like a moth to a flame, so I bought my dinner there and settled in for a night of webernetting from inside my tent.

The next day:

It was a nice little place, conveniently located at a junction of Rt 50 and Hwy 361 (it appears on the map as "Middlegate Station")

Given that they weren't charging for camping, or for their precious intertubes, I felt obligated to get my breakfast there as well.

Mmmm, I do love diner-food.

Let this be a lesson to all buisness owners running remote highway rest-stops; the deciding factor in me staying here for the night and buying two meals, rather then riding for another couple hours, was the free wi-fi.  If you have a campground, motel, resort, whatever, MAKE SURE you advertise your free wi-fi in big, giant, glowing letters where all passer-bys can see it.  To many people, especially people of my generation, internet access is only marginally less important then air and water.

I turned south down Hwy 361, passing through Gabbs and then turning onto Rt 89 to keep going south.  It wasn't bad riding, way better then the midwest for sure, at least there's hills to look at.  And I had someone to keep me company.

The pig!

One of the motorcycle forums that I'm on has a minor tradition of passing this pig around the country, handing him off from one rider to the next.  He started life somewhere in Texas, made his way up through various hands to the Northeast, then ended up in California and traveling up and down the pacific coast.  I'd picked him up while at Burning Man, and was carrying him all the way back to Chicago with me, where I'd hand him off to the next rider.


After re-filling in Tonopah, I headed east on Rt 6, spotting this as I was leaving town.

Oh, joy.  By my best estimates, I could get perhaps 170 miles on a tank of gas, so this was going to be cutting it really close.

Off into the endless desert.

After a bit less then an hour, I came across the turn-off for Rt 375, complete with another warning sign.


Rt 375 is mostly famous for being as close as you can legally get to the famed Groom Lake Air Force Base, more popularly known as Area 51.  Many of the USAF's experimental and cutting-edge aircraft have been tested here over the years, so the semi-regular appearance of very weird aircraft (as well as endless X-Files fueled theories about UFOs) have given this road it's name.

The town of Rachel is all that's here, a dingy little collection of ramshackle houses and buildings that have all seen much better times.  They do their best to play up the UFO thing to appeal for tourism, but it doesn't seem to have helped them much.

The famous "Black Mailbox", familier to X-files fans and other generally crazy people.  A popular and frequent spot for late-night hanging out and UFO-watching, the mailbox actually belongs to a local rancher and is in no way connected to the Air Force base (Which, by the way, you can see on Google Maps).  Most of the time I was there, there was a constant roar of jet engines to be heard, and at one point I was over-flown by a loaded F-16 at very low altitudes.

If you go a little farther down Rt 375, there's a turn-off for a gravel road that is the main over-land route to actually get to Area 51.  Go down it a ways and you'll see some very nasty-looking signs and video cameras.  Go down it any farther, and you'll meet some very un-friendly and humorless guys in white SUVs.  As much as I wanted to take my bike at least as far as the signs and video cameras, I was so low on gas that I was seriously worried about making it to the next service station.

However, some weirdness DID happen to me.  As I was stopped there photographing the "Black Mailbox", from WAY off in the distance across the desert, the dust plume of a vehicle appeared.  Eventually it became apparent that this vehicle was on the access road to Area 51, and had come directly from it.  It was one of the famous "White School buses" that are used to transport local workers to and from the base.  (The majority of employees are flown in from Vegas).

It required a LOT of throttle to catch up to the bus, and at some points over the next ~20 miles I was doing 95mph trying to keep up with it, and it was still pulling away.

As far as creepy conspiracy vehicles go, this one isn't bad.  Pure white, with US Government plates and blacked-out windows. 

Eventually, I just couldn't keep up.  I'm impressed with a school bus that can maintain regular 90mph+ speeds, and if I REALLY wanted to I probably could have stayed with it, but going that fast was rapidly eating into whatever confidence I had about being able to make it to the next gas station.

Goodby creepy school bus!

I did make it to the next gas station, although probably only on fumes.  I kept going west, getting back into Utah and camping for the night in the picnic site of a OHV area.  There was much scrap wood around, and fire pits, so I engaged in something I hadn't done since the first night out.  

I had a fire.

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