August 26th: Yellow Bikes & The Gate Opens

Loose Chains and Steep Hills
Today was the day we got to ride Yellow Bikes (the green ones) en masse from the work ranch, formally known as Black Rock Station, to the playa.  We were supposed to meet at the Depot at 3:00 and get a ride to the ranch, but there wasn’t much in the way of drivers, so a call went out from Dispatch to all comm looking for multiple cars or a bus to transport everyone to the ranch.  Well, it just so happens that Doyle and I ran into my friend Joe Snider this morning on our way to get my car from Crane Camp.  We were driving the Gremlin across the open playa after unsuccessfully looking for Joe’s camp near 2:30 and Freshwater, and Joe was driving his bus in the other direction.  Joe had just arrived to BRC from Reno and had stumbled across my Subaru at 9:45 and Coral Reef.  He left me a note on my windshield, and how the hell was I doing anyway?  It was so good to see him!

So now I drove over to Joe’s camp and asked him how he felt about giving 30 or 40 people a lift to the ranch.  He said sure and we scrambled to empty out the fully loaded bus.  We managed to get most of the gear out of it, and then we drove over to the Depot.  Half the DPW piled into Joe’s bus, and we headed out the 12-mile exit.  I was stoked we made it up the hills considering the heavy load and the advanced state of disrepair on the old bus.

We disembarked in front of the bike workshop and greeted the crew.  I intended to take a few pictures and go back with Joe, but I realized as soon as we got there that I couldn’t miss this ride.  The first of its kind on community bikes most of us had helped assemble, and so many people jazzed to take part, including Jack Rabbit and all the Black Label kids.  People were everywhere choosing bikes and taking them out for test drives, making adjustments to seat posts and handle bars.

Everyone gathered around a big flatbed so Travis could say a few words to the group, and then we were off.  The first part of the ride was littered with people on the side of the road examining their bikes.  Chains were coming off and seats were falling down.  Minor adjustments all of them, and soon everyone hit their stride.

The ride was a blast.  Some people were fast and some were slow. Some people were peddling like the wind, and some were cruising along at pub speed.  Ray Posado was in a support truck up front, keeping an eye out for passing vehicles and making funny comments on the radio.  Nipps drove the fluffer van and refreshed us with beverages and treats.  Camera Girl and Game Show were driving beside the group, documenting the ride.

Jack Rabbit was awesome.  She rode the entire time with a smile on her face, responding to radio calls and making sure everyone was safe and happy.  For some of the taller riders, like Doyle and Sleep Dep, the average size bike frames were barely big enough to ride, but they powered it out.  And for me, I started out slow but couldn’t help charging up the short hills, enjoying my first exercise in nearly a month, despite my poor choice of footwear (flip-flops).

Fifteen miles flew by.  Before we knew it we were flying down the hill toward the 12-mile entrance, and everyone was laughing and cheering.  We rode through town loudly and did a lap around Center Camp before heading down 5:30 to the Depot.  Happy friends and cold beer awaited us, and we all celebrated this great new tradition.

One of the guys on the ride (I can’t remember his name!) told me that he had decided to cut off his dreadlocks at the Ghetto tonight because his experience at Burning Man this year had convinced him that he was over it.  No more hippie hair for him.  Well that wasn’t going to work at all, because once word got out, some scissors appeared and we all took turns snipping a strand off his head.  It was awesome.

The whole experience was excellent, and I’m so glad I didn’t miss it.  I had a blast and I think everyone else did too.  I would definitely do it every year.  Thanks to the bike club for making it happen.

They’re Here
The gate opened to the public tonight.  You had to see it to believe it.  Thousands of cars backed up to Wadsworth, filling up six lanes side by side on the dirt road two miles deep, all heading to Black Rock City.  I was there, working the 12-6 shift, and it was a great spectacle.

Doyle and I drove out together just before midnight, and he went to help in D-Lot while I checked in with the gate shift leader.  I’d be working with a team of three or four other people, responsible for lane number four.  For every vehicle that came through, we had to take their tickets, search their vehicle, search their trailer, check art car registrations, and tear their tickets if they were good to go.  We were looking for anything illegal- like firearms or drugs- as well as stowaways and unlicensed motor vehicles.

I worked the front of the line and received hand signals from people in the back, telling me which cars had already been cleared and which ones were mine to check.  Jordan and I teamed up, one of us talking to the people and checking tickets while the other one searched the vehicle and trailer.  It was cool either way, getting to chat with participants from all over the country or rummaging through their trailers and jumping up on top.  Most people were super friendly, but a few were jerks.

There were hundreds of people in line at Will Call, picking up pre-purchased tickets or buying new ones, and hundreds of people in the D-Lot, trying to get out after waiting hours or days because they showed up early without prior authorization or because there was some sort of problem with their ticket/vehicle/camp.  The tower and shade structure for gate headquarters was full of music playing and people working, eating, drinking, or hanging out with friends.  There were light towers everywhere, shining on the gate and incoming vehicles.  Just past the entrance, gate personnel with megaphones were shouting at people to drive slower and merge safely.

For those of us checking cars, there were six lanes of bumper-to-bumper headlights creeping toward us.  Engines running and our voices loud enough to be heard over them.  All manner of vehicles coming through, including wacked out school buses, art cars, and monster RVs that cost more than some houses.

First thing you do is ask the driver to put the vehicle in PARK, so that they don’t accidentally drive over your foot or move forward while your partner is on top of their trailer looking for illegal passengers.  You have to move fast because everyone is anxious to get in, and you have to try and keep people in their vehicles so nobody gets hurt.  At one point a woman jumped out of car and insisted I give her a spanking.  “Look lady, I’m not a Greeter.”

Then there are the problems.  There’s the guy with a dog in the front seat (not allowed) and no ticket who says a friend of his works for Burning Man and told him he could just show up and get in.  Then there’s the guy with someone hidden in his rig, trying to sneak in.  There’s the vehicle that stalled in the middle of gate road and the guy with two ATVs on his trailer, thinking he’s just gonna cruise around town on his three-wheeler during the event.  Then there’s the guy whose friends are “a few” cars back, and they have his ticket.  Then there’s the guy who doesn’t have his DMV printout, but if we just call so-and-so, they’ll vouch for him.  Etc, etc, etc.

I have to tell you how amazing the gate crew is.  All of them, but especially Spider, Entropy, and C-Load.  They run the gate for the duration of the event, including set-up, 24 hours a day seven days a week.  They have to handle all sorts of disputes and problems, and they have to organize all the shifts and volunteers.  They made sure we had everything we needed while we worked, and despite the pressure and lack of sleep, they were always responsive and good-natured.  Add to that the D-Lot cleared out in record time, and the gate opened at exactly 12:01, and you get an idea of how hard they work.

The gate crew caught 15 stowaways tonight and nine people at the perimeter trying to get in.  (I didn’t find anyone, shoot!)  The only other problems were reported by the BLM, who were pulling people over when they passed the Greeter Station if they saw anyone in the car with a lighter (could be a joint) or a beverage (could be a beer).  Maybe this is an exaggeration, but they were being pretty strict.

We headed back to camp before sunrise, tired and ready for bed.  I’ve got a 7 am meeting with Harley tomorrow, or today I guess, but I don’t think I’m going to make it on time.  I’m beat and I need to get some sleep.  Burning Man just started six hours ago, and I’m already wiped out.  Can’t wait to see what happens next.

-Wanda Reduced Power

About the author: Marnee Benson

Marnee joined Black Rock Solar in 2009 as an environmental journalist and project manager who had recently organized a worldwide sailing expedition and global warming lecture series. While growing up in New Mexico, Marnee played tennis in the high-desert sun, ripped it up at local ski resorts, and rode bikes with her friends. She’s lived in Reno for more than ten years, after stops in Jackson Hole and southern California– where she played beach volleyball and studied math at San Diego State University. Marnee traded in her tennis racket and bikinis for carabiners and climbing shoes when she hit the Sierra Nevada, and she recently graduated from UNR with two master’s degrees in Environmental Science and Environmental Policy. She organized the Tour de Nez bike race for three years and sailed with Greenpeace International before turning her attention full-time to Black Rock Solar. In her spare time, Marnee counts her lucky stars for being able to work with the Holland Project and March Fourth Marching Band.

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