A Little More Sleep to Avoid the Big Sleep

Jenna Shenna Roberts wrote this scary cautionary tale about what can happen if you drive to or from Black Rock City when you’re overtired. Please take it to heart, and make sure your campmates do too … we want to see you again next year!

It has been over 10 months since my rollover accident on the return drive from the last Burn, and I am still working my way out of physical pain. I am not saying this to pander sympathy (although back rubs and hugs are always welcome, why thank you), I say this because the tickets were just mailed out for this years’ Burn, and I want everyone to go to and from the event more gracefully than I did last year.

Photo by the author (luckily).

I know many of you will soon pack hard, party hard, and drive tired. Recently, returning from Symbiosis, my friend Gray said that he thought of me and got a hotel in Reno rather than pushing it. He got nicely cleaned up and then ran into friends and ate and slept well for cheap. I am hoping that writing this will influence more of you to do the same.

I assure you that it’s an ideal alternative to being jolted awake from the gasp of your friend as a sudden jerk to the left becomes the ceiling smashing on the asphalt followed by every side of the metal box you’re in thundering after it as all of your oh so very well organized festival gear spews haplessly across the dusty desert highway while your freshly poignant ‘Now Is All You Have’ dashboard sticker gets splattered with your dear friends’ head wound blood. This run on sentence is brought to you by 5 seconds of nodding off.

We were so very lucky. I am even an example of the adjective “unscathed” in a fatigue-related accident and I have had over $15,000 in healing treatments. I also just enjoyed turning 35 years old and I am more deeply grateful for that this year than usual. The driver and I are a part of the mere 13% of non-fatal sleeping-at-the-wheel accidents (yup, an 87% fatality rate). One good friend who showed up to help me heal afterward had lost a lover when she fell asleep at the wheel many years ago. Others have shown me their permanent physical damage. This all makes my minor but consistent backaches and my cravings to dance freely again into petty whines in comparison, but I sure do miss bumping to beats a few times a week. I can count on both hands the number of times I have shaken my booty since tumbling.

I can’t even legitimately milk the sweet teat of guilt on the driver without being a hypocrite. I was slapping myself awake on the drive South in a caravan a few weeks before our crash. I don’t really get how caravanning makes it any better other than having witnesses to your spill anyhow. The driver and I had swapped out only an hour or so before. Granted, we had eaten a big meal and it was a warm day, but we were only an hour from Summer Lake Hot Springs where we would rest for a night or two. So just pull through it, right? I would likely have done the same as him and pushed on. We all do this, but we don’t actually need to. It’s better to catnap and be delayed.

It’s not like my friend and I are the first in our Portland community to have had this happen. Our friend Tito had a similar narcoleptic crunch on the Burn drive a few years ago. As he says, “I had two red bulls and a yellow jacket and still went down.” Does your community really need a tragedy to wake you all up? I don’t think so. We’re smarter than that.

It’s easier to be smart than lucky, and I am so grateful for all the details that made this event less painful. Thank God my Subaru Outback was a solid machine that took a beating to spare us. Thank Goddess I had full insurance that included medical for all passengers. Thank our parents for making us always wear our seatbelt. Thank the Universe we were only 4 miles North of a desert town with a new hospital and a good staff. Thank goodness for the friends who showed up to help afterward. Thank us that we were totally sober, because going to court or jail in serious pain must be really, really hard.

Most gratefully, thank the incredible healers of Portland for helping us feel as good as we do. If anyone needs a good chiropractor, energy healer, physical therapist, acupuncturist, massage therapist, naturopath or herbalist, I know quite a few now. I also highly recommend the anti-inflammatory diet, which isn’t easy to do, but I may delve into it again to try and kick out this last bit of back pain. Because I am ready to be done with it. I am grateful for all it has taught me, but I want to dance it up again. And if this message saves just one of you, then every wince was worth it.

Please drive safely. Have fun. Sleep. Then drive safely home. Thank you for being alive and vibrant.

About the author: Will Chase

Will Chase first attended Burning Man 2001. He volunteered as the Operations Manager for the ARTery (Black Rock City’s art HQ) and was on the Burning Man Art Council from 2003-2008. He was Web Team Project Manager and Webmaster from 2004-2009, then transitioned to the Communications Department in 2009 to become Minister of Propaganda, working on global communications strategy. He's the editor-in-chief for the Jackrabbit Speaks newsletter and the Voices of Burning Man blog, and content manager for Burning Man’s websites. He also manages the ePlaya BBS and Burning Man’s social networking efforts.

18 thoughts on “A Little More Sleep to Avoid the Big Sleep

  • I was just trying to decide about the hotel when this blog entry showed up. The drive after the event last year was tough, and this year I will be towing. You convinced me – one more day off work, take it slow.

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  • NEWBIES TAKE HEED! getting a cheap hotel on the drive back from the playa is the best idea ever. i’ve learned from crashing while nodding off that at first signs of battling sleepiness, pull the fuck over. please dont ruin your amazing burn, be safe!

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  • What’s the official word on staying until Tuesday? People have told me it’s against the rules, but I’ve done it many times with no problems. If it is allowed, maybe this should be publicized more so people know they have options other than the Monday exodus line.

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  • hear, hear! everyone has been saying i am crazy for getting a reno hotel Sunday night before driving to the event…but i will be coming off a 3 day amtrak train ride, and i want to shower and SLEEP before heading to the playa. i don’t care if a miss a few hours of the event, get stuck in a longer exodus line, etc. I am just glad that i will be clean, rested before getting dirty and exhausted for a week ;)

    plus, i got a hotel for the night AFTER the event, too. then another long train ride back to NY :)

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  • A few years ago, I started getting a room in either Reno or Sparks for Sunday night and drove in refreshed and ready to go early Monday morning. It beats an 11 hour drive and then sitting in line for another 3 hours and then arriving too late to set up camp. Same thing on the way out. I’ve taken anywhere from 1 – 4 hours in the past to leave and a hotel sure is nice for getting cleaned up and rested before heading home.

    Everybody be safe this year! See you on the playa!

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  • Thank you for sharing your story, and all the best in your recovery and healing.

    I fell asleep while driving home from the playa in 2004, on a freeway in Southern California. By some miracle only metal was damaged.

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  • In 2009 I was driving home from the burn on Monday and exhausted. I had just eaten in Reno and started playing the rest one eye game. First the left eye, then the right eye. When I hit the construction outside Reno on the 80 and the cement walls on both sides of the rental truck I was driving, I started getting nervous. I was to be driving the long haul to Orange County and had not made any plans on stopping. I knew I was in trouble. I was driving solo and started thinking I wasn’t gonna make it. BOY was I RIGHT. When I pulled off the road at some Random off ramp I left the car on and almost immediately fell asleep. I wasn’t there for more than 45 minutes when a car pulled along side me. At first I thought I was in trouble. I noticed the child in the front seat first which put me at ease. The driver asked if I wanted a place to sleep. Normally I would say stranger-danger no thank you. He stated his place was right up the street and he could provide a nice shady place to nap. I jumped on it. After following him for about 1.5 miles we came upon a camp ground. He showed me where to pull over and then told me I could sleep in one of his cabins. This place was amazing. A forest location with a steady creek a fireplace and a rad bbq on the back porch. He explained that he had just returned from his first burn and to consider the stay a part of the gift economy. The bathtub had jacuzzi jets and it was truly one of the best sleeps I ever remember. I left him several bottles of wine I had left over and a note, thanking him for his generosity. In 2010 I booked a cabin before I went to BM. They were not the cheapest option but as a decompression they are amazing. From Desert to Forest. If anyone wants to really set themselves up right I suggest calling Mike at Shinneyboo Creek Cabin Resort. He may have saved my life if I would have tried to drive again that day and his hook up is worth me plugging him right now. Free Advertising is not something I do. Mention Burningman and he might give you a discount. I say might because I never told him I am going to write this. I know the holiday weekend he is booked solid every year but on monday his busy season is over. If you are tired, don’t drive, so you can go to Burningman next year.

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  • Just booked a stopover on the way home in Alturas. Last year, with the 7 hour exodus, it was a god send, as i hate napping aside the freeway.

    Thank you for reminding me, and everyone else about the importance of resting while travelling to and from BRC.

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  • I was driving east through Nevada in 2002 after the event. My friend and I both decided to take a detour off of I-80 for a scenic route and overnight in a hotel. We later learned that a horrible wreck happened just east of there just after we did that – a burner had crashed. I don’t remember what happened to that person. (I think they may have been killed, but I just don’t remember. If they did, as well as their passengers, my sympathies to the families and friends.)

    I highly recommend taking it slow on the way back. Get rest, eat, stay in hotels, slow down. You will enjoy the trip more, see new stuff, and stay alive. And you will also be supporting the economies of some small towns on the way.

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  • I am SO glad you are ok! Thank you for posting this! I almost fell asleep at the wheel in 2010 headed back from the Burn and a friend and I decided to pull over and rest. It probably saved our lives. I have stopped in Cedarville on the way home from Portland and gotten a hotel on more than one occasion and will not hesitate to do it again, it’s better to stop and rest, than to risk your lives and the lives of everyone else on the road.

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  • The trip to BRC has never been a problem for me. I do a 14 hour drive day, but I start fresh and am soooo amped for the event.
    After a week of over stimulation, overindulgence, coming down off of a week of maxed out adrenalin levels, and under sleeping, the trip home is the worst by far.
    Recent years I have decompressed at a friend’s place in a nearby town for two days.
    The last time I drove home directly from the event, I stopped four times for cat naps before I got to the motel in Salt Lake City. 10-20 minute naps are way better than a gallon of coffee. No comparison.
    Moral of my story, if you must get going from the event to get home in short order, DO NOT HESITATE to stop for quick naps, and take as many as needed.
    I will not hesitate to nap for the trip to BRC, but so far the need has never arisen.

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  • Much of our camp stays overnight in Fernley after the burn. It’s probably saved our lives.

    fwiw, it adds a lot to my burn to be able to spend a night in the default with my camp before we take our different roads out.

    NDN Tacos, Love, & Safe Travels!

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  • Yup, Reno hotels are the best. After eating tasty bites and canned soup for a week, the grand buffets are ridiculously luxuriant. Some Reno places even have full parties. I hear that Manoj will be djing a massive pool party at the Grand Sands Casino the Monday night after BM.

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  • Amen. We were all draggin’ ass last year trying to get home in the RV – what a wicked fucker that thing is when someone is dozing off and leaning to the right! Glad we made it back safely but it could have been gruesome. Talk about yard sale’ing your shit all over the road. So thankful you are safe and healing! Thank you for sharing your message of wisdom!

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  • My first burn exodus I slept in Alturas but I got lost on the way there (didn’t make the turn in Cedarville by mistake) and drove for extra hours exhausted getting to Alturas at 5 am! The hotel didn’t charge me for that first night so I stayed for a full “2nd” night before I drove home. The next year I went to Pyramid lake and got stuck in the sand – the tow truck driver told me how cheap the hotels were in Reno – he was right – easy to find $25 rates mid week after labor day. So Reno has been my stop every year since – a few days in a nice hotel. There is a car wash not far from down town and it is close to the laundry mat – I get my car washed and my laundry. My bike has made it up to my room and taken a shower with me. I still need to stop at least one night on the way home – but I am well rested on the driver. I have still cat napped on many lonely dirt roads off the main highway and in several rest stops both coming and going. I can’t exactly recline my seat but I can at least tilt it and close my eyes.

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