With the Gate folks, on the lonesome highway that won’t be lonesome for long

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It’s a big challenge to get cars to go from 2 lanes up to 16, but no doubt the bigger one is getting them from 16 lanes back down to 2.

That’s how participants make their way in and out of Black Rock City – off a two-lane blacktop roadway onto the desert floor, where the road widens to 16 dusty lanes.

“It’s got to be one of the biggest roads in the world,” GSN (Glow Stick Ninja) says as he lines up row after row after row of orange cones. “Sixteen lanes is pretty big,” the Indeed it is, and Gate Road this year is about four and half miles long.

That’s the road that will seem endless as you make your way to the city, and then again as you head back from where you came.

The Gate, Perimeter and Exodus crew have loads on the plate to make ingress and egress from the city safe and at least somewhat sane, and it begins with finding an appropriate route through the desert from the highway to the event site.

Here’s the good news: The rough weather that hit the playa this week has really tamped down the road. Dust was at a minimum as the crew did its thing, but we’ll just have to see how long the hardpack lasts. “This was a lake for a couple of days,” GSN says.

GSN in his natural habitat
GSN in his natural habitat

It’s hard to get one’s head around just how many cones are used in guiding folks into Black Rock City. “We’ve got a whole container full of them,” GSN says. We’re not good at this, but let’s do a little math: 4.5 miles, 16 lanes, a cone in each lane every 100 feet or so … yes, that’s a lot of cones. And that number doesn’t take into account the “diamonds” in the road that that guide drivers from 16 lanes down to 8 down to 4 and then down to 2.

The crew has a hard deadline; tomorrow morning, the Gate road will open for guests who will be visiting for Early Man (the mini-burns the crews stage).

Feral Kid, Nacho, GSN and Knotty Boy
Feral Kid, Nacho, GSN and Knotty Boy

They center-lined the whole thing so the cones would line up squarely, and they stuck little blue flags in the ground that are guiding their way now. They also did all the stake-pounding for the flags on either side of the road, but without all the hoo-hah of  Fence day. “There wasn’t a dawn patrol, but for us it’s a fairly big event.” They got some help from their DPW brethren for the task, and they had the whole thing done in a matter of hours. The Gate helps the DPW, and the DPW helps the Gate. It’s a two-way street. 

“Blue Cross (Seth Schrentzel) was a genius when he designed this road,” GSN says, and the care is most apparent when the road makes its curves around the desert floor. “He loves cones. Cone is his spirit animal.” The motivating idea is to make the difficult merges as fair as possible.

There are a few new wrinkles this year, like the “Reunification” areas, so if you become separated from your car (say when you’ve gone to the PortaPotty and your car has moved forward in line), you have a way of reconnecting.

On a day like today, the work is not unpleasant. There is virtually no dust, the temperature isn’t blazing hot, and Black Rock City is barely visible in the distance. “It does get lonely, though” Knotty Boy says. “It’s kind of like we’re lost at sea.”

Lost in a sea of orange and tan, cones and dust, pushing toward the horizon.

Rows of cones stretch literally for miles
Rows of cones stretch literally for miles

 

The plan for merging lanes
The plan for merging lanes

 

Knotty Boy rolled up the measuring line
Knotty Boy rolled up the measuring line
The mark of the people who work the Gate
The mark of the people who work the Gate
Cones-eye-view
Cones-eye-view
Feral Kid
Feral Kid

 

 

About the author: John Curley

John Curley has been Burning since the relatively late date of 2004, and in 2008 he spent the better part of a month on the playa, documenting the building and burning of Black Rock City in words and pictures. John is a longtime newspaper person and spent many years at the San Francisco Chronicle, where he was a deputy managing editor in charge of Page One and the news sections of the paper. Since leaving the Chronicle in 2007, he was a contributing editor on Blue Planet Run, a book about the world's water crisis, and for the past two years has been a lecturer at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. He has also started an event and editorial photography business, and is also working on a book about the "Ten Dollar Doc" from Arco, Idaho, which will make a lovely film someday.

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