it’s not the destination …


We all have our tales of woe about getting to Burning Man, but this one is of another order of magnitude.

The getting ready is always a challenge. You have to remember everything you need to make it for a week in the unforgiving desert. And you want to do more than just make it: you want to live with some style.

But doesn’t it always seem that the unexpected rises up and bites you in the behind  just when you’re about to leave? It sure did for Epona, Witchcraft, and 10-9.

They had originally planned to leave from Oakland last Thursday, but that’s the day Epona discovered that the water pump on her truck had stopped working. But her regular mechanic (and boyfriend), Alipato, was already on the playa. The repairs would have been really expensive, so they decided to use 10-9’s car instead, and they pushed back their departure until Friday.

On Friday, 10-9 found out that a friend had died a few weeks earlier. That’s a different story for a different day. But 10-9 could no longer leave on Friday, so they pushed back their departure again, to Saturday.

Witchcraft called Epona on Saturday to see where  she was. “Oh, I’m in the emergency room,” she said. While she was packing, a knife fell from a top shelf  and pierced through the back of her hand. And not just any knife — this one had been a gift from her ex-boyfriend. “Oh, going to join your lover in the fabulous desert?” the past seemed to be saying. “Oh no you’re not!”

So she got patched up, and the new plan would be to leave on Sunday. Finally. Three days late, but they’d get here.

But no. Not yet.

On Sunday, 10-9’s car went dead. Bad battery, bad alternator. Beany, a DPW friend in Oakland who’ll be coming up later, came to their rescue. She installed the new battery and generator and got everything squared away. Beany then gave the engine a final going over, and in the process, one of the distributor wires snapped. (It was going to happen anyway, and better that it happened in Oakland rather than on Rte. 447 in the middle of nowhere.)

Anyway, Beany found an auto parts store still open at 6 pm on a Sunday, got the parts she needed, and finished installing them in in the dark, with help from car headlights.

So the trio finally left the next day, and they made it up here late Monday night. Their cars had failed them. A friend had died. Another friend had come to their rescue, and finally they were able to make it to the place they love.

Many many wonderful things happen here. But they often come at a price. And that only makes the experience that much more precious.

Witchcraft (aka Nathan)
10-9 (aka Eli)


(PS: Feel free to share your own trials and tribulations of making it to the playa.)

About the author: John Curley

John Curley (that's me) has been Burning since the relatively late date of 2004, and in 2008 I spent the better part of a month on the playa, documenting the building and burning of Black Rock City in words and pictures. I loved it, and I've been doing it ever since. I was a newspaper person in a previous life, and I spent many years at the San Francisco Chronicle. At the time I left, in 2007, I was the deputy managing editor in charge of Page One and the news sections of the paper. Since then, I've turned a passion for photography into a second career. I shoot for editorial, commercial and private clients. I've also taught a little bit, including two years at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and a year at San Francisco State University. I live on the San Mateo coast, just south of San Francisco in California.

9 Comments on “it’s not the destination …

  • TwoHott says:

    Thanks for one of those “I have no reason to complain” stories.

    Last year, a couple people in camp were delayed a bit. The stopped overnight on the way and a bear entered their capming trailer. Through the wall. Seriously. It didn’t bother with the door, just ripped the wall open and made a huge mess. Unbelieveable, but stuff happens.

    It is truly amazing what we go through to get there. Kinda like Salmon swimming up stream some times. Why? Because it’s f’ing worth it!

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  • epona says:

    thanks for the post, john.

    a friend had suggested that the universe might be warning me away from the desert this year. that idea was unacceptable to me. because this is the most important burn yet that i’ve been to.

    my estranged father died this year. and i had to get to burning man, because i have to put his ashes in the temple. it just had to be.

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  • epona says:

    thanks for the post, john.

    a friend had suggested that the universe might be warning me away from the desert this year. that idea was unacceptable to me. because this is the most important burn yet that i’ve been to.

    you see, my estranged father died this year. and i had to get to burning man, because i have to put his ashes in the temple. it just had to be.

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  • Adrena says:

    In 2009 a guy camping with us came in a couple of days late- he’d recently broken ties with his wife and was coming solo…he got nearly to Nevada (from northern CA) and realized he’d forgotten his ticket!!! He drove all the way back, straight through the night, and got Home before Wednesday. He was the happiest guy in BRC- he said his journey showed him just how important it was for him to be here.

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  • Cassidy says:

    Last year, the Friday before we left, my 13-ish year-old cat went very suddenly completely blind. She gets pretty clingy whenever she knows I’m packing but this was beyond anything that had ever happened. I spent all day Saturday packing for the playa and calling every hour, trying to get an appointment in the “emergency” room. Then, it was 3 hours there, trying to get blood pressure, eye pressure and kidney functions figured out to diagnose the problem. (I had my meltdown before the playa, that year.) Turns out her blood pressure was so high it made her blind, she’s also got mild glaucoma and her kidneys are failing. I got her meds, stuck around about 36 hours to make sure there were no adverse reactions and said my goodbyes, just in case. We took off two days later than planned and she was ok when I got home, and that’s all that mattered. In fact, she’s still alive, blind, now a bit thinner but still hangin in there and happy. And this year I’m leaving her with a veterinarian. :)

    It takes a lot of obstacles to keep me from going: Two years before that my other cat (11 at the time) was diagnosed with “fatty liver”, putting her right on Death’s door without 5 feedings through a tube every day. No way could I trust a pet-sitter to do that! I gifted my ticket that year. The Virgin-recipient was very happy and it warmed my heart. And she recovered 100%. Definitely a fair trade :)

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  • John Curley says:

    awesome stories. thank you!

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  • Paperboy says: To those who came and witnessed the Bok Globule, you know.

    To all the others that work so hard to get home, we know why.

    Love us all, in dust we trust!


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  • Corvus says:

    Last year passing through North Las Vegas, Moby the great white Suburban suddenly quit in mid-flight. No coughs, no sputters, just an eerie, sudden . . . silence up front (and really heavy steering). Luckily we were already in the outside lane right at an exit and the momentum was enough to let us roll around the corner and into a gas station with a nice big lot so we weren’t in the way. A quick diagnosis (got spark, compression’s unlikely to fail in all eight cylinders at once, got to be gas — where’s the damn filter?) showed it was beyond our limited knowledge. Luckily one of the people I was giving a ride to 1) Had AAA and 2) a mum at home who used the interweb to locate a mechanic 4.8 miles away who was open on Saturday. Six hours and a new fuel pump later we continued on, thanking our respective deities the old one hadn’t quit halfway to Beatty.

    I git my own AAA membership now — with a 100 mile towing option.

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