Stuck in the Moment

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September 5th 2011
Published: June 29th 2012
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Exodus lineExodus lineExodus line

A glorious day in the Black Rock Desert. Note the huge line stretching off in the distance
Today is, quite simply, the worst part of the entire Burning Man festival.

Nearly everyone in Black Rock City, except those staying to remove everything, leaves today.

County police limit the number of people who can leave at once to keep the road from Gerlach manageable (see The Lonely Road to Paradise).

Combining a limited exit rate with a large population creates a long wait to get out.

Getting in may be bad, but getting out is much worse.

The official name is Exodus.

It’s appropriate, because it felt as testing as what Moses and his followers went through.

Preparing for Exodus

I got an early premonition of just how bad things would get when I woke up this morning.

The desert itself looked better than ever, a plain of white between mountain ranges glowing in the sun.

I also saw long lines of vehicles, starting from between tents and stretching beyond the limits of vision.

An accident outside Gerlach has backed up traffic even more than normal.

I ate and packed up slowly and carefully.

After all, it’s not like I’m going anywhere soon.

I quickly realized trying to knock dust off anything
Exodus volunteerExodus volunteerExodus volunteer

One of the line managers for Exodus. He's only partially kidding about the tickets.
would be impossible.

The hardest part was cutting the zip ties; my knife simply did not have enough force.

I ultimately resorted to cutting the shade structure around the zip ties instead, which will at least get them off.

With everything packed, I made a facilities run.

The wait is going to be quite long, and there is nowhere to go while in line.

When I got back, I got a huge lesson in how the playa can provide.

I discovered my keys are missing, and my car doors are locked!

I had closed the doors to keep the dust down.

Even worse, I can’t pull out my spare because it’s in my supplies, which are in the car.

After a few minutes of pure panic, I tracked down a Black Rock Ranger.

These incredibly helpful volunteers manage safety and order on the playa.

If they couldn’t help me, they know who can.

Some Burning Man participants are locksmiths, and one of them was still in the city.

He got my car open, and I found my keys lying on the floor.


Playa SunsetPlaya SunsetPlaya Sunset

My last sunset at the Black Rock Desert. It looks like the line has not moved at all!

Now in line, I had a long wait ahead.

Unlike getting in, I kept the car tightly closed this time.

It quickly becomes an oven, so I had the air conditioning blasting as well.

For me, this is a new experience 😊

I ultimately got really hungry and thirsty.

In all my interviews beforehand, nobody mentioned the need for supplies for the drive out.

Thankfully, I had leftover snacks and water from the week.

These proved to be enough to get me through.

Initially, the line of cars went nowhere.

Burning Man uses pulsing, the same system used at the British Columbia border crossing (see Ancient Artworks) to limit engine fumes.

The gap between moves is about an hour.

After two of them, the reality of just how long I’m going to be here sunk in.

I got my computer and started catching up on paperwork I’ve ignored for the last week.

After a few more moves I really started to ache, seeing the paved road in the distance but unable to reach it.

Ultimately, I needed over six hours to get out of Black Rock City.

Night fell while waiting.

Once out of the Black Rock Desert, I’m in a long line of cars driving through empty blackness.

The view shows a long line of tail lights ahead with nothing else to see.

The first sign of civilization is a lit up highway sign to check gas, with an arrow pointing to a side road for people who are low.

I’m pretty sure it goes through back parts of Gerlach to the lone gas station.

Gerlach itself passed as blobs of lights.

Empire General Store

Twenty minutes of traffic later I reached Empire.

As noted in the drive in, Empire went from a town of 350 people to five three months ago after the gypsum plant closed.

All of the remaining residents work at the town’s one general store along the highway.

The Empire General Store now IS the town.

They have always made a point of catering to Burners, and many Burners made a point of returning the favor this year.

I stopped to get dinner.

The store has a very good deli, where I got my first fresh food in nearly a week.

It has the following sign at the back “Welcome to Empire, America’s newest ghost town”.

A number of vendors surround the store.

Buying stuff Burning Man related (and everything here is Burning Man related) feels sort of icky.

I then met a vendor selling books, Julian Cash.

He is a long time burner who self-financed a book on the festival called The People of Burning Man. (WARNING: May be offensive)

I’m willing to support artists, so I bought a copy.

The long stretch of road to the interstate illustrates one of the festival’s major negative points.

The highways around here have signs warning of large fines for littering.

Most of the year, it’s tempting in this empty landscape.

During the days after Burning Man, it becomes chronic.

I encountered abandoned rugs, mattresses, bags of trash, and whole trailers abandoned on the side of the road.

Some of it flies off poorly secured cars, but at least a few are quite deliberate.

Back at the interstate, the truck stop dumpsters were absolutely filled with junk overflowing onto the surrounding desert.

This type of behavior gives Burning Man a bad name with the locals.

I paid the local transfer station to take my trash, bags of the stuff.

One never realizes how much junk they can generate until they have to haul every last bit of it away from somewhere.

I got to Reno very late at night, and promptly passed out.


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