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All The News That's Fit To Burn : 2006 Summer Newsletter

The Hungry Wind

There's a hungry wind beyond the playa. It waits for us to drive away, our vehicles filled and with bags, tubs, and odd materials tied to luggage racks, in truck beds and on open trailers. On the long drive home, the hungry wind – the 70MPH wind that agitates your outside stuff while all is serene within – is tearing at your rig from every possible direction. It will take whatever is casually attached. That might be a bag of trash, or it might be something precious.

Packing after Burning Man 2005, one participant filled a plastic tub with his playa attire, snapped on the lid, and secured it with bungee cords to the roof of his Subaru. The tub stayed put, but somewhere on the 6-hour drive home the wind lifted the snap-on lid and sent it flying down the road. Item by item the wind pulled out his clothing and transformed it to roadside trash: MOOP, matter most unhappily out of place. The last to go was a prized red white and blue jacket, a friend's gift from the Black Rock Boutique.

Far too many of us feed the hungry wind. On the road to Gerlach, and onward to Interstate 80, trash from departing vehicles is everywhere. A small part of it is intentionally jettisoned by attendees that really do not get it. But, most of the trash appears when slippery plastic bags slide free from their tethers, twine or string breaks, knots untie, or in some other way the wind demonstrates that we have underestimated its rapacity. A bag falls to the road. Vehicles behind either swerve (on a two-lane highway – yikes) or run over the mess, grinding it into the asphalt. It's an appalling sight. To local residents, it's like dumping garbage cans on the neighbor's doorstep.

Chris Petrell, a longtime Burning Man staff member, has seen a lot of cargo come loose, and he knows how to prevent it. He and his crew also know the road – its shoulders, culverts, pullouts, blind spots – better than most people. Post-event they monitor every route from the playa: south to I-80, north to the Oregon border, west to Pyramid Lake and to Alturas, east to Winnemucca. Their mission is to find and remove every piece of trash, leaving the roadsides as close to pristine as possible. Southward, the main route, is the toughest. The crew can restore about ten miles per day of Route 447; that's a week of stop, walk around and pick up, drive 100 feet and repeat, until they reach I-80. Chris has some ideas for shortening their job by saving your cargo.

  • First, trash bags are cheap. Underfilled is better than overfilled. Use double-bagging, especially if the contents are sloppy or smelly. Tie the first bag shut – knot the neck, or use cord or duct tape, not those flimsy pull-tie ribbons. Then put it inside a second bag, and tie that shut.
  • Twine shreds, string breaks. Use heavy cord or light rope to close bags and to tie down your load.
  • Don't expect knots to stay tied in the wind. Wrap short lengths of duct tape over knots and loose ends. Duct tape in contact with both rope and bag will help keep bags from slipping free.
  • Secure snap-on lids with rope or duct tape.
  • Find a neighbor with packing skills. Ask them to look your rig over and help make it windproof. (Hey – do you have those skills? Helping to windproof is a sweet playa gift! Bring extra materials!)
  • Take a rest stop early, at the entrance gate, at a wide pullout, or maybe at the Empire store. Check your load. It is most likely to fail early in the trip.
  • Desperation at departure time produces unstable loads, and home preparation can head it off. So, include these items in your pre-desert planning:
  • Allow for vehicle space for the trash you'll generate over the week. (And minimize the trash: delete excess packaging beforehand, then during the event burn paper and dehydrate kitchen scraps in mesh bags.)
  • Consider whether you want to get rid of your trash before you reach home. If so, look up directions and hours for the waste disposal sites along I-80. (On the Burning Man website, a search for "take trash" will zero you in.)
  • Bring packing materials: heavy-duty contractors plastic bags, 1 to 3 mils thick; light rope or stout cord (NOT twine or string); duct tape; maybe a 5-gallon bucket with locking lid for wet waste.

Then, may you drive gently, arrive safely with all your gear, and leave the empty wind behind.