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CANADA TO BRC


Due South: Black Rock City, via Canada

By Blackstrap Jack

Why is Burning Man so popular amongst Canadians? The theories are many-kinship with dust, higher national creativity average, the promise of warmth-but none of them really have much to do with the subject at hand. The thing is, every year more and more Canadians travel to Black Rock City, and there's one particular aspect of our experience which American Burners won't have to participate in... you guessed it, the border crossing!

Nothing against the nice Customs officials who work so hard to keep America safe from our socialized medicine, shockingly low dollar and poutine, but no one likes crossing the border. Personally, I do everything but slap a Jesus sticker on my window to get through without worry-and I'm not even doing anything wrong. Then there's the drive. “Oooh, wah, San Francisco's 10 hours away!” Try 20 or 30 hours, baby, across vast mountainous terrain, international boundaries and some pretty peculiar customs (did you know you can't pump your own gas in Oregon? It's a fact!). With that in mind, we've put together a short list of do's and don't's to help better facilitate the Canadian experience of getting to Burning Man.

Do
Wear nice clothes when crossing the border. Think picnic with mom and dad; think "Nothing suspicious here, officer". Think about waiting 'til you're in Washington to dye your hair blue; think about removing a few of those facial piercings, just for the drive down. Remember, you can be denied entry for no particular reason-why make it any easier for them to just say no? A clean face (guys, shave!), clear eyes and a casual smile will go a long way toward hearing those six magic words: "You have a good day now."

Don't
Don't even think about carrying across the line. Remember, Burning Man observes all state and federal laws, especially those dealing with certain substances that shall remain nameless on this page. No matter the proximity to Canada, no matter the shared geography or dangerously similar cultural signifiers, never forget that you are travelling to a foreign country. Watch Midnight Express before you pack. Vacuum your car before you travel-especially if you're borrowing a vehicle. Clean out the ashtrays, look under the seats, dig behind the cushions. Wipe down the windows, even if you don't smoke. It may seem like a lot of work for no particular reason, but look on the bright side: you'll be showroom fresh for that long drive south.

Do
Pick an alternate route. Unless you're in one of those real hard hurries where you have to drive straight through from Vancouver, Calgary or Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo-Jump, why subject yourself to that grey, concrete highway rush? Okay, if you're coming from anywhere on the west coast of B.C., it only makes sense to take the I-5 through Washington, but there's a few nice choices once you hit Oregon. Split east at Salem (Highway 22) or Albany (Highway 20) and travel the lava fields through Bend; the roads are smooth and empty and very relaxing. At Bend, take highway 97 south to La Pine (nice state park in La Pine), then either keep going straight on through to Klamath Falls for last- minute shopping (for car parts, Schuck's is very helpful and it's right on the highway) or skip it and take Highway 31 direct to Alturas-the only logical route to Black Rock City for northwestern travelers. At Alturas, you want to grab 299 to Cedarville, but in between the two you pass through Modoc National Forest, which has a very nice campsite (it's FREE!) that usually fills with Burners on Sunday before the event starts; it's a great place to catch your breath and make some pre-playa friends. After Cedarville, take the 447 to Gerlach and you're home free!

If you're coming from Alberta, try taking the Highway 12 across the Rockies from Missoula, Montana into Idaho, then heading south. You'll travel some pretty impressive country and save some time. As for Ontario, well, that's just too damn far away-find your own way down. Your regional contact [link to BRCYR: regional contacts] might have some suggestions about travel from your area, too.

Don't
Don't tell the Customs official that you're going to Burning Man, unless he specifically asks. Do tell the truth ("We're going camping!"), but when asked where, build it into a list ("Oh, Washington, Oregon, California,maybe Nevada"). Unless you're taking down either an installation or an art car, make sure there's nothing too obvious lying around to tip your hand (a giant teapot, jars of body paint, a Burning Man Survival Guide on the dash): remember, the fewer questions, the better. If pushed, tell them even more of the truth ("We're hoping to reach Black Rock City, Nevada"). Be sure to mention "Nevada:" it invokes the secret gambling vibe, which Customs officials understand, and like. Okay, if it comes right down to it, admit you're going to Burning Man, but whatever you do, don't make it sound like you're performing there. You may (like the Vancouver-based DJ's in 1999) be denied entry because you don't have a work permit to cover your "performance." In the event this happens, don't cause a fuss; just get back in your car, turn around, and try a different border crossing. And never, ever, show them your ticket. It may just vanish. And there's absolutely nothing you can do about it.

Do
Know your passengers! If carpooling, make sure your fellow travelers have no skeletons in their closets. If they do, and U.S. Customs finds out, you'll be forevermore painted with the same brush on ALL subsequent visits. People have been refused entry for things like having an impaired driving conviction or a shoplifting offense. Also, if you just met your fellow travelers, learn a little about each other and make sure you have a story ready about how you all met (they have been known to ask).

Don't
Importing multiple items for gifting, such as t-shirts, stickers, sew-on crests or hockey sticks, can be problematic. Customs simply cannot accept that fact that people give things away for free. Better alternatives are mailing the items to an American friend before the event, or spreading the bounty over several vehicles and then converging on the playa. Also, when travelling through Montana or Idaho, it's a good idea to refrain from flying your "freak flag high" until you're a little closer to Black Rock City (like, Gerlach). Both states, though friendly, are fairly conservative: the better you blend into the blacktop, the smoother your trip will be.

Do
Make sure the vehicle in which you're travelling is in good condition. Whether you're heading out of Vancouver, coming in from Alberta or doing the high plains drifter from Ontario, Black Rock City is a long way from anywhere in Canada, and our old dollar ain't what it used to be. Vehicle repairs are expensive anywhere in the States, so give it a once-over before you leave and carry a basic emergency kit for your vehicle: flat tire inflater, radiator stop-leak, jumper cables, extra fuses, coolant, oil, pantyhose (for the fan belt), bungee cords (for anything else), and, most importantly, a CAA card. The card, and change for the phone, will get you AAA service wherever you break down-even in Klamath Falls.

Don't
If, like a lot of us, you decide to borrow a camper (motorhome, tent-trailer) from your parents (in-laws, homies) to make your Black Rock City experience less... dusty, don't forget to get something on paper from the owner saying that you have their permission to take this vehicle across the border. Just a letter to that effect, with a phone number where they can be reached around the time you'd be hitting the border. (“Dad, just make sure you're home around noon, okay? That's right, Burning Man. I know. I will. Blue. With flippers, yeah. I'll try, you know, but sometimes it's hard to find someone with a camera.” ) It's a little thing, but it works every time. Remember, Americans think we're unceasingly honest and polite. Work that cultural stereotype!

Don't
Don't say to yourself, "Oh, I'm going to the desert. It'll be hot. I won't be needing these winter clothes." IT'S A LIE! Black Rock is a high-altitude desert and it gets really, really cold there (especially when the wind blows, which is often). This is the one aspect of Burning Man that Canadians do better than their American cousins: we know how to handle cold. Who danced their way through that unexpected 3 a.m. snow flurry in 2000? Canadians. Who have the best looking mukluks on the playa? Canadians. Who already own flame-topped toques? Yup, Canadians. Pack for a saucy night on the slopes, as well as a daring day at the beach, and you'll be just fine.

Do
Play up your cultural differences on the playa. Flying a Canadian flag is fine, but it's far more exotic is to pepper your conversation with references to French (even if you're not fluent, slipping a “Oui” will make you seem oh-so-chic; and don't forget that old 70s fallback: “Voulez vous couchez avec moi, c'est soir?” ), the metric system (guys, why settle for 8 inches when you can have a whopping 20 centimetres?), and obscure Canadian cultural references (“Larry Harvey? I think Atom Egoyan's making a movie about him.” or “Hey, did you catch the Gigsville reference in that new Rheostatics cut?” ). And remember, porridge is your friend in the desert: it's fast, easy to chew (think sore jaws) and the perfect quick meal anytime of the day.

Don't
Don't say “eh” . It's bad enough that many of us actually use it, but for god's sake, don't make it any worse by perpetuating that particular stereotype!

Do
Leave your suspicions at home. Americans are quite nice in their own country, and as long as you're not doing anything to upset them-or make them shoot-you'll probably meet a lot of really nice people. If you're traveling off the interstate, smaller towns are more than happy to have you stop and support their businesses. Just observe the posted speed limit at all times-and remember, it's in miles, not kilometres ("But officer, I was only doing 100.")

Don't
Don't let any of this bother you. Hundreds of us travel yearly to Black Rock City from all across Canada with no more problems than you'd expect on any long-distance drive (flat tires, bad music, grumpy passengers). Keep a positive attitude, think happy thoughts, and, before you know it, you'll be choking on playa dust as you creep into Black Rock City-just like everybody else.

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