RENO — Hundreds of travelers on the road to Burning Man in their quest for oneness with nature and celebration of self-expression on a peaceful playa in northern Nevada’s desert didn’t expect to spend their first night in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart or Reno resort casino.
But most were taking it in stride and were largely optimistic — as so-called “Burners” are apt to be — that the gates to the counterculture event would reopen Tuesday after rare rain showers in the Black Rock Desert turned the ancient lake bottom to a muddy quagmire the day before.
“You take it as it comes,” said Mark Vanlerberghe, who left San Jose, California, in an RV that he ended up parking Monday at the Wal-Mart for the night when he heard the access road to the remote festival site was closed.
“You’re going to the desert and you know there’s weather to deal with,” he said. “I guess that’s part of being a Burning Man. Don’t get stressed about it.”
Dozens of RVs and vans bound for Burning Man were parked at the Wal-Mart at the Three Nations Plaza, and nearly a hundred more across the street by sundown at the Grand Sierra Resort along U.S. Interstate 80 just east of downtown Reno.
The blinking casino lights and video billboards gave off a pink twinkle not unlike the various light shows at the weeklong desert gathering that culminates with the burning of a large wooden effigy the night before Labor Day. A record 68,000 people attended last year.
But the yellow stripes on the blacktop pavement with “Wrong Way” signs weren’t exactly what the seekers of paradise on the playa had in mind on their way to soak up the various theme camps, art exhibits, all-night music and guerrilla theater, along with a decent dose of nudity and a bunch of other stuff that’s just plain weird.
“We’re just trying to stay positive,” said a woman from Oakland, California, who identified herself only as “Driftwood” while hanging out in the Wal-Mart parking lot with a group of first-timers from Texas. “Positivity can raise everything up.”
Barbara Quintanilla of Houston said the rain delay was the least of their worries in an RV with friends who didn’t initially know whether the camper used diesel or regular gas, made a wrong turn out of Texas and ran over a sign post. Their destination is “Planet Earth,” she said, “The Eighties’ Camp.”
“My friends believe that making it a longer trip will make you better,” Quintanilla said. “We have a list of 27 things we need to get at Wal-Mart.”
Traveling companion Bill Sanchez of Houston said the voyage so far “has been brutal.”
“We made a 2,000-mile trip and none of us had ever driven an RV before. It would only go 35 mph up hills,” he said with a smile at the plaza on land owned by a Nevada tribe. “But through hard work and dedication, we will achieve our dreams.”
Jahliele Paquin and Jeff Difabrizio were in their third mode of transportation on the way to their first “Burn” from their home in Canada’s Northwest Territories. They flew from Yellowknife to Regina, Saskatchewan and bought a van they drove to Reno, where it broke down Monday and they rented a car for the rest of the trip.
“We’re kind of thinking like we’ll get there when we get there,” Paquin said.
Jeff Cross of Orange County, California was in a different group with Texans Adam Baker and Chelsea Coburn making their second trip to the Black Rock and were determined the weather wouldn’t deter them.
“It’s the best festival in the world,” he said while unloading provisions at their RV outside the Wal-Mart Monday night. “And there’s no cellphones, no internet, no money or corporate sponsors.”
“You have to have a lot of supplies,” Coburn said. “It’s a lot of work, but it makes it more gratifying, more fun.”