fail day

Nothing quite worked today. I think I’m slightly worse off today than I was yesterday.

I got 60 feet of 3/32″ steel wire, a couple of pulleys, miscellaneous wire-related hardware, and a 4-wheel heavy-duty cart and headed to my land. I tried to build the cart, but quickly realized I didn’t have the necessary tools. So I headed to my trailer, with cables, pulleys and all.

I turned my trailer around so that it pointed up the dirt road, but when I did that, it started rolling back downhill, and across the dirt road. Instead of being in a nice clearing off the road, my trailer was blocking the road, and a few feet farther from where I wanted it than when I started.

No matter, I’ll just pull back up, with the pulley. I wired everything up. One end of the cable was secured to a tree, one pulley attached to the trailer hitch, the second pulley attached to the tree again, and the end of the cable tied to a 2×4 for extra leverage. It didn’t take long to find a number of critical flaws with my plan. First of all, the front post of the trailer (which prevents the hitch from hitting the ground) dug into the ground and acted as an anchor. Secondly, the two pulleys didn’t reduce the required force enough to really move the trailer much. Lastly, and most fatally, even when I did manage to move the trailer a few inches, I had no way to secure the gains I’d made. As soon as I released tension on the cable, the trailer would simply roll back to where it was before.

So, at the end of the day, I’d only managed to get my trailer to an even less convenient location. But no matter. Lesson learned. Tomorrow, I’m going back with a winch-type contraption that’s supposed to be able to pull a ton. The cable on this contraption is only 12ft long, so it’ll take a while, but that’s ok. I’ll get there; 12ft at a time.

Structure! -ish!

I left the imaginary reader hanging at the edge of his seat this morning, without resolution. The rest of the day turned out to be quite an adventure, or disaster, depending on how you look at it.

After procrastinating for over 3 hours, I left Starbucks at 12:30 and headed to a Lowes nearby, where I found the cargo trailer I was looking for. It’s 5ft by 8ft, fully enclosed, and cost a little over $1800 after taxes. I then called up half a dozen U-Haul locations in the area to find a truck. One place had one tomorrow morning, another place had one right away but needed it back by 7. It was 1pm at this point, which meant I had 6 hours. It takes 3 hours to get to my land from Redding and back. I figured one hour to get the truck and trailer, one hour on the property, one hour of margin. It’ll be tight. Should I wait until tomorrow? Of course not. I’m down to my last <150 days of my twenties, and I haven't a day to waste.

By the time I got to the U-Haul place, it was 1:20. There were a bunch of people ahead of me, and I didn't get the truck until 1:40. I transfered stuff from the Ryomobile into the truck bed, and by the time I got back to Lowes, it was 2:20. Buying a trailer, as it turns out, is a big deal. There's DMV paperwork to be filled out, and then when I tried to pay for it, the credit card company pulled anti-fraud on us. All told, it was 3pm by the time I got the trailer, but I still needed to buy a lock and some other supplies. I hit the road, trailer in tow, around 3:45, a full 45 minutes behind schedule.

I didn’t get to my land until 5:20. In order to get the truck back to Redding by 7, I’d have to leave by 5:30. But what am I going to do? Turn around? Of course not. What I’m going to do is get to my land, drop off the trailer, and get back out in 10 minutes. Of course. I barreled down the dirt road. The going was easy at first, until I turned off the beaten path to head towards my property. That section of the “road” hasn’t been traveled much, and is overgrown and narrow and windy. My pace slowed down considerably.

The “road” twisted and turned, with hardly any clearance between trees. I had to go a few feet, stop, then scout ahead and remove debris and rocks from out of the way. Then I’d inch forward, get out, and reassess my angle of approach for a tight turn. I inch forward, then hop out to see how much room I have before I hit a tree. I inch forward, I walk around to see if the far side of my trailer is going to clear a big boulder. You get the idea.

It was clear I wasn’t going to get back to Redding by 7. If I’m not going to get back by 7, it doesn’t matter what time I don’t get back by. The place is going to be closed, so it’s all the same. I just focused on getting to my drop-off point. The minutes ticked by, then an hour. But I hardly noticed. I wearily watched dark clouds forming over head. The sun was starting to set.

Then I hit a particularly tight corner. I inched back and forth for maybe 10-15 minutes, but my rear tires kept digging into the soft dirt, throwing up a cloud of red dust. God damn truck is a rear wheel drive. What’s the point of having a truck that isn’t 4WD/AWD? It might take another 20 minutes to make this turn, but there were more turns after that, and a steep-ish grade. If I had another hour, an AWD vehicle, and another person to help navigate, then I might make it. There was no way in hell I was going to make it today before sun down. It was time to make an executive decision.

There were a couple of small clearings on either side of where I was. I decided it was time to ditch the trailer, get the truck turned around, and get the hell out. I was approximately on my property (right around the Southern border), and about 150 yards from where I wanted to be. This would have to do.

But wait, how do I get the trailer into the clearing? I’ve never tried backing trailers into anything, but I knew it was hard. Damn near impossible without any room to maneuver. There was only one solution: I had to do it myself. I placed a couple of rocks behind the trailer’s wheels to keep it from rolling down the gentle grade, lowered the stand to take weight off the hitch, and unhitched the trailer. The trailer weighs 890lb. I had maybe 100lb worth of stuff in there, so the thing weighed around 1000lb. You know how hard it is to pull a 1000lb trailer? Pretty hard, as it turns out. Especially on uneven ground. But it’s doable, and it was done.

All that remained was to transfer all my stuff from the truck bed into the trailer itself. And then it started to rain. I worried about my stuff getting wet, but more than that, I worried about the ground getting wet. The fine dust turns into slippery mud. I didn’t want to have to drive in mud. I worked hectically, and got everything transfered as fast as possible.

But I still wasn’t free. The truck had to turn around too. There was no way I could back all the way out, at least not before sun down. I won’t recount the 30-point turn that followed, although I will point out that I had to hack off a oak tree branch with my machete to make enough room for that 30-point turn. Once I was turned around, I got out pretty quickly, especially without a trailer behind me to worry about.

may land and relevant features as of Sept 12, '09

may land and relevant features as of Sept 12, '09

Here’s the state of my land (refer to image above –red box is my property). I have a trailer somewhere in the south-east-ish area of my property (or my southern neighbor’s property). It’s about 150 yards from a nice flat clearing where I want to set up camp. I also have a cache of supplies near the paved road on the north eastern corner. My next steps are as follows. I’m going back in the Ryomobile, and brining a heavy duty hand cart with me. I’ll use the hand cart to move my cache of supplies from the north side to my trailer. My trailer then needs to move about 150 yards west, over a windy bumpy road and up a grade. I think I can get it there myself by pulling it using a series of pulleys, anchored against trees along the way. I also need to get my generator fixed.

So I have more work to do before I can settle down on my land, but I’m very happy to have something resembling a structure there. The trailer’s more than big enough for my stuff, so I’m thinking of actually using it as a shelter. It’s definitely long enough for a cot, and if I add a shade structure to the side, it should make a nice little living space.

Right now, I’m back in Redding, using the internets at a Safeway (little known fact: many Safeway stores have free wifi). I haven’t decided where I’m sleeping tonight. Campground or Wal-Mart parking lot? Life is full of tough decisions…

Ok… so I’m not on my land

I went to my land yesterday. But once I got there, I realized that I hadn’t sorted out my logistical issues. The Ryomobile can get me to within feet of the North East corner of my property, close to the paved road. But I don’t want to set up camp there because, well, it’s really close to the road. I didn’t buy 60 acres of land to camp by the road.

So, what to do?

I revisited my options, and decided that the best course of action was to buy an enclosed cargo trailer, put my stuff in it, rent a truck, and tow it to the back of my property via the dirt road (which is too rough for the Ryomobile, but probably not for a truck). I can leave the cargo trailer there for short periods of time, for instance, when I need to go away to see my parents next week. The major downside is cost. A cargo trailer costs around $2000, and a U-Haul truck would cost about $200 for the round trip. But at the end, that’s just money. I can always earn more of that.

But, of course, things aren’t so simple. I’m in Redding right now (the nearest city) and I called up half a dozen RV/trailer shops in the area, and none of them sell enclosed cargo trailers. I also asked if they knew anybody in the area who did sell cargo trailers, and they all said nobody in Redding did. I know there are at least 3 places in Chico that sell them, but that’s another 70 miles away.

And then there’s my electrical system. Right now, I have 60 Watts of solar panels, which might give me about half the electricity I need on a good day. My battery charger is either broken or doesn’t like the inverter I got, so that plan is shot. My battery is down to 60%, and even if my panels work at maximum efficiency, I have a deficit of about 20% per day. My battery will be dead in 3 days.

So, here I am in a Starbucks, trying to figure out my next move. I could go back to my land, and just camp by the road, and deal with my electrical deficit and less-than-ideal location. The other option is to leave Redding and find a trailer where ever I can find one.

Heading Out

I’m heading up to my land in a bit here, once I finish packing my stuff into the Ryomobile again. I’ve spend the last few days in Chico, enjoying my friends Keith and Stephanie’s hospitality and kittehs, and recuperating/regrouping after Burning Man.

I was hoping to head up to my land sooner, but got held back with a couple of issues. I spent all of Tuesday driving down to the Bay Area and back to get my guns out of storage (which means, I actually have my laptop and my rifle with me for the first time since April). Then it took me until today to come up with an alternative plan for my electrical system, after my generator stopped working at Burning Man. I got an inverter I can hook up to my car, which I can then plug my battery charger into. This’ll effectively turn my car into a giant generator. Since this is grossly inefficient, I also went and bought a 60 Watt solar array at Costco. The nearest location with the solar panels in stock was down in Woodland, about 1.5 hours from Chico, so that took the better part of today. Sixty Watts isn’t enough to cover my anticipated daily usage, but it should give me enough juice that I’ll only need to charge the battery from my car for about an hour a day. Maybe less. We’ll see.

In any case, off I go. I’ll be back in civilization next week to meet up with my parents in Tahoe.

p.s. I finally got around to uploading photos from my road trip back West. Go have a gander. I uploaded more photos of my land as well.

Burning Man Notes: Ramblings from day 2

I jotted down these words on a piece of paper the evening of the 2nd day. The first day was about settling down, and not leaving. The second day was when I started thinking about how to make something of my time there, and what I needed to do.

Just as I didn’t ask for my blessings, I didn’t ask for my faults. But, just as I enjoy my blessings without question, I must also strive to overcome my challenges, also without question.

****

Some may say I left and went on an adventure. The cold reality is that I merely escaped into a world I created. Buying land is just the first step to creating my own world, but it won’t change the fact that I haven’t figured out how to live, thrive, and be happy in this one.

****

I went to a meditation session today. The guy said we must learn to become independent of our egos. He said our egos manifest themselves in our desire to control externalities. Instead, we must control ourselves, overcome our fears and crutches, and adapt to our external world as it is.

****

I am nobody. Anonymous, unremarkable. I can vanish now, and nobody will notice. The only way to change that is to engage.

****

I’m trying to change. Baby steps, I tell myself. I try not to avoid eye contact. I say “hi.” I ask strangers what’s going on at this exhibit. Maybe tomorrow I’ll introduce myself to someone.

As I wrote in the previous post, I had considerable success in changing how I interacted with my environment. But it was a struggle to get there, and I thought it was worth posting the words as they were written at the time.

Burning Man Notes: A Letter

The following started off as a letter, but then was converted into a blog post in letter form. Who the “you” is is not important; I used the format of a letter as a literary device, to bring out a certain tone that was direct and focused, without the distractions of flowery descriptive prose. The words below are for you, the readers of this blog, not “you”, the addressee of this “letter”.

When we parted, you said you thought I looked smaller. The people we respect always look bigger, so if I looked smaller to you, maybe I lost your respect. I thought about that, then laughed out loud. I laughed because you have no idea what it was like for me to be at Burning Man, alone. The truth is, I am exceedingly proud of myself for all that I’ve accomplished this week.

For starters, I am proud of the fact that in less than a week, I planned, assembled, tested and acquired all the gear and supplies I needed to be a self-sufficient one-person camp, but with a compact enough footprint to fit in my little car, without having ever been to Burning Man, and only found myself missing two items during the entire week. I am proud of the fact that I designed my shade structure on the fly at a Home Depot, picking up necessary supplies as I planned each aspect of the structure in my head. I am proud of the fact that, despite never having built the actual structure other than in my head, it turned out exactly as I’d envisioned, and that it only took me half an hour to build, alone. I am proud of the fact that the shade structure withstood a week of constant pounding from the winds gusting across the playa, with very minimal damage and no repairs in the interim. I am proud of the fact that I struck camp entirely alone, pulling rebar stakes driven deep into the ground using nothing but a length of para-cord, a piece of two-by-two, and my own two arms. I am proud of all this, because I personally don’t know of very many people who could’ve done what I did.

And that was the easy part.

You have no idea how terrified I was when I arrived, alone, and surrounded in a strange environment unlike anything I’d ever seen before. You have no idea how, as an introvert, every new sight, sound, smell, or person felt like a threat to me, and the abject terror I experienced while being bombarded with a constant barrage of threatening encounters without a single friend in sight. You have no idea how dejected and distraught I felt when I asked to join the safety of you and our friends’ camp, and you threw me out, and sent me off to go alone or go home. You have no idea what went through my head as I sat in my car, trying to decide which it was going to be: to remain in this terrifying space alone, or to retreat to the relative comfort of the open road.

You have no idea how much courage it took to decide to stay, to put up that shade structure, to pound those stakes into the ground, to commit myself despite immense trepidation and doubt. But I did stay, and for that I am proud.

You have no idea how much courage it took me to decide that in order to enjoy Burning Man, I had to change. That I had to doff my armor of introversion that has protected me for so long, and open myself up to new experiences and people, and actively engage this unfamiliar world with open arms. But I did open up and engage, and for that I am proud.

I used to be afraid of talking to strangers. At Burning Man, I introduced myself to girls I didn’t know, for the first time in my life. I helped a lady carry ice down the street, instead of simply watching her struggle. When on my daily morning stroll, I said “good morning” to people I passed. When invited off the streets to take a drink, I never said no. These are all things that I used to be terrified of doing, but I overcame my fear, and for that I am proud.

I used to be so afraid of dancing that I would intentionally, with great effort, walk off beat when in the presence of music, lest I be seen “dancing.” At Burning Man, I overcame this fear, and went dancing for the first time in my life, and for that I am proud.

I used to be terrified of eye contact. I went to an eye contact workshop and stared at several strangers in their eyes for minutes at a time, opening myself up to them completely, trying to fill myself with compassion because when you stare someone in the eye, they feel what you feel. It was uncomfortable and scary, but I did this, and for that I am proud.

I never thought I’d find an inner peace, a feeling of wholeness and compassion for the world around me while in the midst of strangers. But I found all that, as fleeing as it was, and for that I am proud.

I climbed the fire truck ladder, despite the wind, and for that I am proud. I went down the big slide, four times, even though people were around watching and it looked kinda scary, and for that I am proud. I woke up every morning at 7:30am, staying out until well past midnight almost every night, making each day count, and for that I am proud.

I began the process of healing my deepest, darkest and most persistent emotional woes, by examining the darkest moments of my past, and for that I am proud.

Me, smaller? Hardly. I’ve never been bigger. So I’m sure you were referring to the 8 pounds of weight that I’d lost that week.

Those of you who know me may recognize the addressee of this letter as being my ex-girlfriend Nikki. While she is portrayed antagonistically here, she ultimately deserves credit in the transformation I achieved at Burning Man. It was she, who, nearly two years ago when we began dating, set me on a path of rigorous introspection and self discovery. Without that gift, I would not be on the journey I am on today, nor would I have found the courage to do all I did at Burning Man. The antagonism in the letter arose from my disappointment in not having been able to share with her the cumulation of what we started together. Nonetheless, even as we now go our separate ways, I will forever be grateful for having been shown a way, which I may never have discovered on my own.

Burning Man Notes: Arrival

For me, Burning Man started in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Reno, which happened to be a major supply depot for the thousands of Burners headed to the desert. There were cases of water everywhere, and the parking lot crowded with vehicles of every description jam packed with equipment, furniture, bikes, supplies and people. The Burners were easy to spot, for the most part. If the cases of water and booze piled in their shopping carts didn’t give them away, their dress, or something about the way they looked did. This was the first time I realized that Burners were somehow different.

From the Wal-Mart parking lot, the trip to Black Rock City rapidly turns into a bona fide pilgrimage. Going East on I-80, even a casual observer will notice the unusual concentration of RVs and vehicles with bikes strapped onto them. These vehicles then stream off on exit 43 onto Route 447, which becomes saturated with Burner-mobiles. As Gerlach, the nearest permanent town to Black Rock City approaches, this line of car comes to a halt. Ahead, an endless snake of red tail lights. To the rear, a winding trail of bright white headlights. Off in the distance, glittering dances of light indicated the location of the promised land. The congestion was such that people put their cars into park, shut off their engines, and walked around, chatting with neighbors. I had a nice conversation with the fellow behind me, a butcher from Oakland; my first of many conversations with a fellow Burner.

By the time I reached the gates, it was 4:30am. Being a first timer (a “virgin” as they call you), I dutifully performed my rite of passage by ringing a bell with all my might, and shouting “I am no longer a virgin”. Of course, I was alone, and I don’t think anybody really cared.

Once I entered the playa proper, excitement quickly turned into confusion, then disorientation and panic. It was still pitch dark, and with few camps set up, the streets were hard to discern from the camp sites. I’d seen maps, but I hadn’t anticipated the enormity of the “city.” In the darkness, I had no sense of scale. The concentric roads seemingly spiraled into chaos, the dust obscuring their edges, fueling my disorientation. I knew my friends were planning on camping at around 8:30 and D. They had been ahead of me on I-80, but without cellphone reception, I had no way of contacting them. I drove around, trying to spot the dark suburban they were in, but it was simply too dark to identify cars, much less any specific one. I eventually pulled into an area that seemed relatively empty and quiet, then dismounted.

With a water bottle, flashlight, and GPS in hand, I began a search for my friends. To make sure I could return to my car, my only base in this foreign place, I saved a marker on my GPS. It was dusk, and the world around me emerged, ever clearly, as the minutes ticked by. But the light only added to my disorientation. Sometime during the night, I had been transported into a vast flat empty dried lakebed, where something resembling the cross between a refugee camp, frat house, and art gallery was assembling. There was nothing about the place that felt familiar, especially after my weeks alone on the road. As I walked, I reflected upon my own introversion, realizing with dread that everything was strange and new and therefore threatening and frightening. I walked with my senses alert, every new encounter evoking a fight-or-flight reaction. I desperately wished for safety, to take refuge among familiar faces.

I walked for hours, starting with 8:30 & D and gradually spiraled outwards. The rigor of walking kept me sane, focusing my hightened senses on spotting and identifying tents and cars that looked familiar. I’d lent them my yellow Coleman tent, of which there were a couple of instances. None of them had the dark colored Suburban or any familiar bikes parked nearby, but I marked their location on my GPS and walked on, to confirm later.

It wasn’t until around 8am that I spotted my friends, only a few hundred yards away from where I’d parked. They had taken a wrong turn and had been delayed. I ran towards them, relief spreading through my body. I was safe.

I pulled Nikki aside and told her how afraid I was, and asked her to reconsider letting me camp with them. When I decided to go to Burning Man at the last minute, I’d volunteered to camp separately, and Nikki had urged me earlier in Reno to camp separately as well. But now, actually on the playa, I was as frightened as a 3 year old separated from his mother in an unfamiliar mall. I wanted to be near friendly faces, where I could feel safe. There was no way I could survive out here on my own. But Nikki wouldn’t budge. She didn’t want me around her camp; I could either camp alone, or go home. I stormed back to my car, frustrated that someone I considered a friend wouldn’t grant me a safe harbor at a time of distress. I retreated to the relative safety of my car.

I sat for a long time, considering my options. I could stay, and potentially be scared and miserable for a week, or I could go home. Except I have no home. I felt like I couldn’t leave, but I couldn’t start unpacking because I wasn’t sure how long I would want to stay. Why unpack if I might decide to leave in a few hours? Out of desperation, I headed back to my friends’ camp.

At their camp, I helped improvise a shade structure out of scavenged materiel originally intended to be a hammock structure. That was something I could do. I can build things. Helping Igor build that structure calmed me enough, that I was then able to head back to my car, and start pulling out lumber to build my own shade structure. It appeared that I would be staying, at least for a little while.