Dusty adventures in Black Rock City

BANFF, Alberta, Canada – Something draws us to the worst place on earth at a high cost in time and treasure. Some create or participate in epic artwork – performance, built things or both – while others volunteer (often buying a ticket to go work for free). Some go for the big sound camps that showcase top tier DJs or the endless other musical performances from bluegrass to burlesque; Nordic metal to marching bands. So, really, what is the reason 70,000 people of all stripes and reasons congregate in this caustic, dusty hellhole with unmatched enthusiasm? My best guess, at least a hypothesis closest to my point of view, is the community. 

Modern life isolates us from one another and we have lost our sense of community, our sense of the collective tribe made up of individuals. Black Rock City either provides that or lets us find it for ourselves. So what does this have to do with a single speed Troll? Nothing. Mostly. 

I view my trips to Black Rock City, Nev., the temporary city built for Burning Man, as small bike adventures with unnecessarily crazy logistics. Pedaling through a white-out dust storm is always fun; as is riding along the edges of the city next to the “trash fence,” the pentagonal boundary of the city, is also fun. Neither are particularly easy, but they often reveal that dusty sort of magic and odd circumstance one only finds in this worst place on earth. The main mode of transport in BRC is a bicycle. I’m a bit of an oddity in that I bring a “real bike,” and not the more usual fare: a decorated but cheap Huffy beach cruiser (often with backwards forks and poor to no maintenance) or human-powered creations from clumsy to phenomenal kinetic artwork. I fall in with the travelers and journalists – the wanderers, seekers and storytellers. The thick skinned and curious. This is my tribe, my reason to make the trek to this prehistoric dry lakebed in northern Nevada. Like them, Burning Man isn’t my entire life, but it’s an important part of it. Its people and culture – for good or ill – draw me to my tribe every year. 

This year the trek to the dust was part one of a larger adventure. Part two is riding the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. I’m writing this from a wonderfully empty flight to Calgary on my way to Banff, to start the route. For the people who only ride a bike in Black Rock City, the bike aspect may be some sort of fun quirk or hellish nightmare, depending on their point in of view. 

I’ve heard all sorts of stupid advice from the non-cycling burners about riding a bike there. It’s generally gibberish. Black Rock City and the dust is no worse than a New England winter. The myth that it destroys bikes is baseless; the bikes most burners have are junk and not maintained. 

My Troll rode wonderfully for my 10 days on the playa. The tubeless Surly Extra Terrestrial were bomber through the deeper dust dunes as well as the concrete-like surface elsewhere. The K-Lite and SON 28 light/USB combination worked flawlessly. Everything worked just as it would elsewhere. 

The Salsa rear rack and Arkel Dry-Lite panniers carried a camera a few times and a bullhorn, but mostly stayed empty. I used the Surly 8-Pack Rack to hold an REI Flash 18 with a sweatshirt, goggles, Chapstick and a few other odds and ends. 

I stashed water and/or coffee bottles in the Revelate Feed Bags on the handlebars. 

The Surly/Revelate frame bag held a lock and some bike tools. Having a comfortable and durable bike designed for riding through terrible conditions made riding all over the city fun and effortless. 

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