2016: My Year in Review

2016 was full of changes and adventures. I’m not going to write about the losses of the past year (ie Prince, David Bowie, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, to name a few), nor will I talk about our president-elect, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Instead, I want to review, mainly for myself, the amazing things I was able to do because of the life I’m lucky enough to have.

So, here goes…

I started off the year living in my parents’ basement while getting my affairs in order for a great upheaval of my life, that would include putting most of my belongings in storage and heading to Minneapolis, MN for a travel contract job. I’m now self-employed and, though that causes stress at times, it allows me the freedom and flexibility to go on month-long adventures without anyone telling me I don’t have the vacation time to use. It’s lovely.

With that freedom, I spent 3 weeks traveling around the US with Kathryn Budig supporting the release of her 2nd book, Aim True.

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I took a month off and traveled to Western Australia (Perth, Yallingup, and Margaret River), Cambodia, and Vietnam with my platonic life partner of Burning Man and Iceland “fame.”

I saw kangaroos in the wild, which is like seeing deer in the US, but to me it was AWESOME!

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I saw some of the most stunning wine country in Margaret River.

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I visited Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples in Siem Reap.

 

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I kayaked and sailed around Ha Long Bay in Vietnam.

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As if that isn’t enough, I was one of the extraordinarily lucky people to have seen (mostly) the original cast of Hamliton: An American Musical on Broadway. This “luck” was due to the well-connectedness and generosity of my friend Kate Fagan. Seeing Hamilton was not just a highlight of the year, but of my life, I think. Look at our seats! I mean, feel free to hate me…

 

I made my first visit to Duluth and Lake Superior with my lovely friend Becka and, all I can say is that it’s totally worth the trip. If you’re looking for a charming B&B in a great location, look no farther than Solglimt.

More Lake Superior vistas…

 

No travel list is complete without a little exertion and effort… to that end, I took a backpacking trip with fabulous friends to and around Havasu Falls (shout out to the super company Wildland Trekking). I highly recommend the trip and definitely the trekking company. If Dara Kelly happens to be your guide, you’ve won the lotto.

 

After close to 40 years, my parents left the state of Virginia, rendering me somewhat homeless officially nomadic. The upside is that I’ve been calling the frozen tundra of Minneapolis “home” and my ‘rents moved to the Gulf Coast of Florida, which, as it turns out, is so charming and lovely… and is a nice warm free escape from the Minnesota winter.

 

In addition to travel, I had the great fortune to dine at some of the best restaurants in the country. If you love food as much as I do, this was a highlight.

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” ~Virginia Woolf

“People who love to eat are always the best people.” ~Julia Child

My list includes St Genevieve, Corner Table, and Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis, Pineapple and Pearls and Rose’s Luxury in Washington, DC, and Giant and Alinea in Chicago.

If I learned anything about my dining preferences, it’s that I’ll take delicious, casual, and friendly over fancy ANY DAY OF THE WEEK. Because of that, my favorite restaurant experience was Rose’s Luxury x 2, with Giant coming in second place. Though Giant’s food was every bit as fabulous as Rose’s, they didn’t serve up happiness as well–part of Aaron Silverman’s (the chef and owner of Rose’s Luxury) goal is to make people happy and if you aren’t happy at Rose’s, you’re the problem… no matter how long you waited to get in. 

I’m also obsessed with Corner Table and St Genevieve in my newly adopted home of Minneapolis. The wine guy, Nick Rancone (and co-owner), of Corner Table seriously impresses me with his truly unique pairings, which go so well with the positively scrumptious food of chef Thomas Boemer. St Genevieve is a charming French bistro style restaurant with delicious food and a top notch champagne selection (my reason for existing).

Here are some photos from a few of these places:

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Rose’s Luxury

So fabulous you may just lick your plate and worth a possible 2 hour wait (made easier with bourbon in a purse). They may say “fuck perfect,” but they’re pretty fucking perfect.

 

Pineapple and Pearls

Rose’s Luxury’s  2 Michelin-starred, fancier (and not as good, in my opinion) sister.

 

Needless to say, I’ve had a great year, but I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the heartbreaking loss of my beloved Bailey–the cutest, sassiest, most easy-going corgi in the world. We went through life side by side for more than 15 years and he crossed the rainbow bridge on October 6, 2016. Cheers to you, sweet Bailey! I miss you terribly.

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Bring it, 2017!

Iceland Part 2… the details

This trip was planned on a whim, just 2.5 weeks in advance. I booked my flight on Wow Air, as it was the only cheap-ish flight at the time. They are a budget airline that offers no frills and cheap fares, but charges extra for everything– from water to a carry-on over 5 kg (11 lbs). I did the backwards thing and booked my non-refundable ticket prior to reading reviews of the airline I’d never heard of. Many reviews were terrible, but I had no problems. On top of a fare deal, they seem to have a nice sense of humor–a much appreciated feature. Oh, the planes are a stylish fuchsia.

(click photos to enlarge)

Due to the snow potential and time constraints, we stuck with the southern part of Iceland for our exploration. After landing at 5:30 am, we got our rental car, and headed to the blue lagoon, with a breakfast stop along the way. The lagoon is only about 20 minutes from Keflavik airport, so it’s convenient to go on your way in or out of the country. I highly recommend getting your tickets online in advance here. Yes, the lagoon is a tourist trap and, yes, it is worth visiting. Arriving when they open will cut down on the amount of people there ever so slightly. Be sure to put the lagoon mud (located in pots around the edge) on your face–meant to soften skin and contain anti-aging properties. Don’t get your hair wet! The high silica levels in the water render hair completely unmanageable.

Vik and beyond

I chose Vik as our first spot. It’s a very small town on the southern coast, about 3 hours from the airport and 2.5 hours from our farthest destination of Jökulsárlón.

Airbnb has several listings in Vik, but none of the available ones were quite what I wanted, so opted for the Icelandair Hotel. It was quaint, reasonably priced, and clean. As someone who lives for her next meal, the restaurant being good was an added bonus. After only 2 hours of sleep on the plane and driving most of the day, staying in for dinner was a welcomed option.

Vik has black sand beaches, birds, ponies, and picturesque views such as this:

Church on a hill in Vik

Church on a hill in Vik

It is not uncommon to see the picnic site sign while driving around Iceland. Such a sweet country.

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The first night in Vik, we could barely muster the energy to go to the restaurant in the lobby (which was fantastic, by the way) and almost had Jameson on the rocks for dinner. Our second night, however, we did some research and set out for Haldórskaffi, a small, warm restaurant in town. I can’t say it’s a locals place, but it’s hard to tell if any Icelandic haunt is really for locals or not. The population in the entire country is just over 300,000, so a large group of tourists can easily take over an establishment on a given night. Haldórskaffi was packed, so we sidled up to the bar for our wait…go figure. The food is pretty good, but not great. For some reason I didn’t get the burger, but had read that it’s fabulous. 

While eating, we missed a brief Northern Lights appearance, but set out in search of them. Plenty of Jameson, and hours later, we gave up and went to bed. The quest for Aurora led to a hungover late start on the third day. The drive from Vik to Reykjavik is easy and, of course, stunning. Even if retracing your steps in Iceland, the scenery looks different in the other direction. 

On to Reykjavik

Perusing AirBnB listings in Iceland will teach you 2 important things: 1) Icelanders love to use the word “cozy” when describing apartments–something they must think tourists are seeking when visiting a place with “ice” in the name. 2) All listings will tell you the proximity to a pool. The natives LOVE their heated pools and even frequent them after work to socialize.

There are SO MANY great AirBnB options in Reykjavik, so I picked one that was centrally located and adorable, with a really comfortable bed to boot. Most of the island has geothermically-heated water… which means it smells like sulfur (or rotten eggs). Get used to it and embrace the natural resource.

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The owners have a few other rental apartments, as well as a hotel, which I did not see, called OK Hotel. A perk of staying at any of Kathy’s properties is the 15% discount at her really yummy K-Bar–a Korean restaurant infused with a little Icelandic flair. DEFINITELY try the cauliflower and the dumplings (both pork and tofu were delicious).

The warm decor at K-bar

The warm decor at K-bar

Whether you’re in Reykjavik for just a day, or longer, you have time to explore the Golden Circle–see my other Iceland post for pictures–and knock out a few top tourist attractions. It’s easy to do this on your own, but there are plenty of tours to take as well. If on your own, be sure to stop in Laugarvatn and eat at Lindin. IT IS DELICIOUS! And, sadly (kind of), so is the reindeer burger… like, really good. I ate Rudolph.

In addition to all of that, here’s the view:

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So, my 4 full days in Iceland definitely weren’t enough and I WILL be returning. The country is not only stunning, but easy to navigate on your own. At least a week is needed to drive the Ring Road, which is as it sounds and circles the whole country. I’m not sure how passable the road would be during the winter, so it will be a summer trip for me.

Tips:

  • Food and alcohol are expensive–pick up some booze at duty free, preferably in the US, where it’s cheaper, though it’s possible to stock up when you arrive at Keflavik airport. The second duty free you encounter is for incoming passengers.
  • Note that it almost never gets dark during the summer and there is very limited daylight in the dead of winter.
  • The Aurora Borealis is more elusive than you might expect. The lights start showing up in October, but are the strongest on cold, clear nights, and best seen away from the light pollution of cities. If you happen to see anything like the famous photos, consider yourself lucky. They don’t always show up as colors and those photos are often the work of a DSLR camera on a slow shutter speed.
  • Airwaves is a music festival that occurs at the beginning of November every year. Next year, I think I’ll go. My cousin and his wife DID go last year and loved it. If you’d like to know more about Reykjavik’s coffee and music scene, go here.
  • Learning to pronounce the name of that volcano that shut down Europe for a bit–Eyafjallajökull–is a fun activity.

**I get nothing for recommending these places, but would be happily accept freebies**

If the Question is Iceland, Your Answer Should be Yes!

My childhood was full of magic. I grew up in an environment where gnomes, fairies, and elves were very real–a beautiful thing for the imagination. Fast forward 30 years, and Iceland is a dream country. Its craggy, moss-covered landscape lends itself to a mystical world. Icelandic culture is rich with mythological creatures, such as huldufólk (hidden people), that many believe exist. If that isn’t endearing, I don’t know what is.

Iceland’s popularity has increased in recent years, partly due to the fact that Wow and Iceland Air offer relatively cheap flights to Europe. Frequently, it does not increase the fare to layover in Iceland for a few days. Even with a stopover of a few hours, it’s possible to visit the Blue Lagoon, one of the 25 wonders of the world and quite a refreshing experience after a flight.

I had 4 full days to explore and needed to pick a region on which to focus. Our tiny rental clown car wouldn’t have stood a chance in the event of snowfall, so we settled on the southern part of the island. 2 nights in Vik and 2 nights in Reykjavik would allow us to venture out from there.

Now, on to the pictures! My next post will contain all the planning details, accommodation info, and restaurants, but this one is to introduce my thousands 5 readers to the beauty and wonder that is Iceland.

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the blue lagoon

the blue lagoon

more blue lagoon

more blue lagoon

After a luxurious soak and indulging in our complimentary drinks, we loaded into the car and set out for the seaside town of Vik, about 3 hours from the airport. Driving pretty much anywhere in Iceland is beautiful. Despite extreme exhaustion from the flight and no sleep, everything looked like a postcard.

Skogafoss

Skogafoss

View from the top of Skógafoss

View from the top of Skógafoss

Waterfalls galore

Waterfalls galore

On day 2 we went east from Vik in pursuit of Jökulsárlón, a stunning glacial lagoon that served as a site for James Bond’s Die Another Day. For the movie, they blocked the flow of seawater into the lagoon, which allows it to freeze and enable these shots.

Jökulsárlón-- glacial lagoon

Jökulsárlón– glacial lagoon

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The boat ride on the lagoon is worth the, approximately, $36 for the vantage point and photo ops.

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The glacier! It's hard to concentrate on the road in this country.

The glacier! It’s hard to concentrate on the road in this country.

If you find yourself dissatisfied with the Icelandic weather, fret not! Just wait 5 minutes and it will change.

Fickle Icelandic weather

Fickle Icelandic weather

Another site on the road back to Vik

Another site on the road back to Vik

Driving around Iceland is never boring… nor ugly. On the drive to Reykjavik we encountered more stunning sights. Whether or not we saw the Aurora Borealis is debatable, but screw those northern lights! Check out the rainbows! All three of these photos are from the same day.

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There *may* be more sheep than people in Iceland. I called them. They turned. Just call me the sheep whisperer.

Reykjavik is a quaint town city–the northernmost capital in the world–and we finally reached it on day 3.

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Iceland’s pride week is a huge event and, this year, they painted the street. The mayor said, “This is one way to make our city livelier, more human and simply a better place by great collaboration and beautiful thinking.” Seriously, Iceland is a magnificent place!

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TROLLS! In Reykjavik

TROLLS! In Reykjavik

We didn’t make it to this museum, but there’s a documentary about it called The Final Member.

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From a stay in the capital, or even a day long layover, it’s easy to tour what’s known as the Golden Circle. First stop is the site of the Viking parliament, or Þingvellir.

a view from Þingvellir

a view from Þingvellir

After Þingvellir, it’s off to Geysir– the now relatively dormant geyser after which all others are named. Strokkur is there as well and erupts every few minutes.

Excellent advice. Note the nearest hospital

Excellent advice. Note the nearest hospital

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The Icelandic horses! Perhaps the highlight of my Golden Circle drive. From sheep whisperer to horse whisperer.

From Geysir, Gullfoss (Golden Falls) is about 10 minutes up the road, named as such because the water appears gold when the sun hits.

Gullfoss

Gullfoss

Have I convinced you to go to Iceland yet? If so, stay tuned for my next post with all my trip-planning details.

*all images are the property of Caroline Shea, unless otherwise noted. reproduction without permission is prohibited*

Burning Man, part 2

Blogs about burning man, many of them written by tip-giving first timers, are a dime a dozen. And here’s another…

I now believe you cannot, or should not, go to Burning Man just once. I spent the whole week trying to figure it out and survive. Don’t get me wrong, I experienced many amazing things, but I missed SO MUCH (umm, like the Thunder Dome). The greeters– see part 1— hand out booklets with events for the week that I Never. Even. Opened.

I saw tons of art, made it to 1 of my 2 ice/Arctica shifts (tisk tisk), attended countless weddings, danced a lot, but didn’t even scratch the surface.

Approximately 70,000 men, women, and children show up with everything they need to survive for a week in harsh conditions. They also bring something, whether tangible or not, to share with the community, without expectations for what they’ll receive. It’s a beautiful thing. Yes, there is nudity. Yes, there are drugs. Yes, there is alcohol. But in my week at burning man, I didn’t see anyone vomit (thank god!), nor did I see one belligerent person. That’s more than I can say for most concerts, or even a night at a crowded bar. I read somewhere that, while it exists, Black Rock City is bigger than downtown San Francisco. Then it disappears. Remarkable.

It’s a bit cliché to say that you can’t truly grasp BM without going, but it’s true. You can’t imagine the scale of the art, the beauty of the participants, or the misery of a dust storm day, without experiencing it.

For newbies, we were well-prepared, but took notes for potential future burns.

We did:

-Rent an escape campervan in San Francisco. The bed was comfy enough and we opted to keep it set up all the time, basically rendering the van a bedroom with a kitchen off the back. This meant we needed a place to keep our bags and change.

-We also rented a shade structure from the van company thinking it was more like a tent. It was actually just a bottomless, screened in shade tent. Luckily we had a tarp to create a floor and cover one side to block sun (and allow for a tiny amount of privacy, on 1 of 4 sides). It did not keep out any dust.

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We’d change:

-If renting a van, we’d do a much better job of blacking out the windows for sleeping in. Once the sun came up our van turned into a greenhouse.

-A large tent with shade and an air mattress would suffice, and be cheaper than the van.

-I’d base myself in Reno because coming from San Fran/Sacramento added time and stress. Decompressing there would also be a nice change.

-You can never have enough wipes. Never. We felt squeaky clean with just wipes and decided it was WAY more trouble than it was worth to use the solar shower, which requires a plan for evaporating gray water. A complete wipe down, followed by lotion, before bed is enough to feel fresh.

-Bring more pickles. You I can never have enough.

-Bring more whiskey. There is never enough.

-Particulate respirator masks would be nice. My dust cough still lingers…

-Cook food and freeze (to reheat on the Playa).

*Rumor has it you can fly from Reno to BRC for 300 very well spent dollars*

Forget all these logistics! Here are some tons of my favorite photos…

around dusk on day 1

around dusk on day 1

one of our Pollination BRC brides

one of our Pollination BRC brides photo by Sava Papos

fun times at camp

fun times at camp

tutu tuesday

tutu tuesday

the lotus photo by sava papos

the lotus
photo by sava papos

spring-loaded rockinghorses? yes, please!

spring-loaded rockinghorses? yes, please!

art through a dust storm

art through a dust storm photo by Sava Papos

playa art

playa art

BEAUTIFUL deep playa art

BEAUTIFUL deep playa art

sometimes you gotta dress like a bee and hand out honey sticks to weary passersby

sometimes you gotta dress like a bee and hand out honey sticks to weary passersby

what makes your heart sing? write it down and pin it on the slowly revolving heart. beautiful.

what makes your heart sing? write it down and pin it on the slowly revolving heart. beautiful.

the totem of confessions by michael garlington

the totem of confessions by michael garlington

yes

yes

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the temple of promise

the temple of promise

the old woman who lived in a shoe?

the old woman who lived in a shoe?

en route to the burning of The Man

en route to the burning of The Man

the fireworks before the burn were some of the best i've ever seen

the fireworks before the burn were some of the best i’ve ever seen

it's nice when new friends wake you up on a chilly morning with fresh coffee

it’s nice when new friends wake you up on a chilly morning with fresh coffee

heading to the temple burn, off in the distance

heading to the temple burn, off in the distance

the temple burn is very somber, very quiet, and very moving

the temple burn is very somber, very quiet, and very moving. it marks the end of burning man.

The Road to Burning Man (part 1 of 2 BM posts)

I am a planner by nature. I love to make plans– for trips, lunches, weekend getaways, even little things like life. Burning Man is a great exercise for someone like me. One of the 10 principles is “radical self reliance” and when the goal is a full week in the middle-of-nowhere desert of northern Nevada, at least one planner in the group is a necessity.

My friend/adventure accomplice and I were definitely well equipped for first timers, but if I’ve learned anything about life Burning Man, it’s that you can never prepare for everything.

Our very long day started at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco,  where we picked up a jellyfish adorned campervan. IMG_8023

The trafficky drive, past my beloved wine country, to Sacramento was uneventful. A quick stop at a friend’s for miscellaneous supplies and off to Walmart we went.

Tasked with getting more food and supplies, the chaotic store– full of burners and completely picked over– created a high stress situation for this exhausted type-A person. We wanted nothing but to spend the last night of civilized luxury relaxing in our hotel with a bottle of wine, but were still frantically searching through big box store hell. Oh, the woes of BM prep.

Finally, with enough items checked off the list to finish in the morning, we proceeded to the jellyfish to de-MOOP (MOOP = matter out of place) our wares before heading to our riverside hotel oasis. Perhaps the most important of the 10 principles is to “leave no trace” on the playa. You pack out what you pack in, so it behooves you to minimize any unneeded packaging (aka potential MOOP) prior to setting off.

I plugged the address into waze in hopes of taking the fastest route possible. As soon as we pulled out of the burner-laden parking lot, I was directed into what appeared to be a construction zone. Much to my dismay, it was not a work zone, but a sobriety check! Now, bear in mind that we were both completely sober and not carrying 1 illegal item. That being said, WE WERE DRIVING A JELLYFISH VAN! A jellyfish van bearing no mark of the rental company. I was my normal no-nonsense self with the cop, but despite breaking no laws, was shaking slightly just knowing they could pull us over and search ol’ jelly (who was completely packed), further delaying aforementioned luxury and WINE. The Police officer seemed to stare into my soul while questioning me, though he must’ve been satisfied with that, and my answers, because he let us move along.

We made it to the Westin, but not without making a spectacle of ourselves by driving into the entry circle from the wrong side. Before you judge my driving, let me assure you that their circle is backwards and you enter from the left versus the right. Picture this: it’s approximately 9 pm on a Saturday night, at a hotel that shares its space with a popular restaurant. We pulled up the wrong way, had no room to turn  around, and paraded past all the fancy patrons who had come to enjoy their dinner on the river… with 1 jellyfish van and 2 incredibly weary travelers. We had a laugh with the bellmen and got ourselves checked in to our small slice of heaven.

Fast forward through our lovely night of room service, champagne, amazingly comfy beds, and our last hot showers for A WEEK. The following morning we were able to find the rest of our needed items and stock up on wine and whiskey.IMG_8029

Hitting the road at 1:15, we hoped to arrive in Black Rock City by 6 or 7 pm. The primary goal was to reach camp before dark. We made great time from Sacramento to Reno and our excitement heightened as we exited the highway onto Nevada State Route 447, a 2 lane road through Indian reservations, unbelievably rural “towns”, a whole lotta nothin’, and past Pyramid Lake. Before reaching any of that, we stopped at the first gas station to buy bike lights, a BM necessity for nighttime riding. Since it’s essential you get gas before going to Black Rock City, in the event you run into massive traffic jams during exodus, we got in line.

After perusing nearby gas prices (without looking too closely) on my trusty phone, we figured gas may be cheaper in the next “town”. Just a few miles down the road, the traffic seemed to build a bit. With Nixon, Nevada on the GPS, we planned to fuel up as we passed through. Mobile service was spotty when we came upon a store with a lot of activity and, of course, a line. We kept right on going towards Nixon. A couple of slow miles down the road, we regained GPS signal and realized that store/town was Nixon, and the only gas station for more than 50 miles. After some deliberation, and slowing traffic, we figured the best idea was to turn around.

With a full gas tank, empty bladders, and a couple of extra water jugs, we hit the road again… sort of. The rural, open road had transformed from a slow-moving line of cars to an occasionally shifting parking lot, all in about 20 minutes. We saw a lot of this:
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The concept of making good time was gone. We would move for a few miles and then stop completely, turn off your engine type of stop, for 45 minutes to an hour. As we watched the sun set over Pyramid Lake

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my dreams of arriving in Black Rock City before dark were dashed. The routine of driving a few miles and then stopping for at least an hour hit an all-time high of THREE HOURS at one point. Both of us tried to sleep. Both of us got out to meet our car neighbors. Both of us had to pee on the side of the road. As the hours droned on, and sleep eluded us, my throat (which always betrays me when I get worn out) grew more and more sore.

With each stop, we talked about how much we’d like to celebrate our first Burning Man with a bottle of champagne. A few cars around us were well into their celebrations, but my research told me that local law enforcement is NOT very pro-burner, so we opted to leave all booze tucked away and just keep truckin’ (thanks Jerry).

FINALLY , we arrived at the gate around 2 am and were greeted by… another line.

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All those brake lights indicated another 2 hours of waiting. We began to feel the dust infiltrate our lungs as our dreams of champagne shifted to just being horizontal in a bed. Once we made it past the ticket taker and van search, we were in line to be formally greeted. As is BM tradition, virgin burners are forced asked to get out of the car and roll around in the dust. We unenthusiastically obliged and were soon off to find our camp in the 9 o’clock plaza, at the rapid pace of 5 mph– the BRC, strictly enforced speed limit.

We found our new home easily and wedged the van into a corner of the slumbering camp before setting off for the porta-potties… at 4:30 AM!!! Now, I grew up showing horses and in barns. I have peed in porta-potties, horse trailers, horse stalls, the side of the road, the side of a ski slope, you name it. With this in mind, I feel quite confident when I say that there is no more disgusting toilet than those at Burning Man in the middle of the night. On our walk back to camp, my mind was moving a million miles a minute, trying to sort out how on earth I could stomach those johns for an entire week, let alone survive on camping food. Here’s where xanax comes in handy–it quiets the mind to allow for sleep.

We managed to set up the bed, cram our yet to be assembled bikes on the front seats, and drift into a blissful, techno soundtracked coma repose around 5 am. An unknown amount of time passed, the van became as hot as the surface of the sun, and we awoke to a joyful voice calling, “Carolineeee and Saaaava!”

It was only 8:30. My throat was so sore I could hardly swallow and I was so tired I felt more Walking Dead than Burning Man. Joy was not in my heart.

Welcome to Black Rock City… it’s gonna be great!

To be continued…