I had been unsettled, out of sorts, “bumpy” since my return from Buggy Nirvana some two weeks afore. I struggled to get out of bed in the morning and my keenly honed routine turned to a quagmire of fitful starts and pauses, of hunting for my happy place and some quiet space in my melon. Incessantly confused about which day it was, even making coffee took on an air of Chinese arithmetic as I dithered over how many scoops had been added to the French press. My mind wandered back to the playa as the steam from the cup moistened the red dust still imbedded deep in my sinuses. Like a finely trained German Shorthair, the slightest breeze, the rustle of leaves, the swaying of a branch piqued my interest. I’d stop… lock-on… observe… motionless… as though stalking prey… waiting… just waiting to see if Earl was merely toying with my fragile state for his maniacal amusement. This endless chain of Pavlovian responses to faint echoes of a distant bell, this was my life post-IBX 2015 and I was clearly a menace to the public whether driving, standing still or operating a shopping cart. No one was safe whist I dwelt in this state, not even myself.
Almost immediately, I recognized the symptoms of home sickness, as bizarre and deluded as that might seem, and hoped they would wane with time. But as the situation intensified to a full-blown, first class obsession, I began to realize I must sort this before it got me or someone else hurt. I had to get a grip and settle back into that disgustingly trivial, repetitive, petty existence I called a life if I was to ever see a pension check… or my next pay check for that matter. And with each passing instance, somewhere in the back of my head, a solution was forming, growing, crystallizing and becoming ever more prominent. Then Earl came to Occupied Northern Mexico and with him came three glorious days of buggy-able wind which he promptly turned off 20 minute before quitting time each day. I was beside myself with angst and anger until it, that fomenting solution forced its way through my cranium and dangled in front of me like a carrot before the ass… I had forgotten to write it all down so I wouldn’t have to rely on the increasingly faulty brain housing group to remember it all and the fearfulness of forgetting was mounting by the day.
So, by way of medicinal therapy for an aching soul and as a demonstration of the love we all hold in our hearts for the seasonal inhabitants of Buggy Nirvana, I present to you my version of how it all went down. Whether real or imagined, factual or fabricated, without fear of retribution or concern for the gallons of eye bleach that may be required to remove this colorful, chaotic stain from the retina of the mind’s eye, to the best of my faulty recollection, this is my story and I’m stickin’ to it.
From the moment I crossed the Colorado River leaving Yuma, I knew it would be a day full of navigating traffic at an agonizing pace with the trailer in tow. Almost the entire trip up would be squarely in The Land of Fruits and Nuts. Despite the long standing Nanny State restriction of 55 miles per hour on tow vehicles, to acquiesce would be a sin against rugged individualists as a whole so, the cruise was promptly set to a meager yet sufficiently rebellious 61 mph. Come-n-git me, Coppers, do it, I dares ya’z, see what happens next. Alas, most grinned curiously, some rendered a short bus wave and all passed right on by, all 12 of them I saw that day. Apparently, they had bigger fish to fry and, honestly, I was in no mood for a round of cerebral air hockey with an unarmed opponent anyway.
I sensed the 5 hour drive would do me some good for I badly needed to decompress and sort the clutter that had accumulated over the past 2 years since my last adventure in the Mohave. I was at my wits end with trivial knob gobblers and cheesy, Gloria Steinem wanna-be’s who insist on wearing faire wings with their three piece business suits. I was tired of playing Flight Line Crash Crewman to adolescent fire pissers in the wake of their half-baked machinations. I was tired of explaining that while Merriam-Webster says Mechanic falls between Magician and Miracle Worker, I was none of the above and unless I stumbled across some C4 and blasting caps lying about, I was going to hand out plexi-glass belly buttons as party favors at the company Christmas party. And, there was the organizational rift within the Buggy Family that precipitated all the social media wrangling and cajoling. I needed time to sort this and find a way to make it clear that my allegiances lie with the ENTIRE land sailing community, near and far, past, present and future. I wanted to start healing the rift and move forward so my time with dear friends from so far away, with new friends I had yet to meet would be as pleasant and care free as possible. I was determined to ensure my long overdue respite from all the societal and political silliness wouldn’t be ruined by petty infighting. I had it in mind to knock down some walls and I was certain it would take little more than a handshake, a hug and perhaps a big, sloppy, mouth kiss or two to make that happen. I merely needed to show folks how silly all the bickering and posturing was, how much Family really means to us all and highly suspected I was far from alone in that sentiment.
“It’s always important to have a plan for without a plan, we have nothing to deviate from”.
As I turned off I-15 on to 395 northbound, I was fully anticipating the joy of arriving at El Mirage. What I wasn’t counting on was the utter despair of finding Walt’s Bay inundated and off limits. Lay it off to the sanguine enthusiasm of seeing dear friends, the Hard Cores that would surely have gathered at pre-non-event camp, the youthful exuberance at the prospect of numerous adrenalin dumps, the chorus in my head that had been doing all that mental spring cleaning or forgetfulness of advancing age but, I had failed to check on the state of affairs at Elmer’s. Now I was faced with the need to do some hasty research and determine a course of action.
As data streamed in, it was easy to discern that Harper’s was still a cobbled mine field of wheel ruts and barbed wire, the Hard Cores were somewhere near China Lake, no doubt snooping the wire around the old Skunk Works, Ofer and his son Tal where touring the vast expanse of Death Valley and a few had already made camp at Ivanpah. With the sleuth work behind me it was decision time. With only a few hours of daylight left and realizing I might be without cell service, I decided finding the Hard Cores camp could easily become an exercise in navigating by starlight and dead reckoning. I did have Ofer’s digits as he had called for assistance earlier in the week to recover his gear from storage. However, history shows us time and time again what a monumental challenge it can be to find people in Death Valley in the daylight. That too was hardly the place to go on a nocturnal Easter Egg Hunt. I could always down kit and tough it out until daylight but that meant losing at least another 8 to 10 hours of my precious few days in Buggy Nirvana to land navigation and even more mental gymnastics in the front seat of the Big Blue Think Tank. So, I was left with but one option that didn’t make my head hurt.
The FRAGO read: Proceed north to Ivanpah with greatest haste and initiate Adult Beverage Download Protocol immediately upon arrival.
It would appear the Itty Bity Sh_tty Committee in my head got it right for a change.
“Kick ‘er into Mexican Overdrive and let ‘er roll, lads. If she crashes, at least we won’t have to build a fire to cook over.”
As the sun dripped behind the mountains, I turned on the headlights descending the northbound decline of I-15 approaching Primm Valley. I kicked the truck into neutral and let gravity and that half cord of well-seasoned Cottonwood on the trailer do some work for a change. In the twilight I could just make out a few scattered camp sites and the marquee tent along the eastern shoreline near Coffee Bush. An unexpected rush of boyish excitement tempered by homecoming relief washed over me like a cleansing shower. It was as though the mere sight of the settling pond somehow signaled a refuse company to pick up the 40 yard bin of useless crap the Committee had been fiddling with and haul it off to The Purgatory for Wayward Fantasies and Really Bad Ideas. Surely that crap would be waiting patiently for my return to civilization. But, for the moment, all that remained where the skid marks in the driveway and an empty garage just begging to be filled with pleasant memories and stories involving playa rash and deep purple hematomas the size of regulation baseballs ringed in a bluish-green. It was finally Play Time. I could almost smell it… actually, I could smell it. As the windows slowly receded into the door frame, the cab was inundated by early evening air thick with the scent of sage and playa dust. Eau-de-Playa is reminiscent of myrrh and dirty sandals. Heavenly, I tell ya, heavenly. With a quick stop off at the Travel Center for necessaries, I knew I’d be home again soon… finally.
I had been metering beverages along the way so as to minimize stops but I feared me bladder was reaching critical mass. Despite my stingy Swiss heritage and intense aversion to casino table games, with the slight exception of an occasional go on a craps table when the Scot in me so moves, the lights of Primm Valley Casinos were a curiously welcome sight. I often wonder if that old bootlegger is still standing watch over his domain from that cave somewhere behind the hotel that bears his name. Legend has it that Pete MacIntyre or “Whiskey Pete” as he was known in the 1920’s, was inadvertently exhumed from his vertical grave somewhere near the bridge over I-15, where he held vigil with a bottle of his finest moonshine in hand. Lacking a better plan, his remains where transferred to the cave where he operated his “still” and where he lies in state to this day. How fitting it is to know a purveyor of bootleg spirits is the Guardian in Perpetuity of my favorite place to sip a dram with friends from far the reaches of the globe. Here’s to you, Pete. Salud !!!
After a 2 year hiatus, tracking the Carsonite posts in the fading light was a bit of a challenge. I might have lost my way where it not for the Blo-Kart folks placing their 15 mph speed restriction signs so conspicuously. Just north of the DWMA Line, a veritable sea of reflectorized posts came into view. Curiosity overwhelmed and I had to investigate. In the glow of the headlights I saw a picnic area with lovely concrete walkways leading to brand spankin’ new, self-composting outhouses… the doors of which were dead bolted shut. Makes ya wonder sometimes. However, as it turns out, BLM is in the throes of revamping the Lake Bed entrance and access road which, when finished, will terminate here by the concrete honey pots. This seem a welcome addition to Buggy Nirvana, if you ask me.
Others fear it portends of daily user fees, resident Rangers and Nanny State restrictions. Given the nature of the place and the level of commitment BLM has put toward preserving this small slice of heaven on earth for wind power enthusiasts, I’m really rather surprised it hasn’t happened already. If you’ve ever been to Red Lake, Eldorado or Harper’s and experienced the kidney bolting joy of running at speed through an area of 6” deep wheel ruts where some Red Nek just had to exercise his jacked up four wheel drive after a heavy rain, you’d realize that BLM does a pretty reasonable job of controlling vehicle traffic on Ivanpah. Considering the fact that a portion of each registration goes toward the $5.00 per day user fee BLM imposes on “Organized Events”, it’s really not that big a stretch to see that carried over to unorganized, disorganized and purely causal happenstance gatherings as well. Let’s face it, there is no “free lunch” and eventually there will be a toll to pay for the joy of playing in Buggy Nirvana. Personally, I’m all over it, especially if the ever increasing accumulation of MOOP, (matter out of place) begins to subside, it curtails the ribbons of used T.P. flailing about in the bush and I’m not stumbling across woefully shallow cat holes in the dark. Yeah, I’ll gladly kick in $5.00 a day to help that program along. Wouldn’t you?
A bit further south of the DWMA Line I encountered some Scirocco sailors, hold overs from the NALSA event a few days prior, and stopped to chat. Pleasant chaps, one and all and a bevy of information as to the condition of the lake bed surface as well as the recent winds but whole time we spoke, my eye kept glancing south. I knew I just had to get home. We exchanged well wishes and farewells as I mounted up for the final push. Slow rolling into camp I spied a trailer and some scattered vehicles to the north of the marquee, it was Screwy, his Dad and several members of the Nor Cal contingent assembling buggies, fussing about with gear and fixing dinner. Their offer of cold beer was so very tempting but I felt I had to disconnect this trailer while I could still manage it without hurting myself.
Just south of the marquee, my favorite little mound of thorny scrub, Coffee Bush appeared in the headlights and it almost seemed to beckon me to come closer, like a long lost friend. It was at this point that I realized I had been up waaaay too long and suspected the Committee ministrations had done more damage than good. I was exhausted mentally and emotionally, stiff and twisted as a well-seasoned tree root and saddle sore beyond expectation. But I was on a mission and I had my orders. Safe in the knowledge that I was finally home, it was time to put the Committee members to bed, relax by a fire and get on about the task of purging any remaining demons with the joy of laughter and strong drink shared with dear friends. Besides, Screwy had sausages of a fashion on the grill. Snacky!
It was great catching up with old friends and while the conversation was a delightful departure from the day’s travails, a few toddies in I began to feel the strain and felt it was time to get some much needed rest. It was at this point that became aware of the fact that while had exercised some good judgement in disconnecting the trailer, I had failed to go the step further and unload the gear from the back of the truck which was to be my shelter for the night. Now, sufficiently relaxed and at peace with the world, I lacked the motivation to unload it all and fix my sleeping quarters. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew I would rue my sloth but for now, I just needed some sleep.
This came to bear most pointedly when the saddle sores of the previous day’s expedition had me writhing to find a comfortable position in the inadequately reclined front seat of Big Blue, wishing I had held out for the extra-cab model with the super plush upholstery. Additionally, when I left Occupied Northern Mexico, the temperatures ranged from highs of 95 to lows in the mid to upper 50’s, perfect weather to sleep with the doors and windows wide open. Here in the high deserts of the Mohave, one’s breath was clearly visible at 3:00AM, even within the shelter of the cab. This compounded by a bladder full of exorcised demons ruthlessly clawing their way to freedom meant there was no avoiding the inevitable; poor Coffee Bush was about to receive a most rude visitation of evil upon it.
“Insanity is often the logic of an accurate mind overtasked” – Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.
Twilight broke over the New York Mountains turning to dawn. As I began to stir beneath a litter of light poly-pro throws and sundry jackets, stretching taunt muscles and exercising complaining joints, I took in the scene. Beams of light licked across the playa revealing its placid complexion and played on the mountain tops to the west. Since the demon purge, my sleep had been that of the dead, a peaceful, restful slumber. Now, reveling in the midst of this beautiful scene, a singular, overbearing obsession began to creep in and dominate my thoughts…
Coffee! Must have coffee! Acquire and consume gallons and gallons of the rich, black nectar. Must Have COFFEE! Must have it NOW!!!
Don’t ya hate it when your inner child throws a temper tantrum right in the middle of a perfectly good, albeit mild hangover? I sure do. Oh well, fine, coffee it is. Just as I reached for the door handle, Sloth chimed in to remind me the larder containing the coffee grounds, kitchen kit containing the French press and all stove bits were still buried in the bed of the truck way up front under all the kite gear and those heavily laden ice chests were in the way too. Dammit, the Whelp woke up the Committee! Noisy little bastard anyway…
“Fine, we’re goin’ to town for Coffee! There! Is everybody happy now?!?”
“Oh shibit, that was out loud. I’m talking to myself already. No, I’m arguing with myself already. What the actual F_ _K, over?!?”
I could tell this is gonna be another one of those days; it had all the earmarks of self-sabotage. I was going to have to medicate pretty heavily if I was going to turn this around and I figured I’d best start with caffeine before easing back into the spirituous tonics. I also figured I’d better find some support just in case The Committee turned ugly on the way back to camp. Fortunately, Steve T. from Iowa was up and about and said he was game for a coffee run as well. Whew, what a lucky moment and hopefully the first of many in a row. Perhaps, with a little help from friends as completely unwitting accomplice, I could string together a few more such happy accidents and go all Bob Ross up in this mutha. Chances were slim but so was my grip on reality so it was worth a shot.
We cruised briskly… but not TOO briskly, (Hi, Elaine) to a known ready source of the piping hot, black serum I so desperately needed to quiet that irascible Whelp in my head. As we headed ever northward, I asked Steve to refresh our conversation from the night before. The Adult Beverage Download Protocol had been rather taxing and I seemed to be missing fragments. As it turns out, I had somehow missed entire episodes and the stories seemed to be keeping the Whelp entertained so I was truly grateful for the reload on two fronts. Among the bits I had missed was the fact that Steve had unwittingly become the model for the artwork on the event t-shirts and hoodies. When Screwy was looking for a subject to sketch, he settled on a photo of Steve in full gear making a pass at speed in his custom VTT buggy as the consummate example of Playa Play.
As we headed back to camp, glints of brilliant light shone from the solar plant mirrors as they collimated on the central towers and sunshine on the western mountains created early morning convection that kicked up fleeting yet buggy-able breezes. The sheer magnitude of Ivanpah tests ones wind reading skills as no other. Here, it’s rather common for the eager neophyte and seasoned veteran alike to get a mile or more from camp only to be marooned. The audience for ones Walk of Shame can be pretty large as well. Not the sort of cherished memory one specifically seeks to take home from one’s foray into Buggy Nirvana but we’ve all been there at some point in time. Most consider it a rite of passage and just roll with it. Any way you look at it, Earl can be a most capricious, indiscriminate bastard who entertains his vagary at the most inopportune times, particularly here in the Mohave.
There are many schools of thought on reading the winds here, or anywhere else for that matter. One popular countermeasure for avoiding embarrassment is the 10 Minute Rule. When the wind picks up, you watch for 10 minutes and if the direction or intensity changes in the slightest, you know Earl is just messin’ with your head.
Ofer refers to his gauge as the Penguin Rule which he explained to me like this. In their natural habitat, penguins jostle, cajole and push each other ever closer to the sea ice edge where their prey, the fish or their number one predator, the seals are surely waiting just under the surface. Once the first penguin topples haplessly into the sea, the remaining penguins back off a safe distance and wait to see if dude pops up with a fish or becomes a seal treat. It’s all quite ruthless and cruel but that’s the way of it in the real world.
Ofer has adopted a far nobler version where the Penguin makes his own choice to voluntary subject himself to the trial for the benefit of the group. This obviates the feelings of guilt and remorse for the others and bestows the Penguin with a certain air of gallantry and self-sacrifice. It also allows one the opportunity to finish a beer before it goes warm and skunky or gird ones loins with a hardy pull from the Handle of Maker’s Mark whilst the Penguin tests the waters. In the event that Earl does leave the Penguin stranded, an attentive rescue party is at the ready to assist in the recovery effort. Personally, I find this method of testing Earl’s mood uniquely chivalrous and appealing to my sense of civic spirit.
Then there is the almost mystical ability Stephan and Mano possess in accurately gauge Earl’s mood. These guys seem to never miss in making the right call on almost a daily basis. They would show up out of nowhere about 30 minutes before the first breeze floated through camp, suit up, pump up their LEI’s and prepare to play. Shortly thereafter, while the rest of us were still taking measurements and staring at wind socks trying desperately to get a sense of Earl’s mood, Stephan and Mano were flogging the skies mercilessly with 7, 9, 11 and sometimes 15 meter LEI offerings from Peter Lynn and Ozone, respectively, using the camp sites as racing pylons. Surely they must ply Earl with strong drink and rented table dancers each evening to obtain an advance copy of his itinerary. That’s the only explanation that makes sense because, here in the Mohave, nobody is THAT lucky.
Fortunately this season, Earl showed his kind and generous side for the most part. When present, late morning breezes lasted from 10AM until noon before they evolved into thermic swirls of life-threatening tumult. Around 3PM he would engage the stabilizers which took full affect around 5PM, then tapered wind intensity gently until dusk. Somewhere around 8PM, as the moon shown full, he mustered those smooth breezes that lasted well into the wee hours of the morn. These conditions prevailed nearly daily varying only in intensity and duration. Perfect buggy conditions for the perfect buggy place. The temporary inhabitants of Buggy Nirvana filled the skies with rip stop and Spectra of every imaginable size, shape and function by day and a chaotic display of headlamps darted about the playa while chem-lites and flashing, multi-colored diodes danced in the night sky. Even the Mildly Amusing Moon we had sought two seasons ago at Red Lake decided to visit Buggy Nirvana nightly and bestow us with a special treat early Friday morning in the form of a lunar eclipse. The few remaining hours where filled with preparing and consuming all manner of nosh, judicious adherence to Adult Beverage Download Protocol, social visits to the various enclaves lining the shore and much needed rest.
The NorCal crew consisting of Screwy and Duane, Sean V. and G’noc, had set camp just north of the marquee Saturday afternoon with Toby and Steve in the general area where Stephan and Mano had downed kit earlier in the week. A bit south of the marquee, directly across from Coffee Bush, I deployed the Lycra shade Ofer and Salva had left in my trusteeship some seasons back. Morey and his wife, Penny Whistle Jim, Utahtami, Cyd and a few others had set their camps far south as they felt the lake bed surface was more favorable, and Ed’s A-frame camp trailer and all-white Manta sail marked the southern extremity. Eli and Sean B. of the PacNorWest contingent arrived on Sunday as well and within a few hours, buggies where assembled and ready for service. That evening the aroma of clam fritters and teriyaki chicken filled the air as the Northern Western Contingent combine culinary assets.
Monday morning saw the arrival of many others including Ofer and his son Tal fresh in from their Death Valley excursion and Salva was not far behind. As Craig and LoLo, both sponsored riders with Flysurfer, piloted their dusty motorhome to a halt nearby the shade as well, it appeared that this season’s International Camp was coming together nicely. When the giant HQ logo’ed, silver squid-lookin’ shade suddenly appeared north of the marquee, it signaled to all the arrival of grace, hospitality and good stewardship to the community in the form of Chris Shultz. Marty and his fuzzy little companion, Buddy took up position directly behind the marquee to the east as did a few others.
“The majority of sprawl in this country is produced by those who are fleeing from sprawl.”- Alex Krieger
Monday afternoon, far to the north, about half way to the DWMA line, an encampment sprung up and by Monday evening there were single line works of art decorating the evening sky. Whether it was due to the fact that Elmer’s was still uninhabitable or quiet act of conciliation, the Hard Cores had arrived and made their presence known in proper fashion. I took it as a sign of the latter for to me, this heartwarming scene was a harbinger that Earl had heard my prayers. I really wasn’t looking forward to splitting my time between Family Units if it meant commuting between Elmer’s and Ivanpah. This effectively put that baby to bed and ensured my brief time in Buggy Nirvana would be all I had hoped for, a gathering of entire Family on one playa.
With camps spread out over nearly a mile, it appeared that the “Buggy Town” of years past had been eclipsed in terms of acreage, though certainly not in terms of inhabitants. All that remained was to infill between the northern and southern extremes with land sailors and wind worshipers of any ilk or persuasion. It also meant, with all this additional acreage to cover, my social ritual of “walking the line”, an invaluable lesson CoreyLama laid on me early on, had evolved into an expedition that would require mobility enhancement beyond my trusty Leather Personnel Carriers. Perhaps I could buggy from camp to camp… hmmm… not a bad idea.
“A loaf of bread,” the Walrus said,
“Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed–
Now if you’re ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed.”
Lewis Carroll – “Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There”
Monday evening saw a most sumptuous and diverse impromptu feast under the marquee. Ever the consummate host, Chris held forth at one of the tables with tasty hors d’oeuvres. Eli had prepared oysters in butter and a secret sauce I couldn’t quite identify, though I highly suspected it was a craft beer of some fashion. Screwy had been smoking county style pork ribs for 5 hours on his pellet fueled bar-b-que until they were tender, succulent morsels just begging to be devoured. After-dinner conversation rambled on until the moon rose fully and night winds picked up. The marquee soon emptied and the night sky twinkled with multi-color lights.
By Tuesday morning, the remaining void south of the marquee filled rather quickly and by mid-day there was little room to wiggle. For this reason, many of locals who were day-tripping in for the event found the north end a bit less congested. In the space of a few days an entire village had developed around where Coffee Bush had languished lonely and friendless previously.
The competition for Best Dressed Kiter began in earnest Tuesday as well with Marc donning a loud yet curiously fashionable ensemble. Not to be outdone, Stephan and Mano entered the fray with delicately flowered night shirts and irresistibly sexy leggin’s. Of course their gowns had been altered ever so slightly at the waist to accommodate the harness hooks they worn underneath but this in no way detracted from their stunning, helmet clad, strung out street walker visage. They paused momentarily as documentary photo evidence of the crime was gathered, then set about the task of showing the world how beautiful and comfortable they felt in these new looks they were sure would set the standard for playa fashion in 2015. It should come as no surprise that when these two speed demons began their exhibition runs at manic speeds through the middle of camp sporting their sexy evening togs, their moment on the catwalk was cut short by stern, disapproving glares from the event organizers and they were shoed out onto the playa.
Magic Marcus stopped by to exchange greetings with those gathered under the shade avoiding the mid-day sun and he offered to demonstrate some prestidigitation. Most practiced magicians realize that while flawless execution is essential, the true art of their craft lies in selling the illusion, in wowing the doubters. I’m a huge doubter. So are most fools who spend good money to see a magic act just to try and pick it apart. Yeah, I’m THAT guy… Let me state for the record, Marcus is an artist. By the time he had finished, I was so befuddled I had no recourse but strong drink. An artist, I tell ya…
As the afternoon winds increased and stabilized, an interesting sight appeared on the northern horizon. A huge parafoil held aloft an air banner reading “LAKE CLOSE”. While this was a baffling message to most, to those familiar with the legend of Lil’ Joe, this double entendre was viewed as an artfully executed, brilliantly innocuous poke to the ribs. Tip ‘o the hat to ya, lads. Well played.
When Craig finally had an opportunity to sit down and rest, he related the story of how he had wadded up himself like a cheap paper cup only days before yet still managed to get around. Frighteningly graphic and far to detailed to relate here, the story involved an early evening session gone wrong that precipitated the need for medical transport from the area of Trona Pinnacles, numerous tests, x-rays, an overnight stay in the hospital and high praises for the ambulance crew, hospital staff and members of the Hard Cores camp for their brilliant and selfless actions. Throughout his story, Craig cited one person in particular who was instrumental in helping him though this evolution with a calm and reassuring hand, Dave Culp. Here’s to you Dave, well done. As you have so many times before, once again you have been of immeasurable service to your friends and the entire community, thank you.
When Richard wasn’t cruising on his monstrous terra-blades under various fashions of wind power, he was zooming about with the assistance of his Lithium Ion battery powered, electric trolley at ridiculously high speeds for the size of the power unit.
Tuesday evening was prime for night cruising. I loaded a wing with chem-lites, strapped on a head lamp and got with it until fatigue got the better of me. They say that after three days, fish and houseguests start to stink. While I had been observing strict military standards for morning hygiene, after a restless night in the front seat and two far more comfortable nights in the bed of Big Blue, I was ready for a hot shower, a proper shave and some clean sheets. After a quick nightcap with the Israeli contingent, I bid them a good night and headed to Buffalo Bills. It was well after midnight by the time I got settled and started to drift off.
Wednesday morning found me too early. Despite the accommodations, my sleep was as fitful and restless as my first night on the playa. I’m truly an outdoor animal, the king-size bed and reasonably spacious room felt more like a coffin in a tomb and that carpet in the hallway was enough to give anyone a savage case of vertigo. The only saving grace was the Porcelain Throne and Resurrection Closet in the bathroom which I pressed into service at length before heading out for mess call. I must admit, checking e-mail and posting FB updates was far easier with good lighting and far less drafty too.
Having had and with a quick stop off at the travel center to reload on ice and beer, I headed out for the playa around 7AM. It was quite late when I rolled through the Hard Cores camp the previous night so my visit around the campfire was brief. But this morning, I was on no time table and took the opportunity to stop and chat. Alas, the only ones stirring at this hour were Dave Ruster, CoreyLama and of course Corey’s constant companion, the now full-grown German Shepherd named Ben. We exchanged long overdue greetings, chatted at great length of goings-on since our last meeting. Surprisingly, Ben seemed glad to see me, through I highly suspect the mildly submissive posture, falsetto high-happy, back scratchin’ and ear lovin’s had much to do with that.
By this time, Chip was stirring. If you’ve not had the opportunity to chat with Chip Brown, you have been missing out. This guy is the single most kind, considerate, unassuming mountain of a man on this planet, in my opinion anyway. He is exceeded in this only by his father, George who is a scholar, a gentleman and a fine judge of whiskey in his only rite. Chip’s Sweetheart and travel companion for this trip, Heather is equally enchanting and erudite. You may recognize Chip on the playa as he is one of the very few to have mastered the complex art form of buggying with Revolution kites. The range of his many talents is as broad and diverse as the day is long and he adds a most entertaining verve to a story as he tells it.
Earlier, Chip had borrowed the splitting maul and hand sledge to break up some of the large Cottonwood rounds from the trailer and made short work of rending several for evening fires at the Hard Cores camp. This alone is no small feat as Cottonwood is notoriously burley, twisted and evil to split, hence the reason I had given up on the task at home and brought the tools with. After some subtle coaxing, Chip offered to demonstrate his technique so I could study and perhaps learn. Chip deftly reared the maul overhead with the ease of a child wielding a plastic toy sword and brought the 8 pound chunk of steel down on the block with a thunderous force that shook the ground. With the maul already half buried in the block, he then clutched the sledge in the other hand and proceeded to imitate a Link-Belt pile driver sending the maul head deeper and deeper into the block with each successive, rhythmic blow. All this to say, there’s no substitute for raw horsepower and this lad has it in spades. I would avoid pissing him off at all cost although, judging from his nature it would take a rather monumental and directed effort to make that happen.
Wednesday’s winds came but remained swirling, spotty and mildly turbulent most of the day so we passed much of the day visiting, toying with kit and generally larking about. Around dusk they firmed up but required a big wing to work them effectively and tailed off completely as the moon rose in the east. Once the gear was packed down and stowed for the night, we turned our attention to grilling some marinated beef and sampled a spirituous concoction I had prepared.
Doubling as both aperitif and after-dinner dram, it carries the appellation Ground Zero in The Complete Bartender handbook but tastes like a York Peppermint Patty with a nice little kick. Consisting of equal parts vodka, bourbon and peppermint schnapps with 2/3 part Kahlua, it is delightfully smooth and sneaky.
After a hearty dinner and a few pulls on the Candy Jar, I was of a mind to head a bit north to spread some societal spirit and strike up some spirited asides while sharing some spirituous swill… Try saying that five times fast.
Dave’s Handle of Maker’s Mark was rather snacky and Walt’s 15 year dram was simply sublime but as much as I dreaded the thought of offending the Skinners and their offer of the Limoncello, I had to decline. While many find it a delightful digestif, I nearly poisoned myself on a homebrew batch my “friend” made using rot-gut vodka and half-ripe lemons. No stranger to punishment, my Liver swore to spearhead an all-out rebellion if I ever so much as sniffed the citric snake venom again and I believed it. Besides, it was getting late and I was in no shape to walk much less drive. I begged my leave and bade all a good night then slow rolled Big Blue back toward Coffee Bush for I feared endangering others with my foolishness. Though it was waiting for me, I would not miss the confines of that tomb in the hotel or the vomit inducing rug tonight. Reminiscing with good friends about old times over fine spirts had left me with a sense of ease and comfort I seldom experience anywhere else. As I closed the tailgate, pulled the camper shell window to and snuggled into the bedding, a sense of peaceful satisfaction washed over me. I was finally home again, with the entire family, and it felt good.
Earl got an early start Thursday as the winds started to pick up shortly after sunrise. The one time I intended to sleep in a bit, Earl would have none of it. I hopped out of the truck bed and started fumbling through the Kitchen Kit to find coffee fixin’s when I caught Ofer out of the corner of my eye. I must have looked a complete fright because his expression was one utter horror combine with the compassion one feels for a beaten, starving dog and the morbid curiosity of witnessing a train wreck from a distance. I really couldn’t understand why, I felt fine. Other than my complete lack of neuro-muscular coordination, a throbbing in my head like stampeding bison and a thirst I was sure only an ocean would quench, I felt fine. I was fit to fight, locked, cocked and ready to rock, prepared to eat concertina wire and piss razor blades, I felt like a million buc… oh… whoa… easy there big boy… hmmm… nausea… might wanna sit down… Perhaps Ofer’s unspoken yet obvious initial assessment was correct; this might be a long day for me. Well, as they say in the big city, if you’re gonna go, Go BIG!
Salva took pity on me and made the morning brew whilst I tried to scrap the camel dung from my pie hole. I was tempted to burn my togs as they wreaked of Juicy Fruit gum and stale beer but my thrifty Swiss side kicked in demanding I double-bag them instead. Food was out of the question but after chugging a half gallon of melt water from the ice crest followed by 3 bindles of Goody’s Headache Powders dissolved in a 12 ounce Guinness with a jigger of Bushmill’s for sweetener, I was ready for the hot, inky goodness of traditional Turkish Café. 20 minutes later I was vibrating like an out-of-balance small block turning 8000 RPM but I just didn’t care. Now I was Fit.
“Bring it, Earl! I’ll kick yer boney arse right here in front of God and ever’body. BRING IT!”
And by 10AM, he had. The call went up and riders gathered in the marquee to select teams and prepare strategies for the long awaited Relay Race. The rules of the race were simple. Three riders would make one lap each around a three point course handing off a bean bag in turn. Then, the Team Captain, a sponsored rider, would make three laps with said bean bag to complete the final leg of the race with the win going to the first team to complete the course with their bean bag. (You may note that I have seemingly over-emphasized the role the bean bag plays in all this and for good reason, as you will soon see.)
With flights staged, kites gnashing and snarling at the wind, first leg riders eased into the Start/Finish gate with bean bags clenched in various unseemly fashions. On the signal, they squirted off like wet melon seeds rounding the gate heading westward on a long cross wind reach. As they rounded the second gate they began an upwind leg, some choosing short tacks while others opted for the long close haul toward the interstate. Rounding the third point they jibed and jockeyed for position on the broad reach as the next flight readied for the bean bag hand off nearing the final gate. Pandemonium ensued as riders flicked their bean bags and the second flight dashed into traffic to retrieve them. As the second flight made their way around the course, the third flight riders developed a strategy to avoid potential collision and the next hand off seemed as smooth and effortless as though Fosse himself had choreographed it.
With the third flight approaching, Team Captains, Eli, Stephan and Mano prepared to blister tires and thrash the skies for three solid laps. Eli was up first and made the grab with ease while Stephan struggled a bit for his. Mano, on the other hand completely forgot about the all-important bean bag element of the race and took off giving chase. Eli’s Chrono sliced neatly upwind but Stephan was gaining ground by the time they rounded the Start/Finish mark. The race proctor attempted to gain Mano’s attention to hand him his bean bag but to no avail as Mano rounded the mark. In a cloud of playa dust with tires howling, he laid into the crosswind leg like a wolf on the hunt and Craig, one of Mano’s teammates, hung his head in disappointment. As they rounded the Start/Finish mark completing their second lap, Stephan and Eli were neck and neck with Mano closing fast. However, this time Craig managed to stop Mano long enough to hand him his forlorn passenger and Mano was off again like a shot.
Now it was decision time for the race proctor. Should he finish the race and score Mano’s team with a DNF or leave all three on course and give Mano a rabbit to chase for his two remaining official laps. As the two leaders came into what should have been their final gate, the proctor’s decision was clear. He signaled the riders to continue on course and while Stephan seemed confused; his long and storied championship experience in the European race scene served him well. When in doubt, do what the proctor says and you can’t go wrong. With that, Stephan laid into the corner hard and Eli followed suit.
Mano, upon realizing the error of his ways, was flying like a man possessed. He blistered through the gate wide and shot out on the crosswind leg as cleanly as an F1 driver, redoubling his efforts to catch the other two. By the time he completed the fourth lap, he had over taken Eli and was closing the distance on Stephan quickly. As they approached the final gate, it was clear that all three had put forth a heroic effort and the crowd went wild in celebration. The winds turn thermic and stupid and the riders retired to the marquee to discuss the race in detail and give poor Mano an unending ration of grief.
The afternoon winds grew increasingly thermic, flukey and generally unpleasant to buggy in. Many resorted to hitching a Manta ride or giving it a go in a borrowed Blo-Kart. Masts and sails where everywhere and Penny Whistle Jim was holding an impromptu sailing clinic toward the south end of camp. It all looked like so much fun I just had to get in on the act. Marty was good enough to allow me the use of his Twinjammer, despite my limited experience. I eased the boat out of camp and headed for a clear area to refresh the skills Thrash had taught me at Elmer’s some seasons ago. It wasn’t long before I found the wind and started sheeting in and building speed like an old salt. Pure, effortless and completely relaxing, my cruise was quickly becoming the most fun I’d ever had on the playa in Bft 5-6 winds. Where my senses would normally be on high alert, sharply focused on the range of divided attention tasks that is kite buggying, this was like taking a walk on the beach. While piloting the Manta, I had time to eat an apple, text my bookie and ring up Mummzy Dearest on the ol’ celly. You think I’m kiddin’, don’t ya? While Mummzy caught me up on the latest goings on in Dogpatch, I scanned the running gear to make sure it was all in place and realized I had been ghosting the upwind wheel along about 3 inches off the deck for nearly a mile without realizing it. I hung up with Mummzy immediately. Though she didn’t call back and hasn’t since, I’m sure she’s gotten over it by now… I hope… (Hi, Mom!)
This dirt boat thing was too easy and when something seems too easy, I get very uneasy. For me, that sensation is a clear presage that an inexperienced person is about to receive a rude, merciless and perhaps life-threatening education that will leave an indelible mark in its wake. In the ancient RedNek vernacular, “sum-budy ‘bouta git a ‘pankin “ and I wasn’t about to let it be me. If kite buggying has taught me anything, it is that complacency is a killer. I mean, we all seek that aoxomoxoa state where everything slows down, the skies just seem to flow by; were one experiences an inhumanly keen sense of awareness coupled with complete relaxation that only comes with an in-flight adrenalin dump. With a force 7 gust, this Manta could get out of shape in a hurry and I was nowhere near the adrenalin level required to perform a superhuman act of mental and physical agility to recover it. In fact, after last night’s sippin’ session, I felt as keen and steely as a day old corpse. It was time to sheet out a bit and get Marty’s dream-state inducing vessel back to him in one piece. Refreshed and pleasantly relaxed, I thanked Marty profusely for his kindness and returned to camp to contemplate my sins, soothe my jangled dendrites with an icy cold brew and study the work e-mails and Facebook updates I had been ignoring all day.
By late afternoon, as the winds lightened and steadied, a curious sight appeared on the northern horizon. A buggy piloted by a chap flying a huge, all black foil off the bridles was making way south. A pilot kite was tethered to the rear axle by an air banner that read “PKC”. As he approached camp, it was clear that Andrew Beattie had come to visit on his tandem axle buggy flying a 10 meter Quadafoil on Dead Man handles sporting Plymouth Kite Club regalia. Greetings were exchanged, photos snapped then Andrew got on about beating the wind back up to the Hard Cores camp.
Lolo was up to his usual tricks as he had been all week long. Equal parts flying squirrel, Olympic caliber gymnast and cat, he was popping huge air under an 18 meter Flysurfer while twisting and spinning on several distinct axes at the same time and always landed on his feet, at least when I was watching. Genius stuff, thoroughly mesmerizing, entertaining and seemingly effortless, Lolo is an artist on a land board.
As the sun sank below the horizon, my resolve began to wane and I begged off from dinner for a shower before my last night in the catacombs of Buffalo Bills. Besides, Friday would be another day in Buggy Nirvana and I had so few left, I wasn’t about to jeopardize one with another late night sippin’ session.
And so it was that I woke to find myself in strange surroundings, knotted up in bedding wondering if Ninjas had beaten me with a sock full of nickels during my fitful sleep. How I despise sleeping indoors… unless it’s raining heavily or there are bears about, of course. Fortunately, this was my last night in purgatory; the balance of my evenings would be spent under the stars. Friday started out like any other day on the playa with one huge exception. This was the day several had selected to start their long journey back to civilization. It’s never easy dealing with seeing family members drift away into the horizon but it has to happen and life as we know it must go on. I took it as a pre-cursor of what was to come Saturday and Sunday and tried not to get too wrapped up in a quagmire of conflicting emotions just now. There would be plenty of time for that on the push back south to Occupied Northern Mexico. One saving grace was that “dinner on the playa” had been moved up to this evening which meant I’d have some time to chat with those putting out Saturday morning before they hit the road.
Though I had gotten a late start, Earl hadn’t; the winds where fair the better part of the day and the sky was filled with wings well on toward dusk. Many used the opportunity to complete the Dirt Nap Challenge. Not unlike the Out-n-Back adventure Walt and I had conquered a couple seasons back, this time there were beverages at each location and a special treat for those who managed to suss out the final location and made the journey there.
Friday seemed to be Visitation Day. John and Bambi Chilese showed up with some beautiful two-line deltas and put on an artful demonstration of technique. The vented Enigma John flew performed astonishingly well in the heavy breezes and the Impulse was rocket-fast. Bambi brought some delicious brownies for dessert after dinner and John snapped a ton of photos that can be seen in his google gallery. Elaine, our BLM Event Coordinator, made an appearance… just in time to catch Lolo watering the wrong part of the playa in typical, unabashed European fashion. That became a rather interesting play which involved Ranger Ryan and no small measure of theatrics. Ramona popped in for a bit, though I missed her, and Kent’s daughter, Kristen came by as well.
Late in the afternoon, a posse was formed to make one last group bid for the Dirt Nap final destination. As Dirk, Wexler, Chris, Brian and Dagon set out in their adventure, I don’t think they had a clue just how “interesting” things would become for them. I’m always amused by Dagon’s red jump suit with the Atomic Symbol on the back. For some reason, when he’s suited up with a helmet on, the look reminds me of The Nihilist from The Big Lebowski… I can’t explain it, it just is and it tickles me.
Ofer and Salva were sorting gear in preparation for their Saturday morning departure when Phillip and Nick came to visit International Camp. Chip and Heather popped by on a tandem rig with Chip flying a 2-4 Power Blast as an engine. They returned the implements of destruction, the maul and sledge Chip had borrowed earlier in the week and buggyed off on the evening air as swiftly and skillfully as they had arrived.
I was told Sean B. responded to only one emergency the whole week, a collision involving minor injuries, but a recovery effort was required as lines and buggys had become severely entangled. Earlier in the week concern began to mount for an overdue Dirt Nap party and he set off to check on them. Sean V., Gnok and little Brownie on a tandem rig and Toby on a land board had run out of wind on their return from the south end of Ivanpah. It was full dark by the time Sean B. and Eli reached them and nearly drove right past them.
Friday Dirt Nap Posse was a bit more fortunate as the wind was still blowing strong enough to get them back to camp just before dark despite Dirk’s 3 flat tires and Wexler’s broken axle. Looking like Depression Era Okies with broken buggys tied together and forlorn pilots riding on the back axles of the remaining ones, they trundled into town just in time for the evening feast.
Thanks to HQ and their generous sponsorship, dinner was a sumptuous spread of Italian fare including garden salad, garlic bread, meatballs, sausage, cannelloni and lasagna. No one went hungry for lack of food. Even after seconds and thirds, there were plenty of left-overs.
Then came the long anticipated moment, it was time for auctions, awards and raffle prizes. Don Edwards had prepared several Kokopeli Kiter wire-frame statues. Some were offered as raffle prizes while two particularly intricate pieces were presented as auction items to benefit the American Cancer Society, an organization Don’s entire family had become all too familiar with of late. Bidding on these two started slow but soon reached a fever pitch until the market could bear no more and the gavel dropped for the lucky winners. Casey Jones took home a tandem rig sporting an IBX pennant under a Century Soulfly canopy and Lacie won the land boarder piece that was expertly balanced.
Between drawings for the raffle prizes generously donated by Chris with HQ and Kent at A Wind Of Change, awards were presented. Dirk received Most Valuable Kiter for his tireless efforts in preparing t-shirt art work and all his many contributions throughout the event. Marc Potter barely eked out victory over Stephan and Mano for Best Dressed Kiter. However, Stephan did take home the prize for top speed at 67.5mph and Paul Glaspoole secured the award for Longest Continuous Run. The Relay Race award was shared by Eli, Dirk, Dagon and Sean V. and several posed for a group photo of those who completed the Dirt Nap Challenge.
At one point, Dirk won a Kokopeli Kiter sculpture as a raffle prize and wasted no time in placing it up for auction. Bidding was spirited and incremental until Craig dropped a generous closing bid and claimed his prize. He later confided that he was glad it all worked out as it did because his was sure his niece would simply gush over the piece.
There is so much more to all these stories and so many more to tell. I hope to someday fill in those gaps and bring you the full spectrum of experience as best I can. For now, please accept my most sincere apologies for any inaccuracies or omissions. I can assure you such errors are wholly unintentional, purely inadvertent and nothing more than evidence of a failing memory. There is however, one thing I am absolutely certain of.
At various points in my strange and convoluted past, I’ve been fortunate enough to make camp and not only survive, but thrive in places most folks recognize only from watching The Discovery Channel. Along the way, I’ve had the extreme good fortune to share those moments with some of most honorable, kind, charitable, absolutely sterling souls one could ever hope to meet. I’ve been awarded the monikers of simpleton and savant, student and scholar, screwball and sage, quite deservedly so with the former, not so much with the latter, respectively. And through it all, one overarching theme plays out time and time again:
While nothing worth having is cheap, the most valuable things in life are priceless and given freely if only one is willing to accept and cherish them.
My only hope is that this missive serves as testament to the love and admiration I hold in my heart for each of you.
Be well, see ya’ll next season.
Ken, on behalf of the whole KITE BUGGING COMMUNITY…..THANK YOU yet again for this superbly written masterpiece , for those people who cannot make such a trip, you brought the trip to us….we are indebted to you.