After 10 days of Burning Man emergence, a sensory overload of lights, fire, noise, heat and dust (the sneaky kind that buries itself into your luggage like a desperate stowaway), all you want is cool air, quiet neighbours and some fresh water to soak your aching bones in.

By this standard, Lake Tahoe ticks all the right boxes, allowing you to swop 60 000 crazed burners for 60 000 pine trees and a few polite chipmunks and squirrels. Even the birds know to keep their morning chats to a sensible decibel. Either that or my ears had been clubbed to death by the heavy base of the BM clubs and sound cars.


The problem post BM is that you have become accustomed to being “gifted” everything from your morning latte to tequila shots and daily meal, so it’s a bit of a shock when you step back into this dollar-driven society and some lady in a small booth asks you to pay $45 for a piece of ground to sleep on. It’s a very hard come down, made harder by the fact that I was later greeted by this sign…


But a drought is a drought and even burners have to play their part, even if the reflection in the porto loo mirror reveals your hair to be dusty wig from a bad period film.

Luckily we were used to practicing one of the 10 key principles of BM – self-reliance. Who says you need pipes and sewage to make a shower? We had a lake and Dr Brommers organic soap, which is much more ecological than most of the sunscreens that get washed into the lake. Never mind the petrol heads that tow rubber men on water skis. We did the maths and worked out that our ecological footprint would fall somewhere between a chipmunk and a RV camper.


Some tips for illegal bathing:

1)     Soap the essential bits at the campsite and then run down to the water to activate the ingredients.

2)     Instead of making small, embarrassed movements that could be detected by eye or binoculars, stick with big gestures that could be likened to you reacting to the cold, snow-melt water. (ie  pull your hair out and rub your body vigorously and turn washing your armpits into a new Simian stroke.)

3)     Go early. People are lazy and the early risers are usually doing some illegal activity themselves, like walking their dog on the beach without a lead.


We were just getting into our new quiet routine when we were attacked by the most dangerous creature in the forest – loud, drunken neighbours. Anyone who finishes a bottle of tequila and lighter fluid on a two-day camping trip is probably not a couple you would want to share a conversation or camping table with.

I wish we could say that Patty and Paul were like Chip and Dale, a couple of cheeky chipmunks making innocent mischief. Instead they were the kind of neighbours that spend hours praising the peace and quiet of the woods in the day only to get drunk on tequila and shout down someone for putting their car lights on bright to pitch their tent at night.

Of course we didn’t know this on the first day, when they introduced themselves over a beer (us) and tequila (them). Patty was staying off the carbs, she told me, but clearly had no problem drowning her kidneys in tequila. They seemed innocent enough at first, although we should have known than anyone who calls logs kindling and starts every fire with lighter fluid, only to boast about their efforts afterwards, is somewhat delusional, if not potentially dangerous.

By the time this dawned on us and we started signalling each other to escape, we were already sitting in their camping chairs, around their raging lighter-fluid fire, complicit to their loud, drunken rants that could be heard by our neighbours, quietly cooking their meat and three veg over a respectable, quiet campfire. We escaped. They passed out. And the whole campsite got to stay awake to the sounds of patty’s Tequila snore vibrating through the open-air amphitheatre.

All I could think of was how strange it is that we have all these rules and devices (like bear lockers) to protect campers from the dangerous animals in the woods when there is little to no protection against the most dangerous one of all – ignorant man.


Musing on beauty (nature) and the beast (human nature)


Categories: TravelUSA

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