On Playa Adventures

28 Feb

hopon busYou’ve read about the build, the trials and triumphs, the harrowing trip down– so what about the good times? Capturing every magic moment is beyond the scope of this entry but after the hair raising nature of the last entry some balance is long overdue. Not to mention that were starting to think about Treehouse 2.0 for 2014.

dmvAfter reassembling the bus on the playa we needed to get licensed… mutant vehicles require both a night and day licence to drive on the playa.  Licensing occurs at the Department of Mutant Vehicles. The lineup itself is a spectacle not to be missed, with vehicles of all shapes and sizes lining up to be inspected.  The night licence line up is particularly brilliant, where vehicles are displaying their finest effects from LED patterns to the power of their fire canons and other pyrotechnics to show the inspectors they qualify as radically lit.  The excitement builds along the line as the teams trade war stories and interesting information on features of their vehicles.  Once the sticker is on your vehicle there is a gigantic happy dance and you’re LEGIT and ready to roll!

Cruising on the playa on the top deck of the TreeHouse was like riding on one of those Hop-on Hop off tourist busses on steroids. One gets whiplash from the rubbernecking… 80 foot glowing woman statue, “Charcade” games (including my personal favorite “Dance, Dance Immolation”), a 40 foot tall steel coyote that turns its head perhaps to follow you with its gaze…… the list is too long.  coyoteRiding on the front of the top deck, holding on to the rope while the cooling breeze whipped at my hair and clothes I felt a feeling of what I can only describe as pure joy. The joy was composed of a mixture of awe at the accomplishment of a group of dedicated people who put so much of their free time, effort and money to make this happen, for this one week and the realization that I was pretty much having the most fun I have ever had. joyBeing in one of my favorite places with my favorite people riding on this piece of amazing collaborative work I have been wholly wrapped up in for the last year. Nothing less than awesome…and also truly humbling at the same time. Wow.

Here are some vignettes- quick little mental snapshots I want to hold onto:

peopleAs we dance to the top deck beats a group of about 20 glowing stick men suddenly come up and start dancing. Each stick person has a different facial expression.  The cumulative effect was hysterical and surreal – whole dance floor of glowing low detail cartoon characters.  Pro tip- watch out for the goofy baseball hat face one– he was a real groper…..

One night as we were just about to head home and almost out of fuel the Bleachers, our friends from Vancouver, pull up next to us and unload their folks. The sea of people between the two vehicles forms a kind of dance canal while the bleacher risers turns everyone dancing on them into a gogo dancer. the bleachersNeil boards the TreeHouse and heckles the crowd from a new perspective with his cordless microphone…. the TreeHouse received a coveted trophy for general awesomeness (which looked suspiciously like an old soccer trophy…..) and we all went home that much happier.

After dark one night on the deep playa we encountered a giant lit runway. the runwaySome helpful air traffic controllers indicated our path and as we drove along the runway the lights sped up (or did we?) and up to make us feel like we were travelling fast enough to take off. (It’s those kind of random encounters that keep us heading out to the trash fence.)

IMG_2173Where the upper deck is 360 degrees of awesomeness the inside is a cosy psychedelic experience. Sitting in the interior space as we were moving at night, surrounded by friends and comically large forest floor debris glowing with blacklight, you couldn’t be quite sure if the bumpity bump was us trekking across the badlands of the playa, or the result of 30 friends dancing on the platform above…

burn nightThe burn itself was a spectacular display of pyrotechnics. To watch it from up high with the creators of this beast was amazing. Oliver (8), a first time burner, speculated that the UFO was going to lift off the base then blow up. My response, “seems legit, you never know!” The burn kicked up its usual post fire dust and we danced madly in the shitstorm dustoccalypse for hours.

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Part 1 – The Epic Journey Down

10 Sep

From the pages of Mike’s Travel Journal

tree

Crossing the Border

It was a race to the start. Two nights before our departure, Gabrielle sat in our backyard until the wee hours of morning putting the finishing touches on the lighting programs of the trees, finalizing what would become the centerpiece of our dazzling mobile art piece.

Once that was completed, we dismantled the trees and canopy and packed up the bus. Our planned departure was Tuesday night via Port Angeles, but I wasn’t sure we’d be ready. Jenn was supposed to be my only passenger for the trip, but Mike J. joined at the last minute. And thank god for that. His help was instrumental in the journey to come.

In our final days we squeezed in some press coverage: including television, radio and newspaper interviews. It’s interesting how quickly word travels through the press. On the day of our departure, we were turning down further requests for interviews, as we didn’t have the time.  Our intention was that this would help legitimize our project at the border and aid  our entry into the US. We also called ahead, to let the port authority know we were coming.

on the ferryWith Jenn and Mike J. on board and a bus packed to the brim, Melanie followed us from behind, and we rolled through town, turning every head we passed. A final top-up on propane, and then we took our place in line for the Port Angeles ferry. The Victoria-side customs/immigration was a breeze. Word spread quickly through the officials as each of them stopped to poke their head in and marvel at our creation.

On the ferry, we met Liam who was headed down to assist with the Victoria CORE. We strategized together about our arrival plans. Eventually Liam would be the saint on the playa that grabbed us a big plot of land for our camp.

State-side, the official was slightly more serious, but still utterly congenial. And then we were through!! We didn’t even need to show them our newspaper clipping or official documents verifying that the wood we’d used was legit.

Finding Fuel

victoria to portlandNow the challenge at hand was to ensure we made it to each of our pre-planned propane stops since the bus runs on propane, and such fuel is not readily available. Thank you Mike Mc. for your pre-trip research!  Finding propane quickly proved difficult as most facilities around the Olympic peninsula were closed when we arrived. We watched as our gage approach empty and were forced to turn on a detour that led us further off course and away from civilization. A few miles in, we made the call to turn back and camp out for the night at the last propane stop we’d seen. The three of us arranged some foamies in the slivers of space inside the bus and attempted to sleep.

We topped up the next morning once the attendant opened the shop, and hit the road. The detour proved to only be a night-time thing, so back on course, we circumvented Seattle and headed to Portland.

Bumps on the Road

speedbump

The next major challenge arrived with a literal BANG and an accompanying WHOMP WHOMP WHOMP WHOMP. I pulled over immediately through the heavily trafficked I-5, squeezing onto a shoulder no wider than the bus and hemmed by a guard rail. Our driver-side mirror still protruded into the lane.

Jumping out, it was unfortunately what we expected, a blown tire. Luckily (thus begins our many attempts at silver-linings) it was on the passenger side, and in the rear where there were two tires per side, so we still had the other tire supporting that corner. Still, I was worried this second tire might still buckle under the weight. The bus was visibly shaking with each semi-truck that passed, and the drive so far had made it painfully apparent that the vehicle was somewhat top-heavy given our solid steel upper deck. The last thing we wanted was for the whole thing to topple over. I jacked up the back corner a bit to give it some more support, and we called BCAA. They transferred us to AAA who said they’d search for a tire. We had no spare.

Two hours later, they announced that apparently our tire was some special edition, perhaps only available in Canada and only by special order. Spirits sank and for the first time and not the last, we thought that maybe we wouldn’t make it.

I rang Melanie to enlist her help in the search. Jenn enlisted her dad (a seasoned mechanic), who clarified: no, there shouldn’t be anything particularly special about our tire. It should be readily enough available. I shared this with AAA and suggested they try harder. If their approved vendors didn’t carry it, then try someone else. Perched inches from a steady stream of speeding vehicles was clearly dangerous, and guaranteed to get worse when the sun went down. As a precautionary measure, we setup our one orange cone 50 feet behind the bus, and made our way beyond the guard rail to wait at a safer distance from the road.tire guy

Melanie found a matching tire in Victoria from a man enthusiastic to help, as he’d read our story in the paper. She would send the tire with Sylvain, who should be passing our location some time the next day. And then AAA called to say they had found one locally, from a non-AAA vendor! With only minutes before the shop closed, we paid them over the phone and they sent a truck.

The attendant arrived, jacked up the bus, and took off the tires. As he was remounting the new tire on the old wheel in front of the bus, I made one of the most stupid and dangerous moves of my life and went into the bus to get my camera. In the bus, I leaned back to reach my bag, and my shifting weight was enough to topple the jack. The bus suddenly lurched to the side, and the full 10,000 kilograms fell. While the moment it self was a blur of panic, in hindsight my thought process was: is it going to roll? …beat…beat. No, it’s stopped. GET. OUT. NOW. I jumped through the door, slicing my arm in the process. Outside Mike grabbed Jenn and pulled her clear. We stood shaking together off to the side and assessed the situation. While it was leaning at a frighteningly precarious angle, the axle had dug into the dirt and seemed to be holding. This might be a serious problem of course if the axle was now bent. But on closer inspection, the bus was also supported by the back corner frame.

The attendant shouted: “What the fuck? Did you go in the bus?”

I replied instinctively, defensively: “Well, yeah. Could your jack not support the weight? I have a 20 ton jack you can use if you need to.”

He waved me off, crawled back under the teetering bus, and used two of his jacks to again raise it level. The axle appeared to be fine.

As the daylight faded, our saviour finished up with the tire and packed his things. We offered him a tip, but he refused, insisting that the collapse had been his fault. I still believe it was mine.

Parking Lot Adventures

We started up again, shaken and exhausted and ready to crash ..er.. retire. Our first choice was a Walmart parking lot in cheech and chongVancouver, Washington. But between the signs stating no overnight camping and a friendly pair of cheech-and-chong look-a-likes warning us about the nosey crack-heads that inhabited the place, we decided to move on. We settled on another Walmart lot further down the road, but apparently this one was still not free from the night-time interlopers. Around 3am, laying in the bus with my face toward the cracked door, I awoke to a creepy sketcher slurring at me about something. cheech and chongHe was apparently concerned that we were not allowed to be there and insisted he would tell on us. I curtly repeated my thanks for his concern over and over until he stumbled away, mumbling, and I went back to sleep.

The next day we made the decision to completely unpack and repack the bus. We were concerned that we had too much weight in the rear and this could have caused our flat. The back tires were bubbling significantly while the front tires were smooth. And this was still the case even after inflating them all to the prescribed PSI.

Our hopes that the previous day’s drama wouljenn repacking the busd be our last were quickly quashed. Sweating through the process of rearranging heavier things towards the front, I asked Mike (who I should mention wears glasses) to help me install a locking mechanism on the passenger door. The idea was to drill a hole in each half-door and then run a thick bike lock through the holes. I gave him Joe’s heavy drill and bit set for the job. He lifted the drill to eye level and pulled the trigger. The bit caught and the powerful drill tossed Mike to the side. For the second time, I failed to recognize the serious danger of the situation. And for a second time, he raised the drill near his face, pulled the trigger, and lurched forward as the drill seized. This time he paused, looked at me blankly, and asked: “am I bleeding?”

Yes. He was. Blood was running down his face.mike jackson

“Jenn, I think we’re going to need your nursing skills.”

She came out and inspected him. The plastic lens on his glasses had broken. It wasn’t yet clear how bad the cuts on his face were, but (cue silver-lining) luckily his eye seemed clear. Tapping into the onboard first aid kit Scott had graciously prepared for us, she taped a compress to his face to stop the bleeding. Stable and taking it well, Mike kept the jokes rolling, as we quickly finished the repack. The load distribution on the tires looked much better, and once more we set off.

Mountain Climbing

road

Our chosen path stemmed from Jared’s research on the various rates of altitude change for the possible routes. Given our total weight (which was close to if not beyond our GVWR) and the gut-less nature of a 1980’s-style propane conversion, our goal was to minimize the amount of hills and mountains we had to climb (and descend). This path took us from Portland along the stunningly scenic Colombia River all the way to the Dalles. Here, the beauty of an immense dam was contrastedrainbow by a disturbed and mangled-looking fellow who insisted that Burning Man had been cancelled this year, or so he’d heard at the last Rainbow gathering.

From the Dalles we turned south, and started up what would be our second biggest climb of the trip. Clearing the mountains at a blazing top speed of 20 mph, we stopped in Bend for some Trader Joe’s goods and dry ice. By nightfall, we arrived in “K-Falls” (apparently the hip way to say Klamath Falls) and proudly reported to home-base on our progress. A couple cheap but relatively spacious and soft motel beds were in order after our second day of drama. Mike J appeared to be okay with only small cuts above and below his eye. Thankfully he also had some extra glasses waiting for him on the playa.

It was now Friday morning, the day we were scheduled to arrive via early entry passes to Black Rock City. It still seemed possible, at least by nightfall. We made the customary stop at Fred Meyer’s and then departed K-Falls for Alturas, where we made the last customary stop for water and liquor. Between Alturas and the next town, Cedarville, we would face our greatest vertical rise for the trip, and our next major challenge.

Crdirections_mapossing from California into Nevada, the leg is only 23 miles, but you must climb over 2,000 feet to the Cedarville pass before dropping back into the town. Needless to say, at a top speed of 20 mph, we collected a long string of following vehicles as we approached the summit. I dutifully (and lawfully apparently) pulled to the side to let others pass and give “Pokey” a chance to rest. (While the primary impetus for dubbing our bus Pokey should now be obvious, the second reason stems from the many splinters he’s lodged in our skin after making contact.)

While pulling to the side, the engine stalled. And given a rather peculiar mechanical design, applying the brake, with the engine off is far less effective. Pressing harder on the pedal resulted in a sudden whooshing sound and even less response from the braking system. Shall I reiterate that we have just crested a 6,300 foot mountain pass?

cryI yanked the e-brake and coasted to a stop with only a few feet of shoulder left. In addition to compromised brakes, we appeared to have a second problem: now the engine wouldn’t start. It wouldn’t crank. Turning the key, nothing happened. Making our way to the front of the bus, we noticed a third problem: pink fluid was steadily pouring out of the engine. And since such a trifecta of misfortune is obviously not enough, our phone’s confirmed a fourth issue, we had no service. Oh right, and the sun was only a couple hours from the horizon.

woman in bikiniThe one thing we had going for us was that this close to the playa, we had fellow burners frequently passing. Jenn fashioned a sign reading “Mechanic?” and did her best “Vanna White” behind the bus.

Under the hood, I found the source of the spilling fluid. The coolant reservoir had come loose and fallen against the burning-hot radiator, which in turn had melted holes in the reservoir. Fortunately these holes were about half-way up the container, and once the level had dropped to the “fill” line, the flow abated. I zap strapped the reservoir back in place, and attempted to duct tape the holes. We suspected one of the two batteries was the cause for the engine not starting. Prior to the trip, one of the terminals had broken off the leftmost battery. I jankily reattached the cables using a bolt and a clamp. Wiggling this clamp yielded some sparks, crackles and smoke.

Meanwhile Jenn scored a couple customers in the rear. The first was a sharply-dressed Seattle duo in a BMW. They asked how they could help, and frankly we weren’t sure. The best we could fathom was to send for a mechanic once they made it down to Eagleville. They obliged and left. The second vehicle yielded a kind gentleman who joined me under the hood to help troubleshoot. He suggested trying the headlights which we did, and they worked! This was puzzling but encouraging. I tried the engine again and it started!! My clamp-jiggling must have done the trick.

Our only remaining obstacle was the brakes which now made an airy WOOSH whenever we pressed the pedal despite the fact that they were not air brakes. We tested them: I crept forward a few feet and pressed hard. We stopped. They did still seem to function, granted at about 25% effectiveness. That was enough for us. We put it in first gear and Pokey crept down the mountain with flashers on and the kind gentleman following behind.

cedarvillePulling into Cedarville, the first gas station attendant congratulated us for making it down. Word had spread. Then she directed us to a fantastically helpful mechanic named John located just down the road. John dropped what he was doing to aid us and quickly identified the brake problem as a punctured diaphragm. He could order the part, but it would be days before it arrived. While we were still 100 miles from Black Rock city, the bulk of the hills were behind us. The remainder was relatively flat. Even with only 25% braking power, we figured moving on was our best course of action. John would order the part, and we would stop on our way back to have him fix it. So on we went!

Home!

Night fell and Pokey trudged along, using the light of the full moon to navigate springing deer and lurking cattle. The familiar smell of desert sage signalled we were getting close. We descended the final set of small hills, passing the lights of Gerlach to the right, and completed the last 17 miles.  As our tires hit the playa, waves of joy and relief flooded over us. And as the dust rose up, our eyes glistened. The TreeHouse had arrived. We were home.

on the road

Tree House on the road to Burning Man!

15 Aug

thank youIt’s been an incredible month of support, community, and of course, lots and lots of hard work.  We cannot tell you how grateful the Tree House team is that you answered our call.  We have had so much FUNraising  and have almost reached our financial goal of $20,000.  From parties to costume sales to really expensive hot dogs – you opened your homes and your wallets so that we could go HOME to the playa.  THANK YOU!!!

So how’s the Tree House you ask?

AMAZING!  The Tree House arrived in the back yard with new brakes and other super important parts fixed.   Our electrical team has been working around the clock soldering and wiring the bus for lights and sound.  The build crew literally has not stopped and the wooden facade now stretches around the exterior.   We also have a dj booth on the upper deck! Finally the decorating crew have been putting the finishing touches on the rooftop canopy and forest flourishes.   Those of you who came to our community BBQ saw the Tree House in all its glory.

You may have also seen the Tree House on TV.  Check out our local Shaw TV community profile.

What’s left? lights on tree

There is STILL lots to do to before the bus takes to the streets next week.  The fibreglass trees and rooftop canopy must be removed packed inside.  Sound equipment and camp infrastructure need to be packed.  All hands on deck until we hit the streets!

Next Stop Black Rock City (BRC)

Two members of our team will be leaving Victoria on Tuesday to drive the bus to BRC. If you see a giant Tree House driving through the streets – that’s us!  If you are also travelling to Burning Man this year – come say hi!  Look for the green beacon and listen for the house beats, somewhere on the 9 o’clock side.  )’( brc

Tree House parked unexpectedly. Apparently blood, sweat and tears are not enough.

3 Jul

Hi TreeHousers!  

It’s been a while since our last update – we have been crazy busy getting the Tree  House ready for Otherworld – planned as the big Tree House debut.

Those of you that were there may have noticed that while the Tree House provided a pretty awesome main stage experience, the bus was not in attendance.

NightTreeWhat happened?IMG_2173

We had what they call in movie scripts “a major setback”. In short, the bus needs some mechanical repairs and it got waylaid in the shop. The issues were large and unexpected enough to prevent the bus from travelling to Otherworld BUT not so big that we lost momentum.

What does this all REALLY mean??? MAKE MORE MONEY!

The Tree  House will prevail! We have put in too much blood, sweat, and tears to park our dreams by the side of the road now.

working on busAlthough solving the mechanical problems will increase our expenses approximately $4,000 the major construction work is complete and bus is pretty much ready to go.600927_10151694564998793_1160768328_n

It is time to redirect our energy into generating the funds to realize our dream of taking Victoria’s first art bus to the playa!   In short ……

WE NEED YOUR HELP!

Now more than ever.  For those of you who have always wanted to contribute, this is your chance! 

donate

How can you help you ask? 

  1. Donate cash – push our button! It’s that easy.
  2. Are you a mechanic? We’d love a little help on some of the smaller things that need work on the bus.
  3. Attend our events (details coming soon to our facebook page).
  4. Purchase a t-shirt from the friendly Tree House team! (Supplies are limited – get yours soon!  $25 for men’s $30 for women’s)
  5. Do you know any benevolent millionaires? Introduce us!
    We promise to shower you with gratitude and, if you’re on playa this year, provide awesome art car riding experiences.

pinktop

Application Approved! Now help us reach the goal…

29 May

600927_10151694564998793_1160768328_nIt’s all coming together! Burning man has approved our application and invited us to bring the Tree House to the playa this year.

We wish to offer a BIG THANK YOU to everyone that has helped us get this far through generous contributions and many, many hours of work. It’s already been a most amazing gathering of the community to turn a dream into a unbelievably, awesome reality.

donateWe still have a little ways to go though. Please help by clicking here to donate. We still have a number of materials to buy for the brilliant, fiber glass trees, full-spectrum LED lighting, bus maintenance (breaks and propane…we have to get there (SAFELY) after all!), generator rental, and fuel for the vehicle as well as the generator.

We are SO close and every contribution helps. We very much appreciate you generosity!

Thank you,
The Tree House Team

Tree House rocks the Kasbah!

6 Apr

Tree House hit the road to Kasbah last weekend – Burn Vic’s spring 2013 community event.

photo (1)

The Tree House build team put in long hours during the days leading up to Kasbah and the Tree House now has one wooden exterior wall – with windows!  

The Tree House decorating team created an enchanted forest lounge inside.

The response to the Tree House was so inspiring. Perhaps due to the delicious gourmet sandwiches we served beside the Tree House!

IMG_2175IMG_2173

Event participants were each given Artopoly dollars to pledge towards the artists and teams represented there.

The Tree House received the highest votes!!  This means the Tree House will be receiving an art grant from Kindle Arts Society.

THANK YOU BURN VIC!!  And special thanks to Kindle for putting on such a great event!!!

IMG_2176

The trip to Kasbah also allowed us to test the bus on the highway and do some prolonged parking lot driving.  As a result we are looking at adding an additional propane tank to ensure sufficient fuel levels for extended playa cruising.

Build efforts continue – we are now building a reverse mold for the fiberglass trees in a sand box.  Come (build) and then play in our sandbox!

And more FUNdraising at the Incognito Masquarade this weekend.   We will be lighting up the dance floor so we can light up our trees!

Incognito

Also T-Shirts are selling fast – don’t wait to get yours! On sale at Incognito and through the Tree House team.

Tshirts

How to Build a Tree House – From the Top Down

18 Mar

Rooftop Deck
Bus with DeckSolid team efforts in metal working, engineering and carpentry over the past few months.  Welding Workshop - Instructed by Jo PooleRooftop deck is now in place!  Decking is made of wood and supported by welded and bolted steel.  Calculations to date support a seriously rocking bus top dance and viewing station!

A very special thank you to Jo Jo for the use of your metal shop and expertise!  And to all volunteers who helped to build the rooftop platform – you made this!!  The bus has now returned to the backyard where build efforts continue EACH WEEK something new and exciting to work on.

Tree Armature
yasrextreeTree houses need trees.  We have been experimenting with wooden armatures to form the tree trunks.

Our first test armature was covered in chicken wire and burlap dipped in flour paste to form the bark.  That tree prototype was on display at the New Year’s Eve party.

The tree limbs will support the detachable leaf canopy.leafsweatshop

Our leaf making sweatshop workers have made hundreds of fabric leaves which will attach to the net canopy.  Some of these festooned our Green NYE.

Exterior Design
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More recently we have been discussing tree forms made from fibreglass. This would allow us to  light the trees from inside.  Last weekend the build crew made our first fibreglass prototype in a concrete form.

Daves modelCheck out Dave’s new model showing detail of tree sculpture ideas.  Inspired by birch trees.

There will be four to eight trees spaced at intervals around the outside of the bus.

Multiple sketches of the tree house exterior have been shared. sketchasketchb

Peeking in between the trees will be a janky wooden exterior.  The wooden fort facade will be attached to the outside of the bus between trees.  We are considering used barn board/resawn or ripped/stained plywood which we will either screw directly to bus or via assembled panels.

Last weekend the team painted the yellow exterior with neutral colours.  Check out the difference a day makes:

bus

Interior Designc
flooringEnchanted forest sweatshop workers have been busy creating mushroom stools and leaf pillows for inside the tree house.  Check out the awesome work!

Last weekend the inside was also painted green (like the forest undergrowth) with a yellow ceiling (sunny days)!

pillowsSound System
We have purchased a two monstrous subs and one amp.  We are still on the hunt for an amp for our tops.   We seriously cannot wait test this out at an event soon.

Speaking of which Kasbah!  Our plan is to set up the inside of the Tree House for Kasbah! Come visit!

kiwiFundraisingposter
We had a super fun and successful NYE party.  We also had an amazing time at Chinatown Events special venue on February 16th.  These events have brought us even closer to our goal of $20,000.  T-shirts will soon be available,  support Tree House – look cool!

Coming Soon
Friday March 22ndHush Nightclub (Gano, McCaffery, Scott and Sylvain)
Saturday April 6th – Chinatown events Incognito Masquerade  tickets $15 available at Paradise Boutique

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