Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Ephemerisle 2015

What is Ephemerisle?


Seeking to answer just this question, last Saturday I woke at 4am, got on a plane, met P at SFO, rented a car, and drove out to Paradise Point Marina, near Stockton. There, we were given a simple task - load the contents of a few trucks onto five waiting houseboats.

On the first pass we were so successful that, laden beneath 20,000lbs of 3/4" ply, the houseboat engines were too submerged to be used. Weight redistribution followed, meaning more lifting of things, powered by Clif bars and snacks.

The evening eventually approached and we motored out to our anchorage site, a few miles to the west, where levees convey the tidal Sacramento delta inland between sunken fields. The next big flood will be a lot of fun!

Once safely moored, we began a suicidal work effort to deploy all the loaded goodies, including hundreds of truck inner tubes needing inflation, into a series of floating platforms interconnected by floating bridges. No drills were dropped into the soup, but one or ten screws were over-screwed, leading to spontaneous tube deflation. Over the next few days, this process continued, trading inexperience for sunburn, sweating through the day and hunting moths by headlamp at night.

Relative scarcity of mobile phone coverage meant interaction with fellow humans in direct line of sight. It took about 30 seconds to walk from one end of the steadily evolving ephemeral isle (see what I did there) to the other. We broke our evenings of work to consume amazing cooked food and/or snacks, talk with other similarly crazed people, and assiduously avoid literacy. Adding people on facebook the following week has been a lot of "That's how they spell their name? Woah!"

Ephemerisle is a ~6 year old experiment in techno-anarcho-libertarianism, where enthusiasts build a temporary floating city, or city of cities, in one protected cove. I was part of Elysium, the most absurdly over-organized contingent, although probably 20 autonomous units eventually compose Ephemerisle. It's an exercise in sea-steading, an experimental political idea. Somewhat ironically, the most successful (by some metrics) islands are the ones with the most comprehensive governance structure. There was, however, plenty of room for political diversity. Perhaps 3 years ago, the event grew to the point that all the houseboats were rented. Hence the floating platforms to make more room. These kinds of events, of which Burning Man is probably the most iconic, are very interesting places to witness the spontaneous creation of a culture.

The climate was perfect, the sunsets sublime, and no shortage of opportunities to rip off the sun-protective layer and swim a few laps in the refreshingly cool water. The moon, Saturn, Jupiter, and Venus lit the evening sky.

On Tuesday morning, it was time to move on. I said goodbye and P and I motored back toward the bay area, the island not entirely complete. I stopped off in Pleasanton, watched Terminator 5, and caught up with my friends M and B, who live in nearby Dublin. The following day M and I walked the nearby golden hills. Later that day, I reconvened with another friend and drove back to LA, skipping my flight in preference for door-to-door service and less ear-popping company.

And there the story ends.

Or does it?

The following Saturday was THE day of the event - one day before deconstruction. I had a hankering to see what the completed island looked like, so I took another friend (C) and a trusty aeroplane and, after a delay caused by my phone ceasing to work, flew back up there. We picked up a solid headwind on the eastern side of the California central valley, took a quick detour up to Yosemite valley, then zoomed down to sea level (+500 feet) to overfly the island, take pictures, and then land at a nearby airfield. 

If only I had a sea plane! We took and Uber to the marina, then waited for a ferry out to the event. Once there, our ferry made a stop on a large research vessel boat, stranding us short of our goal by about 200m. I had non-waterproof stuff, so couldn't just swim. Eventually we made it, said hi to all the people, admired the finished product, lamented the untimely death of the sanctuary, and then ferried back out to the marina. We hitched a ride to the airport, refueled, and were on our way.

The sun gradually set as we screamed down the western side of the central valley, flying the direct GPS route back to El Monte airport. A long flight afforded C a great opportunity to practice following the needle, and I had enough time to practice tweaking the trim and balance for more airspeed. Soon enough we came down over the mountains and landed, with only 10 more errands to run before sleep.

Needless to say, I took things easy the following day!

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