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Wednesday, Sep 11 1996
There were more rumors than hangovers in the wake of this year's Burning Man festival in Nevada's Black Rock Desert. Most of the prattle surrounded two events: a motorcycle accident that killed one man, and a reckless driver who plowed over two tents, injuring three.

Michael Furey, the motorcyclist, died at dusk on Tuesday, Aug. 27. According to roommate John Lieb, Furey, 38, spent that afternoon looking for "some drinks and some girls" in the nearby town of Gerlach. "He found both," Lieb says.

After several drinks, two women offered to tote Furey back to camp. He refused, and jumped on his Harley.

When he hit the playa, the wide-open lake bed that leads to the main camp, Furey gunned his bike, doing doughnuts on the dry soil. Emerging from a dust cloud, the cyclist ran head-on into an oncoming van. Pershing County Sheriff Ron Skinner says Furey died instantly of "blunt-force impact."

Furey's death resonated throughout the weekend, partly because he was close -- a "self-proclaimed manager" -- to Burning Man punk act Polkacide. Furey was also behind the late-'80s band the Grateful Dead Kennedys, recognized for his neon, and well-known for gregarious behavior after a few drinks at Polkacide shows. "He kinda died doing what he did best," says Lieb, who plays trumpet with Polkacide.

Later in the long weekend, Larry Dean Hudson Jr., driving a borrowed blue 1996 Pontiac Grand Am, ran through two tents near the rave camp, early Monday morning. Of the three campers hospitalized, one is in critical condition, another is in serious condition, and the third has been released. According to Skinner, Hudson was charged with driving while intoxicated and causing bodily injury, possession of a controlled substance and of paraphernalia (a hypodermic needle), and reckless driving. He is being held in Pershing County without bail.

By far the biggest rumor after the event was that organizers were fed up with the largest crowd in the 10-year event's history and would dismantle Burning Man.

Not so, says founder Larry Harvey. Despite Furey's death (the first ever), the Hudson accident, and several other fender benders, Harvey says this year's crowd of 8,000 to 10,000 was the most well-behaved to date. However, he is worried about the amount of traffic on the playa. "Have we reached the maximum amount of people that can attend? Absolutely not," he says. "Have we reached the maximum amount of vehicles? Yes." Harvey says plans are already in the works to create a public transportation system next year to move cars off the desert floor. "We are going to redeem that guy's death," he says.

By Jeff Stark

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  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

    Downtown Nevada City
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    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
    A 16-room motel a short walk from downtown, each room features a unique décor, such as the Paddlers’ Suite or the Wildflower Room. A friendly staff and an office full of information about local trails, swimming and biking gets you started on your outdoor exploration. Amenities include an outdoor shower, a summer swimming pool and picnic tables and barbeques. Don’t miss the free vegetable cart just outside the motel in the mornings.

    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

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