Doing it all the hard way...

Sunday, August 24, 2014

This time; it’s personal

A close look reveals the trifecta of disasters; Fire, Wind (snapped tree) and Rain


When the Carlton Complex fire broke out downwind of us inthe Methow it was tragic. Some of myfavorite backcountry riding trails are located in the middle of the fire. I made a quick run out to our place toaddress items related to long term loss of power. It was surreal in so many ways. In addition to losing beautiful wilderness, peoplelost homes and farmers and ranchers lost crops and cattle I felt like we wereat war and were losing friends one after another. When I left the cabin andheaded home I felt like I had put someone in a life raft and left them in themiddle of the ocean and waved goodbye as I powered away. “Good luck, I’mheading to where it is safe,” was the feeling I had.


Two weeks later when the Rising Eagle fire broke out andwas heading toward our cabin they issued a level three evacuation notice (don’ttake anything, just go NOW) for our area it became even more personal. We were in Seattle and completely helpless inthe situation and I struggled to invoke my well-honed powers of denial. I sought to adopt a philosophical outlookthat loved ones were safe etc. but the pit in my stomach reminded me that I wasnot fooling myself.


I succeeded in distracting myself and slowly let my hopebuild overnight as the reports of the fire progress slowing came in and thefire fighters gradually gained the upper hand. We finally exhaled on Sunday but our excitement was tempered by theknowledge of how close we had come to losing the place we had dreamed of for morethan a decade. What was next, famineand locusts?


How do you say thank you to the people who stood betweenyour home and a wind driven raging fire? Were it not for the Carlton Complex fire, all of the personnel needed tostop the Rising Eagle fire would not have been in place and our cabin, and ahundred others like it would be gone. Whatdo I say to the people who lost homes in the Carlton Complex fire? Were it not for their loss our place would begone. Is this some kind of morbidroulette? How do you look at the bear cub, Cinder, who suffered third degreeburns on her feet and was found crawling on elbows and knees and not feel yourheart melt? Fire wants to burn and has no concern about what or whom itdestroys.


Mudslides (a.k.a. flows as my geology professor would have said) post fire !

DG looking downright majestic

We saw a lot of this. Black and green all at once

I know that fire opens up certain types of pine cones andfire is a necessary part of the lifecycle in a forest ecosystem but that seemsa trivial consolation compared to the catastrophic drama that is a forest fire.


The emotional roller coaster of enjoying recreation in aplace that has experienced such tragedy requires a complex combination ofcompassion and dark humor to which I am probably well suited. The joy ofescaping disaster is muted by seeing other that were not so lucky. What do you say?


Hottie and I drove to a trailhead and were met byuniformed soldiers in a Humvee. Theytold us where we could and could not go and then we parked in the lot besidefire trucks. As we got on our bikes wepassed dozens of men and women who were dressed in Nomex getting a finalbriefing before heading up Thompson Road to go hand to hand with the BridgeCreek fire. How do you say, “Have funfighting the fire, we gotta ride these bikes!” How do you look them in the eye as you are playing and they are fightingto protect you? Lucky for us few turnedto look at us and we departed with minimal interaction.

Out of the green and into the black.

Green and brown and black..

I haven't figured out the dry pine needles sitting on top of black earth..

How about some heavy rains and a grey mudflow ?

My own private Oso.

In town you see people you know and some have been sparedand some have lost everything. You exchange awkward looks. My mind is thrown back to the looks exchangedbetween parents on the cancer floor at Children’s Hospital. It is a mix of thethousand mile stare and an expression that reveals their minds and heartscannot reconcile the horrific facts before them. They are just trying to makeit through the day and hope to wake up tomorrow and find it was all a terriblenightmare.


The fire zone is in mop up now and this past weekend theyopened some of the areas that had been off limits.

Black on one side, green on the other..

DG and I were some of the first people to ride roads thathad been closed for a month. The moonscape that greeted us was exactly what weexpected and we were still stunned. Theseemingly random nature of scorched earth on one side of the road and greengrass on the other was crazy.


On Balky Hill Road we saw an entire hillside that wasblack and smack in the middle there was a house that appeared untouched. Along Beaver Creek we saw several houses thatwere saved with black burned trees all around them. It was clear the fire fighters had done allthey could to save these structures. They did their job.

Hottie and I went for a ride this weekend and were stunned by the damage we saw.

We had well over 2,000 feet of climbing and had fun along the way.

Ten percent….No problem

Many trees were black but many had only partiallyburned. The ground cover was all blackand some of the rocks look like they had been spray painted black. A hard rain a week ago had been a Godsend tothe fire fighters. The burned vegetationand crusty earth didn’t hold any water and the evidence of torrents runningdown the hills was everywhere. Mudslides had left puddles of silt the size of baseball infields.


I spent the winter and spring marveling at the week toweek changes the area experiences. The changes slowed in midsummer and I amsure they will begin again as fall approaches. I look forward to watching the back country come back to live over the comingweeks, months and years.

This is what hope looks like in Pipestone Canyon

The community also will take weeks, months and years torecover. I can’t foresee what that willlook like but I do know that those who escaped catastrophe and the visitors wholove this area aren’t flinching at providing a little economic stimulation tothe valley.


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