This weekend was full of surprises. Some good, like this bright yellow rain jacket I got on Sunday because I still haven’t figured out my personal style and I just couldn’t stop looking at it.
But also some bad, like the fires that are raging in the mountains near Boulder. There are several that are further from us and started back in August, but a couple more that sparked on Saturday and Sunday forcing evacuations, road closures and immense devastation. It’s all just so sad and feels even more tangible because I saw the flames with my own eyes.
On Saturday, a friend and I were really lucky that we had just gotten off the mountain from a ride when the thing started only a handful of miles from where we had ridden. But I’ll start from the beginning.
The first fire is the Cameron Peak fire, which is now the largest fire in Colorado’s modern history surpassing 205,000 acres. It ignited on August 13th on the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests near Cameron Pass and Chambers Lake. That is way north of us west of Fort Collins. Every once in awhile, when the winds really pick up, smoke descends on Boulder, dumping ash all over the surrounding towns. Some days I’ll wake up to burned pine needles covering my car and other days it will rain ash like snow from the sky in the middle of the day.
Then there’s the Williams Fork fire. That one also started in August and is burning west of Denver in the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests as well as the Pawnee National Grassland. Unfortunately, this one was caused by humans, and so far it’s burned more than 14,000 acres.
Next is the East Troublesome fire located in Grand County moving toward Highway 125, covering more than 12,000 acres. Dry conditions haven’t helped things and they’re estimating a containment date of November 10th.
Finally, the CalWood and Lefthand Canyon fires; the most recent and the two closest to us. CalWood started on Saturday afternoon and Lefthand started on Sunday, just when we thought we were going to get some relief from the rain and humidity. We didn’t.
On Saturday morning, before these two broke out, I met my friend in Boulder for a ride up into the mountains northwest of Boulder. We climbed and climbed, heading up first towards Jamestown then up Lefthand Canyon before turning on a trail called Rowena. It’s this awesome gravel singletrack connector on private property that dumps you out on the top of Sunshine Canyon—a popular way to get to Gold Hill.
Even though most of the leaves had fallen to the ground and even though the skies were grey, the trail was gorgeous. It’s flowy and technical in some spots.
It snakes around the side of the mountain, offering beautiful views here and there between the tree breaks. I wondered if the property owners up on the mountain maintained the trail for the riders and hikers themselves? What a gift.
The weather was blustery and on the verge of too hot while we were climbing and too cold when we were descending. The key to riding in Colorado is packing layers because you just never know when you’re going to want to take something off or throw on a vest and gloves to get back to town.
We were having an awesome time on Rowena—it was my friend’s first—then when we got to the top of Sunshine, the winds really picked up. I’m ok with cold. I’m ok with heat. But I very uncomfortable with and frankly terrified about riding in high winds, especially descending down a mountain. I had to stop and walk my bike a couple times because the gusts were blowing me all over the road; the last thing I wanted was to get blown into a car or worse, off the side of a hill.
By the time we made it back down to town, it was a little after noon. My friend rolled home to his place in Boulder and I started my way back east to Louisville. On my way home I saw smoke billowing from the side of the mountain. Like a chimney, the mountains looked as if they were exhaling thick plumes of smoke into the sky. I knew it had to be a fire but I didn’t know exactly where it was located or how close it actually was town.
Then we got the news.
CalWood sparked and because of the high winds, it spread like, well, a wildfire, gobbling up land in its path. Texts went out to friends offering shelter during evacuations. Tweets suggested people leave water outside for wildlife fleeing the hills.
I drove back to Boulder from Louisville a couple hours later. The sky to the north was a deep grey, almost black, as if a thunderstorm were rolling in. But it was just smoke. I stood outside of an REI feeling helpless and not helpful. Was I really going to go…shopping? While the forests are burning? Or do I go home and stay inside? I wasn’t personally affected, yet there were thousands of acres going up in flames and firefighters risking their lives to stop the blaze, and I just watched it happen. I don’t know…it was a strange feeling.
On Sunday, we all thought we’d get some relief. Cold weather, rain, and humidity rolled in, which I believe helped contain some of CalWood. I headed to the Marshall Mesa trail just outside Boulder for a chilly jog.
I wore shorts in 35* weather like an idiot, so when I got done my quads were totally numb.
Then, mid-morning the Lefthand Canyon fire started, forcing more evacuations. More smoke mixed with the overcast clouds and we all just prayed the conditions would help calm the fires and help it move a bit more slowly.
Today it’s Tuesday, October 20th, and it they’re still going. Since Saturday, planes have been buzzing by overhead non-stop. More people have lost their homes. National forest lands are now closed. I can only hope we get some relief soon as we head into cooler months. I think we’re expecting wintery weather this week, which feels like a huge blessing.
Hope you all are staying safe. What did you do this weekend?