A Nec­es­sary Evil

Mountain Bike for Her - - Front Page - Words by Michelle Lam­bert

The dog days of sum­mer are com­ing to an end and many of us are look­ing for­ward to the cooler weather, rainy days, and the crunch of dried leaves on the damp pave­ment. There is noth­ing like a late af­ter­noon ride on a brisk fall day in the fresh clean air, en­hanced with the slight scent of smoke from neigh­bour­hood fire­places to awaken your senses and make you feel re­ju­ve­nated af­ter a long hot sum­mer.

I al­ways look at my cal­en­dar with an­tic­i­pa­tion as the last few days of Au­gust are thrust upon us with a hazy swel­ter­ing sup­pres­sion that seems as if it will never end. When I look out at the hills above my house they loom down over me with a parched bar­ren land­scape that seems un­fit for any­one or any­thing ex­cept for our favourite ven­omous reptile, the rat­tlesnake. Many swel­ter­ing af­ter­noons I will take a quick glance at the des­o­late dry hills where I can see one of my favourite trails wind­ing its way up the ris­ing hill but on one par­tic­u­larly beastly hot day I peeked out the win­dow to ob­serve a large plume of black smoke snaking up to­wards the sky.

Cal­i­for­nia is cur­rently un­der one of the worst droughts on record and with record break­ing tem­per­a­tures all sum­mer long it has been an end­less hot mis­er­able sea­son. Many ex­perts pre­dicted there would be mas­sive wild­fires this year; un­for­tu­nately they have been proven right. Up and down Cal­i­for­nia, there have been fires at some of the places I have rid­den my moun­tain bike.

As I write this ar­ti­cle, the Canyon Fire in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia has burned ev­ery­thing in its path. At least 400 homes have been de­stroyed and the fire has dis­placed more than 60,000 peo­ple. The coun­ties of Lake, Sonoma, and Napa are heav­ily dam­aged and sev­eral peo­ple are re­ported miss­ing.

The fire first un­leashed its fury in a place called Cobb Moun­tain, a pop­u­lar area for moun­tain bik­ing. I have been there sev­eral times for the Boggs Clas­sic cross-coun­try moun­tain bike race, which has been tak­ing place since the 1990’s. The race is held on the beau­ti­ful forested trails around Cobb Moun­tain and show­cases some of the finest rid­ing in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia. The mostly sin­gle­track course is quite tech­ni­cal and the race it­self is very stren­u­ous and in­cludes a beastly fire road climb each lap. I have many fond mem­o­ries of this race, in­clud­ing my proud­est mo­ment in rac­ing: a sec­ond place in the ex­pert cross-coun­try cat­e­gory.

My hus­band Rick and I have camped in Boggs and we have stayed in a quaint lo­cal mo­tel in the nearby town of Cobb, which has been re­duced to rub­ble by the mas­sive fire. The com­mu­ni­ties of Cobb and the nearby town of Mid­dle­town have been rav­ished by the fire and it is an ab­so­lute tragedy. For the moun­tain bik­ers of North­ern Cal­i­for­nia it is a ter­ri­ble sight. How­ever, as with any for­est fire, even­tu­ally new growth will be­gin to spring up from un­der the ashes and bring green back to the charred land­scape and the peo­ple of Cobb and Mid­dle­town will re­build their cities.

Look­ing out my back win­dow I can see that the plume of smoke is dou­bling in size; soon it be­comes ap­par­ent that this fire is within the lo­cal park sys­tem where I do a ma­jor­ity of my moun­tain bik­ing. Rick and I de­cide to get a closer

look to see if our trails are ac­tu­ally on fire. We hop into our car and drive five min­utes through the neigh­bour­hood to find that the roads are blocked off. It’s so freak­ing hot, con­di­tions are ripe for a fire. Be­fore long fire trucks ap­pear in the dis­tance, blast­ing their ear-bleed­ing sirens as they fly by us in ob­vi­ous ur­gency.

By now the flames are leap­ing off the top of the ridge, glow­ing or­ange and red even in the bright mid­day light. Soon the wa­ter and re­tar­dant drops be­gin and the he­li­copters and drop planes fly ac­ro­bat­i­cally over the leap­ing flames, dous­ing the ever-en­croach­ing fire. Un­for­tu­nately, the fire is dan­ger­ously close to houses; the fire­fight­ers work hard to cre­ate a fire­break that will pre­vent the fire from de­stroy­ing the nearby neigh­bour­hood. South­ern Cal­i­for­nia is known to have wild­fires so the fire­fight­ers here in Ven­tura County are quite adept at putting fires out quickly. They were able to douse the fire by the next morn­ing sub­se­quently not a sin­gle house was lost.

I have never ex­pe­ri­enced a wild­fire that close to my home nor had one af­fect my lo­cal rid­ing spot be­fore. It was quite a new and scary ex­pe­ri­ence for me.

A cou­ple of days later, Rick and I rode our bikes over to the trail­head so we could check out the con­di­tion of the trails and see what the dam­age was. It was re­ally eerie to see the charred and still-smol­der­ing trees lin­ing the trail. The ground was cov­ered with a thick white ash and puffs of smoke were ris­ing up from the trail­side as we made our way slowly through the burned out ar­eas. The pun­gent smell of smoke was lit­er­ally over­pow­er­ing. It looked like a bomb went off and it was dead quiet as well; no bird were chirp­ing, nor were tall grass and leaves rustling in the breeze. Now there are just lay­ers of white ash that looked like snow scat­tered ev­ery­where. The trail it­self was re­duced to a pow­dery moon dust be­cause of the many fire trucks driv­ing up and down the trail through out the night. It was safe to say that it was def­i­nitely not the same trail that we had rid­den on a few days be­fore; we were amazed at how much the area had changed.

As moun­tain bik­ers we have a spe­cial ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the beauty and tran­quil­ity that na­ture has to of­fer us and when that nat­u­ral beauty is changed by an en­vi­ron­men­tal event such as a fire, we are at first up­set or shocked by the dev­as­ta­tion. We soon come to re­al­ize that it is tem­po­rary and a nat­u­ral--and needed--part of the ecosys­tem. Na­ture has a re­mark­able way of re­gen­er­at­ing it­self and although wild­fires can cause mas­sive de­struc­tion and many times take lives, hu­mans are re­silient and Mother Na­ture in time will re­plen­ish the charred fo­liage with a beau­ti­ful new land­scape.

Photo Credit: Rick Lam­bert

Photo Credit: Rick Lam­bert

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