Trail fires forged bond, re­build­ing ef­fort

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Insight - BY KIRK JOHNSON New York Times

He posted photos of him­self on Face­book as he hiked hun­dreds of miles of the vast Pa­cific Crest Trail, masked in a ban­danna to pro­tect his lungs from the smoke of the fires that had closed down parts of it. She told him about the in­ner work­ings of NASA, where she was a col­lege in­tern in Alabama.

As the West burned a year ago, Mark Beebe, the hiker, and Tara Prevo, the in­tern who was then sta­tioned more than 2,000 miles away, be­gan get­ting to know one another through texts, phone calls and trail­side video. He told her of his job de­liv­er­ing piz­zas in Port­land, Ore­gon. She told him about her time of home­less­ness.

But it was the fires, they said – and the lure of the Pa­cific Crest Trail, which Prevo was al­ready dream­ing of try­ing to hike her­self – that forged their re­la­tion­ship.

By the end of 2017, the West had suf­fered one of the worst fire years in decades and an area more than three times the size of Con­necti­cut lay charred, the sec­ond-worst year since the early 1950s. East of Port­land, a por­tion of the Pa­cific Crest Trail – the west­ern coun­ter­part to the Ap­palachian Trail and a place that de­fines for many peo­ple a kind of spirit path on which to test one­self or find mean­ing – burned on for three months.

Fed­eral fire-prediction maps fore­told more of the same this year, with ma­jor fire po­ten­tial in por­tions of the Pa­cific North­west and Cal­i­for­nia – the same area hit by some of last year’s worst fires. And since June, high winds and an early sum­mer heat have made it a re­al­ity: Fires in Colorado have burned tens of thou­sands of acres, and July be­gan badly in Cal­i­for­nia and in 11 other states where 50 ma­jor fires were rag­ing on Fri­day.

Through the fires of 2017, Beebe and Prevo, both 28, kept on tex­ting and talk­ing, some­times for long hours into the evenings as Beebe rerouted his hike to get around the fires, like hun­dreds of other Pa­cific Crest hik­ers.

Sit­ting be­side his tent, Beebe de­cided that no mat­ter what came next, he would ask Prevo out on a real date if they ended up in the same place at some point.

By the time the winter snows came, Beebe and Prevo were a cou­ple, and por­tions of their beloved Pa­cific Crest lay in ashes.

Their re­sponse? They went back in to­gether, along with scores of oth­ers, to re­build.

One day in May, Beebe, Prevo and 10 other vol­un­teers put on bor­rowed hard hats, threw iron bars and rakes over their shoul­ders and hiked to part of the Columbia Gorge that was still black­ened and closed to the pub­lic.

Af­ter hours of la­bor, the vol­un­teers, grimy and caked in soot, had fi­nally filled a hole on a col­lapsed stretch of the trail. They laid a new path­way of dirt on the rock foun­da­tion. Fu­ture walk­ers will prob­a­bly pass with­out a clue about how things had bro­ken at this one spot, or who had fixed them.

“Peo­ple don’t know what goes into one lit­tle piece of trail,” Beebe said.


Mark Beebe and Tara Prevo are help­ing re­build part of the Pa­cific Crest Trail heav­ily dam­aged by wild­fires last year near Cas­cade Locks in the Columbia River Gorge.

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