Trail fires forged bond, rebuilding effort
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.