Thursday, June 28, 2012

Watching and Wondering

I grew up just up the road from Waldo Canyon, and hiked it for the first time last summer. Last time I hiked it was about 3 1/2 weeks ago.  

The Waldo Canyon fire began on Saturday around noon. Right around the time I returned from jumping.

On my way home Saturday afternoon, I had no idea I should have been watching for anything out of the ordinary. The skies were not yet unveiling the devastation that had begun.

By that evening, this is what I saw outside my front door.

I wasn't worried. There's a 4-lane highway between me and the fire. I didn't think it could possibly jump it.

At 3:00am the next morning I found out we were under mandatory evacuation.  I packed slowly. I went methodically through drawers and closets. I decided what I really did want to take with me. I pulled out of town about 6:00am and headed to my parents' house, about 45 minutes south.

Amazingly enough, we were allowed back into town 14 hours later, although I slept at my parents' house with the boys that night and returned Monday morning.

Since then, life has been full of watching and wondering.

Since then the fire has grown to over 18,000 acres. Many have lost homes. Facebook has exploded with childhood friends communicating back and forth, exchanging information, tales of our school-age haunts, and expressions of sadness over what we are losing.

I watch every fire truck that races down Manitou Avenue in front of my apartment building, wondering if it means the fire has jumped the highway. Wondering if we'll have to evacuate again.

I watch the press conferences, wondering if this time I'll hear that my hometown, cut off from the Springs for the first time in my memory, has been devastated.

I watch the skies, wondering if the aircraft (passing by my place literally every 5 minutes) dropping fire-retardant could possibly please move any faster? (I've since learned they've dropped 128,000 gallons of water/retardant since Saturday).

I must admit, I feel like I am on the "lucky" side of Colorado Springs. While most of the city is blanketed under a cloud of thick smoke that chokes the lungs and stings the eyes, Manitou has remained sunny and clear. The only tangible reminder we have that there is a fire burning just a few ridges over is the occasional smokey smell (that my boys love because it reminds them of camping).  I have not had any nights that I've not been able to sleep with my windows flung open.

Usually there is an abundance of blue sky. 

These images from my front porch are not the typical images coming out of the Springs.

Even looking in the direction of Colorado Springs, from here you'd have no idea what's happening, the hell so many are experiencing:

So life in Manitou returned to semi-normal after Sunday. I say semi-normal, because even though there isn't a visual reminder, there is the visceral, gut-wrenching knowing that this is a huge, as-of-now unstoppable, very destructive problem. That people have lost homes. That people can't breathe. That people are fighting 24/7 to try to stop this living, breathing monster.

As for my confidence that the fire would not jump the highway, I've since heard in press conferences that it has. Fortunately they have a good patrol on the highway and have been able to squelch those fires quickly. It keeps me watching and wondering. 

Despite this "pocket" Manitou seems to be in, I will be forever impacted. I wrote on Facebook that, "I feel very bad for all those who have lost/are losing their homes. However, with many, many places I love being affected or destroyed (Waldo, WP, Queen's Canyon, Flying W, RR Reservoir) I am experiencing a whole lot of my own mourning. I feel like my childhood is going up in smoke."

My friend Christina responded: I'm grateful that someone else is having that experience, too. I find myself feeling like I've been punched in the gut at times, or tears springing to my eyes for no reason. Very evocative places ~ Flying W, Garden of the Gods, Waldo canyon...just feels like a part of childhood/teen-hood has entered a realm that only exists in memories now...

How many of those places will we lose? Watching and wondering. 

And right now, finally, at 1:30pm on Thursday, the skies are beginning to pour. Will it be a normal quick Colorado afternoon shower, or something bigger, that will have a definite impact on the fire? We'll see. 

Watching and wondering. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Desire To Jump

Everything begins with desire.

For me, the desire to jump had been present for a couple decades.

It wasn't a burning desire; rather it lay mostly dormant. But it had been planted in my brain and would pop up every so often like the bud of a flowering bush, reminding me it was still alive though I wasn't fertilizing it.

Until, that is, I found myself with an unexpectedly free evening and I made a fairly split-second decision. If I was going to do it, now was the time. Suddenly the seed that had been planted was a plant in full bloom.

I drove to the hangar at 7:30 yesterday morning. This was after having been there for four hours the night before for the instructional course. 

You know, the "worst-case-scenario-and-you-need-to-know-what-to-do" class.

The one that scares you adequately into knowing you're really screwed if "worst case" should happen.

Until that morning I hadn't known:
That terror could take on liquid form and replace the blood in your veins.
That fear is an invisible but highly tangible entity. 
That those deodorant commercials are full of crap.

I ate nothing that morning. The only thing I wanted to see flying in the air above me was my canopy, the only thing below me, the landing zone.

As we prepare to board the plane, my nerves were at a high. Some desires are safe.

Painting a piece of furniture, for instance.

This one was not.

But I tried not to let it show. I remember wishing I had been more composed when I bungee jumped years ago in college, so I was determined to not let the fear show on my face this time. Although one of the women there said she could see it.

I don't doubt it.
It's hard to mask sheer terror.

But the nerves were worst on the ground. I got in the plane knowing that I could still chicken out, but really, I didn't even think about it by that point. The plane ride was fun, although cramped, and I told myself, "This is what you came here to do. Enjoy it and do it well."

The type of jump I did is called static line jumping. Meaning my chute was attached to the airplane, so when I jumped, it would be pulled for me. Meaning, also, no more than a few seconds of free fall before my chute opened.

Even then, I was not really flying this thing by myself.

Yes, I had to perform a canopy check to make sure it had opened properly.

And a controlibility check to make sure the canopy was in proper working order.

This included a left turn, a right turn, and a 5-second flare, which means I collapsed the canopy to make sure I could do it when it was time to land. That was probably the part I enjoyed most because it was more-than-exciting to feel the canopy collapse way up there.

And it would have been my responsibility to take care of any worst-case scenario. 

However, I carried a radio, and someone on the ground was continually telling me what direction to turn and when. I was directed step by step to the ground.

My landing wasn't perfect. I did land on my feet, but then got pulled backward. One thing I can improve for next time. :-)

And then the hunger hit. I ate two pancakes at the hangar, which was fine for the time being. Then I ate a huge amount of food when I got home. It's also interesting what adrenaline does to your thirst. I couldn't get enough water afterward. I ate an entire half of a watermelon at home!

I did get a nice bruise on my chin afterward. I think the instruments on my chest strap hit me during my freefall, which they say happens.

I'm ok with that being the worst thing that happened. Other than the whole dying-thing, my biggest concern was injuring myself in any way that would hinder my week-long climbing trip that's coming up.

But I walked away without issue.

 Lesson Learned: 
Sometimes it's ok to let a desire grow for a long time. 
The time isn't always now. 
But when it is, do it. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Father's Day Weekend

Many factors drive decisions.
Lately it's been the heat.
The heat has been SO hot.
We tend to escape to higher climes
where the heat is slightly cooler.

On Saturday we had no choice.
It was not the heat that decided our destination -
It was prior commitments.

The heat was on its way
When we set out to climb,
But it had not yet warmed our little corner of the world.
So we began on Potholes to warm up, both for the rest of the climbs at hand as well as temperature-wise.
Then on to Montezuma's Tower, now feeling the heat of the sun.

This tall sliver of sandstone
So thin you can straddle it in a lot of places.
Exposure to wind is high,
Although this morning was fairly calm. 

Rope management on the top of Montezuma's. 

On Sunday my dad and I had breakfast together
Then took off on his Harley.
(I love that machine).
The heat drove us west -

Up into the mountains.
One hundred seventy miles
Manitou - Woodland Park - Florissant - Guffey - Cripple Creek and
Back through Woodland to Manitou.

Cooler, but not cool.
But cool enough to enjoy the back of a bike
for four hours.

I think this may have been the first
Father's Day ever
When it was just me and my dad.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Bottomless Pit

It was a Friday morning when Brent and I set off to find the Bottomless Pit.
It was a place we'd been told was gorgeous,
and a 14 mile hike up Barr Trail.

Well, four miles up (seriously UP) we were told it wasn't a 14 mile round trip hike.
Rather, it was 22.

We charged ahead.
Did I say we'd heard it was gorgeous?

There were a few obstacles to overcome.

Barr trail is steep.
Very, very steep.
A lot of huffing and puffing and resting.

And then there was this guy.
And when a bear decides to hike the trail, well, you just let 'im.

From big animals to small...

Made it all the way to Barr Camp. Seven miles of trail and 3,700 feet of elevation gain.

But still 4 miles from our goal.
We continued to climb.
Then, about two and a half miles from the Bottomless Pit, we came out under the summit of the peak. 

Rough, rugged terrain all around us.
Where was the beauty we were supposed to be finding?
When Brent asked me if I thought this was pretty, I said, "No. But yes."
Even ruggedness has a certain beauty to it. 

We kept walking.
And in the middle of all that barrenness...

There is this...

So we stared in awe.
And had lunch (homemade pico de gallo and pizza, thankyouverymuch).

And took pictures...

And stared at the view from almost-the-summit.
(And really, who wants to summit?
At the summit you have a parking lot and gift shop.
Here you have a waterfall.
I mean, really, is there a debate to be had?) 

By the time we were almost to the bottom, even the bees were tucked in for the night.

Amazing, amazing, amazing.

I talked to Matt Carpenter yesterday about the area and he told me there are also the ruins of a shack up there and a couple cars - from people who have tried to commit suicide by driving off the top. We didn't see any of that. I guess anything man-made just didn't stand a chance next to this.

Lessons Learned:
1) Sometimes arduous journeys lead to beautiful jewels.
2) Sometimes, in the midst of the most rugged, barren-looking terrain, life springs forth.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Cloud Porn

That's what John calls it. I think he's right. We couldn't stop taking pictures. 
Taken from the top of his roof on Thursday evening. 

Lessons Learned: 
1) Watching a storm roll in from the highest roof in the area can feel a bit scary. But some risks are worth taking. 
2) Turn around. Look at the whole view. Perspectives change when you do. 
3) A scene can look completely different five minutes from now. Give life some time.