Tuesday morning we meet for the ride. It's foggy and cool, and the smell of burnt grass still fills the air.
It came really close to this place...
As we continue, we note the devastation, and we take care to hold our lines and stay on the trail. We learned from the fires 4 years ago that the earth is incredibly regenerative, and the grasses in most of the burned out areas should be back by spring, provided we get some rain this winter.
Tom spotted a dead bird alongside the trail. He wasn't burned, so he probably died of smoke inhalation. And no, I don't really know it's a "he."
It seems wrong to just leave the bird there, but we have no means to bury him, and Tom tells me that nature will complete the cycle of life on it's own. Julie and I decide that we should show God's creatures, even the small ones, a little respect, so we arrange rocks around him.
Satisfied, we continue up the hillside.
One of the things we notice is how close the fires came to the power station, and how hard the firefighters mush have worked to keep the flames from overtaking it.
We continue the climb. It's remarkable how some parts of the hillside are completely burned out, while others are untouched.
Another area with a power station, and the hard-fought fire perimeter.
I find the unburned weeds at the edges of the road quite a striking contrast to the rest of the devastated landscape. Here's a tree we found, which had been completely engulfed by the flames, while the one just behind it seems to be untouched.
We continue climbing, and Frank remarks that it almost looks like snow-covered patches where the white ash is heavy.
We are almost to the summit, and look out over the homes below. I notice how close the fireline is to the homes, and take a deep breath again in relief that the firefighters got the fires under control.
It is a long and difficult climb. The last time I attempted it, I was not able to finish before I had to get back down to mountain to go to work. Tom asks me if it's easier this time, but I can't tell. We still haven't come to the stream crossing, I think to myself, and wonder how much further it can possibly be. After we have been climbing for about an hour, it dawns on me that we passed the "stream crossing" but there was no water, and there was not the dense vegetation I remember. Ah. Yes, this time is easier. It's not so hot, and I don't feel like my heart is going to explode.
The climb continues and continues, and I ask myself why I do this. I slip a pedal dabbing through the rocky climb, and scrape my leg which starts to bleed,the thin trickle running down into my sock (this is why I always wear black socks on a mountain ride). The air is thick with the smell of ash and smoke, and I just want to breathe deeply without smelling it. I turn my head to take deep breaths into my sleeve, in an attempt to filter out the ash and smoke. I find relief for a few breaths, but until we get to the top, the sooty air is inescapable.
The rock below shows how the fire came in really fast, and swept across the mountain with intense heat...
We finally reach the summit, but it's so foggy that you can't really see the reservoir. This only means I'll have to do this climb again... (uuf).
We head back down the mountain, and the fog begins to lift as the morning sun fills the sky.
Downed power lines...
Down the fire road, back down to the reservoir.
Firebreak at the trail.
We are almost back at the reservoir, when the guys stop to wait for Julie and me. As we ride up, Frank has turned around off the trail just as the Park Services truck arrives. Unfortunately, the only time any of us venture off-trail is right as the truck pulls up and Frank makes his turn onto the scorched earth.
The new land manager for the area gets out of the truck and introduces herself, then asks us very politely to please stay off the mountain, and reminds us that the area is healing. Tom, who has been volunteering with the Park Service for years, and is very conscious of staying on the trail and making as little impact on the land as possible, is glad to meet the new land manager, and in a painfully honest moment, introduces himself. If it were me, I'd have given a false name and denied I even knew anyone who rode off-trail in a recent fire-area. After they drive off, Frank shrugs, and shakes his head and says he didn't know what he was thinking when he made the turn. We laugh and call him a newb (he's been riding longer than anyone but Tom) and get back on our bikes to finish the ride.
I glance at my watch and realize that I have absolutely no time to spare. In fact, I won't even have a chance to go home before going to work. I wish I had got a photo of myself: most of me is covered in soot, I am ash-marked where tree branches have drawn charcoal lines across my arms, and I have blood, dried in the in the running-down-from-the-knee pattern on my left leg. I mutter that I will have no time to shower, but will have to go straight to work. Tom suggests that I reconsider.
"Naw... I have a towel in the back of the car, and we have a sink at work."
They tell me I'm just looking for street cred. I'll take what I can get.