Sunday, March 11, 2012

Fire...Fire on the Mountain...

Fire on the Mountain, or so the Grateful Dead song goes...

Over the last 20 years, mountain biking has fractured into a lot of different disciplines.  It used to be you'd race XC, do a DH race and ride with your buds on a Tuesday night all on the same bike.  Now we've got lycra clad XC geeks, baggy-short-wearing All-Mountain riders (I think we used to call all-mountain just mountain biking), armor-clad DH riders, young Freeride groms, and everything in-between.  And even though we've got all these "disciplines" in mountain biking now, we all have one thing in common.  We love to ride our bikes in the forest.  There is something soul cleansing about getting out in the woods, hearing the crunch of the gravel and dirt under your tires, smelling the earthy scents of the forest, and feeling the wind rushing across your face.  It centers you, makes you feel energized and relaxed all at the same time.  We don't really have much of a sport without the forest.  Sure, there are those that have adapted, finding riding in their respective areas, but everyone dreams of riding in the mountains and forests, it is just the way it is.  So, when one of your local riding spots goes up in flames, a bit of you gets burned up with it.
A view of the fire early on.

It seems that every town/city has a riding area like this.  You know, it is a spot in or close to the city that is good for a quick afternoon spin, a place to take beginners, a place to ride when the rest of the local trails are under snow or too wet to ride, a place that you don't think twice about riding unless you can't.  I've had a place like this everywhere I've lived.  I had Lookout Mountain in Spearfish.  I had Palmer Park in Colorado Springs and now I've got HLMP (Hansen-Larsen Memorial Park)/M-Hill in Rapid City.

I get a call from the Chef on Friday afternoon to tell me that M-Hill is on fire again and in the same area burned last time.  I think, "Oh great, no school today, kids were out playing with matches again, just like last time, hopefully they get it under control quickly" and I go on with my day.  I went to lunch a short while later and can see the flames running down the hill like a newbie on a bike with no brakes, fully engulfing the entire Anamosa node, where the fire from last Autumn happened.  No worries I think, they'll get it shut down soon.  The trails provided a great fire line last time, they'll do the same this time.  Little did I know that the trails would provide no protection at all, the firefighters wouldn't be able to get it under control quickly and the fire would spread fairly rapidly, thanks to very little snow this winter and a warm, breezy day.

The Apatosaurus looking on in disbelief
As I pedaled home at the end of the day, the fire was still raging up the hillside, the entire "bowl" was a charred mess, with the fire reaching the top of the mountain.  No bueno.  No bueno indeed.  The fire had become so serious that a bucket-helicopter was deployed to drop water, as I am sure the path the fire took was one that was too rugged for the firefighters to chase the fire quickly.  As I continue my pedal home, I continually look at the mountain to see the thick, black smoke emanating from the top, making it look somewhat like a volcano, which might be appropriate since on the ridge to the South are the dinosaur sculptures that dominate the Rapid City skyline.

The sun was setting and it appeared that the fire crews were no closer to getting the fire contained than they were when I was at lunch many hours earlier.  Then, as quickly as it started, the fire department announced that they had it contained.  147 acres of charred landscape later the fire was under control.  The fire department closed the mountain down to recreation for the weekend so they can continue to monitor the area for flare-ups and find what caused the fire (it appears that it was some heavy machinery doing work in the area and thankfully not kids) and keep people from getting hurt.  We drove by the next day and it looked not unlike an alien landscape, black and barren with the brown ribbons of trails zigging and zagging across the hillsides, now highlighted by their contrasting surroundings.  If there is anything good that can be taken from the fire was that no one was injured, none of the surrounding homes were destroyed and it appears that the fire stayed localized to the ground, not burning any trees down (or at not very many).  The area should recover fairly quickly, which will be good, although having the black, charred reminder there for everyone to see might not be a bad thing either.

I was really looking forward to having some dry trails to ride on this weekend, I just didn't want them dried out this way.  I take HLMP for granted, having it be right there, half way between work and home, making for an easy after work ride.  We could have lost it all but thanks to some great firefighters in our community we didn't. No more will I take it for granted.  I'll make sure to stop and appreciate it every time I ride there, even if the smells will be a bit more Kingsford than pine for a while.

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