While hiking the Lost Coast in Northern California, my friends and I received word that the #ValleyFire had started in Cobb, California--the area I live. It was my first overnight backpack trip and four of us trekked into the remote redwood region north of Redway.
I trained for weeks for this event in the neighboring forest (Boggs Demonstration Forest) some 5 minutes from my home. I carried increasingly more weight over a period of a few weeks to ready for the 30 pounds of necessary accouterments I would need for our two night adventure.
Also during that time, my friend and I poured over the map of the area, checking distances and elevation gains. Our second day hiking, though, was more than each of us had foresaw and far more than I intended for my first time out overnight.
The sites were stunning as we crossed rushing creeks and walked painstaking switchbacks up steep embankments. At about six hours in, we crested a hill giving me first time access to cell phone coverage. I read a text from my longtime friend, Vicki Crystal, "How close is the fire to you? Praying big time."
Curious, I texted back, "Huh? Where? I'm hiking Lost Coast."
She responded, "Fire on Cobb evacuating town of Cobb extreme winds. 50 acres & growing fast.started a 1:30. Probably won't have official update until tonight later will keep u posted."
We were still a few miles from our camp for the night. On top of our growing exhaustion, we were running low on water and weren't sure whether to trust the map that showed a stream near our camp spot. Could it actually be there this late in the summer in the 4th year of drought here in California? Could we trust a map that revealed an elevation gain of only 1,250 feet, but really took us over 1,900 ft earlier? Could we trust all of this with something as vitally important as water?
Quick phone calls confirmed the evacuation and a text came through from another friend, "Our houses are burning! We're running for our lives!" Concerned, my friend retorted, "She had better be exaggerating!"
A quick assessment of our situation assured us that we were not heading back--besides the six hour hike in and dwindling water, we were more than a three hour drive from home and it was already the middle of the afternoon. We needed to continue on to our destination.
Each of us had something potentially at stake in the fire--my friend and I, our homes, and Sarah and Julie, their vehicles that were parked in our respective driveways. Julie had already been evacuated from the #RockyFire and the #JerusalemFire and had decided to keep all of her important documents in her car until fire season was over in Lake County.
In additional irony, I had never left home with so little and was therefore at risk of losing everything I owned! I had only taken a credit card, some cash and my now full backpack. All the rest of my belongings lay in the path of the fire--or were already consumed by it. Though I was nervous about leaving everything the morning we left, I didn't feel safe leaving things parked in the car while we hiked into desolation.
I called Jim who offered to drive to my home and retrieve some vital belongings and Julie's documents from her car. I also called my neighbor Glinda to see if she could grab a few items--my computer, my mother's wedding ring and the band that Jim gave me for my 50th birthday. I also asked if she could grab Shyla's and Walter's ashes--his that I had just rescued from the cabin site after it burned in the #RockyFire. Glinda was in the process of gathering things to evacuate and did grab Shyla's ashes and the rings, unable to find the computer. I was relieved and grateful.
Our hiking group continued the two mile descent to our home-for-the-night with a heightened energy born from adrenaline, shock, frantic questioning in the mind and the acceptance of our powerlessness of the situation. We lost cellphone reception immediately and knew we would be out of communication until we returned to this spot the next day on our way out. Would we make it to water tonight? Would our homes be standing tomorrow?
The trail graciously descended the rest of the way toward the coast. Our camp, unoccupied, lay in a protected woodland area, giving me a feeling of solace and respite. I could feel nature greeting us compassionately in these highly unpredictable circumstances we faced.