Colorado Flood

Colorado Flood

Posted on 02. Oct, 2013 by in News

As the actual storm started to die down, it was evident from the beginning that the ambit of the areas affected was enormous, and the extent of the damage was extreme. The incredible photos shed a sobering light on the Front Range and my own perspective, showing bouldering and climbing to be every bit as frivolous as they are. It is hard not to be introspective after times of crisis and over the years I have learned about myself one thing that makes me happy. That instead of wasting time worrying about what I need, focusing on the needs of others and working hard to help them benefits my life immensely. I thought that if I have the chance to make even the slightest positive difference for someone in need during this emergency, I wanted to be there. Amidst the death and destruction of the flood, I saw an opportunity.

For the last 13 years, my life has been focused on “pursuing my passion”. As many of you who follow this blog are aware, I am very committed to bouldering and all that goes with it. I have made many sacrifices to make this obsession happen, often times much more than I am willing to write about. This is all centered around doing what I want to do, in the way I want to do it, for the benefit of myself. A number of things have softened my admittedly strong ideological stance in the last couple years, and it started with a shift in my thinking as to what makes me happy and why. Without getting too philosophical I saw in the aftermath of the flood that many who would not normally be in need were devastated, and being totally unaffected myself, I felt I could really take the opportunity to lend a hand and a shovel. Over the past three weeks I have happily donated a number of days and skills, and it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

IMG_5452 A pile of soaked trash in Boulder

Initially unsure of what exactly to do or how to help, I went to Home Depot, bought a shovel and a bucket and just drove around North Boulder asking folks if they needed help. A number of people said yes and Wendy and I quickly got to work slinging mud and digging trenches.

Let me share a few stories.

One house I went to had probably 5 ft of water in the basement. The owner told me he went downstairs to check on his sump pump during the storm. “It’s come up a little, huh,” he thought to himself. Not living in a designated flood zone gave him little reason to worry. Suddenly he heard a loud thump near the wall. He said “I was so confused. I just saw all this water dump into the window wells and I had no idea where it came from.” Before he had time to put together the severity of what was happening, both windows shattered simultaneously and his basement filled with water in 5 minutes. “I knew I had to get out when my freezer floated past me.” The river had so over blown it’s natural path that it had found a new place to flow, hundreds of yards from it’s original channel. I spent two evenings after class mopping mudding water and scooping up insulation which had to be ripped out. At the end of the second evening, realizing I was a climber and being a bit drunk and relieved it was finally coming to an end, he offered me to come up and stay “any time you want” at a family cabin near Ten Sleep, WY. It was incredibly generous of him and I think it speaks to the kinds of connections that are possible when you give to total strangers in an emergency.

1374343_10151890629548913_658368824_n Salina, CO

As the roads slowly started to open up I was really interested in getting into the areas that were affected the most severely, and the last two weekends I made it up for full days into Four Mile Canyon. Most of our efforts were focused around the town of Salina, where the devastation was unbelievable. A motorcycle tossed haphazardly into a tree, a paved road that had simply disappeared, and several house completely tilted or totally smashed.

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It was the most destructive natural thing I have ever seen. At one point during the flood there was a 20ft tall surge of water, filled with broken homes, trees, cars that came crashing through town. In some places the elevation of river bed changed by 15ft. I was stunned. There were no smiles when we walked into Salina.

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The mood was somber and serious. Worried that I would say something inappropriate to one of the residents in such a delicate situation, I simply asked “How can I help?”

Last Sunday was perhaps the best day of volunteering. We went to a man’s house in Four Mile Canyon. Out of respect for his privacy I will call him “Mike”. Mike lived by himself in a quaint house along the river for 34 years. In the light of a perfect fall day, it was hard not to see the appeal of this wonderful location. When the flash flood came crashing down on Wednesday he had to get out immediately, and his entire house was filled with two feet of mud and debris. There was no time for him to save anything but himself and his cat. Mike was nearly, if not 60, and spent the next two weeks living out of his car, helping his neighbors. It wasn’t until some of them finally emailed volunteers suggesting that Mike himself needed a hand that we showed up. I couldn’t help but try and put myself in his shoes. How do you deal with seeing 34 years of your life gone, and 15 strangers going through it trying to figure out what could and couldn’t be salvaged on a whim? What do you do when your favorite books have earth worms crawling though them because they sat buried in mud for two weeks? What are you supposed to think when your shovel hits something unknown, and it is your flat screen television? How do you react to the chance that put a river flowing through your home? He was standing there beside himself.

For us, all there is to do is to work. We dug furiously. It’s awesome because Boulder has probably the fittest group of motivated volunteers you could find anywhere. Ice climbers, boulderers, cyclists, etc. And were all covered in wet smelly slop. A common bond, if you will. In a matter of hours we had removed much of the mud from his house. We had also built him a new drainage culvert, when the old one washed out, to help him access his property across the street. Suddenly even for me the weight of the situation really came down. It was obvious he needed to be alone, but not before I had a chance to shake his hand and wish him luck. I fought back the tears. He thanked us all profusely and with a sincerity rarely seen these days. His eyes poured out his gratitude, and everyone beamed. We took a photo to commemorate the day. I am so happy to have contributed to all this is some small way.

1385681_10151906351008913_1525745889_n Donate Boulder (the orange ribbons designate us as relief workers, and not looters)

Everyone deals with this tragedy in a different way. Some choose to climb, and escape. Some choose to be with their own thoughts. Some choose to donate food, or money. But for me, grabbing a shovel, working hard, and getting to know some of the most awesome and motivated people I have met in Boulder has been an incredible choice.

1075298_10151896314649850_1300523274_n Aly Niklas and Isaac Savitz walk out after an amazing day in the ravaged town of Salina

I am so very proud of the way this community has responded, and it has been awesome to connect again with climbers Isaac Savitz, Aly Niklas, Ben Alexandra, Joel Love and everyone at Donate Boulder. Those three climbers have put forth an incredible amount of time and energy towards helping their community and if you see them around town, shake their hand and say thank you! There is still so much to be done, and if you are interested in shoveling, or donating in some way, please click on the link to Donate Boulder. And fear not, B3 will be back to its regularly scheduled programming soon enough…W3rd!

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