Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Comeback Trail

We're going to play a little game called "find the bike or cyclist in this picture". I didn't plan on it but there were so many cyclists training on this road I just went with it. There's one in about every other shot.
Click on the photos to enlarge and they'll be easier to see.

The subtitle of this blog is: "It's All Terrifying and it's All Beautiful". Never before have I witnessed a scene that exemplified that sentiment so well as what I am about to show you. As many of you know the neighborhoods around East and West Mountain Road in Santa Barbara were laid waste by the Tea Fire. That road is the way to the infamous "beyond category" 3,998 ft alt. hill climb simply known as "Gibraltar Road" and therefore a favorite haunt of cyclists including myself.

I watched as the 300 ft flames climbed into the sky that night and roared, fast, ferocious and deadly down the hillsides, whipped by 70 mph winds. I prayed for the people in those houses. "Run! Get out!" I whispered under my breath. When the fires had all been put out I made a point to ride up to that area on the days that followed, my goal being this:

What had happened to the art collector with the sculpture garden and the cyclist fashioned into a mailbox? I had to know. It took over a week to get there. Edison crews pulled the barricades back a block at a time as they replaced the torched telephone poles.

Here he is today:

As I rode past driveways I knew well I saw instead the houses that high hedgerows had hidden, now reduced to smoking ruins. The air was still oppressive, the smell of smoke filling my nostrils. I rode slower and slower and slower... I couldn't take my eyes off the blackened smoldering hillsides, the trees, the mailboxes, the twisted metal and wire of all the things that days before had been an everyday part of someone's home.

No time to get the mail.

This bike tried to run from the fire by climbing a tree.

I wasn't alone. There were other cyclists and motorists and joggers. We all had the same look on our faces. The way people look at a wake for a child. All I could think about was how horrific that night must have been, to be trapped in one of these canyons. I could see how the hungry fire had fingered through the creek beds like a thief, torching the trees from underneath, curling up the embankments to devour everything. The power had gone out shortly after the fire had started. No light to gather your belongings, children, pets. No street lamps to show a way through the thick smoke. The few narrow roads out must have been chaos. I have never been filled with such sorrow simply looking at a landscape. On the first trip I couldn't take any photos. I would raise my camera and slowly lower it back down and turn it off. The camera couldn't see the way it felt. I slogged back the way I came and didn't pick up my pedal stroke until my path was greener and I was beyond the burn zone.

I resolved to return and document, document, document. When I did I began to see such beauty. Cast-iron black trees against blue sky and chocolate earth. A thousand shades of umber, sienna and rust. Then on the last trip... GREEN! Like a fresh splash of cool life on the eyeballs, NATURE was coming back. And that made it even more beautiful. I wish I was more of a photographer with a proper camera and lenses because I can't hope to do it justice. My friend Carson Blume, cycling photographer, is sick this week otherwise I would have got him up here. I hope you get the idea anyway.


Remember Christo? The artist who wrapped an island in pink plastic? I know it's hard to see but this is an entire hillside wrapped in burlap. It looks so surreal up close and it's BIG.

More burlap hill
(see tiny cyclist?)

A sculpture I could not see before because it was beyond the gate, obscured by trees.

Kind of proud of my calves these days. They're not massive or anything but I've always had trouble growing them and for me they are huge. Thanks for reading and Enjoy your rides!


Tim Jackson- Masi Guy said...

Each little touch of green seems so magical and inspiring- the phoenix rising from the ashes. Nature is so defiant. Destruction begets birth and renewal.

It's always so sad to see so much loss and destruction, but it is a humbling reminder of who and what we are in the grand scheme of things; we are but specs on the skin of this orb.

Document and remember.

Oh yeah... and keep riding!

Kk said...

Thank you Tim. I'm so glad I was able to evoke a sense of the place. Hope to see you riding this trail one day soon!