Tuesdays with Dirty: From the ashes, we will rise

I have been thinking a lot about fire lately, but I have struggled to get these thoughts out of my head. Recent events here in Arizona have made me sit down with a couple beers and give it a try.

It all started a couple weeks ago. Wanting to escape the heat of the desert, my buddy E and I decided to make a quick trip up to Flagstaff for some single track and beers. When I got to the trailhead, E was sitting on the tailgate of his truck already a couple beers deep. When I told him the ride I had in mind he wasn’t thrilled, but I promised him it would be worth it. Cold beers in our packs, clear blue skies, and temperatures in the low 80′s were a welcome relief from the heat and dirty air of the city we just left. There will be nothing bad about this ride.

The mission for the day was to ride Little Bear trail. This trail was recently re-opened for riding after the devastating Shultz Fire ran through there back in June of 2010. I hadn’t ridden this trail since a few weeks before the burn and I was looking forward to seeing how it has changed.

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Little Bear trail has a special place in my mountain biking heart. I first rode this trail about 11 years ago when I had just moved to Arizona. It was the first time this kid from New York felt like I was really riding in the west. The first time I experienced 3 miles of coasting, seemingly endless switchbacks, and altitude. Oh how the altitude made me suffer. I have so many memories from this trail. From a friend breaking her ankle in a crash and hitching a ride to the trailhead on the back of a horse. Or riding nose to tail at night with a couple buddies, drunk as a skunk, buzzing each other’s tires all the way down the hill. To the scar on my right shoulder that I got from blowing a corner and getting a little too close to a Ponderosa pine. I have carried that scar with me for the better part of a decade and it just finally faded away this winter.

We took a less than direct way get there and I made E stop for a bit before we dropped in. I didn’t want to be out of breath or in a hurry for the next few miles. When we finally hit the burnt area I let E go on ahead. I wanted to slow down and observe a little.

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What I saw was a trail I barley recognized. Standing burnt trees, faceless totem poles, reminding me of what was once there. It’s the first human reaction to look at this charred landscape and see ugly and feel sadness. I will admit, that is what happened to me. I rolled on through a left hand turn and saw the tree that scarred my shoulder so many years ago. Black and dead, skinnier from having no bark, but still standing. I thought to myself “Tree, you are one tough sonofabitch”.

I paused to observe a little more and I noticed all of the green vegetation sprouting up everywhere. Grass, wild flowers, and little Aspen saplings filling in all the empty spaces on the mountain side. The green colors were so vivid contrasting against the gray and black in the late afternoon light. A deer ran in front of us and grasshoppers jumped up and bounced off of our spokes. Now, with no trees around, we were treated to amazing views of the peaks. Views we never knew were there when we were under the shade of forest. Maybe it was the beer or the altitude affecting my lowlander brain, but this was the most beautiful destruction I had ever seen.

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I spent a few more days up in the hills riding around and enjoying the forest. On the drive home I heard on the radio that a fire had just broke out in Prescott. shortly after that, I look to the west and see this:

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The Doce Fire was 3 hours old in this picture. It was a pretty heavy thing to see only a couple days after pondeing the destruction on Little Bear. Out of curiosity, I took a right off the highway to get a little better perspective of this monster blaze. At one point I pulled my truck over and got out to take some more pictures. But it felt kind of tacky, like I was taking pictures of a bad car wreck or at a funeral. When I was 20 miles away I felt fine taking a picture, but now that I was closer, it felt more real. I had infinitely more respect for that plume of smoke in the sky. As I was walking back to my vehicle, I noticed a small convoy of green trucks headed my way. The side of the first truck said Black Mesa Hotshots, a crew out of north eastern Arizona a few hours away. By the time the last truck passed I pumped my fist in the air and said “Fuck Ya, guys!”. The driver looked right at me and just gave a confident smile and nod of the head.

When I heard the news of the 19 hotshots who died in the Yarnell fire on Sunday, my thoughts immediately drifted to that smile and nod. There I was, a curious gawker on the side of the road, and these men were driving full speed towards the belly of the beast. I can only imagine that it was a similar scene this weekend when those boys from Granite Mountain got the call. Straight to the action, without hesitation.

Fire is the natural cycle of life in the forest. It cleanses, and in the long run creates balance. By the time my grandkids shred Little Bear, they will probably never know a fire even happened. My scar on my shoulder has faded and I no longer remember that tree every time I look in the mirror after a shower. But those 19 men were not part of the cycle.  Against all human nature and sense of self preservation, those heros ran at the fire. I am in awe of this, and their memory will not fade from this community.

Below are their names and I encourage you to read each one.

Ashcraft, Andrew – Age: 29
Caldwell, Robert – Age: 23
Carter, Travis – Age: 31
Deford, Dustin – Age: 24
MacKenzie, Christopher – Age: 30
Marsh, Eric – Age: 43
McKee, Grant – Age: 21
Misner, Sean – Age: 26
Norris, Scott – Age: 28
Parker, Wade – Age: 22
Percin, John – Age: 24
Rose, Anthony – Age: 23
Steed, Jesse – Age: 36
Thurston, Joe – Age: 32
Turbyfill, Travis – Age: 27
Warneke, William – Age: 25
Whitted, Clayton – Age: 28
Woyjeck, Kevin – Age: 21
Zuppiger, Garret – Age: 27

**If you would like to show your support for these heros and their families please give the 100 Club of Arizona a look.

…and from Dru in the comments: The Prescott Firefighters have their own in-house charity run by volunteers. It typically takes care of others, but now it will take care of its own. http://www.prescottffcharities.org/ 100% of donations will go to the families of those lost — no admin or fundraising expenses will be deducted.

Thanks for reading. Keep it dirty…

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About dirty biker

I am a fan of singletrack, singlespeeds, single malt, and single women. Tempe, Arizona, USA

23 thoughts on “Tuesdays with Dirty: From the ashes, we will rise

  1. The Prescott Firefighters have their own in-house charity run by volunteers. It typically takes care of others, but now it will take care of its own. http://www.prescottffcharities.org/ 100% of donations will go to the families of those lost — no admin or fundraising expenses will be deducted.

  2. Nice job! I have been one of those fools in the truck for over 30 years and you nailed it . Trees and houses grow back but the lives lost are lost forever.

  3. I wanted so badly to ride Little Bear before I left AZ. It was also my first trail experience in AZ. That was 15 years ago, and it burned before I could revisit.

    Nice making of words. Passed the link along as well.

  4. Good post. It’s a different breed that runs into a fire, and I’ll never get it. I spend every summer wondering when it’s gonna be a loved one out west that perishes in a fire, whether a hotshot or family member who built in target zone. I do wish I could bottle and ship every drop over normal rainfall west

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  6. Thanks Dirty. Spot on.

    As a heads up, the 100 Club will be set up at the 4th of July Run tomorrow morning taking donations. They will be there from 5am to 10:30am. There are 19 families that need your help. If you live in the West Valley, show up in person and let them know that the DC family stands with them. Details about the race here: http://arizonaroadracers.com/events/summer-series-3-4m

  7. Black mesa hotshots, a few years back known as Heber hotshots, saved entire neighborhoods up here from the rodeo-chediski fires. God bless…

  8. in this sad time we are going to do the only thing we know how…ride bikes and drink beers(and eat pizza)
    From 8pm – 11pm Boulders On Broadway in Tempe,AZ has been kind enough to donate $1 of every Four Peaks Brewing beer and half of the cost of every pizza to the Prescott Firefighter’s Chairities
    Since you probably don’t have to work tomorrow, you might as well come down and grab some pizza and a couple beers for a great cause
    GROUP MTB RIDE leaves around 9 for a little spin around Papago Park
    https://www.facebook.com/?ref=logo#!/events/369168286541889/

  9. Damn, I had no idea it too, had burned. You and I had a great run down Little Bear a bunch of years ago. I still tell folks back east about it, all the time. Who knew you could ride down hill for an hour or more???

    Great words as always, and as my son goes off to fight fires as a volunteer, the concerns for his safety are with me constantly. My heart goes out to those who have lost their loved ones…

  10. I too have fond memories of Little Bear,, when it opened up it sure change the way to get around the Mountain.
    The loss of the Firefighters is Heartbreaking,, at times their work goes unseen and lot of people living in the high country take them for granted..
    They wont be forgotten,, Fires wont go away any time soon.
    Ride hard enjoy the trails and Remember!

  11. Best DC post in 2 years. Well written, genuine heart. I thought I was checkin in to waste a few minutes reading familiar bro-spew. But no, this is the pure real deal. I shed a tear as I read the names aloud. Sending my can-never-be-enough donation now.

  12. The last time I rode Little Bear was Dec 31 1999. I hit Schultz Pass road at 7:30pm on the way out. The last man of the last century. Everything changes, sometimes for the best, sometimes for the worst. Sometimes the change is so fast it leaves a raw wound, both on the ground and in the heart. You just have to remember and carry on.

  13. Excellent post, definitely one of the best I can recall, really sums up the feelings well.

  14. Thanks guys. Sometimes we have to do what we call around here “Yellow Page Therapy” and just get some thoughts out of our heads. It isn’t always about bikes beers and boobs (but it really is most of the time) Every once in a while we get serious, Thanks again for reading. Keep sending your positive vibes towards Prescott.

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  17. I spent 21 days with Granite Mountain Hotshots last year. Great guys, hard workers, they would never complain. They were very safety conscious. I have very fond memories of hiking with Eric, the superintendent, bs-ing with him. I appreciate your tribute to these guys. I normally don’t write on these kind of posts, but just wanted to say thanks for your recognition of those guys. My heart goes out to them and their families. There is nothing out there worth anyone getting hurt. I’m sorry for their loss. I know it sounds like a cliche, but they won’t be forgotten!