• The Microtourists

Forest Fires.

The smoke has chased us like a poisonous fog that seeps in during the night and clogs our airways as we awake expecting to breath in the refreshing air of the West Coast. It has affected our plans and route, but more than that it has affected the lives of thousands of others who actually live in these communities threated by fire. These are real people, who can’t just pack up and move all of their possessions to the next town. It’s something that we couldn’t really relate to growing up in the Midwest. You hear stories about these fires, and see it on the news, but it’s completely different actually living it. We would compare it to tornados back home, we have seen that destruction first hand, and now we understand the destruction and danger of fires. No one knows when they will spring up, or how they start, but one day they are just there, and they are hard to stop.

You could say we have been pretty lucky, even blessed by a power greater than anything earthly. We have visited many of the spots that are now damaged by fires. We left Durango, CO about two weeks before a fire engulfed around 53,000 acres and threated the town where we walked along the river, and sipped drinks out on the patio. We crossed into Arizona as we looked back and saw the smoke billowing into the sky from the Gila National Forest where we spent Memorial Day. As fire restrictions were put into effect throughout the Coconino National Forest, we fled into Utah just before one actually ignited.

Recently, we decided to leave Lake Tahoe and skip Yosemite Valley as a fire raged, and the smoke drifted up toward us. If our truck had not broken down in South Dakota, we would have already been in Yosemite the day the fire got out of hand. We could have been there, but we weren’t. It doesn’t seem like coincidence to us.

We weren’t sure where to go from Tahoe since Yosemite was one of the places we were looking forward to most on this trip, but we new we needed to head north. So, we ended up near Redding, California approximately, 80 miles from the coast. We were supposed to have a package delivered to the post office in Redding but we weren’t going to make it in time on Friday. After multiple dropped phone calls to the post office, at 4:45pm (15 minutes before the post office closed) Tara finally got ahold of someone from the post office. We knew we weren’t going to make it in time on Friday evening to get the package, so we were calling to see what our options were or if we were going to have to wait until Monday. In that phone call, we learned the package was addressed wrong and that it had been returned to the sender, therefore we had no reason to stay in Redding until Monday. It was so hot there we decided the coast would suit us better, so after a brief layover in town we headed for the coast. Guess what, two days after, the area we camped in on Sunday was evacuated because of fire. Again, we just escaped the danger. The road we drove to get to the coast, closed Wednesday, engulfed in flames. Had the package arrived, we may have stayed.

Just when we thought we were learning to deal with all the adversity/blessing combos. Things got more dramatic. We left coastal Brookings, Oregon on Friday with the intent of camping only an hour and a half inland and then work our way towards Crater Lake. When we arrived, heavy smoke settled in and we were forced to leave. We had to change our plans once again, shocking, we know. We scrambled and found ourselves a spot in an almost full campground near Klamath Falls, Oregon. We took the last available spot for Friday evening. Saturday, we left the campground and did some unexciting exploring of the area. When we arrived back to the campground, we realized that everyone had cleared the area with the expectation of one other couple. The smoke had started to seep in so we assume people were trying to escape it. We just finished supper as our neighbor ran over and exclaimed, “My wife is pregnant and is bleeding everywhere!! We don’t have a car so we are waiting for her mom to come get us. Would you be willing to watch our campsite for us!?!?”. With jaws dropped to the floor we sat shocked for a couple seconds and then collected ourselves and offered to drive them to the hospital. We loaded up in frenzy. Ross driving, the husband (Bryan) in the front seat and Tara and the bleeding woman, pregnant with twins (Beth) in the back. The hospital was 36 miles away and we did not have good cell service. Calls to 911 and Beth’s mom dropped a few times. Beth was in hysterics because she was only 20 weeks along and having contractions in the backseat of a stranger’s truck. On top of all of this, we find out mid car ride that Beth and Bryan had just lost their house in a forest fire just a few days earlier, hence the tent camping. Ross is doing an awesome job blazing down the windy mountain roads towards safety and Tara finally gets Beth to calm down with some yoga breathing exercises.

Just as things start to relax, Beth’s eyes roll to the back of her head, her grasp on Tara’s hand goes limp and her legs stiffen. She is about to have a seizure. Bryan shouts “Tara, blow into her nose! Bring her back. She gets seizures.” Tara ends up slapping Beth’s face, lifts her head and blows as hard as she can into this frantic woman’s nose during the car ride to keep Beth with us. Eventually, we get ahold of 911 and a get an ambulance headed to us. Ross and Bryan see a Sheriff on the side of the road (assuming that he is also briefed and waiting for us to give us an escort). Wrong. The sheriff comes screeching off the side of the road with the cherries blazing. Ross doesn’t slow. Eventually we make it to the fire station with a cloud of chaos behind us. At first the sheriff was outright pissed (and probably a little freighted at Bryan and Ross jumping out of the car so quickly) but when he heard Beth’s screeching he knew it was an emergency. Seconds later the EMS showed up and whisked Bryan and Beth away, and the sheriff follows. We were left in the dust to sit and digest what the heck just happened. We rode back in silence, staring out the truck window. Neither of us said a word for miles....

We aren’t sure why exactly we have received such profound guidance, but we are very thankful. It’s hard to describe the feeling we have, almost like someone is watching, moving us into position like chess pieces on checkered board. And the watcher, he already knows the opponent’s next move. Maybe we are to learn a lesson from all this. Maybe we shouldn’t get upset about the “bad luck” we have had, the truck breaking down, or the package not arriving. Sometimes it takes a little bad, to prevent a lotof bad. Maybe we need to let the small things go, and not get bent out shape when things don’t go according to plan. Maybe it’s not our plan we should be concerned about, maybe it’s someone else’s, maybe someone who knows a lot more than us.

We have learned a lot on this trip and we have seen some amazing things. We have grown as people, and as partners. We have tried things and failed, we have tried things and succeeded. We have been angry and we have been happy. We have shared laughs, and memories, and even met new friends. We have experienced good and bad, and we have grown in our faith. One thing that we won’t change is our belief that everything happens for a reason.