Boulder Flood

I woke Thursday morning the 12th to rain and mentally prepared for a wet ride to the office. As I began putting my kit on to head to work, I noticed I had about eight messages on my phone. Hmm, that’s strange. I usually only get eight messages a month. I mean year.

Upon, reading them, I found out that we were supposed to work from home today because of the flooding. Flooding? It’s only been raining for a couple days now so how can the flooding be that bad? It rains for like 100 days in a row in Oregon. Takes two days off and repeats. Three days off for the summer.

What isn’t normal in Oregon is getting eight inches of rain in a 24-hour period. And all that rain had quickly soaked the ground, collecting, scheming, and evilly plotting with only one place to go. Down the Front Range mountains through narrow valleys to the city. There was nothing to stop it all, aside from a few lightweight houses and soft asphalted roads.

But who doesn’t love a good natural disaster? As I made breakfast and coffee that Thursday morning I was excited for the rain. I wanted more! I had no clue just how destructive it was and would become.

By mid morning I needed a quick break to check out God’s Will outside. Adelaide and I rode downtown in the downpour to witness the sheer mayhem. It was cool but we didn’t see much of what was really going on. No true mayhem anyways.

Two to six inches of water flowed down the streets. Adelaide and I got soaked immediately. Select homes and businesses were flooded. A few shops slowly and sadly stacked sand bags that obviously needed to be stacked 16 hours ago. The bike lanes were rivers. I got a flat tire. Traffic was backed up everywhere. Quite a few people were out driving around like normal. Nothing seemed too terrible. Yet. Boulder Creek was no longer a creek, though. In its place was a rampaging class 5 river that was approaching the underbelly of a 20-foot tall bridge.

Sections of road were barricaded off by police, angrily enforcing their yellow tape and cones after a surely nightmarish previous 24 hours. The flooding had been much more severe earlier and I’m sure their patience and blood sugar had worn off a long time ago.

Adelaide and I had fun wading out into a huge crotch-high puddle at North Boulder Park, where I’d raced a crit earlier that summer. I went home and got back on the computer to bust out some Scott Bikes copy. The rain continued. I secretly hoped it would continue because, like I said before, natural disasters are exciting. I forgot about the flood.

At lunch I took a break to go meet Liam for coffee a few blocks away from my house. The coffee shop, and everything in the area, was closed now. Broadway was starting to flood again and Four Mile Creek, which is just south of Amante Coffee, was flowing with a mean vengeance and the small crowd of onlookers at the bridge had grown since the morning. Three kayakers were unloading from their car for some class 5 suicide.

As they marched to the head of their 250 meter run, I coasted on my bike beside them, questioning how experienced they were. Somewhat satisfied with the answer of “five years of class 5 boating” and “we do this sorta’ shit all the time,” I decided not to stop them, but followed alongside the adjacent road paralleling them in case they took their final swim. I wasn’t sure what I would do if that happened, since there was no way to rescue them if they swam and I couldn’t get to them before the bridge, where they’d likely die in the river-wide pile up of logs and debris just after the bridge. Liam took a short film as they put in and we kept up as they went, hoping they were as good as they said. They made it. Liam and I went home.

Friday morning and the same email to work from home went out. I didn’t go out in the rain at all that day since I’d already seen what little there was to see. Everything exciting was barricaded off by police. The destruction up in the mountains was, and for the most part still is, off limits. I was also feeling a tiny, minuscule bit of a stuffed up nose, likely from being outside in the rain and getting cold the day before.

That night, Adelaide and I tried having people over if they could get to us. Nothing like a party during the apocalypse. Only Liam showed, but when he got to our place Adelaide and I weren’t even there to greet him. A few hours earlier, Adelaide’s boss, Susan, had frantically called, pleading for our help to quickly come over and help move stuff out of her flooding basement. She was just a half mile from us and we were on our bikes in a flash.

We arrived on a scene of semi-organized chaos. A dozen other friends of Susan’s had formed a human chain, passing up RecoFit product from the basement (Susan runs her compression gear company out of her house and Adelaide’s office is was in the basement). Boxes were piled everywhere on the first floor. The living room and kitchen were quickly filling. The carpet was soaked. Down in the basement shaky voices discussed what needed to go and what could stay. There was at least $25,000 of RecoFit product that needed to be saved. Almost everything else could perish. We joined in immediately.

Once her situation was somewhat under control (ie once it was no longer safe to be down there with the rising water and risk of electrocution) I went next door to ask if her neighbors needed help. I moved stuff for them then went up and down the street searching for more homes and basements to help evacuate.

A few blocks away, flashing red lights from two fire trucks lit up the dark night. Rain continued pouring down. I was soaked. The streets were swollen with gritty water. I walked out into calf-high flowing water in the middle of the street to ask one of the firemen what was going on and if they needed help. He said it was a lost cause.

The family whose house was surrounded by all the emergency vehicles drove off in their SUV, abandoning their home as 12 feet of water in the basement began flooding their first floor. I went back to Susan’s house to help move things to the second floor.

When I got there they had nine feet in the basement. Out back, the new raging river flowing passed their house was growing. Standing water in their back yard was approaching their porch. Another three feet and the first floor would be consumed. The rain backed off. Just in time.

I got sick over the next two days then went to Interbike on Monday to ride mountain bikes in the Outdoor Demo in 100-degree desert heat. It was awesome. The whole office got to go out there for the first time in the company’s history. Seven count ‘em seven bones were broken. We came back to Boulder, some of us in worse shape than others, and the reality of the flood finally hit me. EVERYTHING I loved had been destroyed.

Sprouts, my favorite grocery store in all the world, had been flooded and was closed. The bike lanes everywhere were unusable due to vast piles of sand and rock. All hiking and running trails were closed of. Most of the roads north of Boulder were closed off. Jamestown, a small mountain community just a 40-minute ride away, was for the most part destroyed. The town of Lyons up north was destroyed…completely. All the mountain roads were closed off. I’ll repeat that. All the mountain roads are still closed off. This last part is the worst and most heart breaking thing of all for me. The week before, Boulder and the surrounding mountains were home to THE best roads in the country for bike riding. Now there are no roads.

U.S. Highway 36 Colorado flood damage

Behold the sickening demise of Left Hand Canyon:

Weeks later, we still don’t know when the roads will be fixed. Some will be useable by the winter, we hope.  Others will need to be entirely re-routed as the rivers have completely changed course.

Aerial images from the Colorado Floods

A terrific up-to-date map of the road closures in Boulder County can be found here:

I had the idea for a map like this weeks ago. Someone else actually made it.

It may be months before anything is usable. It could take all fall, next spring, summer, and the next fall to fix the damage. Who knows, maybe some of it will never be fully fixed. If this is the case, I guess I can be happy that I for one know I took the time to appreciate the amazing terrain Boulder had to offer when we still had it. Although, you never appreciate the moment just quite enough. It’s humanly impossible to do so.

Starting November 1st, my training will continue as planned for the winter. There are other roads that need riding, other less-traveled climbs that need exploring. In the mean time, I’ll be checking that road closure map daily.

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