Perspective from the Colorado Flood

Adrenaline junkies listen up. You are more than your sport.

Today, more than a week after a 100-year flood besieged Colorado’s Front Range, we all know the destruction runs deep.

At least seven people died, two of them teenagers, a couple, who were swept from their car by a raging torrent. The floods submerged entire neighborhoods. They destroyed the township of Salina and much of the town of Lyons. They stranded countless residents and visitors inphoto-4 mountain “islands,” and required help from the National Guard to rescue stranded people and their pets. The floods left the city of Boulder strewn with mud and silt and rocks and boulders. They snapped concrete bridges in half. The floodwaters robbed people of sleep and stamina. They buried passports and birth certificates. They seeded basement walls with mold and mildew. They ruined furniture, carpet, computers, baby toys, clothes, furnaces, hot water heaters, washer and dryers, and shoes.

And yes, the floodwaters also wreaked havoc on the roads leading from Boulder west into the mountains. Images of buckled asphalt went viral on social media—but not because the people Facebooking and Tweeting the images were worried about who was at the other end of the ruined road.

No. Most of the pictures of Flagstaff Road, Olde Stage Road, Left Hand Canyon, and Route 66 were accompanied by some variation of this statement on Facebook status updates: I am so sad!!! Won’t be riding my favorite road ride for weeks. Maybe months.”

Boo hiss.

These shallow and self-absorbed observations infuriated me. They also shone a light on the dark side of living among Strava-obsessed, eager, amateur athletes, all of whom feel entitled to their adrenaline rush. As inspiring as it can be to surround myself with ambitious and competitive runners, cyclists, climbers, skiers, mountaineers, and general outdoor enthusiasts, it is impossible to ignore the potential selfishness of the lifestyle.

Full disclosure: I, too, am guilty of posting about my adventurous exploits on Facebook. To judge by my status, my boys and I pass the days cycling around Boulder, running many miles, and snarking about something or another. That’s a work in progress. This week, in the aftermath of the flood, I made a conscious decision to use social media for something more than belly button gazing or self-promotion.

It was easy to nix the self-promoting status updates last week when the world turned upside down and an entire group of people were forced to adjust to a new normal. I learned of a mother of three-month-old twins who lost everything, including her house. Another friend’s Lyons residence was consumed with mud. Yet another friend had to be evacuated and was told it might be a month before he can return home.

In the face of these very true and tragic impositions, whining about a recreational setback is the most blatant way to announce to the world, “I am an asshat!” Bemoaning the loss of something replacable (a road) and complaining about something inconvenient (temporary loss of access to a beautiful place, which is closed to protect your safety) when other people have died or lost everything only stokes the reputation of people like us (outdoorsy, could be stand-in models at an REI catalog shoot at the drop of a hat) as clueless, self-absorbed adrenaline junkies.

Yes, the destruction is sad. Its impact on your lifestyle is inconvenient. Your frustration is totally legitimate. I get it. You moved here for the road biking. You’re super bummed your favorite ride is ruined. Makes total sense. My three-year-old gets super bummed when he doesn’t get to do what he wants exactly when he wants to do it. But I am working night and day to teach him a fundamental lesson that my fellow jocks seem to have forgotten: the world does not revolve around you.

Nowhere is this more clear than in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Whether it is fire or flood, hurricane or blizzard, a natural disaster is a stark reminder that you are more or less insignificant. Me too. Under the best of circumstances, the world doesn’t care if I log my six miles or not. When it’s flooding and people are missing, my workout is utterly unimportant.

Yours, too.

Here’s why: you are more than your sport. By committing to the mountain lifestyle and pushing your body to extremes, you’ve demonstrated extraordinary resilience and strength, skills that can be channeled to help other people in times of need. You proved you could thrive in adversity when you bivouacked on a Nepalese cliff in an ice storm. The way you composed yourself through that bout of giardia on the Grand Canyon? Very impressive. As an outdoor maven, you have survived challenging situations in the elements that remind you on a visceral level what it means to be alive.

Which is why, when nature roars her dominant roar and pummels your fellow neighbors, you should be among the first to extend your compassion and strength and get to work cleaning things up. Sure, it’s sad that your sport of choice might have to be put on hold. But do us all a favor—keep that sentiment to yourself. Then grab some work gloves and rubber boots. There’s molding carpet that needs to be removed.

25 thoughts on “Perspective from the Colorado Flood”

  1. Dear Rachel,
    Thank you for writing this article. In a way, you are very right about these types of postings. But there is a perspective missing from this article. The way in which many of us in the Boulder area experience and cherish our home landscape is through our outdoor adventures. I connect on a much deeper level with my nearby open spaces and scenic cycling paths if I am on foot or on my bike, rather than in my car. Once I have passed over these places with pedal power, inches above the pavement, it is that much more vivid when those places are destroyed. Yes, we should be focusing on and empathizing with and helping those who lost everything. But these Facebook perspectives you mention are valid, and not necessarily shallow.
    ~Summer

  2. Thanks for commenting Summer! I am in the same boat as you. In fact, I live two blocks from the trails and have been forced to reroute my runs (poor me). I know the Open Space is a huge release valve for pretty much everyone in Boulder. But I am writing about the lack of perspective so many people have. Roads can be rebuilt. Lives cannot. It really does go back to what I tell my 3 yo (and myself, often, when I start to feel robbed of the lifestyle I’d like to do…again, boo hiss. I couldn’t ride my bike to the farmer’s market): it’s not about you right now. This was an extraordinary event. It calls for an extraordinary and selfless response.

  3. Rachel

    I agree with Summer whole heartedly. A social media post does not define a person. Do you have data/statistics to prove that these people making “self absorbed observations” are not also commenting on other posts expressing heartache for the people involved? Do you know that these people are sitting home wishing they could ride their bikes and not spending their evenings and lunch hours volunteering? To think that social media is everyone’s ONLY outlet and source of communication is rather narrow minded in my opinion. It’s actually quite sad to think that Facebook posts are all that people do with their day. It is only ONE source to reach out to your community. Defining them by a comment would be the same as someone defining you by this article. Why are you not spending your valuable article space, time and writing talent on these adrenaline junkies and not highlighting the great volunteers or the victims/survivors of the tragedy? Does this make you a bad person as well? I do not know you so I will not judge, but my guess is that you are not a bad person for this. you are “commenting” on something that you are passionate about…just like they are…

    Thanks for your article
    Heather

  4. Nicely done article. I am in the process of deciding whether to return to CO or MT, both places I’ve lived for 20+ years (Aspen, and Bozeman area). One of the compelling choices for me is that I see CO as a place where everybody looks like they just came out of an REI outlet or a Patagonia catalog. Not that there is anything wrong with that. In MT, other than the groovy athletic enclaves (Bozeman, Whitefish, Missoula), folks seem to be thinking about stuff like who got their elk and how far to drive to get to Walmart or an airport.
    I love both places deeply and so the choice is still pending.

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