I am sealed inside my home—a prisoner to the hazardous air that has choked Oregon for over a week. The state is on fire. Towns have burned. People have died. Men and women worked tirelessly around the clock, risking their lives to protect people’s homes, livelihoods and memories. But they are overwhelmed. There are too many fires and not enough people to put them out.
I am on my computer day and night monitoring air quality sites, waiting for the moment that I can open the windows and take my toddler outside for a breath of fresh air. The air is stale inside and we spend most of our time in the bedroom where it doesn’t feel as toxic. But we are the lucky ones. Our home isn’t in danger. We will not have to evacuate or lie awake tonight wondering if our house and our belongings have turned to ash. All we must do is wait this out. But waiting is hard.
My mind wanders. I worry about those affected by the fires and think about the beautiful places that will be black and charred for generations to come. I wonder what will be left of our state when the smoke clears. Trail running is not important now, but I can’t help but think about it. My mind drifts to the amazing races and trails inside the burn zone—routes and races I always told myself I should run, but never did. Ultras like the Silver Falls 50K, McKenzie River 50K, NUT races and many more. All in jeopardy of being gone forever. And that is just in Oregon. Dozens of major fires are raging throughout the West.
I see a post from my friends at Alpine Running about the Wild Outback 55K course in Paisley, Oregon. They share a before and after photo of the start and finish area. The before photo shows a lush green hillside. In the after, through the brown haze, you see smoke rising from a scorched earth. Over 50% of the course is said to be destroyed. I had heard that the Wild Outback was a challenging and fun race. Many of my friends ran it and raved about it. I should have run it. I should have done a lot of things.
This pandemic reminded me not to take anything for granted. These fires in Oregon, Washington and California will make sure I never forget. Each time I head north, south, east or west, there will be relics from a different time reminding me that nothing is constant. All we have is right now. The forests will come back. Homes will be rebuilt. Races will be rerun. But opportunities are lost forever if we fail to seize them.
I make a promise to myself—no more “I should haves.” No more over-analyzing things to create excuses and validations to justify them. This is a strategy for life more than it is for running. But it still applies to my favorite pastime. My list of excuses for not signing up for races has been long: “I’m not fit enough,” “The drive is too far,” “There are too many fast people in the race,” It’s too warm that time of year,” and the excuses go on.
But no more.
As I sort through photos of devastation, I also see images of heroes on the front lines, and volunteers and communities coming together to help each other out. We need more of this right now. Not just in Oregon, but everywhere. This year is a reminder that life is too short not to dive in headfirst after your goals. The water is deep enough, but we still need rain.