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disaster relief on two wheels

a hawk dropped into the frame

It is a very good thing that I completed #330daysofbiking when I did … I think I have just had the longest stretch of not being on a bicycle in several years.  Twelve days, no cycling; fourteen days of Red Cross Disaster Relief.   And not a moment of regret.  It has been one of the most meaningful experiences of my life.

Are things back to normal?  Hardly.  A funny thing about natural disasters  – from tornados, to hurricanes, earthquakes and floods – when cable news has moved on to the next breaking story, the communities that were effected will spend months, even years, recovering and rebuilding.   Healing –  on all levels –  takes a very, very long time.

I have to believe that almost everyone who lives here has been affected, either directly or indirectly.  Colleagues at work who have lost their homes, neighbors who have lost family members, friends at school who were severely injured … everyone is connected to the devastation to some degree.  Lives have changed.   At present, we are simply out of the immediate “crisis” mode.  Now begins the recovery.  And it will be a long ride.

My boys have all arrived home from college (for a few weeks, anyway), and on my first day “off” and away from the disaster efforts, I finally had a chance to take long and much-needed ride with my son Mason.

While too many familiar landscapes have been drastically altered and damaged, and it’s still nearly impossible to travel many of our local back roads without encountering various work crews still continuing the endless repairs and clean-up, I realized that I really needed a change of course.

I needed to leave the piles of rubble and the smell of burning pine behind me.   I needed some open space, green fields and fresh air.  I needed roadside daisies.  I needed to find beauty again.

And my heart lifted when I found that it was all still out there.

Getting out on my bicycle again, seeing green fields, being with my son, feeling the rhythm of  heartbeat, pedals and breath … it was my own personal disaster “relief”.

What lies ahead?  I am not entirely sure.  I have signed on with the Red Cross as a regular volunteer and have enrolled in their Disaster Services Human Resource System.  I’m continuing to help with follow-up work being coordinated through our local Chapter’s office, and am looking forward to continuing disaster response training and becoming an active responder.  I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with experienced Red Cross Disaster Relief teams who came in from around the country; I learned so much from them, and made some very close friendships along the way.

I also want to extend an enormous and overdue thank you to all of my friends (both local and cyber) who extended so much help and support – from your personal notes, to finding much-needed material items (including a twin bed), monetary donations, offers of manpower, and even mailing a hand-crafted prayer shawl across the country for a woman in our community.  Your generosity and kindness is unparalleled, and has been appreciated more than I can express.

Mostly, I have been forever touched by the individuals and families I have been privileged to serve and have gotten to know over the past few weeks.  You are in my heart, and I will never forget you.

(Slideshow:  amazing friends from Red Cross Disaster Relief)

 

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beyond plight

I took this photo with permission from the incredible young woman standing beside the tree, with hope that it will get someone’s attention – and some desperately needed help for her.

This is the mobile home she had been renting, and what you are looking at is huge tree that had fallen right through the center of it – directly onto her young son’s bedroom – literally splitting the structure into two halves.  You are looking at the “inside” of the center of her home.  When the storm approached, she was alert enough and quick enough to snatch her son from his bed only moments before it fell, saving his life.  Miracle.

One half of the structure has no roof – and there is rain in the forecast.  She is living in the other half a good part of the time,  relying on the generosity of friends at other times, and working to find affordable new housing.   But like so many others, I know she is still functioning in a state of shock – shaken, upset, and often barely holding it together.  Most of what is left of her belongs are damaged beyond recovery, scattered across the hillside.

Here we are – almost 7 days later.  There is no power, no water, and her landlord is demanding that she vacate and remove her few remaining possessions from the property within the week  … and she has to climb over this damn tree every time she enters or exits.  It is just beyond ridiculous.  She cannot find anyone to help her get this behemoth removed.   We can bring her meals, batteries, diapers and bottled water – but we can’t get the stupid tree out of her way.

And this is only one desperate story of hundreds I have heard over the past few days.

We’re doing out best out in the RedCross vehicles from 10 and 13 hours a day, bringing hundreds of hot meals, emergency supplies (as we have them), and as much comfort and consolation as we possibly can.  And there is just not enough.   We start making friends, we learn the names of the family dogs, we hear and see the unbelievable; we hug, we laugh, we cry.

Yet I find myself becoming increasingly frustrated as the days pass –  mostly over the mind-boggling absence of coordination and horrible logistics planning among the gazillion number of churches, organizations, schools, relief agencies and everyone else who has the best of intentions (I truly believe this), but seem to be operating in nothing short of barely-organized chaos.  (And yes, I well-remember Katrina, and I know this is nothing compared to that mess).  I realize that no one is perfect, and the scope of this disaster is extraordinary for this area.  But unbelievably, there is almost possessive in-fighting among various groups, over who should/shouldn’t be handling this or that – and to me, that is completely unacceptable in a situation as dire as this one.  It helps no one, and it must change.

At the very, very least, we need to get this tree out of this poor woman’s way.  She doesn’t care who does it – it just needs to get done.  (Insert expletive).

love letters

Today I cried.

We returned to one of the houses from yesterday – the house with the little dogs.  Thankfully, they are now being well-cared for and waiting patiently for their injured owner to recover.

We were helping to clear a spot on the property for some heavy equipment to come in and do the big work – moving branches and pieces of lumber, sorting out scrap metal.

We also made an attempt to retrieve some salvageable items and personal belongings – somewhat unsuccessfully, as the debris pile was so incredibly broken.  It was literally like “trying to find a needle in a haystack”.   Yet here and there we would uncover a small porcelain figurine that was miraculously intact under a pile of cinderblocks and a steel door.  There was no pattern to what had survived and what had not.

found a quilt

My tears came when I found an old box of letters – postmarked from the late 1950’s, handwritten in beautiful scrolling penmanship on delicate paper – the kind that was once used for air mail.   They appeared to be love letters.  The salutation on one of the open pages began: “My Dearest Beloved …”  And I read no more, but gave them directly to the person collecting the personal possessions.

It’s difficult to handle the pieces of someone’s life – much more so than I ever could have expected.  We tried to save even the smallest items that were intact, because how can you possibly know what might have a special or sentimental meaning to the owner?  And to pick up something private and dear like an old letter … well, it can feel almost intrusive.

By mid-afternoon we had done as much as we could at the site, and left to help with a Red Cross van that was delivering hot meals to people in need.  The number of people who are able to stay in their homes but are without power (and often water) remains significant.  Eating cold sandwiches gets old pretty quickly.

our (empty) Red Cross van ... which was filled with boxes of hot meals prepared by the volunteers at Walker Valley High School

 While I am tired, and stinky, and a little bit sunburned  … I feel so incredibly fortunate.  The people I love are close and safe.  I can take a hot shower and drink a cold glass of water – with ice.  I have lights, and the little music box that was a gift from my boys is in its place on my bookshelf.  My bicycle is not wrapped around a tree.  I have clean clothes to change into, and a soft bed to sleep in.  I am truly blessed.

sifting through ruins

Through a chance and random conversation, I ended up with a volunteer crew trying to help several local families clean up and sort the the ruins of their homes.   As the damage assessment throughout the Bradley County continues, the need for helping hands grows.  As of this afternoon, I am now a “spontaneous” volunteer for the Red Cross (and hope to become a regular volunteer in the near future).  I am scheduled to help in whatever way they may need me over the next few weeks.

I also want to make it clear that while I did have my camera with me, I was reluctant to even take it out of my bag in respect for the privacy of the families we were working with.  However, after some time together, several of the families almost encouraged us to use cameras;  they seemed to want to “document” the scene, saying it was “important for other people to see” what had taken place.  And so, when I had moments, I shot as respectfully as I could.

While men with chainsaws and BobCats worked to clear the heavy debris and tree limbs, several other women and I helped clean up the cuttings and helped a few homeowners sort through the rubble to reclaim items that could be salvaged.  I have to confess that it was heartbreaking at times – seeing cherished pieces (and simply ordinary pieces) of a family’s like strewn about like an afterthought.

On one property, I met an elderly woman who was combing through the debris at her son’s house – which had been completely demolished.  She seemed to need someone to listen to her – she talked and told me so many details of what had happened, what her son’s house had been like, where they had been when the storm struck.  How a basement didn’t help.  And the terrible aftermath.   It was as if she needed to verbalize the experience, and I can only hope that I helped her in a small way by being there to quietly listen.

there was no safe place - even in a basement

One of the most difficult moments of the day for me was finding 3 small dogs hiding in the ruins of a demolished home.  One of the neighbors told me that the woman who lived there and owned the dogs had been injured and had been taken to the hospital.  It’s unclear whether or not she had any family to come and retrieve and care for the dogs.  So I went and got some dog food and bowls of water, and the neighbor and I worked on making sure they would be cared for until they can be reunited with their owner.  (The Red Cross is also working on pet rescue in the area.)

As of today, the county schools will be closed through May 6th.  Two of the elementary schools sustained significant damage and will not reopen before the end of the school year.

My son’s high school will be opening their doors next week to serve meals and allow residents and out-of-area volunteers to use the showers.  My son, and many of his fellow students will be volunteering to help through efforts coordinated by the school.

As I write this, so many thoughts are swirling through my mind.  I haven’t seen a moment of the whole Royal Wedding – and I don’t care.   I apologize for not replying/responding to friends who commented on the previous post – I thank you for your concern.  I don’t think I will be taking or posting any more photographs of the damage – it almost makes my eyes ache with sadness to shoot these scenes.  (I would never cut it as a photojournalist, apparently).

I also know that there are other areas of the Southeast, from AL to GA, and even within Bradley County, that have suffered far more than the destruction I’ve seen in a few small areas here.  My heart aches for all of them, and I hope that anyone who reads this can reach out – to volunteer,  or donate supplies or funds to relief agencies.   Please help in whatever way you can.

These are the last photos … from today’s efforts.  (You are in my prayers tonight, Mrs. Johnson).

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path of destruction

Last week it was the car accident that left us a little shaken.  This week … the weather has made the car accident look almost trivial.

Yesterday was the day of disaster, weather-wise.  Starting at 8am and lasting all the way until midnight, we were one of the areas hard hit by the rolling wave of bad weather that hit the Southeast.  Nearly every hour we rode through thunderstorms, high winds, hail, torrential rain and even several tornados – it didn’t seem to want to stop.  I’d never experienced anything as continuous and non-stop, weather-wise.

yesterday, behind our house ... when the afternoon sky turns dark as night, it's not a good thing

At our house, we can once again count our blessings, as we only have one large tree down and a few missing roof shingles.  Many of our nearby neighbors were not so lucky.  As of this morning, there were at least 9 deaths in our county alone, and 15 in Tennessee.  Surrounding areas, including north Georgia suffered even more catastrophic damage to homes and buildings.

sadly, I was told that someone had been inside this home (Mt. Zion Rd.)

sadly, I was told that someone had been inside this home (Mt. Zion Rd.)

I took a ride today several roads close to home, and was shocked at the destruction I saw.  People are outside milling around, almost shell-shocked.  The southern end of our road was still closed as crews worked to clear trees and power lines.   Many are still without power; fortunately ours returned to us late last night.

just down the road ...

neighbors ... feeling shell-shocked

buried in debris

Schools have been cancelled until Monday.  Prom has been postponed until … ?  There is so much “cleaning up” to do almost everywhere … I finally stopped taking pictures of huge downed trees, because there were just too many of them.

One of the strangest experiences while riding around was finding random pieces of peoples’ lives strewn along the road – in places far removed from where the actual destruction took place.  A piece of someones kitchen countertop lying on the edge of the road, clothing and carpeting flung against a farm fence.  Pieces of metal roofs and siding hanging from utility lines – with no idea where they came from.

pieces of a household stuck on a fence

carpeting on fenceline and downed trees

I’ve inserted a slide show of some of the scenes from yesterday’s sky, to the nearby damage I saw today around our immediate area.  I haven’t even ventured into town, or into other areas of the county.  Hoping my local friends are all safe, and my prayers go out to the families who have lost loved ones and suffered devastating damage.  Godspeed.

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wandering road, wandering mind

There are typically a handful of days with each season that are absolutely perfect for cycling.  The weather is ideal, the landscape leaves you speechless – whether it be the height of color in the fall, a pristine day of snow, or the sweetness of spring in bloom.  This week, we’ve had a healthy dose of springtime splendor.

From the dogwoods to the lilacs to the tumbling wysteria, it’s been delight to the senses.  (And, admittedly, very frustrating to be without my camera … which, hopefully, will be back in my hands and repaired within the next week).

 

Yesterday as I was out riding and wandering the roads through green fields and blooming trees, I guess my mind was wandering as well.  It’s not that I feel a need for a new “project” like #330daysofbiking, but simply considering some cycling fun that I want to try and plan for the months ahead.

And during the first few miles of my ride – when the day is so beautiful and the legs are just warming up, feeling fresh and strong – I start imagining a few crazy ideas … like how about a dawn-to-dusk ride?

Being the good parent that I am (heh-heh!), I am considering how to recruit a couple of the boys, along with my dear husband, to hop on bikes some morning just before sunrise, and pedal around for an entire day – yes, the entire day – right through to sunset.  Not continuously, and certainly not hundreds of miles or anything too nuts,  but stopping for meals, maybe a nap, a little sight-seeing on the side – but just spending the entire day tooling around (and probably fairly leisurely) on bikes.  Yeah … #dawntodusk, if I was inclined to start another (stupid) hashtag.

So whadya say, guys?  😉

And then of course, as I continue riding for another two hours and my wandering mind begins to return and focus on my tiring legs and the sunburn I’m beginning to feel on the backs of my arms, I think: dawn-till-dusk?!! Whose half-baked idea was that anyway?!

We’ll see.  The idea hasn’t yet left my head … I will just wait to see what the boys have to say (envisioning the rolling of eyes, and a great deal of head-shaking).  😉

 

looking forward to things to come


 

the day after

 

by the river

So what do you do the day after #330daysofbiking?  C’mon … did you really think there was any other option?  😉

Two of the boys were home for a brief weekend visit, with the local Battle of the Bands being the driver.  The boys’ band The Night Shines took the win this year (YAY!) – and they have a free download of their song Forest Fire on their bandcamp site, for anyone interested).

Ross and I had a perfect day to take a great ride up to and along the river.  After all of the grey and rain of the past days, it felt so good to have the sun shining.

While I don’t intend to keep a running tally of how many days I ride over the next year or so, I may just keep a personal log of the days I don’t – which hopefully will be kept to a bare minimum.

The perfect cycling life lesson appeared in my friend Jim’s (@bikerly) blog today; it can’t be said any better than this:

 

bikes, the people I love, and a beautiful day - it doesn't get any better

 

the snow excuse

 

there is nothing... NOTHING... better than this - sun, fresh snow, high mountains, my skis and first tracks though the trees

To the people who have known me best over the course of my life, they know with little doubt where my first love lies – on the snow, on skis, in the mountains.  As much as I am passionate about cycling, and as much as it has become such a big part of my life, there is nothing I love more than being on skis on a cold sunny day on top of a big mountain.  Nothing.  Period.  (Apologies to my beloved bicycles.)

A little background  … my father decided put me on skis when I was a pre-schooler, and I still have fond memories of first lessons in the mountains of Colorado and New Mexico before I was even able to read.  My dad became a National Ski Patrolman in the midwest where I grew up, which enabled us to ski virtually every day during winter.   I grew up racing and eventually became a ski instructor.   I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to ski in the summer for several years, when I shipped off to summer race-training camps on the high mountain glaciers each June.

 

with "my boys" at 10,000 ft - Storm Peak, Steamboat Springs

Skiing was a huge part of my life, of my family’s life … and despite ending up living in the snowless Southeast and raising my own family, the passion continues with my own boys, who have become incredible skiers in their own right – learning to ski in North Carolina, and skiing each year in the Rockies.   They have become skilled enough to ski everything on the mountain – from the trees to the double-black diamond chutes.

 

Ross shows how it's done ...

 

Mason heads down Storm Peak

powder day ... you can't really tell, but he's grinning ear to ear :)

powder day ... you can't really tell, but he's grinning ear to ear 🙂

So what does any of this have to do with biking?  Well for me, it appears that this crazy obsession/diversion of the trip to the mountains has managed to derail #330daysofbiking.  Since I managed not to get in a single day of cycling while out West, it appears I will be two days short of meeting my goal by April 1.  Rats.  But I just couldn’t help myself – the lure of the snow and the mountains was just too irresistible to do anything other than ski.  It’s my only excuse.

Despite this “failure” – and it is disappointing, because I was so close – I think it was good to have the interruption for sake of perspective.  Maybe it was good to get off the bike for a few days and revisit another passion with the people I love.

Someday I hope that we will be living in a place where I can set another (silly) goal – one that would look something like #100daysofskiing-and-#300daysofbiking.   Load the ski equipment onto the Xtracycle and pedal to the mountain for a day on the slopes.   (Although I might have to add in a #30daysofcupcakes and #100daysofknitting just to round things out 😉 ).

For now, I have a renewed enthusiasm to be on my bike again, and the quest continues to finish #330daysofbiking one way or another.  Since I can only blame my weakness for snow for the lack of cycling in recent days, I’m leaving a few last pictures from the mountains.  Sigh.

 

the snowy day tree

the USSA Junior National Freestyle Championships were being held on the mountain while we were there - these kids were unbelievable; our future Olympians

the art of spotting (and not landing on your head)

I had to restrain myself from buying a pair ... but I seriously thought these would look SO hot while riding my bike

the iconic symbol of Steamboat Springs ... the old barn on a snowy day

... and as the sun sets over the mountains

 

 

I <3 bicycles

Happy Valentine’s Day to the beloved ones near and dear to your heart … including your bicycle. 🙂

detours

 

sled 🙂

The snow stuck around longer than most people expected, thanks to some nice cold temps.  It was some amazingly beautiful riding – cold, sunny, snow on the ground.  The kind of weather that stirs my blood.  Too often, I find that I want to spend the entire day outside messing around – on my bike, with the camera and a coffee stop or two.  And then the responsibilities of real life throw a detour sign in the road, and I find it unavoidable to have to park the bike and get on with it.

 

contemplating snow tires... ?

The past week was one of those detours – even though I was riding every day, the daily focus was on “the other stuff”. The mundane things like appointments and errands that had been put off a little too long.  Projects at home that needed attention, trips that required me to use a car.  Sigh.

 

brightness

I’ve had a few days this week where the riding was barely more than a 15 minute spin up the road, but I’ve come to really appreciate that benefit, that reward, of #330daysofbiking over the months.  Taking the time, no matter how brief it may be, to get outside and pedal around away from the other necessary things – a detour in itself – is the great equalizer, the balance to the mundane.

 

she always makes me smile

slushy

As I write this today, the snow has almost all disappeared.  And I miss it.  I still have a sizable to-do list of non-cycling things to detour me during the next few weeks, but I’m always glad for the daily reward of #330daysofbiking.  The official count as of today:  have ridden 270 of the past 299 days, 66 days remain.

 

creekside

I always keep him waiting ... yes I do 😉

 

the difference a week can make ... 14 January

... and then today, same road, same bike