This Spring I wrote about the wildfires that were ravaging northern Alberta and while my friends up North were dealing with all of that tragedy, I remember thinking how rare wildfires are here in the southern United States. Oh, we get the occasional brush fire that takes out a few acres, maybe a structure fire because my countrymen don’t know how to use a space heater, but for the most part, we simply don’t have the big fires you see out in the much more arid West or on the prairies.
That’s changed a lot in the last month due to the dry weather that has gripped us for the last two months. Nearly a million acres through Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee have burned in the last month, culminating in the disaster we saw last week in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
Plenty of us in the biking world know the Smokey Mountain resort town – we’ve driven countless thousands of miles on the winding mountain roads found throughout the area and we’ve drank many a beer to wash out the dust while we stayed in the cabins on the slopes around the scenic little town.
A lot of that is gone now. Ten days ago, I took a ride up to North Georgia to see the leaves changing (yes, they are just now getting really pretty down here) and it was terrible. Smoke filled the picturesque hollows that I usually could pull over and gaze out at – and the fires that caused it? Scores of miles away. In fact, at my home, some 200 miles from the area had smoke clogging the air when the jet stream shifted that week. In the ensuing days, the fires got worse and the other day, a fire set by man and spurred by wind killed at least 13 people and decimated the area in and around Gatlinburg.
For a lot of us who ride down here, the entire area represents some of the finest riding in the Eastern United States. Whether you are riding the Dragon’s Tail or drinking a beer at Scatterbrains, we all know those roads as well as the ones in our own town – we’ve seen them in every season and weather condition (and yes, my dumb ass did get caught in a freak snow storm up there in, I think, the early Spring of ’99 – not fun).
I’m sure that the town will be rebuilt, just as we drug New Orleans back out of the swamp after Katrina, just as the citizens of Fort McMurray are rebuilding even now. In the end, the roads we ride continue to exist in our imaginations, crisscrossing and interweaving into the shrouds that make up our lives. If we can learn anything from these disasters, it’s that this life and these things are all fleeting and tomorrow is not promised. Seize the day you have today. Drink the beer, eat the cookie, date the stripper.
And make sure you look good doing it.