After spending the afternoon watching exhausted fire crews shuttle to and from the blaze it’s clear this fire isn’t going to be over anytime soon. We spend our time sat uncomfortably in the gravel shed watching the traffic being turned back and occasionally chatting to one of the firemen or emergency workers at the scene. All the time the helicopters and aircraft dump water and powder on the flames – but it seems to be having little impact.
We’re offered food bags intended for the emergency services (there were plenty to go round) and prepare to bed down for the night. Meanwhile it’s clear the fire is spreading across the hillside and we can now see flames licking the treetops on the ridges. One of the incident commanders comes to talk to us and explain the latest situation. There’s no chance we can cycle through tonight and just two percent chance tomorrow. He’s talking about weeks to bring the situation under control rather than days . Meanwhile all the fire-fighters have withdrawn for the night and will start again in the morning. We ask whether the fire service will take us through on the back of a truck, but because of the danger of falling trees and debris they are worried about insurance liabilities and won’t take the risk.
By 8pm we are fast running out of options – I’d just found a suitable patch of roadside verge to pitch our tents for the night when a worker from ODoT – the Oregon Department of Transportation – came across and gave us the chance to throw the bikes on the back of his truck and be driven through the fire zone. But we’ve got to be quick as he is escorting the Red Cross Team – we’ve got to make a decision – and fast.
Soon we are detaching panniers and putting them on the back of truck. We do it reluctantly but with little choice – there are now 60 fires raging across Oregon, three in this area alone and the wind is beginning to whip up. The 160 mile diversion is a possibility, but it will leave us incredibly tight on time to finish. There is also the very real possibility that the route will take us into the path of additional fires raging behind us – we’ve already been told there is a blaze back near Dayville where we began the day and the diversion route is peppered with other fires. If that happens we won’t make it to the coast in time to meet Liz and Kate.
So we opt for five miles in the truck. If anyone wants to argue it means we haven’t done the route then that’s fine – ride the TransAmerica and then we’ll talk about it! Jerry and Jonathan opt to try and take the diversion – they are in the fortunate position of having more time on their hands, but it’s off route (which is always set with problems) and we just can’t take the risk. Meanwhile as we are driven through the closed road there’s no doubt in my mind we’ve made the right choice.
We pass blackened stands of trees and visibility is severely restricted by the smoke. To our left an entire hillside is on fire. Before long we are passing blazing trees and stumps just feet from the road. The scene is apocalyptic, a huge area of forest lost. It will take decades before the pass ever looks the same again. As the smoke thickens to a dirty grey smog the driver shuts off the ventilation and tells us not to breathe in too much! There is no way we could have cycled through this.
As we leave the worst of the fire zone, pockets burn in areas of still-intact forest sparked by flying embers. “By the morning this whole area will be alight,” our driver tells us. “It’s a real shame.” We are dropped by the “Road Closed” sign on the other side of the pass, rebuild the bikes and head downhill through the smoke. By now it’s getting dark and it’s probably not wise to camp anywhere nearby so we pedal on.
When Mike left us earlier in the day he’d told us he’d wait a day for us at a campsite 23 miles away in case we made it through. With a tailwind and fast road we cover the distance in an hour and twenty minutes – that’s just under 20 mph in the dark with packs. Amazing what a roaring inferno behind you will achieve! We find Mike’s tent by torchlight and by 11pm we are tucked up in our sleeping bags under canvas. What a day.
This evening’s Miles: 23
Miles since First Landing: 4041