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.