The title of this blog is a term often used, in numerous incarnations, throughout the sports world to describe the will, determination and hard work that athletes conjure during their pursuits. We talk about fires in our heart, the heat of the moment and so on and so forth. This past weekend, the term took on new meaning for me.
Currently, the fires raging across Southern California have momentarily displaced over half a million people and will undoubtedly leave hundreds
perhaps thousandspermanently without their home or possessions. One of the fires, the Witch Fire, began near the junction of route 78 and 79 around noon on Sunday, the 21st. Around nine o'clock that morning, my girlfriend Emmy and I were driving that same road, returning from a camping trip with the Tri Club of San Diego in Borrego Springs.
The trip included a 60-mile bike ride from the campground to the Salton Sea and back. It would be the longest single ride I'd ever done. Along with my co-workers Toby and Michelle, we started the ride in the early morning with the desert heat at around 80 degrees. The Santa Ana winds were just picking up.
Three hours later I was a mess. I was riding alone (I couldn't keep up with Toby, who's endurance gene needs to be bottled and sold. Michelle and Emmy, I would find out later, had given up 10 miles after the turnaround at the Salton Sea and been picked up by a SAG wagon.). I was bereft of fluids and down to my last pina colada Clif Shot Blok. The temperature was above 100 degrees, the winds
tailwinds on the way down to the Seabecame vicious headwinds on the (mostly uphill) return trip. The struggle to maintain 11 mph on the flats became the fight to hit 10, then 9. On uphills I began to get excited if I could hit 7 mph.
If it wasn't for Brian Long, Tri Club president, and Active co-worker Arch Fuston driving around filling up water bottles with ice water and Gatorade, I might have stopped, sat down and waited to get picked up. Instead, I took what I could and continued on, slowly, but determined. Something was fueling my fire.
I finally made it to the meeting spot, laid down on the grass for half an hour, then joined up with Toby to roll the final three miles back to camp. We were offered a ride back, but I refused. Again, I had to finish.
Now, as fires rage across San Diego County and footage of destroyed homes is on every TV station, I look back at the weekend and realize how silly my ordeal was. The winds that stymied me, the heat and low humidity that kept me gasping for water; they were gearing up for a more devastating performance.
With ash and smoke filling the air, it's incredibly difficult to exercise outdoors. In an area known as a hub for endurance athletes, this changes the landscape. Runners and cyclists are gone from the streets. Teams have canceled practices and games. And while the fires will eventually go out and fields will grow back, many consumed homes contained bikes, running shoes, baseball gloves and basketball hoops. Hundreds of active people are going to find that getting back in the game is going to be a lot harder than we can imagine. My prayers go out to them.