Imagine training for months to race your heart, soul and body out in a high-altitude long-distance triathlon, only to get “fired” from the starting line. The Tahoe Ironman scheduled to take place at the end of September of this year, was one such event. Age-groupers, elites and professional triathletes alike were all “fired” from the same event, irregardless of speed, background, intention or will, all for the same reason: the amazingly wild and powerful force of fire.
The buzz of the race was palpable in the days leading up to the event. Beyond the buzz, the hovering effects of an arson wildfire could be seen and felt. Our group arrived in North Lake Tahoe, three days before the event in the mists of evident wildfire smoke from the 5% contained King Fire running rampant in the community of Pollock Pines, ~30 miles from Sacaramento. By Thursday, September 18th, three days prior to the Tahoe Ironman event scheduled on Sunday, September 21st, the blaze had allegedly burned through 111 square miles, its rapid expansion fueled by 25+mph winds and extremely dry areas due to California’s third straight year of drought. On Thursday, the fire was 5% contained per authority report.
While a 5%-contained fire is not a force to be questioned, neither is the will of Ironman race directors and athletes to complete an event. In the final two days leading up to the Tahoe Ironman event, fire containment increased marginally to a mere 10% while the hopes of triathletes increased greatly with the absence of wind-blown fire smoke on the Friday and Saturday leading up to Sunday’s race. Thousands of prospective Tahoe Ironman racers carried on with pre-race strategy lake swims, gut-check/gear-check runs/spins and finally prepping two separate race transition zones and racking bikes.
In the final hours leading up to race start time, mountain winds shifted once again making the air quality around Truckee and the North Tahoe area unfit for racing… or even for not racing. Just really bad. Reported AQI (air quality index) numbers for particulate matter in North Tahoe well exceeded that of Hong Kong on the day the scheduled Tahoe IM event. Numbers were claimed to be in and way beyond the 300+ count, throughout the Tahoe region.
|0–50||Excellent||No health implications.|
|51–100||Good||Few hypersensitive individuals should reduce outdoor exercise.|
|101–150||Lightly Polluted||Slight irritations may occur, individuals with breathing or heart problems should reduce outdoor exercise.|
|151–200||Moderately Polluted||Slight irritations may occur, individuals with breathing or heart problems should reduce outdoor exercise.|
|201–300||Heavily Polluted||Healthy people will be noticeably affected. People with breathing or heart problems will experience reduced endurance in activities. These individuals and elders should remain indoors and restrict activities.|
|300+||Severely Polluted||Healthy people will experience reduced endurance in activities. There may be strong irritations and symptoms and may trigger other illnesses. Elders and the sick should remain indoors and avoid exercise. Healthy individuals should avoid out door activities.|
As the final “race cancelled” call was made just minutes before letting the pro’s begin their swim start (from the water, no less), thousands of previously buzzing and energetic racers, just started massively exiting the scene. A huge, collective sense of disappointment lingered in the super-early morning mountain air.
But way beyond the shock and disappointment of being “fired” from doing something you have been targeting for months, is the shocking reality of the devastating and damaging effects of one man’s act of arson. One single act of arson has resulted in waves of damage, loss of homes and seriously affected lives.
The WHY behind wildfire arson is truly unfathomable.