Living Through The Boulder Flood


It was overcast on Wednesday. It seemed a bit fitting for the anniversary of 9/11 and it was an exciting day for me because after nearly 50 straight days of little or no rain and high 90’s, it was the first day I could put on pants, a hoodie and wool socks. I had been bitching to anyone that would listen about how hot it was and how I would give my left thumb for a day of rain. I can remember driving around in the car and when storm clouds appeared producing little more than thunder I would say, “Just rain man, just let it out.”

Around lunchtime, I got word that I would be writing some stuff for the New York Times so I excitedly announced it to the world on Facebook and watched both as the rain began to fall and as the likes piled up. My friend sent me a message asking if I wanted to get lunch that day and I wrote back “Getting lunch with the fam, dude. Telling them the news.” He responded in kind and I said that I’d be at the default coffee shop on Saturday morning if he wanted to chill.

Wednesday evening it began to rain hard. Another friend wanted to take me out to get a beer to celebrate, and as we were walking into the restaurant, haphazardly skipping puddles, I looked over at the smoking area outside the patio and noticed that it was flooded. As we went into the restaurant I remarked to her that it unusually busy for a Wednesday night, and said, “Maybe they’re all escaping the rain.” When asked if we wanted to sit outside on the patio, I said “No way,” and laughed.

When we were driving back through the several miles of back roads farmland between my house in northeast Boulder and Longmont we got to the turn, and it was closed off. There were several news trucks parked alongside the road and I said to my friend, “Why are these guys out here, the rain’s no big deal. Maybe there’s an accident.” We turned around and went back the way we came and then on down the next closest road and I can remember that it was annoying because we had to have our windows open to smoke and our cigarettes kept getting wet.

That night, I reveled in the fact that I could turn off the AC, go to sleep with my windows open, and listen to the rain as I fell asleep.

On Thursday morning I didn’t think much of it. The rain was still falling, and although it was pouring, nothing big was happening in Gunbarrel (the subdivision where I lived). I called my mom that morning and she asked me if I was watching the news. I wasn’t so I turned it on and watched as the reporters stood in front of the rivers in Boulder, which seemed a bit high. They were telling people that it was bad and getting worse and that if at all possible, it was best not to go out.

Still it didn’t seem like that big of an issue. We’ve seen snow storms in Boulder that pounded us with upwards of eight to ten feet of snow, compared to that, a little rain didn’t seem like that big of a deal.

It started raining hard on Thursday afternoon. I had been in my house feeling a bit of cabin fever and watching the news. It still seemed like they were making a bigger deal out of it than it was. I called my parents again and they said they were staying put for the time being. I asked if they had food, and gas, and power in their house in the mountains above Boulder and they reassured me that everything was fine. Aside from a little flooding in the basement, everything was fine. Around five I decided to venture out to the grocery store to get stocked up, just in case. The store is only a mile from my house but I was amazed at all the new little rivers that were flowing down the gutters and nearly overtaking the sidewalks.

The rain slowed down a bit that night and I can remember thinking how humid it was which is a rarity for Colorado.

Friday was when everything hit the fan. I turned on the news that morning and they were saying words like devastation, national disaster and the like. People were stranded in Lyons and Jamestown and homes were being washed away. Facebook was flooded (pardon the pun) with people talking about the flooding in their basements, being evacuated and reassurances that everyone was safe. I called my parents again and they reported that they were fine, they had lost power but seeing as how they live on the top of a mountain there was no significant damage. They told me the leech field on their property was flooded and the ditches that flowed along the road were raging, but aside from that they were ok.

Later in the day, another friend texted me, asking if everything was ok. I told her Boulder seemed ok, but that my parents were stranded in the mountains. There was no real significant damage in Gunbarrel, but the images on the news and the photos my friends posted were almost horrific and I worried that I was underestimating or misrepresenting things.

I kept with the news all day watching pictures of washed out roads, waterfalls that shouldn’t have been there, basements that were flooded with three feet of mud and houses that had been washed off their foundations.

Every hour I’d update the Office of Emergency Management website to keep up on what was happening and the day and evening were interspersed with messages from friends and family far and wide checking in just to make sure we were ok.

It was, and is still hard for me to believe.

On Friday evening the rain calmed down a bit. Instead of thinking about the joy of having my windows open that night. I instead went to bed with a prayer that everything would be ok.

On Saturday morning, the rain had stopped. The sun was even peeking out and I decided to take my camera into town, half wondering if it was as bad as it appeared on the news and half wanting to document things. As a professional writer, and alumni of the newspaper business I felt an obligation to report, to tell the world and my limited number of followers what was happening.

As I drove, I saw debris piled along the streets, feet of mud where it shouldn’t have naturally been and beaches washing up on the sidewalks of the Boulder creek path and the soccer fields behind my high school. To be brutally and uncomfortably honest, it didn’t seem horrible. Sure there was devastation and the rivers brushed the bottoms of bridges where before there would’ve been ten feet of clearance, but it didn’t seem catastrophic.

I can remember calling my parents as they were finally being evacuated and hearing my mom almost on the verge of tears as she spoke about the roads that were now waterfalls, the little house that wasn’t there anymore, the little creek that was now a raging river, and the feet of mud and debris that was piled up behind the million dollar homes at the foot of the mountain.

It’s hard for me to imagine right now because the road is still blocked off. I don’t think I’ll have a clear understanding of the devastation that she saw until weeks or months from now when the roads finally re-open, and we can have game night and a barbecue at my parent’s house in the mountains again.

On Sunday, it rained again.

I’m sure with the flurry of rain, there was a flurry of worry around Boulder that night, occasional glimpses out the window to see if the rain had calmed down and more worried calls to loved ones.

Today is Monday. You wouldn’t know from looking that the little progressive town at the foot of the Colorado Rockies was under water three days ago. Things have dried up and life has resumed. The businesses have all opened their doors again, except with warnings on the bathroom doors that the toilets don’t flush, the streets are once again filled with traffic, the news trucks and anchors have all moved on to something else, and me and my loved ones are back in the routine, except instead of a grand house in the mountains, they are limited to twenty foot fifth wheel trailer that sits behind my dad’s office and showers at my apartment.

I sat and watched the evacuation helicopters come into the airport this morning. I watched as they landed and as a stream of dogs, children and people climbed off and into the welcoming arms of the emergency crews that stood attentive and helpful, like the pillars of hope that they are. Things seem to be clearing up, roads are being opened and the sun is drying things out.

What they called a 500 year flood seems little more than a minor inconvenience at this point.

It was estimated that nearly 150 roads were closed off, that there was nearly 200 million dollars in damages, 1000 people stranded, five dead, and about 250 unaccounted for, but we’re ok.

Colorado is a place with top notch beer outselling the finest wines, where the fashion sense replaces suits and Prada with North Face and hiking boots, where a day in the mountains is better than any day in the city and where the medicine is either a good day out in the forest or growing under hydroponic lights.

In my introspection today I’ve realized why it never seemed to impact me to an extreme degree. In the last ten years, I’ve seen three or four wildfires, one that burned within a quarter mile of my house, I’ve seen ten foot snow drifts, I’ve seen the houses of friends burnt down, and I’ve been stuck in my house for days because of inclement weather.

I’m still awed though by the good will of my friends, family and neighbors. I’m awed by the generosity that we put out into the world when people need it, and I’m awed by the action being taken by the people I know in helping recovery efforts instead the apathy that could so easily replace it.

My point being, Colorado is strong. We’ve seen worse and we will recover. We are a state of strong hands, strong minds, and strong wills and no matter what mother nature dishes out, we’ll take it in stride and carry on.