This is a story I wrote about what I think is a defining experience in my life. Feedback welcome. It’s all true, too.
It was raining Tuesday morning. And we didn’t think it meant a thing.
It was still raining when we got to the trailhead. We put trash bags over our backpacks, and started hiking. And the water still didn’t mean a thing.
We got to our campsite, soaked, tired, and cold. And the water still didn’t mean a thing.
We fashioned our tents with the rain protectors to cover, set up tents to protect our camp stoves, and bundled up for the night. The continued to fall.
Wednesday, we woke up late, because the teachers didn’t wake us up early, as there wasn’t much to do. It was still cold and wet. The rain hadn’t stopped in the night. Everyone eventually stumbled out their tents, and got breakfast. Luckily, we had plenty of hot chocolate, so we would end up drinking cups all day.
We spent much of the day huddled under tarps, talking. In periods when the rain slower, we might step out and throw a football around. We ate when we were hungry. There weren’t any scheduled activities.
That night, multiple tents flooded. Mine didn’t, luckily, but soon there were 3-person tents that with 7 people sleeping in them. It was cramped. It was cold. And it was still wet. And we were totally oblivious to what was happening.
Thursday went almost the same as Wednesday. In the afternoon, we decided to brave the wet and hike out a little to an abandoned mine. It was nice to finally leave the cramped campsite, we now had something to do.
One of the teachers wasn’t there when we got back from the hike. No one made noise of this, but the reason started to circulate.
While we had been cold and wet over the past 3 days, the largest rainstorm in the history of the state of Colorado had hit, right over where we were. 2 firefighters had come to the campsite while we had been out on our hike, and informed our teacher that it might be a little hard to get down the next day, because some of the roads were closed. Our teacher went back down with them, to make some phone calls back to parents in Denver to coordinate the pickup plan. There, she was told that the town of Jamestown had been destroyed.
When that information was relayed back to me, it wasn’t comprehensible. Jamestown couldn’t be destroyed. It wasn’t possible. Jamestown has always been a part of my life. My family owns a cabin above the town, and multiple times every summer we drive through on our way up to the cabin. It’d always been the same, never changing. One constant in the world.
So I didn’t believe it. We went to bed that night, still cold and wet, now not sure we would be going home the next day as planned.
Some more tents flooded that night. Ours somewhat, but we decided to ride it out as we wouldn’t be in there another night.
Friday morning, the rain slowed, and the sun tried to break through the clouds. The storm was beginning to trail off. We hiked back down the river that was once the trail, still soaked through.
As we made our way towards the trailhead, we didn’t know if there would be anyone there to pick us up. If there wasn’t, we would have to walk another 3 miles into the closest town, where we would likely stay in the gym of the high school until someone could come take us home.
But as the sun finally broke through, we reached the trailhead, where a group of our parents were waiting for us, ready to go home. Exhausted, we climbed into cars and made our way back to Denver on a slightly altered route.
The devastation done over that 4 day period was massive. Much of northern Colorado was ruined in what was called a thousand-year flood. At the worst points, 17 inches of rain fell over the 5 day period counted for the storm. Disaster emergencies were declared in 14 Colorado counties. Damage was estimated to cost over $1 billion. The towns of Jamestown, Lyons, and Ward were in near ruins, and many other towns were in a pretty rough state.
I didn’t really know what happened. By the time I got home, the newspapers weren’t really running the story anymore. It was fall, so we wouldn’t be going up to the cabin again. So for 8 months, I thought it was just a really rainy week.
In June of 2014, I finally got a taste of what had happened that week. Jamestown sits in the middle of James canyon, which was created by James creek (when it wasn’t really a creek). During the flood, the river overflowed.
The river jumped the road in multiple places. It revised its path, running right through the town in some parts. Much of the town has houses that border the normally tame creek. They were almost entirely gone, fallen into the river, washed away. The post office was gone. The fire station was gone. Jamestown was gone.
After we drove through, witnessing the ruins of this devastating flood, I finally started to understand what had happened as we camped well above Jamestown. It was awful.
I almost see it as though I was grieving, for the loss of Jamestown. I was stuck on the stage of denial for a long time. Writing this is my acceptance, 4 years later.
About 2 years ago, I was at the History Colorado museum, which tries to document all parts of Colorado’s history (that should be obvious from the name). There was a little TV stand and a bulletin board in the corner of a hallway. It was for the floods.
For the first time, I got to see pictures of the immediate aftermath in Jamestown. The fire station, gone, a frame of the building where it had once stood. Little still stood from what was Jamestown.
I couldn’t stand to continue to look at those photos. To the side, on that bulletin board, there were notecards where people told their flood stories. I wanted to tell mine. But I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t until now.
Today, Jamestown has rebuilt itself. It was a new fire station, new houses along the river, a new post office, a new park. The millions of dollars in federal emergency recovery has been a godsend. But the road isn’t done yet. The shoulder is still destroyed along the river in many areas. Roadwork is expected to continue until 2019.
But at the end of the town, as you move up in the canyon along the road, a remnant still stands of the horrors of the flood. A house that once stood over the river, now cut in half, one half in place, boarded up, the other half gone forever. Beyond it, a clearing of trees down the hill shows where the water can rushing down, wreaking havoc on the town.
I relive it all every time I go up to the cabin. The wet camping. The fear of being stranded. The oblivion of the destruction. The denial of what happened. I’ll relive it my entire life.
For some, it was a rainy week. For others, it was a terrible flood. For me, it’s all of that and a connection to it all that I still don’t understand.