"Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all."
In this month of Thanksgiving I wanted to reach out and share the overwhelming gratitude that I’m feeling in remembering the frightening, heroic, and ultimately tragic days in July and August of 2016. These thoughts feelings are brimming over as I prepare to present tomorrow at the Wilderness Risk Management Conference here in Portland, Maine. This conference is sponsored by Outward Bound and NOLS, the unquestionable leaders in the field of outdoor education and outdoor adventure. I am incredibly honored to have been offered the opportunity to share the lessons that we learned from this extraordinary chapter in our Camp’s history. In preparing for the presentation I came across this letter that we sent to our entire community on July 29, 2016. The letter touched my heart, and I hope does yours. In it I shared the details of the fire, and reached for a larger meaning to try to make sense of it all. What I said then rings as true today as it did in those crazy days following the fire…maybe even more true after the loss of our dear Friend and Hero, Alex Razzolini just a few weeks after the letter was sent.
As I look back for the lessons of the Lava Mountain Fire I find Courage, Compassion, Dedication, and Diligence. Please read, or re-read, the letter we sent on July 29, 2016 and see if you don’t agree with me.
Originally sent on 7/29/2016
Every moment of life is precious. Every decision you make is important. Everything you do impacts the world around you. In our day to day lives, we can sometimes forget these simple truths. But, every once in a while, things happen that remind us at the deepest level what is most important to us. The events of the last ten days have most certainly given us all a chance to remember, and to focus on the importance of a small ranch in western Wyoming.
Teton Valley Ranch Camp means many things to many people, and that’s the point. It’s not my camp, or your camp, it’s our camp. The threat of losing something so meaningful to so many has brought our community close together, it has reminded us who we are, and who we intend to be. A long time ago on a very sad day, I developed what I consider to be my definition of family. To me family is “who shows up.” Family is who shows up in hard times, it’s who shows up in joyful times. Family is who shows up in the moments where you are not sure how you are going to make it through, and they help you to see the way forward. The Lava Mountain Fire has expanded our family.
The Lava Mountain Fire was caused by lightning, with smoke first reported July 10, 2016. The fire grew to approximately 250 acres on July 16, our boys’ Final Rodeo. We saw smoke rising over Sand Butte during Final Rodeo. From July 16, 2016 until July 22,2016 the fire grew to 2,157 acres. As a safety precaution and with the imminence of an evacuation, we made the difficult, yet important, decision to evacuate camp on Friday, July 22, 2016, just hours ahead of our official evacuation order. We executed our evacuation procedure and moved campers and staff to safety at Dubois Elementary School. The fire continued to grow over the weekend, and on Monday, July 25, 2016 crossed onto TVRC property. The fire followed a relatively predictable path, moving from Breakfast Ride Ridge south toward Sand Butte and then moved east from Sand Butte to Fred Wright’s Pond in the afternoon. On Tuesday, July 26, 2016, the fire moved south from Sand Butte, through the South Fork of Crooked Creek and near the water storage tank. The fire continued moving south of the Discovery Building and approached the horse pasture and ultimately, Union Pass. Currently, the Lava Mountain Fire is 12,169 acres. You can view the most up-to-date information on InciWeb.gov.
On behalf of the TVRC family I want to extend our deepest gratitude to every single person that “showed up” to help in our most desperate hour. To every Firefighter, from the top of the incident command structure to the Hot-Shots on the fire lines, thank you. Thank you for putting yourself in harm’s way to protect our children in the days leading up to the evacuation. Thank you for defending our hallowed ground, which you have made more precious through your sacrifices. Thank you for continuing to endure the stress and danger in order to protect the lives and property of those who remain in the path of this devastating fire.
I also need to include the Summer Staff and the Leadership team in this thank you. Our entire staff showed poise and professionalism in every aspect of carrying out the evacuation procedure. It was calm throughout and even fun at times. It was their smiles and reassurance that settled the nerves and allowed us to make such a smooth transition, almost like it was something we’d done every summer, like it was a scheduled town trip.
Finally, I have to acknowledge each and every Girls’ Season Camper! I want to start by thanking them for being the Bravest, Coolest, and most Adventurous Campers in the history of the world! Bravest because they all looked at smoke rising over the hill from the moment they arrived at Teton Valley Ranch Camp, and once they asked a few questions they all got quickly to the business of making friends and having fun. Coolest because as the fire progressed toward the ranch they took in all of the information that was shared, asked really smart questions, and got back to planning trips, making friends, and having fun. Most Adventurous because, in four days at the ranch they all explored, swam, rode horses, went for hikes up Sand Butte, slept in the backcountry, ran hysterical campfires, did work projects, ate lots of great food, and most importantly, made friends, and had a ton of fun.
As of today, we can all breathe a sigh of relief. Our camp is safe and has weathered the storm. Here’s the thing—it was never a question of survival. TVRC is not the buildings. That was proven in the move from Kelly to Dubois. TVRC is a family in the truest sense of the word, and if we keep showing up for each other then we will weather any storm that comes our way…and we will teach our children to do the same.
The Lava Mountain Fire has created an opportunity to live our words…to have the strength to lead and faith to follow. This is a time for all of us to remember and honor and reconnect to those foundational values that TVRC taught us, and to get out there and ride for the brand!
Every moment of life is precious. Every decision you make is important. Everything you do impacts the world around you. That’s why no matter how far you travel from TVRC geographically, you will always be connected to the heart of the TVRC Family.
Yours in Camp Spirit,