From Minneapolis to Hood River, everyone I know is safe. I emerged this evening from The Simpsons Movie to stinging eyes and the taste of smoke thick on the air. At 4:00 this afternoon a wildfire started in someone’s backyard up near Country Club Road and Frankton Road, on the west side of Hood River. Helped by the awesome winds that made my afternoon on the water so much fun, by 8:00 tonight the fire had burned to 50 acres and they’ve been evacuating homes in the area.
This fire is completely unrelated to the twelve acre fire that popped up on the east side of Hood River last week, which started when a trailer lost a wheel and threw sparks into the grass. That one struck as I was out kiteboarding last Friday, and it was a bit scary to have this huge kite in the air as all these low-flying planes and helicopters were swooping about. I know they only look close, and they’re still probably 500 feet or more in the air, but there’s just something about a crowded airspace that puts one’s nerves on edge.
My session that evening came to a graceless end as I was sitting on the beach packing up my kite. All I remember is my friend Jason yelling “Oh shit!” and diving for the ground, as I was suddenly enveloped in someone’s kite lines. I cursed like a sailor at the offending person as the lines raked across my skin, one of them wrapping itself around my ear. I freed myself from the lines as they ascended with the kite, but I was caught off-guard when they immediately swung back for a second round. We made contact again, and by the third passing I had finally rolled off to the side and out of harm’s way.
The next thing I saw was a gal being dragged head first on her stomach across the sandbar, and Jason running to grab the handle on the back of her harness. As it turns out, a complete moron was teaching her to kite, and he had opted to teach her directly upwind of Jason and I, upwind of the only two people on the fucking sandbar. She had lost control of the kite and had put it into “death spirals”, where the kite loops repeatedly in the same direction, crossing the lines and making control nearly impossible.
After watching me go toe-to-toe with the kite lines, the guy had the sense to see how I was doing once his girlfriend had been rescued from her kite. I asked him to look at my ear, and he told me it was scratched up but otherwise it looked fine. I pressed him, insisting that he tell me whether it was still attached to my head. He chuckled, and assured me it was still attached.
He chuckled. At the time I wasn’t in the mood for confrontation, but it made me realize something startling. The fact that he laughed at my question suggests that he totally did not understand the gravity of what he had just done. Those kite lines could very well have taken my ear off, possibly more. They use string to cut clay, and the spectra line used for kiting is good to 700 pounds before it will break.
This guy’s sheer stupidity could have killed two people. He should not have been teaching his girlfriend so close to land, he should not have been teaching her directly upwind of people, and most of all, he should not have been teaching her in the first place. This is the reason we have certified, professional kite instructors. Please use them, people.
As it is, I now have rope burns across the back of my ear, my forearm, and four long gashes under my arm. They didn’t look like much the night they happened, just grazes through the first layer of skin, but man have they ever scabbed impressively over the last few days. I look like I’ve been whipped.
As for the girl, she emerged from the fray considerably shaken, but otherwise unharmed. She told her boyfriend that she had had enough, that she was frightened, that she wanted to be done with kiting for the evening. It sounded like a reasonable and intelligent request. Instead, the guy relaunched her kite, took her back upwind, and made her keep practicing.
Jason and I made a quick exit from the beach.