The Outdoor Claustrophobic
Kevin Bjorke
Kevin Bjorke
1 min read

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Driving an hour east on Saturday morning. Our goal: a quick impromptu run to Nevada to accompany my son and partner on the first leg of their return drive to NYU, after a Covid-escape summer.

We hadn’t counted on the fresh air of still-dark Sonoma County giving way to seeing the Sierras obscured by heavy smoke from the North Complex Fire – a brown wall ahead of us.

New plan: instead of a Reno lunch, which would have required us to drive through that barrier twice for our round trip, we stopped in Auburn, just past Sacramento, said our goodbyes over coffee and a donut and then drove north toward the sparkling blues of Clear Lake and Lakeport. We were not disappointed! But only after a drive through an even thicker plume west of the fire, not so obvious in a low-population region of the PurpleAir map.

The falloff at the edge of the smoke was striking – turning west from the interstate at Williams, within five minutes the AQI had dropped from what must have been a thick 230+ to nearly zero, open and clear. The heavier smoke was flowing down the valley behind us, but not reaching up through the hills.

Those hills themselves had suffered a fire in 2018, leaving a mix of new growth and still-standing burned stalks. There’s little deep forest in that area, and when fires arrive they move quickly through the grass and brush, exhausting each section in just a few minutes, weightlessly spun along by the wind.

Hwy 175
Along 175 on the route toward Mendocino

West of Lakeport the road twists through randomly scattered patches. Burned, unburned, burned, unburned…

South again, and home as the sun rolled behind the ocean. A long drive. I stood in the driveway and drank-in the sky. So many nights had passed without stars.

North
Driveway North

Woke early. Funny color in the predawn. Went outdoors. Funny smell. New smoke.