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When life takes a turn for the surreal.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Two weeks ago, on Father's day, I slept in. I was planning to go to run club, but I woke up with my alarm and decided that I wanted to enjoy an extra week of being on my own schedule. It was nice. I had a lazy morning, called my dad, goofed around online, and then changed in my gear for a solo run at 11:00. It was a gorgeous, sunny day. I was three weeks away from the 10k I signed up for, and finally fully back into a normal run schedule after the marathon.

My starting point for my local runs is an arch in the park on the river. From there, I can head West towards Edworthy park on a peaceful, quiet path that makes you forget you're in the city. I can cross a bridge and run along the north side of the river, with cyclists and happy, happy dogs and kids and runners, while keeping an eye out for remax signs as I pass all the nighbourhoods I want to live in. I can head East, towards Eau Claire and Prince's Island park, the hub of healthy activity in Calgary. For the last couple years, I've been through Eau Claire at least three times a week (sometimes every day), and it feels like my second home. Even when the weather was horrid and I just wanted to be done with whatever run I was on, the propeller statue at Eau Claire meant that the run was done. It was the finish line. Home.

Sunday was an East day. I'd run West the Sunday before, and the Elbow river pathway was calling me. Elbow is a good mix. You have parks. You have residential (really, really nice residential). You have lively communities and slightly more isolated nature paths. There are familiar little gems, like the suspension bridge I always miss the first time around. Elbow always makes me smile.

I only ran 10k that day, so my route took me to Fort Calgary and then down around the Stampede ground before I headed back. I ran it a little too fast for the heat, so I was tired and dripping sweat by the time I finished, but it felt pretty good. On the way back, I stopped in at the Running Room and signed up for the half marathon clinic. I've heard good things about the clinic instructor for the half, and I want to break two hours, so I figured the discipline would be good.

On Tuesday, June 18th, I had a fantastic date day with my husband. His retail schedule means that we go through patches where our days off just don't line up, so I'd taken a flex day just to give us a day to enjoy together. We went out for breakfast, then hit the Glenbow museum to check out the MC Escher exhibit. That turned into a six hour tour through a museum I hadn't been to since I was a kid, followed up by a light dinner out and relaxing evening together at home.

On Wednesday, we drove up to Edmonton to visit my grandparents. My grandmother has Alzheimer's and isn't doing so well. Even though she's in a lot of pain and doesn't recognize much anymore, she still has a smile for you when you see her. It's heartbreaking and difficult to see, but I'm glad we had a chance to make it up there to visit. My grandfather is hanging in there. It's tough for someone who's always been the protector and provider for the family to be helpless to make something better. He's with her every day, holding her hand. Everyone feels helpless, because no matter how much you want to just do *something* to make it better, you can't. All the flowers and cookies and money in the world won't fix it, and sometimes just being there is the best you can do.

On Thursday, I was back at work after my two day vacation, shoveling through the mountain of email that had come in while I was gone. I had packed my running gear to get out for a quick run along the paths after work. I was secretly happy that it was a little overcast, because that meant I had an excuse to wear my nifty long sleeved marathon shirt for the first time.

Around noon, the first state of emergency message showed up for flooding outside of the city.

I headed back into work and spent the rest of the afternoon watching the river outside my window. This is a view of the bridge I can see from my office (taken on a run last winter):

And this is what it looked like later that night:

By the time I left work, the water had just started to cover the paths that go under the bridge. It happens a few times every summer, and you just detour around until the water levels go down. They have gates in front of each underpass that they close if the water gets too high. My boss stopped by my office as we were leaving and commented on the speed and height of the water. I joked that I definitely wouldn't be running that night, and he agreed that that was probably a good idea.

Nick was working late that night, so I turned on the news to keep updated on the situation. We had a bad flood here eight years ago, and it hit a lot of the lower areas around the river, including most of Prince's Island. They put any of the communities that had been hit by the floods in 2005 on alert and started calling for mandatory evacuations a couple hours later. By dinner time, it was clear that there was some pretty serious water heading our way, and this wasn't going to be just a little flood. Nick came home early, since he'd heard that downtown was starting to get evacuated and traffic might be blocked off. The next time we saw the road he drove home on, it looked like this:

We spent the night watching the news. It was eerie, because nothing had really hit the city yet. You knew it was coming, and you knew it was going to be bad, but it was all still just a future event. Outside, it was raining a little, but otherwise normal. Our favourite ice cream shop was still talking about holding their first anniversary party (they spent their anniversary ripping down drywall and rebuilding their shop), and we were making plans to head down to the Stampede with my brother-in-law in a couple weeks. It would have been easy to shrug everything off.

Thankfully, the city did a fantastic job of communication - just to show how much things have changed in recent years, the best updates came from Twitter. Not that traditional media didn't do a good job of reporting, but for up to the second reports and responses from the City, the police, the news and from citizens actually experiencing the event, Twitter was the best place to go. In a situation where there can be a lot of confusion, it actually ended up cutting through a lot of the clutter and getting immediate responses to the people who needed it (not to mention how incredibly handy it was for rallying support and assistance after the fact).

Nick and I were incredibly lucky through all of this. We were in one of the highest areas of downtown, so while we were on alert and later voluntary evacuation, we were never flooded and one of the few buildings that didn't lose power at all. Our apartment was up on the 14th floor, and the car on the 4th level of the above-ground parkade, so the only thing we personally had to worry about was some meat in the freezer if the power went out. I stayed up most of the night watching the news as they added more communities to the evacuation list until around 2:00, when they said that the evacuation orders had stabilized. At that point, every community around us had been ordered to leave.

We woke up on Friday to a ghost town. The city had ordered people to stay home if at all possible that day. This is where the surreal part came in. From our apartment, things looked good. The streets were empty but reasonably dry, you couldn't quite see the river from our angle, and it all seemed normal in a zombie-apocalypse way. Meanwhile, within walking distance, this was happening:

That's Prince's Island in the second picture there. Or the trees on Prince's Island, anyway. My favourite park was completely submerged. Our hockey arena had turned into a swimming pool up to the 10th row of seats. The zoo was badly flooded (fortunately the zoo staff worked furiously to save almost all of the animals. They lost some fish and a couple peacocks who roam the grounds freely, had some distressed giraffes who are recovering, and had a scary moment when the hippos were able to swim out of their enclosure).

I should mention that at this time, I started getting an annoying sore spot in my throat that made it difficult to swallow. Sure sign of a nasty cold coming on, probably made worse by getting about three hours of sleep on Thursday night.

Saturday was more of the same, waiting for word from friends, waiting to see if we'd have to leave, and watching in complete disbelief as they showed shots of a good chunk of a major city under water. While I wasn't affected myself, I knew these areas. I KNOW these rivers. I've spent hours and hours running up and down the paths that follow the Bow and the Elbow, admiring the communities they go through, waving at the people, and just appreciating how lucky we are. Seeing the destruction hurt. It was still hard to wrap my mind around the fact that the water wouldn't just go away and leave everything a little cleaner in its path. Logically, you know the force behind it and you know what floods do, but emotionally I just wanted everything to go back to normal.

On Sunday, it started to recede. And that's when a literal army of volunteers started to rise up. I've gone between loving and hating this city at times, but what I saw last weekend made me so proud that for the first time I really wanted to call Calgary home. As soon as the water hit the first street, people wanted to help. There was this overwhelming wave of people just wanting to get out there and make things better in any way they could. Within a couple days, once conditions were safe enough, hundreds and hundreds of people hit the streets to clean up, to donate food and supplies, to offer support, and to just fix things. Twitter and other social media was great for this too, matching volunteers with the people and areas that needed them. This lasted all week and is still ongoing. Overwhelmingly, the attitude in the city was positive and even upbeat. So many people had lost so much, but the city would pull together to rebuild.

One of the best parts was seeing the local politicians out there helping too. Not just for photo ops, but literally out there from dawn until night, pulling long hours, knocking on doors, meeting with people, getting dirty and rallying support. I've generally been happy with who I've voted for in local elections, and I'm so impressed with what I've seen in the last week. You don't get to say that often enough about politicians.

As for me, I was wrapped up in a blanket, dealing with a Strep infection. I wish I'd been healthy enough to get out and do some work or to give something more than money to the effort. Over last week, things started to get back to normal a little bit. Buildings were pumped, roads were rebuilt (the road up above was fixed within one day), houses gutted and cleaned. The Stampede grounds had been completely underwater just two weeks before Calgary's biggest party, and they've been working around the clock to get it it ready for the parade this Friday. As much as some people question the priorities, we NEED this party. We need our parade and the celebration that's happened every year for the last century. Business are reopening (the sad thing about the areas the flood hit is that they're home to a lot of great little local businesses, not just large corporate chains) and people are moving back in. There are still lots of people who will be displaced for a long time, but overall the response has been quick and strong, and I hope it continues that way now that the immediate crisis is past.

As part of the return to normal, this last Friday, a week after the floods, my brother texted me to let me know he was in town. We planned to meet up for an early breakfast on Saturday before he and his girlfriend (who I hadn't met yet - she's very nice!) headed back to Victoria. Just some Saturday morning crepes in an area of town that had been evacuated seven days earlier.

That would have been a return to normal if I hadn't been woken up a loud popping sound at 2am. My brain went "Gunshots? No, fireworks. It's Canada day soon, they're testing. But why here? This isn't where they test fireworks," followed by more popping that woke me up completely. Nick had already been awake and was on the phone to 911, describing people running right below our building. Yep... we made it through the flood, only to have two people gunned down right on our doorstep. They still haven't released any more information on what happened and they don't have any suspects (Nick will be talking to the police soon, since he was the first to call 911 and got some good information from our vantage point above where it happened). We were basically trapped in our apartment for the rest of the day, since they had everything taped off and we could only leave on foot. At least breakfast was good.

And now it's two weeks later. It's Canada day, and it's awesome to see the streets filled with people dressed in red, heading to the park to celebrate our country and our city. The sun is shining and the spirit throughout the city is amazing. The half marathon clinic I signed up for starts tomorrow, and my throat infection has finally cleared up enough that I can move again.

I haven't run in two weeks, since I took that little trip around the Stampede park on Father's day. I'm glad I went East that morning - it'll be a long, long time before the path is back to normal, and it'll never be quite what it was. It may, in fact, be better once they're able to fix things back up, but it'll never be exactly the same path I remember from hundreds of kilometers of marathon training. The little suspension bridges look like someone picked them up and dropped them:

Looking at the paths out West makes me sad. My favourite path that way closes over winter, and I hadn't had a chance to run it yet this year. That path is special to me. That's the one where, a couple years ago, I looked at a google map, saw a bridge that was way further than I'd ever run before, and decided to give it a go. It was scary and exhilarating when I hit the point of no return, where I'd have to keep going through this unknown path to get back to civilization (ie, a bus stop if I needed it), and it was on that 14k run that I decided I could run a half marathon. Nick had a chance to go out there on his new bike a couple times (on my recommendation), but I'd wanted us do head out there together for a picnic sometime this summer. In fact, we'd been thinking of doing that on the day we went to the museum instead. Sadly, what used to look like this:

is now riverfront property in some areas:

It feels selfish to be mourning paths when there are so many areas still hurting and homes/businesses destroyed, but it's all part of what makes this city what it is. There's a pang of pain when you see something you love broken, and you just want to wave a magic wand to fix it. There are no magic wands, so all we can do is keep contributing to the effort in all areas to rebuild, stronger than ever.
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  • COOP9002
    Thanks for sharing. Blessings upon you today.
    1726 days ago
    Wow! Ya know I read story after story about this terrible flood but this really put in it perspective. I'm glad you were for the most part unaffected but I feel your lose on your favorite runnin path. I don't know what I'd do if the path i ran on was under water. Hope you get some normalcy back soon and your path!
    1726 days ago
    thanks for the story! I lived in Calgary in the mid 90's... and loved every minute of it! The house that I lived in would have been totally under water!!! Glad that the city is getting back to 'normal'. Enjoy the summer, and your clinic.
    1726 days ago
  • PCOH051610
    Thanks for telling this through your eyes as the news never does a story like this justice. Just glad you are both okay
    1726 days ago
    Beautifully described. I'm glad you were unaffected.
    1726 days ago
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