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Gear Rehab Can Help Flooded Colorado Residents

boulder_flood_bike

We knew we were in trouble on Sept. 12, when the rain, which had been falling without break for four days, came down even harder. From my second-story home office, I could hear the nearby creek thunder like a herd of galloping clysdales. The street outside our house morphed into a river with water reaching above the wheels of parked cars. Twitter was going mad with the hashtag #boulderflood, texts were coming in from friends whose apartments and houses flooded, and I, a Colorado native more acclimated to hot and dry weather than monsoon torrents, realized I was in the midst of something far beyond my control.

And then our house flooded, too.

It wasn’t that bad, relatively speaking. I live in southwest Boulder in a split-level ranch, and the flood forced us to rip out drenched carpet from our basement. Our couch got wet. Totally manageable.

Surrounding me, though, was devastation. Houses torn from their foundations by waves of muddy water. People buried under the rubble of their homes or swept from their cars by quick-moving waters.

The death toll from the notorious 100-year-flood that slammed Colorado’s Front Range is holding at six, so far. Thousands of people required helicopter evacuations and may not be allowed to return to their homes in the foothills for weeks because the roads going there are trashed and impassable. The mayhem in and around Boulder promises to linger. The city’s bike paths—which, thankfully, also served as flood mitigation—are closed for safety, and the streets are littered with dried mud and rocks. Important bridges are snapped in two.

The bright side, of course, is the community effort rallying behind those hit the worst. Neighbors are taking in neighbors. People are donating clothing, labor, office space, money, and more to help those in need. We are all digging deep to find reserves of patience, perseverance, and humor.

But sometimes, even funny things don’t seem funny in the aftermath of a flood. I’m thinking specifically about my friend, Kate’s, Gore-Tex jacket, which she has had since 1998, and which has been with her to Canada, Thailand, France, California, Colorado, Wyoming, and countless other destinations. This jacket lived in the basement of her Boulder home and was submerged when her basement flooded.

It really might have been the “straw that broke the camel’s back.” That jacket, already well loved, got it bad. Now it stinks, has an odd texture, and is the last thing you’d want to wear, even in a rainstorm.

But back to that community effort for a moment. Not only are locals helping out. Nationally, people have been offering assistance to those affected by the flood.

One such offer comes from the folks at Nikwax and their “Gear Rehab” program. Granted, this offer was established before the floods. But now there are probably thousands of jackets and gloves and ski pants just like Kate’s. Nikwax wants to make sure my friends and I know we can send in “flooded” gear to Nikwax U.S. headquarters, and they’ll rehab it and send it back to you for free. Check out the details here.

I’ll be the first to say that a stanky jacket is the least of most flood victims’ worries.  But restore that jacket, and there’s one less expense flooded residents have to worry about. That’s really cool. Thanks, Nikwax. Now…about my couch…  —Rachel Walker


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True confessions: we’ve neglected our gear, too

Just like "Old Yellow," this faithful jacket was abused and forgotten—for a while. Fortunately, we salvaged it before it crawled into the dumpster.

Just like “Old Yellow,” this faithful jacket was abused and forgotten—for a while. Fortunately, we salvaged it before it crawled into the dumpster.

The smell was ungodly. Every time I cracked open my dry bag, the stench brought tears of disgust and pain to my eyes. At first, the smell just made me feel a little dirty – nothing over the top.

It wasn’t until Day 13 of a 16-day mid-August Grand Canyon river trip that I realized the bag had taken on a life of its own. This odor was different. It wasn’t just unpleasant; it was downright rancid. While I recognized something was amiss, I ignored the warning signs. But on that fateful day, the sky opened up and the first rain shower we’d had since the put-in sent us scattering to grab rain gear.

I excavated my cherished lemon yellow raincoat from the offending bag.

Some background: I had coveted this coat since childhood. It was a classic happy yellow, just what the Morton salt girl would wear if she were a Gore-Tex junkie. This coat was my partner. One time, its near-neon yellow visibility saved a group of 30 tourists from careening off a cliff on fog-encased glacier in Switzerland. True story. It held up on a backpacking trip to hell and back. It was neither flattering, nor stylish, but I loved this raincoat with all my heart.

As the rain pummeled us, I slipped it on without a care, though I couldn’t help gagging on the smell.

“Dummy,” I thought to myself. “You put a damp coat into a compressed dry bag for 13 days in 100-degree heat. It’s molded and ruined!” It was moldy, alright, but this mold had nothing to do with being put away wet.

This mold was the result of absolute neglect: a slice of cheese and a dry bag warming to incomprehensible heat in the hot Arizona sun.

You see, the night before the put-in on a raft trip is always hectic event, especially in the rain. You’ve been planning the trip for ages and you’re jockeying to rig boats. When I picked up the cheese slice that someone dropped, I threw it in my pocket… until I could make my way to the garbage cans. At least that was the plan.

I’ve not researched the full catalog of fibers cheese mold can adhere to and successfully colonize, but I can now say with confidence that waterproof/durable, lemon yellow raincoat fiber is one. In the petri dish of a rubber dry bag, heated to a consistency far above average body temperature for a fortnight, that mold will not only survive, it will flourish.

Too mortified to tell anyone that I’d been conducting inadvertent chemical experiments the entirety of our trip, I stealthily pushed my raincoat into a plastic trash bag and rode out the remaining three days of the trip with a lingering odor that people noticed but were too kind to mention.

Back at home, there were only two options for Old Yellow: the trashcan or the washing machine. First, I turned the jet hose on it. The stink was stronger than my will.

As a last ditch effort, I threw it the washing machine and poured in some Tech Wash, as that was my habit. Had I stopped to think about it, I would have poured in the most toxic stink-fighter I could find. Instead, I berated myself for “wasting” the Tech Wash.

One wash with Tech Wash gave me hope. We weren’t in the clear, but you had to bury your nose in the jacket in order to smell the cheesy aftereffects. The second wash brought the world back into equilibrium: zero stink and no evidence of mold. The third wash was really just a hopeful attempt to erase the mold hangover in my mind.

Six years later and I’m proud the say my yellow raincoat is still with me and performing like a champion. I may have put her through the ringer, but sweet redemption is ours from the Great Grand Canyon Cheese Episode. —Brook Sutton