The day of the scheduled Revel hike to the Muir Beach Overlook was a red flag day, and hike leader Heidi Paizis, a 62-year-old mostly retired career coach, made sure to alert the members who were planning to attend. Two dropped out, but the remaining nine women didn’t think much of it. The clear, warm, late October morning hadn’t seemed particularly windy and there had been no sign of impending fire. But no more than half a mile from where they’d parked their cars, on a path leading to Slide Ranch, a teaching farm overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the Revel hikers spotted smoke ahead. “Then the smoke got wider,” Heidi says, “and the flames became visible.” She knew that wildfires could travel fast (6 miles per hour in forests, and 14 miles per hour in grasslands) and as the flames grew bigger, Heidi called 9-1-1 and told the hikers they needed to head back.
The sudden blaze – a brush fire that eventually spread to 58 acres – would lead firefighters to close Highway 1. But because of both the wind direction and effective firefighting (helicopters delivered flame retardant and water sucked up from the creek at Muir Beach), it never became a serious threat to property or lives. “On our way down the hill, we saw the fire engines and first responders coming up the mountain,” Heidi says. “We got very lucky that the wind went out to the ocean and the fire didn’t come to the Muir Beach community.”
The group brought their picnic lunch to a Sausalito art gallery across from Heath Ceramics. “We needed to decompress,” Heidi says. “You know it can happen, but you never think you’ll find yourself in that situation.”
One of the hikers, 63-year-old artist Leslie Allen, had joined Revel just two days before the hike. Since that experience, a much more serious wildfire – the Kincade Fire – swept through 78,000 acres in northern California’s wine country, displacing 180,000 residents and leaving Leslie and other Revel members without power for weeks.
“I realize the extent to which I’ve become addicted to electronic devices,” Leslie says, adding that she’s vowing to work on her tech addiction, but has also purchased a tiny solar panel for device charging. “I was going to the local Target store for power and WiFi,” she says. “I was grateful to have access during the blackout.”
It’s clear to all the members who attended the hike that wildfires and blackouts are a new normal. “I think everybody needs to become more resilient,” Leslie says.
“The new reality is to always be on alert,” Heidi adds. “Everyone now has a kit in their car, house and boat with a crank radio, water, and food. Every neighborhood spends resources to cut trees and shrubs to create a defensible space. It’s on everyone’s minds.”
Heidi says she’s looking forward to hosting more hikes in the future, and might offer a Greek cooking event as well. “Everyone I’ve met through Revel is like-minded,” she says. “They are intelligent, active, artistic.”
Leslie, a dedicated kayaker, says she’ll be back for more hikes as well. “Hiking is my main outdoor activity,” she says. “My social network has shrunk since my partner left. One of the reasons Revel appeals to me is that there’s an opportunity to start over again and develop a new social circle.”