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Chico State

Chico State Cyclists Circle up to Help Teammate

Chico State Cycling Team working to clear Brian Kavenaugh’s fire break to mitigate against the Camp Fire.
Courtesy photo

The messaging thread was fast and frenzied.

As the Camp Fire erupted, members of the Chico State Cycling Team marveled at its growing ferocity, pondered the fate of classes that day, and remained wary of the fire’s path. Senior cyclist Brian Kavenaugh’s phone kept pinging, as he watched the smoke from his home on Cohasset Road, listened to his scanner, and began prepping to evacuate.

From his vantage point, the fire was still miles away. But with winds howling and only the bone-dry Cohasset Ridge between the flames and Kavenaugh’s home in the hills, his teammates past and present made a suggestion within their group text.

“It honestly wouldn’t hurt to prepare, Brian, wouldn’t want to get caught up”— club vice president Alex Chamberlin.

“I don’t see it stopping anytime soon,”—Andrew Cobourn (Exercise Physiology, ’17).

“Let us know if you need any help.”—team trip leader Jack Morris.

Kavenaugh, the team’s safety officer and a computer information systems major weeks from graduating, has evacuated from his four-acre property a couple of times. With the smoke plume looming large and darkening the sky, he began loading his most treasured items and asked for his teammates to call when the fire reached Highway 32. Then, a vehicle rollover was reported on Centerville Road a little before 2 p.m., igniting his fear that panicked people would block his escape route regardless of how much time he had.

Two rakes, three shovels, a pickaxe and a McLeod tool lean against a truck.
A sampling of the tools that members of the Chico State Cycling Team brought to help create a fire break at teammate Brian Kavenaugh’s home to protect it during the Camp Fire.
Courtesy photo

He decided to take his teammates up on their offer of aid and grabbed his phone.

“Anyone feeling like they want to work and want to help me clean up my line break?” he texted.

Within minutes, teammates were jumping in their trucks and headed north. Crookham, an agricultural business major and the team’s president, made a few quick stops to retrieve teammates and tools on the way.

“It was a good feeling seeing everyone say, ‘Heck yeah, I’m down, let’s go help Brian!’” said Crookham. “In a matter of 10 minutes, we already had nine kids up there.”

The group went to work cleaning up and bolstering Kavenaugh’s fire break with shovels, rakes, pickaxes, and McLeods. A hardy tool with jagged teeth on one side (to loosen earth and soil) and a flat edge on the other side, McLeods are common in wildfire suppression but also familiar to the Cycling Team, which regularly uses them to build and groom mountain bike trails, like the one at their home course at Mount Shasta Ski Park.

“It was pretty cool seeing all nine of us throwing rakes and McLeods around and building this huge road around [Brian’s] house, working with chainsaws, getting rid of huge trees and clutter, and getting his place prepared if he had to get the heck out of here,” Crookham recalled.

In the middle of working, the team received the campus notification that classes were cancelled the next day. Above them, the sky had darkened and blocked out the sun. As they wrapped up that evening, after about five hours of nonstop labor, they could see flames glowing over the ridge.

“It was a pretty scary deal,” Crookham said.

With a freshly fortified 12-foot-wide fire break circling his home, Kavenaugh decided to leave his house for the safety of Chico and his team helped him pack up his bike, guns, military records, computer, some clothing and camping gear, in case he had to camp out somewhere. He also brought his two dogs and two cats with him. For the next few days, he slept in town but returned home during the days, running a sprinkler on his roof and continuing to clear brush to maintain defensible space around his home.

Forced to miss the season-ending bike race in Santa Cruz because of the evacuation, Kavenaugh expressed his gratitude on his Facebook page: “I’m disappointed I missed our last race this last weekend. I am however glad I had the opportunity to be on the team for 2 years and meet some awesome young adults. I’m very proud of this team. Not only did they help me build a fire break while the fire was still growing this way, many of those still in town volunteered at shelters afterwards.”

Coming together to help one of their own in a time of crisis strengthened the team’s bond, Crookham said, and it underscored the sentiment that the team is more than just a group of people who races bikes every weekend.

“We’re actually close friends and we all keep in touch and ride bikes together outside of races,” he said. “It felt really good to help.”