EMMA ROUTLEY/THE CHRONICLEFalling trees and ominous smoke clouds were part of a weekend trip to Bend on the Labor Day holiday.

Labor Day was smokey and grey outside while my partner and I visited Bend this weekend.

These face masks are proving to be useful beyond the Coronavirus, and I kept mine on to avoid breathing in the poor quality air whenever I had to be outside. 

These details aside, I still didn’t think that traveling home to Eugene that night was going to be impossible. 

We took Highway 126, the usual route to travel from the valley to Bend and back. Branches and debris lay all over the road. Sudden bursts of wind that increased with every mile threw the branches against our car and the debris into the windshield. 

The towering evergreen trees rocked on either side of the car, and I was aware that they could topple.

Instinct told me to turn around, but we wanted to get home so we kept driving. The farther we drove, the more scared I felt, and I was having a hard time not envisioning the worst.

Phone service was spotty, and I called my mom whenever a single bar would appear in the corner of the screen. 

Over an hour into our trip, my fears felt confirmed as we were forced to stop just outside Blue River. 

The Oregon transportation employee said he was called out to the scene from Springfield. Blue River occupants had been told to evacuate about 15-30 minutes prior to our arrival, he said. He told us and the five other cars to turn around and head back toward Bend, away from the three fires that were close to the highway.

Everyone moved quickly, using both of the blocked lanes to swing their vehicles into the direction from which we came.  

EMMA ROUTLEY/THE CHRONICLEFalling trees and ominous smoke clouds were part of a weekend trip to Bend on the Labor Day holiday.

I felt like we were being chased by the fire. The only things to be seen through the smoke were the rocking trees and faint red tail lights from other cars. The worst feeling was not having any phone service in case we needed to call for help while being surrounded by miles of dark, murky forest.

Once we made it back to Sisters and phone service returned, we booked a hotel for the night and searched for alternate routes the morning of Sept. 8. With determination to stay safe but also get back to our jobs, we were still en route at press time, attempting to travel back on Highway 58.

It’s our only option. Fingers crossed we can make it back home to the valley today.

Emma Routley is a reporter and photographer for The Chronicle. Visit chronile1909.com for an update.