In the Darrington, the Timberbowl Rodeo saw some of its largest crowds ever this past weekend. Neighbors gathered at the event to hug, shake hands and heal up from this year's nearby terrible Oso landslide. One rodeo cowgirl, Alexis Blakey, knows nearly everyone here. She’s 20, and today is her hometown rodeo. She’s working on achieving her pro-rodeo status for barrel racing. And Alexis wants this win.
Announcer: “Ok, we’re ready to go with our first barrel racer … Alexis Blakey!”
The goal is to run a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels as fast as possible. Alexis urges Tax into the arena. Tax is her bay-colored gelding. The crowd hushes as Alexis lopes the thoroughbred into starting position through the deep sand. Then she wheels his head toward the first barrel and squeezes her legs into his sides.
Tax explodes across the start. The crowd erupts in applause.
It’s here -- in this moment – in this short ride she can forget what happened the morning of March 22nd. The Oso native says the terrible landslide that made her town infamous is branded on her brain. She was at these same rodeo grounds that day when she saw ambulance after ambulance headed for nearby Oso.
Alexis Blakey: “I don’t know we were all just like, what is going on? Is this really happening right now?”
A man came to the rodeo grounds that day with a trailer full of horses and was crying. He told her three more horses were on the east side of slide where the river water was backing up, and he couldn’t catch them. He worried the horses would drown. Alexis loaded up into the man’s truck to go get them. The water was backing up over the road, and it was closed.
Alexis Blakey: “It was kind of scary ‘cause the water was you know halfway up the truck, even though they had these huge you know swamper tires on it.”
Alexis and another woman caught the horses in the dark. Then rode them bareback with just halters. They crossed horse-belly-deep rushing water.
Alexis Blakey: “So that was kind of scary. I didn’t know … the water was all murky I didn’t know if it was washing out the driveway underneath us and stuff.”
They managed to get all to safety. Alexis says at this rodeo it’s good to remember, but it’s also good to forget for a while. These two sunny days under Whitehorse Mountain give them permission to move forward with life, and a bit of joy.
At the race, Alexis and Tax are turning so close the barrels nearly tip over. Tax explodes off the second barrel rearing toward the third turn. Once they clear the last barrel they run. The announcer yells, “Darrington help her home!”
Announcer: “Darrington help her home, she’s one of yours. Help her home!"
Alexis runs a fast 18.503. Times are still tough in Oso and Darrington. Most of the lumber mills are closed. More neighbors moved away after the slide. But she says they did what they had to, to help their own.
Alexis Blakey: “I always thought that we had the greatest community. And now I feel like the rest of the world knows that too.”
And running these barrels with Tax is good medicine. Alexis says then there’s only: Her breath, her horse and her quick turns ahead. Somewhere in the middle of that rodeo arena and her 18-second ride -- the Oso landslide eats dust.
Copyright Northwest Public Radio 2014