The Timberbowl Rodeo, in the town of Darrington, Washington, saw some of its largest crowds ever this past weekend. Neighbors gathered at the event to hug, shake hands and heal up a bit from this year's nearby terrible Oso landslide.
Alexis Blakey, 20, knows nearly everyone in the small town that lies 74 miles northeast of Seattle. The native of nearby Oso, Washington, said the 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 Oso.
“I don’t know," Blakey said. "We were all just like, 'What is going on? Is this really happening right now?'”
'The water was halfway up the truck'
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.
Blakey loaded up into the man’s truck to go get them. The water was backing up over the road, and it was closed.
“It was kind of scary because the water was halfway up the truck, even though they had these huge swamper tires on it,” Blakey recalled.
Blakey and another woman caught the horses in the dark, then rode them bareback with just halters. They crossed horse-belly-deep rushing water.
“That was kind of scary," Blakey said. "I didn’t know … the water was all murky I didn’t know if it was washing out the driveway underneath us and stuff.”
But hey managed to get all to safety.
The rodeo let her forget what happened the morning of March 22, 2014. Blakey said it’s good to remember at her hometown rodeo, but it’s also good to forget for a while. These two sunny days under Whitehorse Mountain gave them permission to move forward with life, and a bit of joy.
She had been working on achieving her pro-rodeo status for barrel racing. The goal of barrel racing is to run a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels as fast as possible. And she wanted that win.
Blakey urged Tax, her bay-colored gelding, into the arena. The crowd hushed as Blakey loped the thoroughbred into starting position through the deep sand.
When she wheeled his head toward the first barrel and squeezed her legs into his sides, Tax burst across the start. Blakey and Tax turned so close, the barrels nearly tipped over. Tax exploded off the second barrel rearing toward the third turn. Once they cleared the last barrel they ran for the finish line. The announcer yelled, “Darrington help her home, she’s one of yours. Help her home!"
Blakey ran a fast 18.503 seconds.
'The greatest community'
Running these barrels with Tax is good medicine for Blakey. She said there’s only her breath, her horse and her quick turns ahead.
Blakey lost her lead in the Timberbowl Rodeo on Sunday when the rein slipped out of her hand over her horse’s head. She will travel the rodeo circuit this summer and plans to attend Central Washington University in Ellensburg in the fall.
Times are still tough in Oso and Darrington. Most of the lumber mills are closed. More neighbors moved away after the slide. But Blakey said they did what they had to, to help their own.
“I always thought that we had the greatest community," she said. "And now I feel like the rest of the world knows that too.”