By Douglas Buell
OSO – The landslide that killed 43 people three years ago was remembered this week by cyclists as they rode from Arlington to Darrington to honor the communities that have marched on after adversity.
Gov. Jay Inslee was among the bicyclists. Every participant wore the number “43” on their riding tag.
“We have seen a rebirth from this disaster that has been impressive; both these communities look great,” Inslee said. “They have more love and strength than they did four years ago. And I loved riding Oso strong with you today.”
The ride marked a somber anniversary, but it also offered an opportunity to celebrate the communities of Arlington, Oso and Darrington and the bonds that united the communities in the aftermath of the worst natural disaster in the state since the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.
The ride started at about 8:15 a.m. in Legion Park, continued along Highway 530 and ended in Darrington at the community center at about 11 a.m.
Kicking off the event were Mark Everett, co-owner of Arlington Velo Sport Bicycle, and Jose Mangual, who tragically lost in the disaster his 13-year-old son, JoJo. It was a meeting between the two that sparked the idea for the JoJo Trail Ride and the Ride to Remember Oso.
“That was the inspiration,” Everett said.
Three years ago, Mangual, who is in the military out of state, walked into the bicycle shop. As the two started talking, Everett learned that Mangual had just lost his son. His son’s stepfather and two younger sisters also perished in the slide.
Mangual bought and constructed a custom bicycle that bear’s his son’s name painted his favorite color, day-glo yellow, with help from Everett and the Trek bicycle company. It was an emotional moment when Mangual and Everett unveiled the new day-glo yellow bicycle before the start of the remembrance ride Sunday.
Everett brought the idea for the ride to city leaders in Arlington and Darrington. They chose to use funds the cities were awarded during the America’s Best Communities competition to put together the event.
“I never thought that it was going to be this big,” Mangual said at the starting line, where more than 200 riders prepared to head out on the 28-miles route in split groups.
The ride included stunning vistas obscured by a crater in a hillside, marking where the slide swept away dozens of homes on March 22, 2014, after weeks of heavy rains.
At the finish line riders joined a “Celebration of Strong Communities” event meant to acknowledge how far the region has come since the slide.
Officials at the podium who spoke of the communities’ resiliency included Inslee, Arlington Mayor Barb Tolbert, Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin, Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers, Congresswoman Suzan DelBene and Sauk-Suiattle Tribe Vice Chairman Kevin Lenon
“This celebration we’re having is to show what happens when strong communities come together, and how resilient the people are who live in the Arlington, Oso and Darrington communities,” Tolbert said.
“Three years ago, people came and stood beside us while we tried to make sense of what happened, and figure out what our path forward would be,” she added.
Through the ABC competition that followed, we’re going to show the rest of the country just how special our communities are, Tolbert said. “We are communities that can economically redevelop ourselves as vibrant, resilient communities.”
Welcome to our home, Rankin addressed the crowd. “This is where Darrington’s heart is. And, on a day like today, you know why we all live here. You have helped us with some of the most trying times anyone, anywhere will ever have, in our experience.”
Lenon said that as a first responder, their small department was overwhelmed, but he commended the many fire and search-and -rescue agencies for all the help.
“No one department can train alone for such a disaster of that magnitude,” Lenon said. “After this event, we take the threat of natural disasters a lot more seriously now,” referencing the Glacier Peak volcano 20 miles east that could cause unparalled devastation.
Riders were as much overwhelmed by the great cycling weather as they were for the remembrance ride and what it represented to Stillaguamish Valley residents affected by the slide.
“I thought the ride was wonderful,” said Stacy Hansen of Edmonds. “It was a beautiful, reflective ride, and that’s what brought me out.”
The scene of the slide from the roadway served as a powerful visual reminder for people from outside the area. Many riders stopped briefly to take a moment to remember.
Hansen said she signed up months ago for the ride because she was unable to participate last year because of surgery, but now she’s on the bike again. “You know somebody was looking out for us today,” she said of the weather, which was sunny for one of the few times this year.
Kris Redwood of Kirkland has ridden several trails and routes around Western Washington. He said the Oso event was a great ride.
“It was calm, well-organized, with a lot of good support from the community out here, actually along the whole way from Arlington through Oso to Darrington,” Redwood said. “ You couldn’t have picked a better day.
Redwood said he saw the theme in action for the ride, celebrating communities in the Stillaguamish Valley working together.
“I could see why the communities were nominated as one of the finalists in the America’s Best Communities competition,” he said.
The governor had his own story about JoJo. The governor went to Post Middle School to honor JoJo, as one of the 43, for his school assembly. All the kids were wearing day-glo yellow shoelaces in memory of JoJo.
The governor was pleased to see that color again as JoJo’s father rode the new day-glo yellow bicycle the entire route.
“That’s what Oso strong is all about,” Inslee said.