ARLINGTON — It was a beautiful gray day.
About 35 people gathered for the dedication of a memorial bench on Centennial Trail last week for Dan O’Donnell, founder of a group of senior cyclers who call themselves the Big Shots.
His widow brought flowers. His son spread some of his ashes. His friends shared stories.
“The bench is sturdy and dependable, just like Dan,” said Loren Sand. “The back of the seat is soft, smooth. It’s just like Dan. Underneath that crusty guy, he was just a sweetheart.”
Dan was the ringleader of the bunch of mostly Everett guys, 70s through 90-plus, riding bikes as if they were 8 again. For some 20 years, twice a week they’d go 15 or 20 miles, with a stop for lunch.
“Dan always reminded us we live by three rules in this club: ‘No kickstands. No women. And no matter what, I’m in charge,’” said David Lande.
The group would meet at Dan’s home in Everett for their riding orders. He’d pick the route and the eating place, and off they’d carpool to a trailhead or gulch at places around the county and beyond.
Dan died on Dec. 11, 2017, on a ride with his buddies along the Snohomish River. He collapsed seconds after saying, “It’s a beautiful day to ride.” He was 78.
Dan formed the Big Shots after his first cardiac arrest in 1995 to stay fit, recruiting one buddy after another. They came from a variety of backgrounds — educators, tradesmen, business owners — and grew to be best friends. The social circle included their wives, who could have ridden bikes with them had they so desired.
Once a Big Shot, always a Big Shot. The oldest, Bert Larsson who turns 93 this week, can’t ride anymore but is still part of the group.
The bench is within walking distance from the Haller Park entrance, in the section near where the proposed Whitehorse Trail will break off.
The members have continued the bike rides since their leader’s death. Until recently, they met in his front yard to plan where to ride, much to the delight of his widow, Ann.
“Dan was adventurous. We got to see and do things that we never would have done,” Lande said. “Now we’ve got a bunch of grumpy old men and we can’t decide.”
The Big Shots went on a 10-mile ride before the bench dedication, showing up on bikes, their pants legs rolled up on the chain side. Some kept their helmets on. Afterwards, they went to lunch.
A year on, they are still lost without their patriarch, but keep the bromance going.
“Dan was absolutely the glue that kept us all together. He still keeps us together,” Sand said.
They pitched in to buy the $2,700 bench that has a plaque that reads, “It’s a beautiful day to ride.” At the base are 18 engraved bricks with the names of all the Big Shots.
“Knowing we’re going to lose more folks as the years come and go along,” said Larry O’Donnell, who is of no relation to Dan.
Since Dan, they’ve lost Fred Weyers, who was 89 when he died in March. Fred was honored at the ceremony, attended by his wife and family members who walked the one-third mile to the bench.
Fred was the carpool king. He sometimes joined them even when he wasn’t able to ride due to health issues.
Sand talked about how they’d fit seven men with bikes in Weyers’ big van. Packed with all those bikes, the van turned heads when they parked at the lunch place after a ride. It had a handicapped placard.
“The saving grace is when we got out of the van we were all kind of wobbly,” Sand said.
On their rides, the Big Shots noticed benches along trails. They decided a bench would be the way to honor Dan. Not that he’d ever allow them to rest during a ride.
After all, that was one of Dan’s rules: No kickstands.