The Serendipitous Tale of the Stolen Bike

This is a story about human goodness, about life’s serendipitous events.  Sometimes, the pieces fit together in just the right way…

Image

For the past six weeks of racing events, the bike had served as a focal point of our display.  Branded in the Lucas red, white, and blue, the CRF 250 #36 Troy Lee Designs Honda had been the backdrop for the amateur champions who posed on the podium; it had served in photo opps for the little kids who were placed on top of it, encouraged by proud parents to smile for the photo; it had been oohed and awed over by super fans and veteran racers at all the events we brought it to. 

Image

So when we woke up on Sunday morning to find that it had been stolen in the middle of the night, to say that we were devastated doesn’t accurately convey the dark cloud of anger and shame and sadness that moved in to hover over us.  We had lost the precious cargo that had been entrusted to our keeping. 

Filing a state police report and making announcements over the loudspeaker at Budds Creek did little to reassure me that there was any hope of finding the bike or the culprits.  Surrounded by backwoods trails, the bike could be anywhere.  Most likely, it was long gone by now.

But it was amateur race day, and there was work to be done.  The boss at home urged us to move forward–make the best of the day–so we lugged our supplies through the hot morning drizzle that was all around us like a suffocating bog, and got back to work.

Once our booth and podium display had been erected, the amateur riders who had stuck around to race, along with their families, the track staff, the promoters, and the vendors, began to trickle in to our booth. 

They commiserated with us over the loss of the bike.  They offered their own stories of lost and stolen property.  They cursed the thieves and summoned karma.  “They’ll get theirs,” they said, shaking their heads in solemn disgust.  They searched for solutions and directed us towards nearby trails to search.  

Thirteen year old AJ, who knew the area well, even hopped on his ryno and rode through miles of backwoods to search for the bike, in hopes that it had been stashed somewhere while his dad fed us lunch.

When it was time for winners to be crowned, the mood lifted.  Pint-sized kids on their 50’s showed up to claim their trophies and prizes and stand on the podium, as mom called out “Smile!” and dad added, “Hold up your trophy, son.”  They all beamed with pride.

We snapped photos, shook hands, gave out bags of prizes, offered congratulations, and gradually, in the midst of the excitement, the gloom of the morning burned off.  It’s hard to feel down when everyone around you is so happy, so appreciative, so empathetic.

Image

When Bryce Mauldin, who took first in both his races, realized we were taking photos of all the winners, he went back to his campsite for his racing boots.  He didn’t want to be photographed in his tennis shoes. 

In the meantime, we got to talking to his parents, Shelly and Vance, and the story of the bike unfolded.  We described in detail the events of the morning.  They wished that there was something they could do.

As the afternoon drew to a close and the evening brought some coolness to the muggy day, we said our goodbyes to the Mauldins, along with the others who, just yesterday, had been strangers.

***

A few miles away, Frank Wood turned off the main road to stop at his property. He parked and got out of his truck.  His eye caught on something out of place–down a ravine, in a half-concealed ditch, something red, white and blue peeked through the dense foliage.  When he trudged down to investigate, he found a dirt bike.

Having had his own bike stolen in the past, he knew that thieves in the area would steal bikes from the track, stash their finds in the woods, and come back with pickup trucks during the night to take off with them.  So he called the police.

The police officers checked police report records for a stolen bike, but found nothing.  They called a tow truck to haul it off to impound.

Meanwhile, Vance and Shelly Mauldin were on their way to the grocery store, but they missed their turn.  Just as they were turning back around, they spotted a red, white, and blue dirt bike strapped onto a tow truck on the side of the road.

Image

They pulled over excitedly, explaining that they knew the bike’s owner, and then lead the police offices back to the track with the runaway bike in tow.

When Bryce and his friend Joey raced up to us on their bikes breathless from pedaling to tell us that the bike had been found, we were incredulous.  But that is just how we found it—strapped to the back of the tow truck, surrounded by a buzz of excited people, everyone chiming in to tell their part of the story. 

Carrie Coombs-Russell, the front-woman of MX sports, smiled serenely, sipping on a Coors Light, and said, “I told you it would turn up.” 

Image

[Photo: Frank Wood]

“If Frank hadn’t stopped at his property,” we mused, “they would have come back for it tonight.”

“If we hadn’t missed our turn,” Shelly realized, “we wouldn’t have seen them to identify the bike.”

“If I hadn’t gone back for my boots, we never would have gotten the story,” Bryce observed.

“If we had given up on the day, and flaked out on running the podium…” I said to Jason, and he nodded knowingly. 

We hugged and cheered and stared long and wild-eyed at the prized bike before us.  We couldn’t believe our great luck, and looking around, we couldn’t believe we had so many new friends with whom to share the triumph.

Image

[Photo: Vance Mauldin, Shelly Mauldin, Joey Farrell, Bryce Mauldin]

Advertisements

Much Yet to be Written…

Image

“This,” she says, holding up a figurine, “Is an Evel Knievel collector’s item.” Her lips curl into a mischievous smile. “Dave was a big fan.”  She goes on to tell a story of one particular road trip, when he went on a quest to meet Knievel. 

My eyes wander across the rows of signed jerseys—everyone from Carmichael to Villopoto; medals bearing almost four decades of pro motocross series insignia hang from various hooks.

“First edition Redbull can,” she laughs, and sets a stout gold can back on the shelf.   

The room is a treasure chest of motocross history.  Each piece resonates memories, but judging from the far-off glow I see in Rita Coombs’ eyes, I imagine that it’s only through experience that one appreciates the true value of these treasures.

“And this,” she cackles, “Someone sent us their application on a boot!” She holds up an old Scott motocross boot made of red plastic.  It’s covered in a handwritten resume.  I’m not sure whether or not the guy got the job, but his application made the memorabilia room, which is, in itself, a great accomplishment.

Image

Later we meet Davey Coombs, editor-n-chief of Racer X Productions.  When we tell him we’re planning to hit some of the Civil War sites on our way up to Budds Creek, he begins to map out an itinerary of places to see, starting with Antietam.  “23,000 killed—more deaths during the 12 hour battle at Antietam than any other single day of battle on American soil!” he exclaims.

“So you’re a history buff?” I observe. 

“I was going to be a history teacher,” he says, smiling. 

“You didn’t plan on working the family business?”

“Not at all,” he reflects.  “I went to college.  Got degrees in English and history.”  I raise my eyebrows in surprise.  One would assume Davey would have simply fallen in line with his father, Dave Coombs Sr.—founder of MX Sports, father of professional motocross, the man who invented off road moto as we know it today, who knocked on Loretta Lynn’s front door and asked if he could host a national amateur motocross race on her ranch (and she said yes!). 

“Carrie Jo too,” Davey continues.  “She went off to law school.  She’d been practicing law for a little while when I graduated, and she gave me a call.  Told me she’d spent some time out there.  Told me it wasn’t that great,” and we laugh because we’ve all spent enough time working in the ‘real world’ to know that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. “I was a journalist and a photographer, and I grew up racing motocross, so I came back here and started a newspaper.”

Image

He pulls out a browned newspaper entitled The Racing Paper, dated March 1990.  We pause for a moment to marvel at it as the reality of just how far they’ve come, sets in.  It seems Dave Sr. wasn’t the only visionary in the family.

Davey’s nonchalance belies his accomplishments: The Racing Paper evolved into what is now Racer X Illustrated and Racer X Online—the world’s top source of motocross and supercross news, videos, features, and photos.  Racer X is the source I turned to a year ago—when I left my classroom and my books and my students—to follow a sport I didn’t know much about, to nurture the fledgling business that Jason and I had created. 

During the five days we spend camped out in the Racer X parking lot, they offer up not only their office and Internet, but their hot shower, their cabin by the lake, and their boat.  We’re astounded by their generosity.

When we reluctantly return to the road, I sit down at my computer as the Racer X building fades into the distance.  The page before me is blank.  But I know there is much yet to be written. 

‘L’ is for Lucas

We match the address in our hand to the one posted on the brick pillars before us. The pillars are met by neat, green hedges. The gate is already open. Meandering up the driveway we survey it all, gulping in the freshness of the air, registering the sound of babbling water and singing birds. We gape at the acres of lawn, at the criss-cross patterns from the mower that line the knolls.

Image

We pull up to the mansion, the palace built of bricks. We giggle and guffaw, eyes wide, like children encountering Candyland. Like Richie Rich. Like that movie Blank Check. All of these metaphors we use to try to express the whole scene. The ‘L’ on the front drive exudes greatness.

Image

“Like Gatsby,” someone adds another metaphor as we stare and awe.

“Talk about new money,” I exclaim, and this realization makes me laugh.

In Fitzgerald’s time, the term ‘new money’ would have been used as an insult, wielded by someone who was born into money; someone who’s smooth hands had never been sullied by toil.

Image

I imagine a young man with an Indiana drawl, a farmer’s son, behind the wheel of a semi; stopping at truck stops much like the ones we stay at; waiting for the voice over the intercom to announce his turn for a shower; buying coffee from a convenience store. I imagine him tinkering in his garage, combining oils, analyzing viscosity with homespun methods, hitting the road, testing his concoctions, sealing small accounts with a smile and shaking hands with truck stop clerks. Could he ever have imagined the life he was carving?

Well done, Mr. Lucas I say to myself. Well done. Then a sun-tanned woman with smiling eyes emerges from the house and says, “Well y’all coming in or what?” and we follow her inside.

IMG_3066

When we leave a day and a half later, having soaked in as much of the estate as our bones could handle, we return to our shoebox-sized trailer to resume our journey. The forecast warns of a storm approaching. We smile, buckle down, and drive headlong into it.

By the Desire to Achieve

I recently heard a quote from the always controversial Ayn Rand that reads, “A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.”  

I rolled this statement over in my mind for a moment. Having spent so much time at racing events lately, I have seen plenty of creative people motivated by the desire to beat others.  So I wasn’t totally convinced.

Image

Last weekend we sponsored our first ever triathlon with Leon’s “World’s Fastest” Triathlon in Hammond, IN.  I had never really understood the allure of a triathlon.  You wake up early to swim in usually cold, crowded water; then you peel off the wetsuit that has inconveniently suctioned itself to your body in order to hop on a bike for a chilling bike ride; then you take your now jellowy legs to the road for a lung-wrenching run?  It’s all very impressive, but I have to say, I could think of more enjoyable ways to spend my day!

Sunday began with the buzz of nervous excitement as a chilling cold front swept through the gray morning.  Across the arena, the multitudes of sleek-bodied wetsuits chatted as they went about their preparatory rituals.

Image

A hush fell over the crowd with the unfurling of a giant American flag, and two dozen competitors rushed in to cling reverently to its edges.  A pure voice rang out, “Oh say can you see…” and the crowd was still.

The calm before the storm.

Image

As the ceremony drew to a close, they all donned fluorescent swim caps and arranged themselves according to color, lining the docks of Wolf Lake.  When they entered the water, group by group, they looked like brigades entering  battle. I shivered as I watched them go.

While they were gone I whipped up a tasty breakfast burrito and ate it. I chatted with a few people about the weather and asked them who they were here cheering on. I spent some time at transition to snap photos of people as they rushed in and out, trading in wetsuits for bicycles, bicycles for running shoes, each time looking a bit more exhausted than before.

Image

And then I waited, marveling at the fact that those competitors who had left the dock a couple hours ago were still out there hustling.  The crowd gathered around the finish line when word traveled that the winner was near.

He approached the finish line at a sprint, and as he crossed over it to a reception of cheering spectators and reporters, his chest heaved in accomplishment.  

Image

More runners followed him across the threshold, and with each new arrival, another series of handshakes and hands clapping on backs and congratulatory hugs.  

With each runner to join the crowd on the other side, the fervor in the winner’s circle grew to almost spiritual proportions.  In relief and joy they heaved a collective exaltation.  Caught up in the energy, the warmth, the epic, palpable feeling of achievement, I felt almost, dare I say, jealous?

Here, in a competition against self–against one’s own limits–was the very spirit of achievement.  Every triathlete’s face glowed with it, whether they were first, or 800th, because they had battled. They had finished the race.

I wasn’t surprised then, when the very last person to finish the race, arriving hours after the winner, came across smiling, greeted by a roar of cheering.