This is a story about human goodness, about life’s serendipitous events. Sometimes, the pieces fit together in just the right way…
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.
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.
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.
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.”
[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.
[Photo: Vance Mauldin, Shelly Mauldin, Joey Farrell, Bryce Mauldin]