VASHON — There are tourists who make a special ferry trip just to see this peculiar attraction, on this island with the unofficial slogan, “Keep Vashon Weird.”
It is the bike in the tree.
It’s exactly that, a kid’s now-rusty bike, for decades encased 6 or so feet up in a fir tree that has swallowed it.
But you might want to wait a bit for that photo-op. Wait until Jeff Ammon, who for 20 years owned a bicycle-repair shop here, scrounges up the parts to make the bike in the tree look like a bike again. Right now, it’s a pretty sad-looking sight.
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Once again, the bike has been vandalized.
The handlebar has been ripped off. The front wheel is gone. The one pedal that was sticking out of the tree (the other is presumably somewhere inside the trunk) also is gone.
Last Tuesday, Liz and Mark Morales, tourists from Phoenix, had made the ferry trip from West Seattle just to see the bike.
It’s easily reachable.
Just drive to a building called Sound Food, now a closed cafe, at Vashon Highway Southwest and Southwest 204th Street.
At the north side of the parking lot you’ll see a small footbridge. Walk across, and 15 feet later, there is the bike. This is Vashon, so no signs depicting “Another Roadside Attraction.”
This is the island where used yurts are offered for sale, and, four years ago, a guy bought an obit in the local weekly for his deceased brother. The mug shot with the obit was of D.B. Cooper. The guy said his brother would have liked that.
“I was expecting a whole bike,” says Liz Morales.
Her husband shrugs. “I don’t care. I’m on vacation. Anyway, I can see what it looked like on the Internet.”
Ammon still has 50 bikes and tons of parts from when he closed his bicycle shop in May.
Over the years, he remembers, he’s replaced the handlebars on the bike in the tree three or four times, as well as the wheel, the pedal.
The original bike dates back to the 1950s.
“The parts are hard to find. It’s a low, low-quality bike. It’s like a starter bike you’d find today for $50 at Target,” says Ammon.
Ammon thinks he can find the parts in a week, maybe a little longer.
Over the years, the bike has become world famous.
It stars in “Red Ranger Came Calling,” a best-selling 1994 children’s book by cartoonist Berkeley Breathed of “Bloom County” fame, who for a time lived on Vashon.
The story of how the bike came to be in the tree is told by a retired King County deputy sheriff, Don Puz, who now lives in Kennewick. The only bike he rides now is a stationary one. He grew up on the island and lived here until 1992.
Puz tells how, in 1954, his dad died in a house fire, leaving his mom with five children.
The island came together and donated various items to get the family going again.
Among those items was a bicycle for young Don.
“I never liked the bike. It was like a tricycle, but with two wheels. It had hard rubber tires and skinny little handlebars,” he says.
Puz says eventually the family moved to a home near what became Sound Food, but which then was a swampy area.
“We liked playing there, catching polliwogs. We’d get into ponds and mud. It was a good place,” he says.
Sometime in the mid-1950s, says Puz, he forgot the bike in that swampy acreage and never bothered to get it back. Good riddance.
Then, in 1995, when visiting a sister still living on the island, she took Puz to see the local landmark.
“The first words out of my mouth were, ‘That’s my bike!’ ” he says. “There was no doubt in my mind.”
He still holds no love for the bike or its current decrepit state.
Says Puz, “A bike itself doesn’t have any feelings.”
How the bike ended up in the tree probably wasn’t a case of a young fir sapling growing under the bike and swallowing it, says professor Elizabeth Van Volkenburgh, of the University of Washington’s Department of Biology.
“That bicycle would have been too heavy for a young tree,” she says.
More likely, says Van Volkenburgh, when the tree was older, “somebody hung that bicycle on the tree, and as it increased in girth, the cambium (the cells right under the bark) wound tissues around the bicycle.”
Jeff Cunningham, one of two owners of the property where the bike is found, says some locals are trying to figure out how to keep the vandals out.
“They’re not real specific,” he says, “but I’d be open to taking a look.”
Cunningham says something like “a barbed-wire fence” is definitely not under consideration.
That certainly wouldn’t be very Vashon-like.