Tales abound explaining how a red bicycle came to be lodged in a Vashon tree a dozen feet up.
Some say it ended up there by chance, while others contend it was intentional cleverness. One former Islander, Berkeley Breathed, even wrote a children’s book about the mystery.
But one longtime Island family has laid a solid claim to the bicycle in a tree just north of Sound Food. Two generations concur that the bicycle belonged to Don Puz, who in 1954 left his bicycle in the woods, forgot about it and never went back looking for it.
Don received the bicycle as a donation after the family home burnt down, he said.
“There had been a fire not too long before, and that was one of the toys they donated to the family to try to replace what we had lost in the fire,” said Don, a 1963 graduate of Vashon High School who worked for years on the Island as a King County Sheriff’s deputy before retiring in 1991. He has since moved to Kennewick, Wash.
The bicycle wasn’t his favorite — it had hard, solid rubber tires “and skinny little handlebars like a tricycle,” he said. “I was too big a kid to ride it.”
As his mother Helen Puz, 97, tells the story, Don and his friends were playing in the woods together, and Don was the only child who had ridden his bicycle there. When the boys left, Don left his bike behind, walking home with the other boys, said Helen, who has lived for 55 years in a yellow house a few hundred yards from where the red bicycle is now permanently housed.
“Apparently, he wasn’t too excited about that bike,” she said.
After the bike was discovered, making headlines, both mother and son paid it a visit.
“We went down there in the woods, and there was this bike in the tree, and I said, ‘That’s my bike,’” Don recalled. “I recognized it immediately. … When I saw that bike, I recognized it, because I don’t think I’ve ever seen another one like it.”
He said he doesn’t remember quite how the bike was lost, but that he was likely glad to see it go.
“Probably as much as I detested the little thing, I just gave it a toss and forgot about it, and then denied knowing where it was,” he said.
“It got a lot of publicity when they found it,” said Helen, who was named the Strawberry Festival Grand Marshal in 2002. “At first, everybody wanted to know how that bike got there, and I heard all these different stories. There was a girl who claimed it was her bike, but Don looked at it and said, ‘No, that’s my bike.’”
Does it surprise Helen that a bike has grown around her son’s red bike?
“No, when you’re 97 years old nothing surprises you anymore,” she said with a smile.