Words by Laurel Rathbun + Photos by Alex Wallbaum
Introduction By Luke Batten
When 19 year old Pro Cyclocross Racer Laurel Rathbun and U23 / Junior Cycling Star arrived in Chicago’s Midway Airport for our inaugural Rider in Residence at Tenspeed Hero she came with this enormous double bike box holding her Raleigh Road Machine and her Raleigh CX bike. I was a little nervous this would fit in my mini-suv, but Laurel was not. She just smiled with her usual joyful demeanor and helped lift the bedazzled monolith into my car. As you can see, it is plastered with stickers from brands, bike shops and locales near and far. In an era of EVOC and Pika Packworks fabric bags Laurel’s “Box” looked more like a well traveled steamer trunk ready to be loaded on the Orient Express or stationed dockside for cruise liner bound to Europe from New York. We asked her to tell us the why, the where and the how as part of her residency and she comes back with two stories, “What’s in the Box” and “You Always Need a Reciept”.
What’s In the Box
“What’s in the box?” That’s the question that I hear so frequently while standing in the long, congested bag check lines at the airport. It is an odd sight to see a teenage girl pulling a mammoth sized black box, covered top to bottom in stickers, with a suitcase piled atop it. And it’s not just the bike box that is loaded down, so am I – a huge Zipp backpack covering me from shoulder to waist and a wheel bag in my “spare” hand. After 6 years of traveling with this bike box, I’m used to the lingering eyes and not-so-subtle stares. I always smile when I overhear people discussing what might be in the box. “Maybe she just has a lot of shoes;” this is actually a true statement, but I don’t pack them in my bike box. Or, “She probably has a large instrument in there.” Even, “It’s a special case for her tools;” anyone who really knows me would laugh at that one. More often than not, I eventually hear that oft-repeated question “What’s in the box?” I give my standard “Oh, it’s my bikes” answer and I can almost see the dots connecting in their head just before the slow, exaggerated head nod.
My favorite thing about the box, aside from the fact that it hauls two bikes and 4 wheels, are the assortment of stickers that cover it. At age 13 it seemed natural to sticker anything and everything, thus began the stickering process. Initially, I rounded up all of the stickers in our house and randomly placed them on the box. Events like Sea Otter, the Go Pro Mountain Games, or any event with an Expo were perfect for going tent-to-tent to gather more stickers. I enlisted help too. Whenever friends borrow the bike box, their payment is to add a few new stickers to the box. Through the years some stickers have come off and new ones have replaced them. I may be 19 now, but I still love the stickers – they represent memories.
You Always Need a Receipt!
My bike box might be all glammed up with stickers, but to the airlines it is often the ugly duckling. More than once, I’ve been told by agents, “There isn’t enough room on the plane for your bike box, so it will not make the flight.” These are not words that you want to hear. Unfortunately, my first experience with this situation was while I was in Europe. My friend, Michael, and I reached the Glasgow, Scotland airport just after 5 am, each towing the standard gear of cyclists – a large bike box, a stuffed suitcase, a completely full backpack and a wheel bag. Our final destination is Denver. The desk agent tells us that we can fly to Denver, but our bikes cannot, the plane is too small to accommodate them. She directs us to the shipping area where we fill out paperwork and are told that our bikes will arrive in a few days. I asked for a receipt, but the agent told us that we don’t need one. Hungry, sleep-deprived, and stressed because we now only have 30 minutes until our flight, we decide to leave our bikes… with these complete strangers.
Many sleepless hours later we arrive in Minneapolis, call our parents and try to explain the whole “leaving our bikes in Scotland decision.” We didn’t realize how bad of a choice that actually was until then. We had no receipt, no tracking numbers, and we didn’t ask the name of the man in shipping who took our bikes. Many, many late night trans-Atlantic phone calls were made; no one could find our bikes. Finally, two weeks later, after hiring an official with credentials to search the shipping area, the bike boxes were located and the somewhat complicated process of getting them returned to the U.S. began. We both eventually got all bikes and wheels returned. Mine all came back in good condition. Lesson learned – the hard (and expensive) way. Never leave your bikes with strangers. Take a picture of whoever takes your cargo. You always need a receipt and tracking number!