Chris Smith: Cycling Fort Bragg seniors turned detectives return man's lost wallet, $4,000

In real life, what happened as five fit, grandparently cyclists pedaled just outside of Fort Bragg on Sunday morning almost never happens.

The self-described SOBs, or members of Seniors on Bikes, were eastbound on rural Sherwood Road when lead rider Susan Larsen spied something on the roadway and braked.

Larsen, once an owner of the former landmark Fort Bragg restaurant called The Restaurant, had found a gorgeous, new, not run-over $100 bill.

Jubilation. Larsen’s cycling buddies cheered her good fortune. She tucked the bill safety away and everybody saddled back up.

They’d ridden 200 yards when they rounded a curve. And they beheld something you and I have seen only in movies and in dreams.

Hundred-dollar bills lay scattered all across and along the road. Said Phil Zwerling, the prime instigator of Sunday’s ride, “We all got off our bikes and ran around picking up bills.”

Let’s stay with that scene for a moment. The five senior cyclists dismounted and rushed about gathering Franklins.

They picked up how many?

Forty. They found also a few, old one-dollar bills. And a wallet.

The drivers license belonged to a 27-year-old man living in Eureka.

What would your first thought be as to why he would be in Mendocino County with more than $4,000 in greenbacks?

“Our first thought,” offered Zwerling, an author and retired professor of creative writing, “was drug money. Who else carries all that cash around?”

Zwerling and Susan Larsen and the other three riders stowed the dough and rode on to the curious mud pots at the former logging town of Glen Blair. At some point, each rider calculated and re-calculated, “What’s $4,000 divided by five?”

Returning to Fort Bragg and concluding their ride at Larsen’s house, the cyclists shared a snack and performed some sleuthing and soul-searching.

Initially inclined, as many of us would be, to conclude that it would be just and fine to keep what they presumed to be drug money, the SOBs delved further into their presumption.

They inspected sales receipts they’d found with the wallet, receipts that placed the Eureka man at a hardware store in Fort Bragg the day before.

The cyclists went onto Larsen’s computer and Googled the guy. When they landed on his Facebook page, one of the five perked right up.

She saw that one of the Eureka man’s Facebook friends is a very good friend of hers. This cyclist, who’s a bit publicity shy, texted her friend and inquired about the man who’d lost his wallet and his $4,000.

The friend texted back that the fellow in question is a good guy, a hard-working guy. And the friend offered up the man’s phone number.

Another of the SOBs dialed the number. The man who answered the phone was in Ukiah. And, said Phil Zwerling, he was “wondering where his money was.”

He shared with the SOBs that he’d carried the cash from Humboldt County to Mendocino County after having arranged to purchase a trailer in which he would live in Chico.

He told the cyclists he didn’t realize he’d lost his wallet and all of his money until he arrived in Ukiah. Thinking back, he concluded that he’d set his wallet on the back of his truck while filling his gas tank, and he’d driven off with it still there.

Ah, thought the cyclists. They assume that they happened upon the scattered hundred dollar bills mere minutes after the wallet tumbled from the truck and disgorged.

Of course, they told the man, whose identity they are keeping confidential, that he was welcome to return to Fort Bragg and pick up his belongings.

He got there pretty quick.

You’re wondering if he offered the cyclists a reward. He didn’t; presumably he needs every dollar to buy the trailer and get it to Chico.

But his gratitude, said Zwerling, was unmistakable.

“We felt pretty good about the whole thing,” said the cyclist and former director of creative writing at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. “I think we all feel we have been well-rewarded.”

Oh, Zwerling mentioned that the thankful man told him and him cycling friends that he had fact been carrying not 40 $100 bills but 42.

I know what you’re thinking, but as you read this I should be almost to Sherwood Road.


LIKE SUNSCREEN, ONLY ... If you run with this idea for a new skin-protection product and you become rich, please donate a share to firefighters or efforts to save California from more of these harrowing infernos.

As I stepped from our house into the eerie, dismal, disorienting haze, I felt the urge to go back inside and to the medicine cabinet for something to lather on as protection. But what?

I’m not sure what would be in the tube, but the brand name would have to be Smokescreen.

You can reach Staff Writer Chris Smith at 707 521-5211 and

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