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Police in Italy, Alaska solve 'Italian bicycle caper' for student

Facebook, a drug bust and the teamwork of some Italian police officers and Palmer public safety dispatchers helped a 21-year-old adventurer from the Valley reunite with his stolen bicycle in Italy Thursday.

The Palmer public safety chief is calling it the "Italian Bicycle Caper."

It started when 21-year-old Palmer High School graduate and Mat-Su College student Erik Salmon and six of his friends stopped at a cafe in Italy to upload photos of their epic, cross-European bicycle trip.

The seven had been biking across Europe on a long-planned and saved-for journey from London to Rome since May, a tour they had dubbed the Rage Bikeathon, Erik's father, David Salmon, said in a phone interview Thursday.

The trip had been going well until a stop in the city of Pisa, in Tuscany.

There, the group left their bikes and gear outside a cafe, though most of the bikes could be seen through a window, David Salmon said.

When they came out, Erik's expensive Kona Sutra touring bike, loaded down with panniers that contained, among other things, his passport, had vanished.

At the police station Erik slowly filled out forms in triplicate despite a copier machine in the corner, his father said. Erik reported that the Italian police were as helpful as a "weasel in a cardboard shirt," his dad said. He figured he'd stick around and try to locate his bike and hop a train to Rome if he couldn't find it.

Less than a day later, Tuscan police busted a drug house whose contents included cocaine, marijuana and Erik's bicycle, which had his name on it, David Salmon said.

The Italian police officers used Facebook to track down Erik's hometown in Alaska and then to look up the phone number of the Palmer Police Department, said Jon Owen, Palmer's director of public safety.

They reached Palmer police dispatchers Amber Church and Jared Woody, who were able to call Erik's father. He in turn gave them a direct number for Erik in Italy.

When they got ahold of Erik, he was a block from the police station where his bike, panniers and clothes were waiting for him.

It was the first and only time Palmer dispatchers have ever fielded a call from Italian police, he said.

David Salmon is not surprised that Facebook helped connect Palmer and Pisa, a continent, an ocean and another half a continent apart.

"Whatever minutes and miles there are between us world citizens is now compressed to milliseconds and millimeters," he said.

Though Erik Salmon still doesn't have his passport, he's heard he can get a new emergency passport at the U.S. Embassy in Rome. He is not worried, his dad said.

Adventure tends to follow him wherever he goes: When Erik rode his bike across the U.S. a few years ago he was stopped several times by police who thought he was Colton Harris-Moore, the fugitive "Barefoot Bandit" who became famous for stealing planes, boats and cars and burglarizing houses in Washington State.

Erik had lost his ID in Iowa, his dad said, and his physical description matched Harris-Moore. And he was a kid riding east on a bicycle, while Harris-Moore "was pretty much stealing any form of transportation available" at the time. The police always let him go in the end.

"This is not his first bicycle caper," he said.