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Tales of the Big Lizard — October, Part 1

Major Taylor club ride, San Diego

Major Taylor club ride, San Diego | ©Greg Gross

The ups and downs of Greg and his trusty Giant Iguana mountain bike, aka Big Lizard, as together we embrace the grind. No excuses. Do the work. Because “you can’t bullshit your way up a mountain.”

What’s up, fellow grinders! Been awhile since Big Lizard and I checked in. It’s been a turbulent month or so. Did make a few discoveries, though.

One was that it’s better to hit the Miramar Reservoir loop in the mornings, because it’s Amateur Hour out there in the afternoons. By that, I mean riders instead of cyclists — no helmet, no road discipline, no safety, no clue.

And those are the grownups. Women wobbling all over the road while trying to pedal a bike in three-inch wedge heels, or carrying a Chihuahua in a basket between the handlebars. All riding as if they’re the only ones out there on a narrow winding road with one lane each way. Get me outta here!

The other thing I discovered was that inspiration can come from unexpected sources — like the club of amputee cyclists, single- and double-amputees, rolling hand-crank bikes around the res, each with one or two non-amputee cyclists flying escort for them on conventional bikes.

My arms hurt just watching those guys, but never for very long, because those boys were puttin’ in work! Climbs, ascents, switchbacks, it didn’t matter. Hand cranks and all, those gys can straight up hammer.

I wanted to give each of them a thumbs-up, but they were going by too fast in the opposite direction.

Turns out they’re a club of military veterans, amputees who lost limbs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Favor or oppose the politics as you will, the fact is that these folks put their lives on the line for their country, and left parts of their bodies a long way from home.

And now, they’re pushing forward with life. That’s courage. Something to think about with Veterans Day approaching.

As for me and the Lizard, October has been eventful, in both good and bad ways.

When I first started training in earnest at Miramar Reservoir, I was braking a lot on the switchbacks and had to drop into lower gears on the relatively shallow rises around the lake, then shift back to the higher gears on the equally mild downhills.

Now, I’m in the same mid-range gear for five, ten, 20 miles. Not a single downshift. When the climbs come, I just work a little harder and power on through them. No need for an easier gear around the res. In fact, actually thinking about going to a higher gear here and there, a sure sign that I’m getting stronger on the bike.

The goal, of course, is Big Daddy, the big chainwheel up front, the really high gears, to push Big Lizard even faster. Maybe by the end of December.

That’s good.

I was reveling in all this when I learned that the infant daughter of a friend of mine in the Gambia had died from a congenital heart ailment. Her name was Khadijatou. She was seven months old.

Went out to Miramar that afternoon and tried to do a normal training ride. It didn’t happen.

There’s no getting your head around the staggering unfairness of something like this, no point in even trying. But I couldn’t let it go.

That day, I rode with no plan, no clue. I was angry, and for the first time in my life, I rode angry. Spent most of the ride with tears in my eyes.

Traffic on the loop? Didn’t care. Headwinds? Barely noticed. When I finished, I’d ridden the fastest five miles I’d ridden in 20 years — 22 minutes, five seconds. For me, that was blazing. And I couldn’t have cared less.

But I do believe the spirit of little Khadijatou kept me safe that afternoon, because I barely saw where I was going.

It would’ve been a positive note on which to end, but unfortunately for Big Lizard and me, there was some more drama .

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