Greg came into the picture unexpectedly. He is the truest definition of the word unexpected. Yesterday wasn’t anything different from the last. Our group (yes, I actually attended a group ride to define where I am in my training) was waiting for someone who called and said he was five minutes out. I heard Greg before I saw him.
Every head in the group turned. The Bianchi came screaming (chain still not greased) past the group. Greg was in the drops. No helmet. Tank top flapping in the wind. He proceeded past the gaggle of riders for almost 100 yards before swinging back around, flashing a big smile. Greg spotted me.
The eyes of the group shifted to me. I was smiling. Greg’s enthusiasm produces a smile, with me anyway. When he’s on the bike, his love of riding seeps from his body. He’s not pretentious about his bike. He doesn’t care about his cool, matching kit or lack of one. He just wants to pedal. Now, he was pulling up beside me.
“You on the robot bike?” he spouted with another toothy smile. “I like to hear it change gears.”
I laughed. “Yeah, man, you plan on riding with us?”
Greg looked around, almost sizing up the group who happened to still be staring as if a tutu-wearing elephant on a unicycle had just rode in. “Sure, I just rode the loop y’all are about to do, but I can do it again. Try to hold on.”
I looked at his head. “Where, pray tell, is your helmet, Gregory?”
Greg touched his head, as if he thought was just there as second ago. He shrugged . . . and smiled.
The late guy was now pulling up in the parking lot and doing a comical act of unloading his bike and striping in an almost simultaneous event. I exhaled loudly, getting Greg to pull his eyes from the strip show. Leaning toward him and almost whispering, I said, “It is dangerous for you to ride without a helmet.”
Greg’s ever-present smile faded. He picked at his bar tape and continued looking at the stem when he spoke. “I can’t ride?”
The snapping sound of shoes entering pedals began to crackle across the group. It was time to roll, past time actually. The group would be in a mood at the start. I looked at Greg. He looked up at me. “Look, man, I can’t tell you one way or the other what you can and can’t do. I’m just saying it’s dangerous. I would prefer that you have your helmet on at all times. Hurting your head is not a game.”
The group pulled away. I rolled with them. Greg pedaled up beside me, looking at me as if I had a helmet in my jersey pocket. He smiled. I know that I should have told him no. I know that it would have been a good lesson for him, but I was fighting the feeling that he (in his adolescence) would think that I was either using it as an excuse not to ride with him or that my riding with him in front of the “the others” caused me to be arrogant or whatever. There is no official helmet law in the state, so that excuse was out too.
The group increased speed. Whoever was pulling was pulling in an angry fashion. I smiled at Greg. “I’m just officially going on record as saying I don’t like looking at your head while I’m riding . . . It’s too lumpy. Keep it covered!”
He fell in behind me in the slipstream, as I was last in the line. The ride rolled on a few miles. I took my turn on the front and had told Greg earlier to stay low in the line. We were at a steady clip and came to the first climb of the loop. Then it happened.
“Here! We! Go!” were the words that Greg shouted as he jumped from the slipstream and bounded past everyone, including me, and raced up the hill in a semi-sort of sprint. Elbows and knees and tank top going nuts. I felt me face heat up from anger and embarrassment. I gave a quick glance to the guy behind me and flicked my elbow and sprinted after him. I caught him at the top of the hill. He was blowing like a fat man in a 5K and digging for his Gatorade bottle (label peeled off, full of water) that he always keeps in his single cage on the down tube. I had to control my emotions. He was a kid. He was excited and probably thinking that the group would think he was cool and/or a strong rider.
“Dude!” I thought I would start with that. “What in the world are you doing?”
Greg was unscrewing the lid to his bottle while attempting to maintain a straight line, but not doing well at the task. The group was now moving past us because Greg was blown and pedaling at about a 35 RPM cadence. Everyone was looking straight ahead. I gave some of them a glance, I’m taking care of this. Just keep pedaling.
Greg took a quick sip between haggled breaths and started the whole process of returning the lid. “It’s hard for me . . . just to sit back . . . there . . . . and go so slow up . . . a hill.” He smiled. I wasn’t smiling.
“Where is the group now, Greg?”
He looked in the direction and must have noticed that they were a quarter mile up the road and riding away. He looked back at me, slamming his bottle in the cage, and increasing his cadence a little bit. “We gotta catch ’em? Will they check-up for us?”
I laughed. Greg was so awesome, in his young and innocent way. “Oh yeah, my young padawan, we are gonna catch ’em. Stay on my wheel. Do not pass me. This will be a painful lesson for you. Don’t let me down. You understand?”
Greg nodded and his lesson began.