I may be getting older, but give me any flat Strava segment a quarter mile to half mile long, I bet I can put my name near the top of the leader-board. There is a reason for that. I had a lot of training and motivation that requires a little history.

That history was from my youth growing up in the Sacramento Valley in the early ’70’s. Some was good, some was bad. Figuring things out quickly, was a necessity.

My bike was a Schwinn three speed with ape hanger handle bars that had blue tassels which I removed immediately with my Dad’s wire cutters. It did come with a very cool  looking sparkling blue banana seat with a chrome loop that came up from behind which served as a back rest. My road was not in town, but one of those long straight county roads with a collection of ranches, ranch houses, shacks, trailers and the like.

It was the people that defined that road. Most of them were not good people. Until the fourth grade I rode the bus home after school each day. I was near the end of the bus route. During the winter months I would get home near sunset,  which I hated. My other friends were either picked up or rode their bikes  and had all the extra time in the afternoons which I lost out on. I am an outdoor person, and it killed me being cooped up on that bus.

On rainy days it was worse, as the bus driver, Roy Kawasaki, would drop the kids off in front of the their houses instead at the ends of roads where you would walk home delaying my misery even more while listening to hours of KFRC on the bus radio.

Roy was completely unsympathetic. Roy would say, “You have it easy. When I was your age, no bus! Just barbed wire trapped inside Tule Lake internment camp! It was cold inside the barracks. Wind would blow right through and freeze our rear ends off! Always windy! Stop complaining! You are lucky!” He used other words than rear ends.

So, I did not complain anymore. I felt bad for Roy. That must have been really hard for him.  When the fourth grade finally rolled around, my Mother thankfully green lighted bike riding to and from school in good weather.

To me, good weather was obviously every day of the year. Just as long as I did not have to ride on the bus. If the weather looked bad, I would plan an early escape before my Mom could nix my ride to school thus preventing an evening return on the bus. Or I would tell her that I heard the forecast and it is clearing in the afternoon.  This is where things got interesting. However going to school was a joy, especially in the winter  mornings.

Our perfectly east-west road was on the same section line that bisects Donner Summit 60 miles east. On some clear winter sunrises going to school I could occasionally see a glint of light reflecting off a vehicle going over the snowy summit on I-80. There were cottontail rabbits that would line up along the Sacramento Northern railroad right a way near our house, scampering away just in time as I got near. Going to school was a joy. Breathing the cold air in the morning was better than anything imaginable.

Coming home and then visiting friends was very literally a much different animal. There were no leash laws and keeping a chain well oiled on the bike was very important. A squeaky chain would alert every dog in my path long before my arrival.

Another problem, were the series of shacks that housed several developmentally disabled kids along the ride home from school on the route my Mom had approved of. One of the kids in particular was of Goliath size early on in life. They were always dropped off on their bus before my school ended, so there was no way to avoid them unless I rode my bus which dropped me off on the opposite end of the road. Riding the bus anymore was not an option to me, no matter what.

The Goliath would wait for me for reasons that I will never know and heaved rocks at me as I went by. To add to that, they had several mutt dogs that would chase and nip at my pant legs.  I got really good at racing at full speed past the gauntlet with my heart nearly exploding. His aim with the rocks was poor and I could easily make it while dodging the mongrel dogs.

One day I was not so lucky. It was dumb luck on his part, but Goliath got me in the side of the head with a golf ball sized rock while I was at full speed on the bike. No one had heard of bike helmets in those days.  Isn’t it David who casts the stone?

After the impact, my head felt like it exploded. Things started to go black, but survival took over. I feared that if I fell, a biblical reversal would take place and I would be the one finished off. Between the nipping dogs, the dizzying lightheaded feeling, I somehow wobbled my way home.

I found a quiet place hidden away and let the tears flow. Afterward, with my head pounding, I covered the large knot on the side of my head with my hair and hid it from my mother. I was not going to ride the bus no matter what.  I was going to overcome.

Riding the other direction down the road to my friends house had even a more terrifying obstacle in between for a period in time. Next to the house with the two strange, but intelligent home schooled boys who would later terrify Northern California as white supremacist serial killers and synagogue arsonists was the house with the pet mountain lion.

The people who lived there could not be called anything other than redneck. Somehow they had caught a young mountain lion and decided to raise it. When it got to be 60 pounds or so, it was just as big as I was. They had put a large iron stake in their front yard, where this lion was secured with a steel collar and long chain that would allow it to reach the road.

Every time I rode by, this lion would jump up and in flash run straight at me where death seemed imminent. Just at the last possible instant,  the chain would run out jerking the lion violently sideways.

It was just like Roman Coliseum.The owners, who must have liked gladiator movies, always seemed to be amused at scaring to death some young kid. Mercifully later on, another neighbor who forever will be in the good category in my book, called Fish and Game.

Not wanting to tell my Mom for fear of losing all my bike privileges, I decided to approach my Dad instead with my dilemma of my daily brush with death. Surely he would understand? When I carefully explained the situation to him, his response was, “Ride faster.”

Bruce McConnell

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