‘LATIGO @ 158 bpm’

August 21, 2011

Turning 40 is a mile stone birthday we’re told to celebrate and celebrate big.

For my 40th, I decided to spend a week with my best mates in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, my old ‘home’. A week of eating, drinking – did I mention drinking? And riding.

My birthday present to myself was an accent of Latigo Canyon. A 9.2-mile mountain climb I’d ridden many times over the years with my buddies Johnny Smelzer, Michael Kelley and David Lee.

We are all united through a passion or self-torture for road cycling. Hours spent on two wheels, sitting on a pole,peddling, duelling with cars, legs shaved and 40 mile per hour descents protected by an armour of Lycra!

'The Boys' - Johnny Smelzer, David Lee, Justin O'Brien, Michael Kelley

There is something ‘mentally satisfying’ even ‘mystical’ about climbing Latigo Canyon. So on the day of my birthday Johnny and I rolled out with a group of cyclists and set off up the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) towards Malibu and 40 minutes to the Latigo turn off.

“9.2 miles of just sheer hell”, is how Michael Kelley describes Latigo.

Michael is the ‘fastest’ out of the four of us – followed closely by David Lee. “It is a great climb, it’s like a Tour de France climb .. Minus the French crowds lining the road, spitting on you!”, says Michael cracking a smile.

I’ll never compete in the Tour de France, but climbing Latigo makes you dream you could. It’s steep, alternating from 4.7% and 12% to the summit.

David Lee, who I first met in a spinning studio is a successful working actor and the funniest of our bunch. “It’s a bit of a ball breaker if I must be honest .. It brings out the honest man in you”, David says describing Latigo.

A view of Latigo Canyon, Malibu. California USA

“The first summit is a bit of an illusion because you get up there .. you think you’re there, then you pop around the corner and then there is suddenly another five miles to go and it’s kind of a little disheartening because it kicks up a little bit”, says David.

Most cyclists take between 35 minutes to an hour to climb to Latigo’s second summit. Johnny and I are part of that latter group!

My speedo is a heart rate monitor, the title of this story. 158 bpm – 158 beats per minute. There is no cheating on the road. I know I can push/peddle 158 bpm for an hour, increase it to 170 and I’ll throw up!

After 30 minutes zig zaging our way up Latigo’s bends, Johnny and I climb through the California coastal ‘June Gloom’ and into sunshine. We pass the time chatting, putting-shit-on each other.

A climbing graph of Latigo Canyon, Malibu. California USA

“What ring are ya in Johnny?”, I ask him. “The easiest one I got”, he replies.

“How about you?”

I quickly reply, “I got one gear left.”

“Ah…. You do not!”, Johnny fires back! I laugh and we peddle on.

15 minutes later we’re at Latigo’s second summit sharing a chocolate bar and jam sandwich before the 12 minute descent back to the PCH, then dinner and margarita’s.

It was the great birthday and I wouldn’t have spent it doing anything else!


    


‘MEMORIAL DAY’

May 24, 2009

(VIDEO STORY ABOUT MEMORIAL DAY AT THE LOS ANGELES NATIONAL CEMETERY)

The best way to describe Memorial Day to an Australian – is to say it’s the American version of ANZAC Day without the pub crawl! A time to remember those who have fallen in battle, survived to come home and anyone who has served.

An American Flag

An American Flag

An American tradition on Memorial Day, is to place an American flag at the grave site of past soldiers, sailors and airmen. No small task considering the numbers. At the Military cemetery in Los Angeles an army of volunteers is enlisted to answer the call – usually Scouts, Cubs and Girl Guides.  

From a foreigners point of view – it’s a very powerful and moving sight .. thousands of kids, American flags in hand – following tradition and struggling to push a 50 centimeter long flag into the soil. 

One of the 58 thousand flags placed around the LA National Cemetery

One of the 58 thousand flags placed around the LA National Cemetery

I asked a mother dressed as a Scout Leader why are American’s so patriotic? She replied .. ‘American’s come from everywhere, we believe in what this country stands for  – today is about respect, honor and freedom. Australian’s have fought for freedom .. you are just like us’. I agreed. Although, patriotism seems easier for American’s .. the colour combination of ‘red, white and blue’ lends itself to self promotion – unlike Australia’s ‘green and gold’ and that ‘Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi’ chant which makes me wish I was Canadian!

Back to Memorial Day .. the Mum summed the morning up best in five words that followed our conversation – (referring to her son, hand on his shoulder) ‘.. his father is in Iraq’. You may not agree with the decision .. but you support the troops. 

America is at War – Waring at a level not seen since Vietnam.

Walking around the LA Cemetery and looking at the headstones, one name soon blends into another. Many of the men buried there lived long lives – into their 70’s and 80’s .. they fought for their Country .. and they came home. But, what jumps out

21 years old

21 years old

is the unmistakable difference between a new headstone and an old one. The faded weathered lettering .. compared to the black stenciled look. 

Private First Class Jin Su Ong stood out. Ong an American, born in 1987 was just 21 when he died in Iraq this year. It made me think .. in 1987 I was in College living life and at 21, I was traveling the world. What would you have missed out on if your life had ended at 21? No disrespect to the other veterans .. but Ong lived in my time. 

For all the symbolism of today, most of the Scouts who playfully raced to plant the flags at each headstone are too young to understand the meaning of Memorial Day – that’s a good thing. PFC Jin Su Ong was forced to grow up too early.

(BELOW ARE ADDITIONAL PHOTOGRAPHS TAKEN AT THE LOS ANGELES NATIONAL CEMETERY – JUSTIN O’BRIEN, 5/23/09)

 

'The Scouts'

'The Scouts'

 

'Flags On Guard'

'Flags On Guard'