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The Santa Monica Mountains and Latigo and Piuma Canyons, according to Aaron
It’s dry and warm and I’m not used to it. I feel so liberated to be riding without booties, lights and fenders. The sight of my bare legs surprises me, I keep looking down, confused about where I am.
When I ﬂew in it was dark. Or it was supposed to be but there were so many lights. On the approach, I swear I could see the city for an hour. It just kept coming. I’m thinking:“There are so many people in this valley, how am I ever going to escape them and it, with just a bike?”
The following morning and we’re on our bikes and headed west. Ben is pulling and we’re averaging more than 25mph, and I don’t know if it’s timing or luck but it feels like we’re rarely forced to stop at intersections. Wilshire is six lanes wide. Large condos and ofﬁce buildings obscure the sun and cast massive, block-long shadows. Between lights, the trafﬁc is getting up to 50mphwith drivers constantly shifting lanes and vying for position. The street undulates, rolling up 100ftthen down 200, then up 300.
On Paciﬁc Coast Highway - the PCH - the sea and Santa Monica Bay, blue and reﬂective, are on my left. The beach is a perfectly uniform shade of tan. The road here is even wider and trafﬁc is moving at a brisk 60mph in spite of the frequent signals and constant trafﬁc. On the right is a near-vertical dirt hillside with evidence of erosion everywhere.
Just past Malibu and Pepperdine, Latigo Canyon Road heads inland directly up the side of the Santa Monica Mountains. The climb gains more than 1,500ft in the ﬁrst six and-a-half miles. Ben has pulled to the front and I’m hurting so, for entertainment, I give Cole a hard time about his tooth-pick. I can’t believe it but twenty minutes into the climb and more than an hour into the ride and it’s still there, in perfect condition, jutting from the corner of his mouth.
Short driveways spur off the road every couple of hundred feet at incongruous angles. They end abruptly at the entrances to million-dollar homes perched, stilted and wedged into the side of the mountain. For the whole climb my view alternates between the rows of switchbacks layered above and the ocean below. Ben is still in his big ring and I don’t get it.
At the top to the west, the Paciﬁc is shimmering almost 2,000ft below. And to the east, an immense valley stretches out dead ﬂat for 100 miles until, like a wall, the snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains rise up to bridge the horizon. We are talking quickly and excitedly, almost manically. It must be endorphins. The descent begins with more switchbacks. Eventually, towards the bottom, the road begins to relax and we pick up our speed. In every direction mountains rise up for several thousand feet, rock outcroppings and chaparral adding texture and colour. In a valley now we roll through the Santa Monica Mountains to another canyon road, Piuma. It’s well into the afternoon and the sun is beginning to set. A crisp line divides two worlds, light and dark. Piuma is over ﬁve miles long and, in some spots, steeper than Latigo.
Ben is eternally optimistic. He’s tearing my legs off and smiling and talking and chanting – venga venga venga venga – until he disappears around a corner and I’m suddenly alone above a city of millions and their sports cars.
The day is slowly closing with a wink. I’m working as hard to reach patches of sunlight as I am to make the top. Everything is golden and orange. Behind and below me the valley is dark while the tops of the mountains on the far side are raked with light. We are all at the top now in the middle of nowhere only twenty miles from home.