Three years ago, I was returning on a ride through Griffith Park on a Sunday starting my final downhill on Mount Hollywood Drive. On weekends, you tend to see more groups riding together but on this day I saw a pack approaching that looked highly unusual.
Not only were they riding really close together, but it looked like a recumbent bike mixed in. As they got closer, the details began to reveal themselves.
The riders were all supporting each other up this steep part of the climb helping the one cyclist with the hand crank make it all the way up. It was the truest form of teamwork in action I had ever seen.
All of them were wearing Ride2Recovery jerseys and from that point on, I definitely took notice whenever one of their riders went by.
I got to know John Morlock because basically, when you’re a cyclist, you run into some of the same people all the time. Outside of being part of Project Hero, he also chips in with a lot of local issues as well.
The Honor Ride is happening locally on Saturday, April 2, starting in Simi Valley and I spoke with John about the event and Ride2Recovery:
I see you around a lot, but still, I have to first ask about your valley street cred.
My family moved to the Valley from New York in the 70’s. So I’ve been through elementary to high school here in the Valley. Including classes at Pierce and Valley College.
John helping a handcyclist up one of Griffith Park’s tough hills
What do you like about cycling in LA?
We have the best riding area. Perfect weather 95% of the time. Any direction I ride in, I can climb. Mt. Hollywood, Mt. Wilson, the Rock Store climb or over the Sepulveda Pass to the beach are all within riding distance from my house.
When did you know that you wanted to become a Marine?
I come from a family with a Military and Law Enforcement background. My Grandfather served in the Army in WWI. My Father was a teenager during WWII, but was able to join the State Guard. After the war when he was old enough he joined the Air Force Reserves and upon completing college, he became an FBI Agent. Plus lots of uncles on both sides of the family served. So I always knew I wanted to join the Military. It was actually when I was in Air Force ROTC at Canoga High School that I chose the Marine Corps.
Where has your career as a taken you?
After getting out of the Marines in 1988 I took Administration of Justice classes at Valley College and worked regular contract security while in school. I eventually entered the Rio Hondo Police Academy, upon graduation I worked for a few years as a Contract Police Officer at the Los Alamitos Armed Forces Reserve Center. After that, I applied for a state license to own and operate a Private Patrol Company. And I have been doing that now for the last 25 years.
I haven’t seen that many bikes in combat. How did you get into cycling?
Well, I of course had a bike as a kid. But as an adult I stopped riding. By about 2007 my weight got up to nearly 300lbs. A combination of changing my nutrition, lifting weights, doing Krav Maga and riding 200 plus miles a week has brought my weight back down just under 200lbs.
Of course I knew I’d run into John at CicLAvia
It is remarkable seeing a Ride2Recovery group climb together. Tell me what makes this organization so special?
Ride2Recovery was designed to have Veterans helping other Veterans, but it is a very inclusive program. We have both non veterans volunteering to ride with us and help push the handcyclists and non Veterans with disabilities riding with us. One participant is Jon S. He is a young man with cerebral palsy and he rides a custom built hand cycle. Many of our riders go on to race and even a few into the pros. One of our Injured Veterans, Shawn Morelli is the world champion in the Paralympics and just made the United Healthcare team. But the main focus is not to ride fast, but to help every rider go further than they ever thought they can go and get the team up together.
The Honor Ride covers a lot of ground. What part about the ride are people doing to be excited/exhausted with?
The Honor Ride has the option of 3 routes. A 21 mile ride, a 50 mile ride, or a full century, so there are rides for all levels. That of course depends on each individual cyclist.
What else is going on with the ride that people can take in?
In addition to the ride itself, there will be a lot of activities going on. This ride is starting at the Simi Towne Center. It is a full mall with stores, restaurants and even a movie theater. So family members will have plenty to do while their cyclist is on the ride. There will also be vendor booths, a live band. Lunch after the ride supplied by the Corner Bakery and Buffalo Wild Wings. There will be plenty of great raffle prizes. In addition to riders, we could always use volunteers. People can just come out and applaud the riders as they finish or stay and help with take down after the ride.
A huge swath of cyclists pedaling through the Texas Challenge
What are some of the other great Ride2Recovery events that you have taken part in?
I attend all of the local and semi local Honor Rides, including the Las Vegas Honor Ride that goes down the Vegas Strip. The police give us a rolling road block. In addition to the 1-day Honor rides that are designed as fundraising rides I participate in two Challenges a year. Challenges are the week long rides that are primarily for the injured Veterans. The only responsibility the injured Veteran has is to get to the start and then get home afterwards. Once there, Hotels, meals, kits and even loaner bikes and custom built or adapted bikes are available at no cost to the injured Veteran. Non Injured Veterans and Civilians may also attend but they are required to do fundraising, just like the AIDS Lifecycle. R2R puts on approximately 6 Challenge Rides a year across the country.
I would say my two most memorable Challenges out of the eight full Challenges and three partial Challenges I have participated in. My first Challenge was the 2011 9/11 Challenge. We started on 9/11 from the Jersey side of the Hudson River right across from where the WTC stood. We rode 575 miles over 8 days, making stops at Shanksville Pennsylvania and finishing in Washington DC at the Pentagon. And just this last fall, my 14 year old daughter participated in her first full challenge with me. We rode approximately 400 miles from West Point, New York to Annapolis Maryland. She raised her $3,000 fundraising goal and she rode every mile of every day except for one rainy day that she rode in the support vehicle.