The Month of Mud

patmccloskey:

To celebrate the annual Bywaters funfest- the Month of Mud.

Originally posted on chroniclesofmccloskey:

DSC_0099-Lphoto So I buy myself a mountain bike right around the time that I was first married. The technology in the 80s was primitive compared to today but nonetheless, I was riding a steel frame, straight fork(shocks for mountain bikes were not invented yet), cantilever front brake and “U” brake for the rear wheel. The worst invention of all time seeing that the “U” brake caught all the mud, sticks, leaves, gum wrappers, and anything else it could suck up on a ride. I was in virgin territory in the woods of North Park with my new mountain bike.

Fast forward, the competitive juices started to flow again and the next thing you know, I am in a series of local mountain bike races called” The Month of Mud.” Now my friend Gary Bywaters started this frivolity and all of us local road riders and racers got involved and it was…

View original 990 more words

All Hail the Bathtub Trail

photo

Years ago when I first started to run the trails in the fall with our fearless leader, Jack McArdle, we were always treated to a description of the route at our local park.  If we complained, we were assigned “penalty hills” and as we groaned with a smile on our face, we dutifully ran the hills until the next assignment by the trail boss.  Invariably, each trail run always included a run up or down the “Bathtub Trail”.  At first I was confused as to what Jack was talking about until I came upon the ancient bathtub placed to collect spring water at the base of the trail.  It was always a curious placement and I always wondered who put it there and when was it placed?  It was always a topic of discussion and I was always way more curious than my fellow runners with my inspections of the clear spring water and the curiosity as to why on earth someone would take the time to put a bathtub there?

As time went on, the Bathtub Trail was a common route for runners and eventually mountain bikers in the park.  But the trail itself was a challenge to any newcomer on two wheels with its off camber construction and loose soil which if ridden with reckless abandon, would extract a flesh wounding penalty to the disrespectful or ignorant rider.  It was almost as if the bathtub itself was a sentinel which demanded respect and if the proper homage was not paid, the penalty for a rider down the trail could be severe.  The opposite could be true as well in that the unprepared rider or runner might not make it up the trail without dismounting and humbly walking up to the summit.  photo

I can remember vividly Pat” the nurse” which was his moniker by the trail runners, attempting to ride down the Bathtub Trail with his newly purchased hybrid bike.  Despite my warnings about hybrid rims and tires not holding up to the demands of the trails, Pat rode down the trail without respecting what was before him. As his rims both “pretzeled” under the rigors of the terrain, the nurse went careening into the trees and came up a dazed and bloody mess.  He agonized over his destroyed wheels and remarked  ” I just bought this bike and now it is trash.”  I warned him.  I thought to myself,” another example of not respecting the trail and paying homage to the reputation of ……..the bathtub.  It was almost as if positive execution required some sort of homage to this graven image or perhaps we should light yak butter candles or install prayer flags like the climbers who dare climb in the Himalaya?  I laugh at these fleeting, ridiculous ,thoughts but maybe there is something to it?  Just kidding……………maybe?  photo

Currently, the Bathtub Trail has some competition surrounding it as other trails have been constructed offering alternate routes for the trail runners, equestrians, and mountain bikers.  But for me, the familiarity with the trail ridden hundreds and hundreds of times in all weather is comforting.  Familiarity with any trail can make things a lot easier and riding them without much thought can be comforting or lead to disaster if you take for granted that the descent is still a little sketchy.  I was riding the other day with some guys and they inquired why I was riding down the Bathtub and ignoring some of the newer single track.  I remarked that you had to pay homage to the Bathtub Trail every once in a while to keep the “karma” positive.  We all had a good laugh at that one but as I passed the tub, I looked into the glass like water and gave it a nod of respect.  Not much different than I would have received a blessing from one of those Tibetan monks before attempting a daunting climb.  That bathtub has seen much carnage over the years and has extracted some serious penalties from some unsuspecting riders and runners.  But not me.  All hail……………..the Bathtub Trail.  Thanks for laughing but don’t do it near the trail.  :)

A Great Day in the City

Henry Clay Frick, the noted industrialist from Pittsburgh, Pa., donated 151 acres of property to the city in 1919 at the request of his daughter Helen who saw the vision of green space in the growing industrial sprawl. In 1925, the city officially created  this beautiful park with 190 additional acres.  The park opened to the public in 1927 and has been a gem for the city ever since.  Henry or Helen would have never imagined  that their park would also serve the current growing population of mountain bikers who would create, ride and maintain a network of challenging trails right in the city limits.  But that is just what has happened and our group of Saturday morning enthusiasts from the suburbs enjoyed a most challenging but culturally fulfilling day last Saturday as part of the continuing adventures of the 59 year old kid.photophotophotoMcCandless-20130303-00102

As the group assembled in the pouring rain, we were reminded by Bert, one of our tour guides for the day, that the trails would be treacherous due to the roots and rocks that become soaked and extremely slick on days like last Saturday.  Undaunted, we all proceeded as the weather improved to a steady drizzle and the merry band of elder statesmen attacked the first rooty hill climb with style and panache.  As we reassembled approaching the midway point on the ride, we were guided into some of the newer sections of trails that overlook the Monongahela River.  This tight singletrack is somewhat off camber and if you look to your right, the view of the treetops and the railroad tracks and river way below tend to make you hug the hillside and hope that you don’t lose your mojo and plunge into the trees with a following bounce onto the tracks and bounding into the river.  This might be a slight exaggeration but not too far off.  The 59 year old kid is conservative most of the time and lives to ride another day along with his pal,Bob Bannon who is also on the same game plan.  We dismounted in several sections and ran the trail until we reached a more reasonable spot.  Our group split because of some mechanical issues in the very steep chicane of switchbacks and as we reunited and made our way down some incredibly steep pitches which we rode with great caution, we all were happy to end that section in one piece.  Pretty challenging for a park in an urban setting.  frick-park-pratt1images (4)images (3)

Finishing this ride in improving weather helped the traction and as we approached the “Bradema” trail, we were treated to the story of the trail and the resultant official naming and sign installed by the city.  Apparently Brad who is a friend of a friend, crashed rather significantly on this trail and as he was recovering in the hospital, one of our jokester mountain biker friends suggested to the nurse in the hospital that poor Brad needed an enema.  Lots of laughter ensued but the city apparently didn’t get the joke and named the trail officially ” Bradema.”  Hilarious.  Exiting on the “Roller Coaster” trail, we climbed back to the street where our cars were parked happy to be in one piece and happy that the weather had improved from a rather dismal start.  It is amazing to note that when you ride Frick, you would never expect that this piece of wilderness is right in the middle of a very busy urban setting.  If you did’t hear the dull roar of the Parkway East, you would think you were in a rural setting in Vermont.  But as we exited, we were treated to another wonderful experience of riding in the city.

Frick borders Squirrel Hill which traditionally is the Jewish section of our city which has many culturally divergent neighborhoods of note.  As I watched couples walk to the synagogues on the Sabbath in anticipation of the first high holiday or Rosh Hashannah, I was reminded of how much I appreciated the culture of the Jewish tradition.  In college, I was the only gentile on my floor and I was cordially invited to all the high holiday celebrations at the community center on campus.  I became familiar with the traditions of the ancient culture of Gods chosen people. After the ride,  I felt I had to participate in some way so I suggested to the group that we hit the Smallman Street Deli on Murray Avenue for some great traditional deli food.  Wow- were we amazed at the size of the sandwiches and had I seen the potato latkes in the cooler, I would have ordered a few of those bad boys too.  I did however order the matzo ball soup with chicken which took me back to my college days of sporting the yarmulke at the high holiday celebrations.  I love tradition and our group was not only beaming with the conversations and recreations of the rigors of the mountain bike ride but also beaming through faces full of cole slaw, turkey and corned beef.  lsl

All in all, these are the kind of days that you always remember. It is a reminder that there are great opportunities right under your nose in your local town that can really rival all the stories of traveling to other locales to ride, ski and eat.  Sometimes the best trails, eateries are right in your own neighborhood or city if you take the time to look.  It amazed me how challenging the trails are in Frick Park right in the middle of the city.  Who would ever think that?  Coupled with a hunger killing meal at a great deli, and spending time with friends, ………………….now that makes for a great day.  Thanks for reading.

Photos courtesy of Jon Pratt and Smallman Street Deli.

To be…….”Trans- Generational”

     What does it mean to be trans generational?  I would explain it as being involved with activities and interaction with different age groups with a common purpose.  OTB at the North Park Boathouse

 

Take for instance when I was a kid, my mother would make me dinner early because ” my friends” were calling me to fill in for the men’s doubles tennis league at our community pool complex.  These guys were my dad’s age but respected the fact that I could play the game and was mature enough to handle the interaction with an older generation.  It was lots of fun and I did learn some things that taught me that I had maturity beyond my years especially when an argument would ensue.  I had first hand knowledge of how ” adults” handled these situations and sometimes saw the maturity level dip a long way when one of the guys hit another over the head with a racquet.  But for the most part- the trans-generational activity was positive for me as a young man.  

     Fast forward and now I was in my late teens and interacted with some older guys who helped me get involved with ski instruction.  Chip Kamin was only a few years older than me but Bob Irish and Larry Cohen were in their forties at the time and we had a great time skiing together.  Their wisdom and inspiration allowed me to pursue certification with the Professional Ski Instructors of America and together they taught a young guy the ropes.  Point being that sports like tennis, fishing, golf, skiing, cycling are lifetime sports that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities.  There are mentoring opportunities for older guys and also the interaction with young people keep that generation in the game.  IMG00227-20100731-0812

     In a recent article in the PSIA publication “32 Degrees” there is an article which references how some snow pros share their secrets to longevity.  The common denominator is to “keep moving”.  Each of the instructors that were interviewed were extremely active well into their 50s, 60s, and 70s.  They each talked about looking for opportunities to connect with other passionate people with diverse perspectives.  Oftentimes this results in older people interacting with younger people in a common passion like the sports mentioned above.  I can remember as I became a parent, how important it was to bring my son and my nephews and nieces along in the sport of skiing.  IMG00117-20100116-1123

As I got older, I made a point to bring along younger guys and girls into cycling and in one instance, I introduced mountain biking to Bill Kirk and his son Billy and young Bill and I still ride today- 20 years later.  To be trans-generational benefits not only the younger generation with wisdom and mentoring from the older set, but for us older guys, to have the opportunity to ride or ski with a younger crowd keeps us young not only in our mind but in our perspective on how the world is progressing.  You can learn a lot on a chairlift or on a mountain bike trail by talking to a younger person and see what is relevant in their lives.  Heck, I lost a musical perspective way back when ” money is for nothing and your chicks for free.” That’s where I lost track.  But keeping up with the times is important and to keep tabs on current musical talent via younger people is enlightening to say the least.  

     Skiing, mountain biking, road cycling and trail running all are good activities that can unite generations.  Oftentimes we have some good debate and try to solve the world’s problems but the key factor is the difference in perspective between professional people, teachers, students, and retired folks.  The common factor is the activity but the conversations and interactions are the result of having a common passion and the accountability to get together no matter how old or how young the crowd.  I used to laugh in a road cycling criterium race when I would hear,” Inside Mr. McCloskey” or ” inside Mr. Sagan” as a young guy would slip ahead of us older guys on the inside lane of the road.  I used to smile thinking that this was pretty cool that we all were racing together, people of different generations.  

     Currently I ride mountain bikes on Thursday nights with a group that for the most part is 25 -30 years my junior.  With the exception of a couple of older guys, this group has provided some fresh perspective on many subjects including the technology that has developed with cycling.  I like the ride and the people and even though we come from different generations, mountain biking unites us and our passion fuels us enough to come each week and be accountable to the ride.  So no matter what floats your boat, keep active.  Stay involved in the sports or hobbies that always sparked you.  And most importantly try to be involved with groups that are “trans-generational.”  That is the neat thing about lifetime sports.  They unite all of us.  Thanks for reading.  

 

Don’t Give up the Ship

   One of my all time heroes in American History is Commodore Oliver “Hazard” Perry of the U.S.Navy whose command was  during the War of 1812.  When you read about Perry, you discover that he had a very distinguished naval career prior to and following the Battle of Lake Erie.  His battle flag read,” Don’t Give up the Ship” in deference to his great friend Captain James Lawrence who commanded the original frigate in peril during the battle.  Lawrence was a fatality, but the command shifted to the frigate Niagra where Perry took over and eventually defeated the British Navy forcing them to surrender.  His famous line,” We have met the enemy and they are ours”  is a testament to the tenacity of an outgunned, undermanned U.S.Navy whose leadership under Perry was able to take on and defeat the most powerful navy in the world.  

     During my travels to Rochester, NY or Toledo, Ohio, I always had my road bike with me and made a point to stop and ride at Presque Isle on Lake Erie.  There is a monument there dedicated to the construction of the ships that made up Perry’s command during the War of 1812, in and around Presque Isle and the bay. A similar monument and visitors center is situated at Put In Bay in Ohio.  One of the famous Lake Erie Islands, Put In Bay is easily accessed by the ferry  www.jet-express.com/   at Port Clinton, Ohio. I always took a ride on the ferry, rode my bike along the quiet roads on the island and always stopped at the monument and took in the video presentation of the Battle of Lake Erie at the visitors center which is managed by the National Park Service.  .  The presentation by the Park Rangers is worth the listen and it is always a must on any trip to Put In Bay.  The scenic roads around Presque Isle in Erie, Pa and the country roads of the Lake Erie islands always remind me of my youth when my folks took us to the lKing James 2012photo800px-DONT_GIVE_UP_THE_SHIP_flag.svg264px-BattleofLakeErie489px-Portrait_of_Oliver_Hazard_Perry%2C_1818ake for vacation. As I peddle along and see the cottages along the routes, it reminds me of a time gone by with swims in the lake, penny candy, and evenings along the shore looking at the stars.  

     But perhaps my most recent memories are again centered around this famous battle flag….” Don’t Give Up the Ship.”  When my son Jack played AAU Basketball as a grade school kid, we always had tournaments in Erie, Pa.  I always took the boys and the parents down to this little restaurant on the bay which had good seafood but more importantly to me, had this flag proudly displayed behind the bar.  As we all assembled around the bar waiting for our table, I took the opportunity to tell the boys the story of the Battle of Lake Erie and the courageous actions of one Oliver “Hazard” Perry.  ” Don’t Give up the Ship” was a rallying cry for our teams as we faced teams from all over the east and Canada in the AAU Tournaments.  We saw talented players who were much bigger and faster than our guys and we knew we had to face them in the next round.  As I began to get carried away with my enthusiasm for the Battle and the success of the frigate Niagra, I would encourage the boys to not give up the ship and remember the heroics of Perry and his men.  As their eyes widened with my overachieving enthusiasm, I was able to incite a little courage and oftentimes our Davids defeated the Goliaths on the basketball courts and we advanced to the final rounds.  I like to think that my speech in front of that flag was enough to attain the victory and that the boys were encouraged enough to play their hearts out.  Well, in reality, I can’t take credit for that for sure.  But a little encouragement goes a long way and helps to fuel the fire of competition.  As the years went by, I repeated the story to several of my son’s teams and when they were juniors in high school and in their last years of AAU Tournaments, it got to the point where my son preempted my speech by saying,” Don’t say it Dad!!!”  ” We have all heard it and we know…………..Don’t Give up the Ship.”  We all laughed but I looked at that flag with a fire in my eyes for our team and for my hero- Oliver” Hazard” Perry.  

     I have always been a fan of the underdog.  The little guys on a team, the kid that always strikes out, the kid with little talent but a lot of heart, the friend who has lost his job, the divorced friend who is trying to find peace, the downtrodden, the parents facing a child’s medical procedure with a life in the balance.  These are the people in our lives who need encouragement.  These are the people who need a friend at the times when it might not be convenient.  These are the folks whose name I write on my pad at work so that I don’t forget to give them a call or get together with them.  My memory is a little sketchy these days.  But these are the folks whose hope needs restored.  My mom always said to have a friend is to be a friend.  She was so right.  Encouragement is the fuel for recovery and whether we invite a person to dinner, ride bikes, ski, hike, or any activity in which conversation can be shared, it is well worth it and no matter how badly the person is defeated, the care of a friend saying,” Don’t Give up the Ship” is appreciated and may turn the tide for that person………..just like the Battle of Lake Erie.  Call a friend today.  Thanks for reading.  

Baggies versus Lycra- a mature perspective to the debate.

photoOTB at the North Park Boathouse

Ok, so I am headed out of the Giant Eagle with my groceries and I see this guy getting out of his Corvette. He seems to be a little older than me and he has his wrap around shades, gold chains, lycra running shirt, lycra cycling shorts, and running shoes. He is headed in to the grocery store and I am thinking that he is the typical guy trying to hold off the inevitable by exercising and having all the toys along with the chest toupe’, chains and all that. But why would you want to show your produce neatly wrapped in lycra cycling shorts in the produce section of the Giant Eagle? There is a time and a place for everything and lycra is for riding and running – not shopping. At my age, I would not be caught dead walking around in lycra cycling shorts in a venue that was other than my local park or outside of my house ready to ride my road bike.

So let’s jump into the fray and the long standing debate among mountain bikers and talk about the advantages and disadvantages of lycra versus baggie shorts. Lycra has its advantages and although I have been riding my road bike in lycra shorts for years, I am starting to get to that point where I am looking for an alternative. Yes, lycra is standard and with the new compression technology, it is still appealing from a functional point of view. But for us “getting to be older riders”, the change in attitude is similar to the desire to ride the triple crank on a road bike instead of a straight block like the old days. I know that it is sleek to have the nice lycra road kit and I would not have been caught in anything else back in the day, but I am starting to get a little more comfortable with outfits that may be more touring than racing. The “club fit” is beginning to take over for the ” race fit” and you know what……that’s ok.

Enter the baggie of the mountain bike set. When I was mountain bike racing, I still utilized the lycra kits and it was standard and still is in most instances although baggies have been seen in Enduros and some cross country races not only locally but on the national circuit. Why? Because they are comfortable – that’s why? Mountain bikers tend to be more laid back than road folks and baggies seem to fit the culture like some of the new jersies that can be worn post ride without embarrassment. I like the pockets to keep your stuff- like George Carlin used to say. ” You gadda have a place for your stuff.” Baggies also have a little give and take in the right places and although many of these shorts have lycra liners, they are comfortable, functional and can be worn into a grocery store without anyone taking notice of you. Baggies can also be worn in the winter with knee warmers and most of the time you can ride in inclement weather and have he feeling of freedom rather than being trapped in tights or other winter wear.

So as a chronologically advancing rider, I am starting to see the advantages of comfort on a ride versus trying to portray the image of the over the hill racer trying to hang on. I like keeping my keys, cell phone, goodies,and other various and sundry items stuffed into my pockets of my baggies rather than stuffing them into a lycra jersey or my pack. I take my pack on mountain bike rides only if it is going to be a longer ride or if is colder and I need a place to stash my rain jacket. Other than that, pockets in baggies are just fine. Things change as you age and sometimes when I look at myself in the mirror I say,” do you really want to go out in that tight fitting outfit today?” Then I defer to the baggie and the comfortable shirt or jersey and am much happier knowing that function has finally taken over for form in the life of the 59 year old kid. The real test will be when I break down and wear baggies on a road ride. You never know, the next thing that may happen is fenders, side view mirrors on my helmet, maybe a flourescent orange flag attached to my road bike? Maybe I will be like the tourons that I know that gain weight on rides by stopping at every coffee shop or lunch place? Tough to do in the woods on a mountain bike but there are still some appealing stops that may cater to a more casual rider. I am happy to report that I am not there yet and please slap me if you see me putting a flag or a reflector on any of my bikes. But the culture of the baggie has replaced the function of lycra and for the general public shopping for their tomatoes and cucumbers, their visual world is a lot safer than the other day when Corvette man disrupted their experience.

So, although the baggie versus lycra debate will rage longer that I will ride someday, it is good to recognize that there is a perspective that lies outside of the functional debates between the two forms of exercise clothing. Respect the comfort but more importantly, respect your fellow shoppers. That chest toupe’ with the chains was a little over the top. Thanks for reading.

College Bound- “Carpe Deium.”

image

Perhaps one of the most interesting experiences for the 59 year old kid and his wife Janet, has been raising our son Jack. He has been a true blessing in the highest sense of the word and as a strong willed child, he has provided some interesting input and challenges at times in a household where all focus was on his daily needs. We are headed off to Ohio University in Athens tomorrow and as many of you have experienced in this endeavor, there is a lot of anguish, trepidation, but excitement for the years ahead. The experiences that will be available for Jack in an academic setting away from home are wonderful and fulfilling.

Recently contemplating as I drive to work, ride my mountain bike on the trails, and sit by my fireplace, I think back to when we first brought Jack home and his “tricks” on the living room floor. My mind is flooded with images of sandboxes, teaching him to ride a bike and the turnaround in Malone’s driveway. Taking him hiking, teaching him to ski, how to throw a baseball, how to bat, what pitches to take and what to leave. The Jersey Shore, Vail, Tahoe, Utah. The basketball years appear in my mind with AAU and school – the tournament travel, the practices( never missed), and the games -wins and heartbreaking losses. X-Box, girlfriends, our times as a family in the foundation of our church. It has been a blur and at 19 years old, he is ready to go and we look forward to his success in a new environment. We will miss him, but Athens is not that far away and we are always here for him and look forward to seeing him on his breaks and on the parents weekends. But this is his time,not ours and the transition will be an interesting time for Janet and me as well as for Jack.

This is nothing new for a lot of people who have raised children and see them off to school or a new job. But it is a new experience for me, and I have felt in the last few years that I have been running out of time. Time to be together, time to impart what little wisdom I can offer, and time to establish a good relationship with my son. I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve and have my bladder placed squarely behind my eyeballs. I am an open person and what you see is what you get. Jack is a little different as the strong willed child and his demeanor with me is sometimes not what I had envisioned as a father and son. We do have unconditional love for each other and that being the bottom line, I can deal with the fact that we are truly different people……….and that’s ok.

Dr. Terry Thomas, in a message delivered in our church this past weekend, stated very eloquently that you are not justified by the opinions of others or by your children. If you are seeking approval from them, or validation, justification, or whatever you require, or want to feel better about yourself, you are barking up the wrong tree. God is the source of justification, not what we do. He loves us warts and all, and understands that as parents, we do the best that we can for our children and as we transition in sending them off, we can sit back and see the fruits of our labor and the exciting possibilities of higher education under His care.

Janet and I have taken the opportunities to relay to Jack our experiences in college. The fun times, the pitfalls of getting behind in the first semester, and the ultimate end game of studying hard and getting the “skin.” The “skin” and good grades gets the good job, but the larger advantage to higher education in my mind, is that the college experience takes the burrs off. It polishes you, it teaches you how to relate to other people, how to study, how to execute a plan. College is not for everyone, but for those who choose to attend the college of their choice, the end results give memories that last a lifetime and friends who remain in your life forever. We have said it all to Jack and now is the time as we drive down I-79 tomorrow and into the Buckeye State, to take a breather, let go, hug him and wish him the very best that Ohio University has to offer. Being the opportunistic guy that I am, I have found all the great trails to ride and my wife and I are finding the best restaurants and points of interest so that when we do visit, we can enjoy seeing Jack grow and when he needs some space, we can enjoy Athens ourselves. As we drive back, we will also begin to focus on each other. The one constant is that Janet and I are a team. We were together at the beginning of our marriage and will continue to be there as a team in this time when new oportunities will arise for us.

As a hovering parent of an only child, I must admit that I have been dreading this day since Jack’s freshman year in high school. But as the process of college has ensued, I am trying to look at it as the natural progression that all of us go through as we mature from childhood to adulthood. I can’t control any more and the process of “letting go” is a new experience for the 59 year old kid. I joke about the fact that I may age chronologically, but never mature. So as I see the process with Jack, maybe we both can mature together? My wife will appreciate it. Wish us well,pray for us if you like, and thanks for reading.