Vive Le Tour

Right around July the 1st, I usually surprise my wife with my annual statement,” Guess what time it is dear?” She says “what time is it?” I tell her Tour de France time and she groans because for the next three weeks she knows I will be glued to the “telly” and watching the Tour on a DVR rebroadcast every day or evening whenever I have a chance to sneak it in. This year because of the Pandemic, the Tour was delayed to September so my statement came as a real surprise to her but nonetheless, I tried to make it as unobtrusive as possible without missing all the exciting action of the world’s most grueling bike race. I always look forward to the insightful commentary of Phil Liggett and although we all miss Paul Sherwen due to his untimely death, the team of Bob Roll, Christian Vande Velde and Chris Horner fill the gap with expertise and insightful commentary.

This year we had a surprise as a young Slovenian, Tadej Pogacar from the UAE Emirates Team pulled off a stunning victory in the final time trial and won the stage by one minute and 55 seconds. He took back the yellow jersey from Primoz Roglic, his best friend on the Dutch Jumbo Visma squad, to create an unsurmountable 59 second lead going into the final celebratory stage into Paris. Really exciting and the role of young people in this year’s Tour was impressive. Not only did Pogacar win the Tour at 21 years of age, ( the youngest since 1914), but we had a star in our own right make his mark on his first Tour as well. Sepp Kuss, who rides in support of Roglic on the Jumbo Visma team, had an outstanding Tour and was the strongman in the mountains. Watch for him as a rising star in future tours. His stock is rising rapidly as he was a relative unknown up until this time riding out of Durango, Colorado.

MERIBEL, FRANCE – SEPTEMBER 16: Arrival / Sepp Kuss of The United States and Team Jumbo – Visma / Col de la Loze (2304m) / during the 107th Tour de France 2020, Stage 17 a 170km stage from Grenoble to Méribel – Col de la Loze 2304m / #TDF2020 / @LeTour / on September 16, 2020 in Méribel, France. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images,)

I kind of lost a little interest in the Tour in recent years due to the doping scandals. But I always at least watched the recaps. This years excitement kind of reminded me of when Greg LeMond overtook Laurent Fignon back in 1989 to win the yellow jersey. France was devastated at the unbelievable result. LeMond rode the final time trial at an incredible 34 miles per hour average with the newly created time trial aero bars on his bike. I had the opportunity a number of years ago to ride twice with Greg at a charity ride in Maryland. It was my good fortune to have a little bit of the Tour rub off on me those days when I asked Greg numerous questions about the Tour. He said a lot of interesting things like, ” Fignon had the opportunity to use the bars but refused. It cost him 14 seconds and a Tour loss for France.” He also was kind enough to sign autographs for everyone long into the night. His friendly demeanor was impressive and the guy still showed flashes of brilliance on the ride although he was not in great shape due to a massive schedule of charity events and business travel. The three time Tour winner was also kind of a character. Our one friend riding with us kept trying to hammer Greg and near the end, Greg shot off to hide behind a pine tree. Our friend eventually came roaring by on his bike looking for LeMond. As he passed, LeMond came out from behind the tree and laughed with us at the wasted effort of our friend trying to hammer him to the finish. As we finished, our friend looked incredulously at LeMond and asked where he went because he was trying desperately to catch him. LeMond just chuckled and we all had a laugh at that one. The guy could take pictures for miles on end without touching his handlebars and his riding skills were obvious that day.

Those days of riding with the champ restored my faith in the race. He told a lot of stories about the organization, the history of the event, and the audacity of the upstart Americans who were making their presence known on a basically European stage. As many know, the French have a bit of a superior air about them when it comes to Americans. I can remember being in Geneva, Switzerland with my wife and trying to impress her with my limited French at a bar. The bartender was French and looked at me with disdain when I basically asked him for a glass of glass. I had a laugh about that one but his reaction was like I was Chevy Chase in European Vacation. A typical rube American trying to make his mark. The Tour is a French event and it seems to be clean at this point. They have made it their point to always have the race and make it fair as a matter of national pride. When the Tour ended this weekend, I was a little down as I always am because it is one more year passed for me, and also the Tour. I am a fan and hope that someday, I can perhaps see it in person. On the bucket list for sure. Thanks for reading

Peeling Back the Onion

I had the rare treat of eating my cereal last week watching the waves crash up on the sea wall. I was able to view the steady stream of fishing boats headed out for a day on the water with the exception of the days with a small craft advisory and rough seas. Life slows down a little bit when you are at the “shore” ( aka the beach in points south). I am not typically a shore/beach person but despite all the travels that we make, the annual visit to the Jersey Shore for over 30 years, is always appreciated by Janet and me. We live in the empty nest now and the time spent in Avalon and Ocean City brings back wonderful memories of our family together when our son Jack was a boy.

Although the pace is rather docile for me at the shore, I do appreciate some of the things I see from the seat of my bicycle when riding along the roads of Avalon. The meticulous landscaping of the homes in Avalon is really admirable. It is interesting to see the pristine condition of the homes there and also fun things like the flags of various colleges and universities proudly displayed indicating where the kids attend or the alumni status of the owners. Post Labor Day is a little slower than high season but you still see people clamoring for sticky buns at Kohlers, coffee at the Avalon Coffee Co., and when venturing north to Ocean City, the always delectable Johnson’s Popcorn and Manco and Manco Pizza. Perhaps my favorite is the hot donuts prepared each morning at the end of the boardwalk by Brown’s, a historic breakfast joint. All of this was introduced to me by my wife Janet, as she spent her childhood at the Jersey Shore. Her aunt and uncle have a place there and Janet and her cousins spent summers there growing up, and worked there all through high school and college. Jan has the Jersey Shore in her blood and no matter where we travel through the course of the year, she always looks forward to our time there. I have a feeling that as the years go by, we will spend more and more time in Avalon. Happy wife- happy life.

One thing that was different this year was that Janet and I are on our own now. The car conversations on the way down are different but we truly have the chance to connect. Although the Pandemic has me home and spending more time with Janet, the relaxed pace of a pending vacation , especially a road trip, is well worth the time spent driving. I am used to packing it in on a trip. Ski trips are my thing and the more runs I can make, the better I like it. Gas pedal to the floor and trying to get all we can with a lot of excursions. But the shore trip is different. Slower pace, long conversations on the beach, walks,riding bicycles together, and great books to read while continuing to catch up and discuss things. An interesting point in time on the trip this year was when we visited Via Mare, a classic Italian “go to ” restaurant. The food is always consistently good and the atmosphere is such where you could see Tony Soprano and Paulie eating in the corner listening to classic Italian tunes played on the restaurant Pandora system. I was explaining to Janet about Al Martino and several other Italian/American singers who we heard, when there was a lull in the conversation. I had talked myself out and in that moment of silence, I looked at Janet and appreciated her just like my times at breakfast appreciating the beauty and majesty of the ocean. I didn’t have to entertain her, I just relaxed and enjoyed her, reminiscing on the 32 years spent together as man and wife. The shore will do that to you. It slows the pace and the things that really matter overcome the daily grind and ” busyness” of everyday life. To me, life at the shore is like an onion. You slowly peel back the layers of the complexity of daily living at home, the politics, the Pandemic, the rush rush of daily living, and eventually come to the good part of the onion. What really matters.

I have learned to appreciate the shore. I learned that appreciation through Janet, and her love for the place is infectious. But more importantly, I have learned that life is short and although we are empty nesters now, we have a lot of life to enjoy and do it together. My type “A ” personality is mellowing a bit as I peel back the onion. I am hoping to keep some of that perspective and bring it back home. Thanks for reading.

Storms

We looked off into the north the other night and saw huge black clouds coming our way. The distant thunder and far off lightning were beginning to warn us of a pending doozie of a storm. Oftentimes, in our area, the storm track is north of us and most of them head to the east before emptying themselves after they leave our area. Unless they sometimes, in a fickle mood, hook around and get us from behind with a southern wind assist. Thus was the case as we pressed on. Up on the ridge, the wind became stronger and the large droplets of rain began pelting our helmets as we could smell the approaching storm and the pace picked up for all of us on the trail that evening. This time, the storm decided to empty itself on us with a wicked fury and as we popped out of the woods, the lightning was cracking directly overhead as we headed for shelter. No place was really safe. The roads were beginning to “pond up” and as we rapidly approached the building water, we wondered whether we were going to hydroplane off to the side of the road in a crumpled heap. It was raining so hard we could hardly see and fortunately I remembered to put my cell phone in a zip lock bag, otherwise, it would have been destroyed like a lot of other phones of mine that have hit the creek, or became too wet to even save with the bag of rice.

I have always had a healthy fear of lightning. I can remember being caught in a storm in the mountains east of here and the storm was right on top of me. The lightning was crackling directly overhead and bolts seemed to be all around me as I hunkered down under a tree in the woods and prayed for the storm to move on. I was an old caddie back in the day and also had some harrowing experiences on the golf course where I worked. I remember one day sitting in a shelter on Number 17 at Shannopin Country Club and seeing a bolt of lightning hit a sprinkler head on Number 10 – right next to us. The turf exploded all along the pipe line and a black smoking line was formed all the way to the green. Again, ” Dear God- please let this storm pass.” Very frightening. I even was caught in a wicked lightning storm on the old Cascade chair lift at Killington, Vermont while spring skiing. It started to rain and the next thing you know, the chair stopped. I was swinging in the wind as bolts of lightning were all around me and I was pelted with driving rain. Not too cool being in an all metal chair lift with metal towers all around. The chair finally begin to move again and the operator at the top said to me, ” Pretty scary ride, eh?” I said-” you really don’t know the half of it.” Thank God again. Rescue from what could have been a disaster. So, when I shouted to the guys to pull into the shelter the other night, I was not kidding.

Lightning bolt strike from a thunderstorm over El Paso, Texas.

When you hear thunder and then see a bolt of lightning immediately, you know that that storm cloud is close by. It is often said that the time difference between thunder and lighting indicates how close or far away the storm actually is. In any case, whenever I am out in a storm like the other night, my mind starts racing. ” What if?” So I head to shelter or the closest resemblance to shelter I can find. Kind of like the storms of life , right? You seek shelter. You seek a safe place and let the storm pass which it always does. No matter how frightening the storms of life can be for us, there is shelter. That is why we all need faith in these times of storms and uncertainty. It would be really frightening without it.

” Then He got up to rebuke the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, ” What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey Him.”

Mark 8:26-27

Thanks for reading.

Discourse

I subscribe to “Mountain” magazine which is a very high quality periodical with great photography and articles pertaining to the mountain life. I like to get lost in the articles and photographs and I am especially thrilled when it shows up in my mailbox. There is something still in me that likes print media and “Mountain” is one of the better quarterly periodicals that has survived. The editor is Marc Peruzzi who is also the founder of the magazine. Marc is an excellent journalist who I have followed over the years. He writes about cycling, skiing, and ski mountaineering in many other magazines like “Outside” and “Ski” . He is well known and has made his living creating interesting articles related to the outdoor industry, outdoor sports and general life of adventure. Marc- seen here on the left on the podium for the Breck Epic Mountain Bike Stage Race.

I was surprised at Marc’s editorial page in the current issue which was named “History Doesn’t Stop”. I found it to be a bit too political for my taste and called Marc to task in an email . My point to him was that I want to read” Mountain” to get away from the political media editorials of today and just plain enjoy a magazine dedicated to the outdoors. To my surprise, he immediately responded with a well crafted message culminating with the following:
” Just as I always take my own opinions and beliefs to task, I am always willing to be taken to task by readers like you. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts instead of just reaching for the cancel button.” We went on to have an increasingly amiable dialog in which he aptly explained his views, but also respected the spirit of his magazine. He felt that today’s political journey does not exclude the mountain population and therefore would always be faithful to putting forth opinion that would relate to that community.

Marc also commented on the fact that I support his print media with a subscription. He thanked me. He also went on to say that it has been hard to attract the advertising that he once had and that print media in general was having difficulty. He wrote most of the articles in his latest issue and said that hopefully things will get better and the ads will start flowing more freely again. I understand his pain as I saw the demise of a lot of quality periodicals that fell prey to a vanishing ad base. Magazines like “Dirt Rag”and “Skiing.” But Marc’s exemplary journalism skills carry the magazine and I went on to tell him so. What started as a rant about his political views in an outdoor magazine, turned into a “discourse” of the spirit of the magazine and his thoughts on the publishing of “Mountain.” My wife Janet was amazed at the time spent on the email discussion with someone who took the time to have a half hour dialog with me on his editorial. Although our political views may slightly differ, the discourse and discussion was enlightening and educational.

Discourse is defined in some circles as ” written or spoken communication of debate.” My point this week is that in today’s divided world, there is often not much discourse. There is a lot of opinion on either side of the political spectrum which oftentimes turns personal in response instead of a healthy dialog or discourse. In this surprising interlude with an editor of an outdoors magazine, I found that discourse with Marc, which is so rare today. I found a person who was willing to discuss his views without getting personal and find a common ground with me. We both love the outdoors and both like to write about it. I was impressed with his passion about the current political scene and how it relates to the outdoors types for whom he writes. It is not often that one ever receives a reply from a letter to the editor, much less such the civil response that I received. But it shows you that people can disagree, but in the continuation of discourse, can find common ground. The Founders did it. Why can’t we all? Thanks Marc for the healthy dialog and thanks for reading folks. Subscribe to “Mountain”. Worth the read.

Chasing the E-Bike

There has been a lot written about e-bikes, pro and con, but I am here to tell you that they are flying off the racks at bike shops and manufacturers. So much so that they are the leading category of bicycles sold today. People love riding them, they are fun, and they help a lot of people who would perhaps not be able to keep up on group rides because of age, conditioning, or other health considerations. Two friends of mine who are older than me recently purchased top of the line e- mountain bikes and love them. Chip says that with the app on his phone, he can alter the amount of assist he needs or wants on his bike. He adjusts it with enough electric assist to get him up and over the tough grunts on the trails, otherwise, at 72, he would not be able to keep up with the group of younger riders he is used to riding with.

I recently saw a program on You Tube (” Syd and Macky”) which chronicles the lives of a married couple who mountain bike race all over the country. Macky is a strong, expert class mountain bike racer and Category 1-2 Road racer. He recently challenged his 75 year old dad to a 25 mile race on the road. Macky had his road bike and his dad rode an e-mountain bike with full suspension. The e-bike is governed to 20 MPH and although Macky tried his best to ride downhills and flats as quickly as he could to over come the e-bike, his dad crushed him in the race. Say what you want about the pros and cons, I am not here to debate that. But I will tell you a story about my recent rides with my other friend who purchased the top of the line Specialized “S” Works e- mountain bike.

Bob- the Lord of Lumens, ( named so for his expertise in mountain bike lighting systems), loves his e-bike. Bob is a really fit rider who recently turned 70 and on a regular bike, could still handle a lot of riders half his age with his expert skill and conditioning. But since he went to the e-bike, he is having more fun than he has had in years. I have seen the smile on his face and his positive comments on rides around these parts. But there is a definite protocol to riding an e-bike with a group of riders who are on regular mountain bikes. Bob is aware of that protocol and usually makes me the governor who sits right behind him in line on the rides. The reason I do that is to keep Bob in check because he does not realize how fast he goes uphill. If Bob doesn’t look back and check how the group is doing on a climb, he could easily leave most riders in the dust with the e-bike. He doesn’t want to do that and thus- I am the guy who keeps him in sight and lets him know if he is riding up the trail too quickly.

The dynamics of e-bikes and regular bikes is interesting on a ride. I have noticed that if I don’t keep the group in check, and allow faster riders to pass me and get right on Bob’s wheel, he instinctively rides faster trying to stay ahead of the thundering herd of faster, stronger, riders. Then the group tends to split in half. The fact of the matter is that no matter how strong a rider you are, you are not keeping up with an e-bike and the rides can become disjointed if certain protocols are not followed.

I ride a mountain bike because it is good exercise and it is fun. Riding over roots and rocks is a challenge and I always say it is like skiing in the summer. But I ride mostly for exercise. If an e-bike flattens out the tough climbs there is the thought that you are not getting the exercise, only the fun. But Chip assures me that he does indeed pedal and makes sure that he programs his assist only enough to get him up over the really tough climbs. I can see that for sure especially as I get older. I can tell you this, one of these bikes is in my future but not just yet. I took Chip’s bike for a spin and was amazed at the boost that you get as you pedal. I think the technology will change in the next few years and the large batteries will become smaller and more efficient and you probably will not recognize much difference in a regular mountain bike and an e-mountain bike in the future. And the bikes will be lighter. But in the meantime, I will see the smile on Bob and Chip’s faces as they smoothly pedal ahead in the distance, looking back to see if we are still there. Try one out. They are pretty neat. Thanks for reading.

A River Runs Through It.

My son Jack brought home his new golden retriever puppy “River” back to see us this past week. She is an active, friendly, but rambunctious little gal to say the least, and it was an unusual experience for me- a non- dog person. You see, I have always had this thing with dogs. I kid my friends and say dogs like me- I taste like chicken. I have been bitten more times than most people and I believe it is because they sense something about me. I can be at a party of 50 people and the dog of the house always comes up to me and sniffs me in a personal area. My wife laughs because she has had experience with dogs as a pet. I have not. My experiences have been less than positive.

Years ago, when I was a kid, I used to make my way home from the back neighborhood and try to sneak through the Forrest’s yard without their boxer, Buster, hearing me. It always failed because I heard the harried breath of a running dog behind me and I took off like a shot yelling for my mom to open the screen door to the kitchen. I dove into the kitchen and Buster always banged his head off the screen door. A harrowing experience for young Patrick -every day, every month.

Moving forward- riding road bikes through the country was always a challenge. From a huge St. Bernard that would come inquisitively into the road and knock me off my bike just for kicks, to the Doberman who would head me off at the pass going up a steep hill by the farm where he resided. Every ride it seemed he would go higher and higher to cut off the angle until one day, he was waiting for me and all I could do was to make a run for it back down the hill- sprinting like wild man. I had to find another route or risk carnage.

More recently I was bitten by a Rottweiler on a winter run on a golf course. The owner wrestled the dog to the ground and basically said nothing and moved on. I was in shock as he drew blood on my well clothed left arm. More recently, I came upon a friend in the woods on a mountain bike ride. I moved close to him and asked him to take a picture of all of us riding and his little dog of some kind firmly and decidedly locked on to my right ankle growling and cutting flesh. I looked at the owner who said, ” Oh Pat- he won’t hurt you. Where are you guys riding?” Say whaaaaaat???????

So when my son came with River who you see above as a puppy, I was not sure how it would go. Last week River had grown and is now about 5 months old. I was encouraged by my friends who said that golden retrievers were friendly and River is that. She is almost too friendly and she does indeed run through everything like the movie title. Having a puppy in the house is kind of like running after a toddler. They get into everything and my son is much more laid back in his response than Janet and me. Janet bought her a harness which she seems to like and walked her quite a bit while she was visiting. I was left outside with her a couple of times while Jack and Janet had to do some chore and I engaged in kind of a dog charades when trying to get her to do her business. My neighbors laughed when they saw me engaging in showing her how to lift her leg and uttering a “psssssssssssss” phrase to encourage her. River looked at me as if to say, ” what are you doing, human?” I was confounded and soon the rightful caregivers came to my rescue. Dog charades= a dismal failure.

I have always been amazed at some dogs though. Like Chuck Greenlee’s old dog who would go on mountain bike rides with us. I always said she was a good rider in that she ran up the hills ahead of us and stayed back on the descents knowing somehow that she could not keep up going downhill. Amazingly good partner on rides.

As the week went by and we had our experiences with the little girl River, believe it or not, I became a little attached to her. My friend Hutch in Vermont says ,” Pat- a dog is the best friend you will ever have.” I was amazed at the loyalty and the attachment to me even though River didn’t know me that well. Something attracted her to me and it was not the tasty smell of my leg. As they pulled out of the driveway to head back to Michigan, she looked at me quizzically like” Aren’t you coming?” No River, I am not coming and it was nice to spend time with you but still of the mindset that I am really not a dog person. But she had softened me a bit and River and Jack have taught me a few things about dogs that I never would have known. Thanks for reading and remember- dog charades don’t work.

Garage Door Bob and the Thirsty Thursdays

The tough guy who you see in the middle here with the studded fat bike tires for winter riding is Garage Door Bob. Aptly named because of his highly successful garage door installation and repair business – B&V Garage Doors. B for Bob and V for his lovely wife Vicky. To say that Bob is an avid mountain biker would be a bit of an understatement looking at his own garage filled with bikes, wheel sets, and parts. Bob loves to mountain bike and loves it all year long. The amazing thing is that Bob will ride on 90 + degree, high humidity days after putting in a full days work installing or repairing garage doors. He will do the same in raging snowstorms on icy trails. But what makes Bob and his wife Vicky really special is his ability to round up fellow riders weekly with a text that simply says” Thirsty Thursday- 5:45- Devil’s Elbow Grove- no replies. Just show up or don’t show up- don’t care.” Really a misnomer because Bob does care. He just doesn’t want all the text chatter all day while he is working. LOL!!!

Thirsty Thursday is a tradition that was started by Bob back in the day and has continued along with other weekly rides for our eclectic group of mountain bike riders. There are the tough guys up front who push the pace and then the stragglers who keep the group in sight to the best of their abilities. The tough guys wait at the turns to make sure everybody is along for the ride as it is a no drop ride. But for the most part, all the riders are able to at least keep up and Bob is happy with his weekly band of followers on the trails. We are squeezed a little tight here for social distance but the picture was worth it showing the weekly group and some additions and subtractions as the weeks go by, all year long. But as much as everybody likes the ride, the real thing that people look forward to is the post ride at the grove with beers, snacks, and food graciously provided by Bob and Vicki and Tina and the Shark. Another fun couple who like to contribute to the camaraderie. As long as I have know GDB, he has always brought snacks, beers and been extremely generous at the post- ride festivities- socially distanced of course, and making sure that everybody has a good time. There is something to be said for the post- ride. Sitting in your chair, sipping a beverage, and reminiscing about the crazy stuff that happened. Mountain biking is an accident waiting to happen sometimes. The conversation also turns to what we all will do on future rides and if there are any trips planned. These post ride festivities remind me of apres-ski in the winter around a fire talking basically about the same thing. What happened, what was funny, what do we do next?

Bob and Vicki, Shark and Tina fuel this weekly gathering in more ways than one. And in these days of Zoom, Teams, social isolation, masks, and other Covid related precautions, it is important to somehow be able to get together with your friends in some outdoor activity and have that one on one conversation with a live person. GDB makes it happen each week and although he says he doesn’t care who shows up, he is the first guy to encourage you to ride the whole loop and stay with the group no matter what. He feeds you, he inspires you, he pushes you and he motivates you. Something we all need at least once a week.

Don’t we all need a Garage Door Bob to keep us motivated through these strange social times? Don’t we need more than Zoom, Teams and other forms of communication that really don’t cut it for interaction? Don’t we need that time to sit back and enjoy the remnants of the evening and the cool temperatures seeing the smiles on everyone’s post ride faces? Socially distanced of course. Sure we do. We all need people like GDB and his Thirsty Thursdays. Thanks for reading.

” People- people who need people, are the luckiest people in the world.”
– Barbara Streisand – ” Funny Girl”.

Out of This World.

A long time ago, my dad bought me an army surplus tent and I slept a lot of nights outdoors behind my house. It was really the beginning of my fascination for the universe and the solar system that is highly visible on a clear night. Many nights I looked up and thought how small we are in the grand scheme of things seeing that what I saw was a fraction of the Milky Way, which is a fraction of the Galaxy, which is a fraction of the Universe. I could not even contemplate but was highly satisfied with what I saw. There is something about the smell of the night air when you are awake at 3:00 AM and you look up in the stillness and see the absolute beauty of the sky. God’s amazing celestial creation. Years later in my dome tent, during many backpacking trips, I looked up from my sleeping bag, through the ceiling screen, and had the same feelings that I had as a kid in my backyard, thanks to my dad and his creative entertainment for Molly and me.

Fast forward, I bought myself a telescope. It was so interesting to see the craters of the moon, the moons around Jupiter and the ring around Saturn. Of course, aside from our moon, the details are not as defined as a professional telescope, but for me, it was pretty cool to zone in on it and see it “live.” I remember the first night I was up in the field behind our old house and called my son to come up and see it. He said, ” Dad- I can see it 50 times better on the Internet.” Millenials! Oh well, my wife came up and said, ” Well- that is nice dear. I am glad you are enjoying it.” Always the supportive wife even though it was not her thing.

Eventually, I bought a pair of high powered binoculars and a tripod. I really went to town then, exploring with the Sky Walk app on my phone to look up new planets and stars and see the constellations. The binoculars and tripod are a little more mobile than the telescope and easier to use. Lately, these clear nights this summer have been spectacular viewing. Once again, I tested my wife’s patience the other night looking for the Comet Neowise. I had the poor thing sitting in a field getting bit by insects waiting for the sunset and looking right under the Big Dipper in the northern sky. No dice initially until I moved her up to the golf course where she patiently waited for me as I made my way to a really dark place and finally saw a small version of what I had seen by the professional photographers on the Internet. Again, not real clear but I felt like I had hit my target for the night. Again, my patient wife said, ” I am so happy for you dear.” After all these years she is still supportive of my quest to see what is in the sky. Well, it won’t be around for another 6800 years so I figured I better see it now. LOL!!

Logging on the ” Spot the Station” and entering my email, I get notices from NASA when the Space Station is overhead. Even thought I can’t pick it up too well with my binoculars because of the speed at which it moves, it is still the brightest thing in the sky and travels at amazing velocity. My neighbors all get a kick out of me, out in the street at night with the binoculars and I give them all a view. And again, they kind of give me a ” well, that’s nice Pat. Glad you are enjoying it.” Although a lot of them are now watching and waiting for the Space Station. I kind of got them hooked.

The other day, I watched the astronauts installing the high definition camera on the outside of the Space Shuttle and thought to myself how cool it would be to see the earth from their perspective. Azure blue oceans, puffy white clouds and the continents rotating in their view so clearly. I thought, what they see is so pristine. They don’t see the conflict, the division, the problems that we are faced with globally in today’s world. They just see the creation in its finest position like a fine painting on a celestial easel. They are “out of this world” for a little while and doing great work high above the earth. Like the little boy in the tent so many years ago, I am still fascinated by what I see in the sky. A great hobby recommendation for all of you. Especially in this time of social distance. Buy a pair of binoculars from Celestron and begin exploring the galaxy. It gives you some great perspective on how small we really are. Thanks for reading.

The Operative Word is “Yes”

This photo was taken over the weekend up at McConnel’s Mills State Park here in Western Pa. Janet and I were hiking and I was experimenting with an app on the I-Phone called Pro HDRX. Pretty cool playing with that and also having an opportunity to spend some quality time with my wife on the trails. Janet and I are ” empty nesters” for the first time in a long time, and trying to be as active as we can in the current world circumstances. For us lately, the operative word has been “yes.” I participate in two major activities with friends but it has been important for me to spend time with Janet and get her more into the great outdoors than she already is, and doing some of the things that I have enjoyed for many years. She jokes that I have had a whole separate life when we talk about my activities over the years and the pre-Janet world. But now, we are in a situation where we can enjoy the time, activities and places together.

I must commend many of my friends who find themselves in the same situation and it has been fun to get together with them because we share the same thoughts about the empty nest and what that entails. The gift of time has enabled us to participate in hiking, cycling,swimming,shooting, skiing and snowshoeing. My wife and I laugh when I refer to myself as the “human crowbar.” I sometimes have to crowbar Janet out of her comfort zone and pry open that door of complacency and comfort. But once she is out the door and participating, she is happy and enjoying the many activities that we can do together. I am a Type A personality and Jan will never be in that mold, but that is why we do so well together. She tempers my enthusiasm where needed and I get her out the door enjoying things that she might not do on her own.

The interesting thing is that we have a lot of time to talk. That hasn’t been the case in many years because we were always on the go with activities with our son Jack as he was growing up. Not unlike a lot of couples. Games, practices, school, and also in the more recent years caring for her ailing parents and the constraints that are associated with that. We have no regrets but we are really enjoying the time together now that we have not had in a long time. We try to be safe in this Covid-19 world. We wear our masks, wash our hands frequently and respect others on the trails and other outdoor venues. But at some point, we will all have to accept some level of risk to be active. That is still being sorted out nationally and also in our own sphere of influence. But we persevere and try to get that fresh air that is sorely needed during this strange time.

Finally, we discuss why we feel the need to be active and go places. Is it just to check the box and say we have been there and done that? Is it because we want to post it on Facebook, or do we really like to participate because of the true gratification of being outdoors and being together. We both think it is the latter and when you see gorgeous scenery even right in your backyard, you appreciate the opportunity. Time spent together is priceless and whether you have a spouse, significant other, friend, or children, the gift of time is precious. The outdoors presents many opportunities to bond in discussion as well as a mutual appreciation of God’s great creation. We are all living in uncertain times and it is important to make the best of these times together. “Yes” is the operative word to opportunity and kindness goes hand in hand with that. Thanks for reading.

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Uncle Bob

Uncle Bob Smith was my dad’s best friend. They first met when they lived at the Perry Manor Apartments in the same building as my parents. As life moved on, Karen, Bobby and Cindy Smith became friends with my sister Molly and me and we all went on trips together and had great times at each others homes over all the years. Even though they were not blood relatives, we called them Uncle Bob and Aunt Jean because we all were so close. Basically like family. Karen, Bobby and Cindy were our cousins. Plain and simple.

Uncle Bob was raised by his mother in Lawrenceville because his dad died early. As a city fireman, Uncle Bob’s dad had a hazardous job and one day he fell into an oil tank which was on fire and died leaving his young wife behind, who was pregnant with my Uncle Bob. Growing up in the depression and post depression was not easy for a mother raising a son alone and Uncle Bob spent a lot of time at the local Catholic Church which provided needed resources for a young guy growing up in a tough neighborhood under dire circumstances. Father Jack McDowell took my Uncle Bob under his wing and was, for all intents and purposes, his surrogate father allowing him to work around the church and helping with neighborhood missions directed by Father Jack. Uncle Bob played a lot of baseball in the neighborhood and around Pittsburgh, and eventually became good enough to be drafted by the Chicago Cubs farm organization. But instead of the path to professional baseball, Uncle Bob joined the Navy to better provide for his mother financially and found himself on the USS Copahee, an aircraft carrier deployed to the Philippines and Japan.

Fast forward- I first got to know what a character Uncle Bob was when I asked him to be my sponsor for my confirmation at St. Sebastian’s Parish. The nuns had us all in line and glared at us if any one of us made a move that would somehow ruin the ceremony. As we walked down the aisle, Uncle Bob was cracking jokes to me and I tried desperately not to laugh. When we approached the Bishop, it was a silent, reverent moment until Uncle Bob blurted out” Hey Jack- How the hell are ya?” To which Bishop McDowell, the former Father McDowell from Lawrenceville responded,” Bob Smith you old rascal – what brings you here?” His miter( the bishop’s pointy hat), almost fell off his head as the two of them shared a laugh and the nuns were horrified. I knew how cool Uncle Bob was that day and he became a legend among all my friends from grade school.

Over the years growing up, I shared a lot of laughs with Uncle Bob. His irreverent humor was so funny to me and he and I became close and saw each other a lot in those days. He was truly an uncle in every form of the word and was a mentor to me on how to not take life so seriously.

I attended Uncle Bob’s military funeral this past week at the Cemetery of the Alleghenies. He was 94 and was the last of my dad’s friends to leave this earth. The military service was so moving and the Navy personnel along with some veterans from the local VFW presided.   The flag ceremony along with the 21 gun salute and “Taps” brought tears to my eyes. The Navy personnel presented the flag to Uncle Bob’s daughter Karen, and there was not a dry eye in that chapel. Three shell casings are placed in the flag representing Duty, Honor, Country. All befitting my Uncle Bob who served selflessly in a war far from his home. The World War II guys are leaving fast and soon there will be no veterans left from that war. As I left the ceremony I thought a lot about Uncle Bob and his life in Lawrenceville, and his service to his country. People like him were truly from the greatest generation and I also thought about what Uncle Bob would have said about the current situation in our country. I am sure he would have laughed it off and called a lot of the anarchists a few rude names but would understand that a lot of them have no idea of what it takes to be in the war time military. Education and understanding will do a lot to heal things and Uncle Bob got his education in the streets and hard knocks of life. We all should be so fortunate to have an Uncle Bob who made the best of his situation, helped his neighbors and friends, loved his mother, wife and family, and served his country. Rest in peace Uncle Bob and I will see you on the other side someday. Thanks for reading.