Benchmarks

Tussey Mountain Trail at Rothrock State Forest

I think we all try to assess our fitness in the beginning of the season with a series of ” benchmarks” which are tests to see where we are. Personally, I have several hills on many of my mountain bike rides that I use as tests, and if I can ride them with no issue and not get off my bike, I know that I am still in the game. It takes some effort but they loom ahead as a reminder and they are there so that I can see how well I am doing at different points of the season. Usually in the spring these benchmarks are harder because I am just getting over my winter maintenance mode. This year I am backing off a bit. I don’t need to race anymore and I can ride at my own pace. But I still like to see where I am and if these benchmarks become easier as the spring and summer evolve.

Wet Rocks Define the Benchmark

Sometimes the conditions of the tests make them particularly difficult. Like now in the springtime with all the rain in the east, the slimy rocks and roots make for a particular challenge and you have the choice to either back off and ride around the challenge, or get off and walk, or ……..get it in gear and take the test. See how you do with a weather affected benchmark. Can you still ride it no matter what? It takes effort to do the latter but that is the criteria for assessing fitness and a sense of self satisfaction that you can still do this!

In today’s world, you have Garmin devices or apps on your phone that can also give you information on where you are. Time of a ride, distance, vertical feet of climbing, speed, etc are all measured and visible to you after and during each ride. There are also the competitive apps like Strava that can measure your effort against someone else or a group of riders on the same trail. I would have jumped on this years ago but now, I ride to ride another day.

Rainstorms Adding to the Difficulty of Benchmarks.

Some days, you just don’t feel like challenging yourself. The weather is bad, your motivation is lax or you just plain don’t feel like it. No one is watching and really the personal challenge is always up to you. There are always roadblocks to getting in shape or maintaining fitness but you have the choice. Either accept the challenge or not. Maybe not today but tomorrow? Your call. Kind of like the benchmarks we set for ourselves in life too? The challenge is always there to do the right thing. Help out a neighbor in need. Thinking of other people and what they are going through. My mother always said ” to have a friend is to be a friend.” It is so true and some days, we are not really motivated but we ” put it in gear” and do the right thing even if we don’t feel like it. Kind of like hitting that benchmark hill in full gear even though your motivation is not there at the moment.

My dad always had a saying for doing things that you may not like to do at the moment. He said it was like ” hitting yourself in the head with a hammer because it feels so good when you stop.” I laugh when I think of that but really, there are times when you have to reach for that higher gear and go for it. Help that neighbor battling a life threatening disease. Or the friend who is going through a personal struggle. I keep a legal pad on my counter in the kitchen that reminds me to pray for people whose names are on that list. But also, to remind me to do something for them. No matter what the weather is, no matter how tired I am, no matter how inconvenient. When you hit that higher gear and challenge that benchmark of kindness and civility, you feel so good. It is not the food that you brought them, or the flowers, candy, treats or whatever. I am sure they are appreciated. But the real appreciation lies in the fact that you thought of them and no matter what- you are there for them.

As we get older, complacency can settle in. But just like the hill challenge on a mountain bike ride, there are daunting challenges out there for you to tackle. Be up for the challenge and help your friends and even people who you may not know. Volunteer, donate, give your time and resources, and hit that higher gear. You will feel a sense of purpose and a calling that is highly rewarding. Thanks for reading.

Wolf Rocks. Laurel Mountain , Pa.

” And They’re Off!”

Churchill Downs Up and Running Again

I was watching the Derby this weekend and it brought me back to my youth at the track. You see, I never owned a horse, never rode a horse, and the closest I ever got to a horse was at the paddocks at Waterford Park over in West Virginia now known as Mountaineer Raceway. My grandparents were horse racing fans and every Friday night during the summers, they took me to the track. We would have a nice early dinner, drive down to Waterford, and take in a few races. My grandmother always placed ” show” bets because she always said she had a better chance at getting something than using my grandfather’s tactics of only betting on the win. She would get her money back with a third place, for instance, a “show” and laugh at my grandfather for not getting anything for his ” win ” bet. Always a competition between those two. I learned to read a handicap sheet and when I took them both in later years to a horserace handicap class at the University of Pittsburgh, my grandmother would tell me at the end of every outing that she could teach that class. The professor didn’t know anything in her book. But she enjoyed the night out.

My grandparents took me to all the good tracks as a kid. All over Florida and the south, and also we went to see the Preakness one year in Baltimore. But there is nothing like the Derby at Churchill Downs and in later years, I had the opportunity to see it from two vantage points- the infield- and the more genteel grandstands at the Kentucky Oaks and the Derby the following day.

The Infield at the Derby

My first experience was watching the races from the infield. A pretty crazy scene which was, shall we say, a little less “refined ” than watching in the grandstands with all the suits and beautiful hats. The infield was a conglomeration of big time party people who rarely took time to watch the races. The general admission crowd. I was along the rail with some veterans who had a mild interest in what was happening on the track. But for the most part, the Derby from the vantage point of the infield was pretty nuts. I was amazed at the guys who walked around with bushel baskets full of donated cash. They had a sign imploring any female to disrobe for cash and when they did( basically from the waist up) the guys dumped the money on their heads and started the process all over again. People are amazing when you infuse a huge crowd, heat, booze, all together in one place. You see some things you never see and you are happy that you made it out of the joint in one piece and with your wallet and watch in tact.

Pretty crazy scene – cheap mint juleps abounding.

Fast forward, I had the opportunity to see the Kentucky Oaks and the Derby from the grandstands. Wearing a sport coat and tie with my wife Janet in tow – wearing a beautiful dress and hat, we enjoyed the races from another point of view. Janet wondered where I got my acumen for placing bets and I explained my youth and what my grandparents taught me about para mutual betting. I explained the trifecta and when we placed a bet for Jan, it turned out that she won $350.00 on the Derby and was thrilled. She thought I was a genius when only dumb luck prevailed and the knowledge of getting to the window right before the closing bell. Sure I looked at the odds but really it was more luck than anything. But the smile on my bride’s face when she won was – priceless.

I remember asking Janet if she wanted to take a walk down to see the crazies in the infield. She reluctantly said yes and we took a stroll all dressed in our finest. When we got close the infield, all we heard was a chorus of ” DWEEBS”. I laughed because it was true. In the world of the infield, we were dweebs in spite of the fact that we had a really nice time in the more genteel atmosphere of the grandstands. I was happy my wife did not see the usual suspects with their bushel baskets.

It has been years since I have been to the track but I keep threatening to go. Maybe this summer Janet and I will venture over to Mountaineer Raceway? In the meantime, we will wait for the Preakness and the Belmont and see if the elusive triple crown winner will emerge in 2021? Thanks for reading and go to the track. You will enjoy your outing. Think of Mary Reynolds- place a show bet.

The Fresh New Season

Floral greetings on the hiking trails.

I am not sure whether I am just taking the time to notice or whether this spring has been more spectacular than most . The blossoms and growth in the woods and along the trails are really exploding and I have been thinking to myself as I hike and ride the mountain bike this year, what a blessing this has been. To have sunny days and vibrant colors emerging from the cold winter is really amazing especially around Western Pa where I live. It is usually rainy and wet in the spring and we all jokingly call it mud season. But, so far so good.

The Happy Hiker

I crowbarred my wife Janet out of the house this weekend and she is always glad that I prod her to get outside and enjoy the fresh air. We have a lot of good hiking right near our house and when you look around, you really could be anywhere as you make your way down the paths and trails sighting new plant growth and the usual visuals of the pine forests near our home. The thing I always have to remember is that we have a lot to appreciate right in our own backyard.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love hiking and riding in other parts of the country. There are so many places that have their own special atmosphere and vistas. Everyone who lives in those parts, are really proud of their landscape and their trails that they love to show us.

Western Vistas

There are really great places out there to hike and ride and the mountain views are really spectacular. But really, everyone in all parts of this country have good views and great trails if you are willing to take the time to spend especially in your own back yard. Copper Harbor, Michigan, Mohican State Forest in Ohio, The Moon Rocks in Davis, West Virginia. I love to visit other places and so do my friends, but there is a reason people live where they live. Family, friends, jobs, familiarity, and other factors generally dictate where people are located. Oftentimes I think to myself that I would love to live in the west. But I would never look down on my local outdoors opportunities and think that there is something better. I try to enjoy my local mountains and parks and be happy that I have the health and ability to do so.

The Moon Rocks- Davis, West Virginia.

I watch a lot of You Tube videos of people riding MTB in different parts of the country. And really they have a lot to offer. The thing that is most noticeable is the pride of the locals when they show a newcomer their local treasure of trails. They have an enthusiasm in their voice and a smile on their face that says- ” hey man, this place is the bomb.” And it often is and people are happy to hike or ride there. But is it the ” bomb?” Maybe the ” bomb” is your local scene with your friends in your local mountains or trails. Wherever you live?

Local Laurel Highlands lushness

I always chuckle at the conversations that lead to ” one -upsmanship” You know- like you telling someone from another place what a great time you had on your local trails and they tell you ” Oh man- that is nothing. You should have seen it out here this weekend.” I am sure that it was nice, but there are great hikes and rides everywhere. My dad had a funny saying that said, ” First liar never has a chance.” That is the classic response to ” one- upsmanship.” ” You think that was good? Well, you should see mine” In reality, my friends in Oregon love their trails. My friends in Colorado and California love their trails. My friends in Vermont love the Green Mountains. And I don’t blame them a bit. But I never have that longing to always be there instead of where I am. Love to visit and travel. But I always am thankful for the local scenery and the ability to enjoy it. I never demean the local scene. And there is something to be said for sharing it with my wife and my friends.

Bend, Oregon
Laguna Beach, California

But this coming weekend, I have a friend visiting from Philly and he loves to ride. I will be proud to show him around and let him see the fresh new season we have around here with all the blossoms, flora and everything that is spring on the local trails. I am sure that I will tell him that this is the BEST around here. LOL!! Enjoy what you have- wherever. Thanks for reading.

Laurel Mountain goodness

The Soul of Soles

“Pat- listen to this.” Gretl Dupre said to me as we walked into the kitchen of Camp Soles in Rockwood, Pa. It was the screen door slamming behind us. She said” isn’t that cool? Isn’t that just the sound of summer?” I thought about that and agreed that slamming screen doors reminded me of a time which was long ago in my life. I remember hearing that all the time in my kitchen at home on my way into and out of the house. It was like the sound of entry into the great outdoors of my neighborhood and at Camp Soles- it was the sound of kids heading out to play on the 263 acre facility which includes the beautiful Lake Triss.

Lake Triss

Camp Soles has been a mainstay of the Western Pa community since 1957 and traditionally run by the YMCA. This season it was supposed to close but at the 11th hour, Gretl Dupre came to the rescue and bought the facility. She had skin in the game. She and her 8 sisters had been campers there when they were young girls and there was no way Gretl was going to let the facility sink into oblivion. Gretl is a ” go getter” and even though she now lives in Seattle, she felt an attachment to the place and will make every effort to revive the spirit of summer camp in Western Pennsylvania. She intends to spend more time here and is on the path to revitalizing not only the facilities but revitalizing the spirit of the camp. She is literally the ” soul of Soles.”

The ever energetic Gretl Dupre.

Gretl and I are old friends as her family were the original owners of Seven Springs Mountain Resort where I spent a lot of time as a kid. As we walked the grounds, Gretl explained her reasons for investing and also her vision for the place. As she first showed me the kitchen which she is refurbishing to meet all the CDC Guidelines for the pandemic, she pointed out the speaker system where she says she will make announcements and raise and lower the flag each day. Traditional camp things but she has so much more planned. She will have campfires and roasted marshmallows and all the fun things that a summer camp will have, but she is more about teaching the kids responsibility with work around the camp which will teach them valuable lessons going forward. Things like sustainability – recycling, planting your own garden and growing your own food. Gretl has a vision of more than “kumbaya” around the campfire. She wants to make leaders of the kids and teach them valuable skills and responsibility that they can use for the rest of their lives. She wants them to have an understanding of the importance of the great outdoors and to respect the environment. In this age of entitlement, it is a noble task to which she is fully committed.

The Camp Motto

We walked around the lake and saw the kayaks and SUP equipment being readied for the season. She showed me the ” ski lodge” and a small hill facing the spacious windows and remarked that she ultimately wants to make Camp Soles a year round facility for families as well as kids. Downhill skiing and cross country skiing with plenty of snowmaking capacity is on the docket. The dormitory lodges which will house the campers are being refurbished and there are many of them around the perimeter of the lake and nestled in the wooded areas around the camp. There is lots of work to be one but the employees of the camp are as committed as Gretl and they all have a ” can do” attitude with their daily chores to get the place up and running for the summer camping season.

Lots of people my age have great memories of spending a week or weeks at summer camp. Those days of hiking, fishing, wearing headbands and beaded bracelets which were made at camp, all are fond images in the minds of a lot of parents today who may wish to rekindle those memories in the lives of their kids. Fresh air and activities outdoors instead of days in the basement playing video games. You can learn so much as a kid when you spend time working and playing in the great outdoors and no place is better than summer camp.

Camp Soles is currently a beehive of activity with planting gardens, refurbishing facilities, upgrading equipment, and a general positive buzzing vibe to the place. It seemed to me that the spirit of anticipation was all around with the ” angel investor” Gretl at the helm. I was totally impressed with what has been done so far to resurrect a beautiful facility that was on the brink of extinction.

As I closed my time with Gretl at Camp Soles I couldn’t help to think how proud her father Herman would have been of her. I am sure he is smiling down on her activities and is somehow prodding her to make things at Camp Soles bigger and better with a new mission.

Old Pals.

There are opportunities to sponsor a camper at Camp Soles this summer. Perhaps your own or maybe a camper who would not have the financial means or the immediate opportunity to partake in this fabulous experience. You can visit http://www.CampSoles.com or go to Friends of Camp Soles a non-profit entity EIN# 85-3514602 to donate or sign up. The address for donation or sign up is 1009 Tall Trees Drive Pittsburgh, Pa. 15241. The phone number for further information is 412-213-5321. The anticipated cost for a week camping is $520.00. Gretl anticipates that there will be a lot of ” heads in beds” up there this summer so don’t hesitate if you want to sponsor a child or get your own child or grandchild involved. Lots to do, lots to learn in the wonderful world of Camp Soles in the Laurel Highlands of Pa. Thanks for reading and thanks to Gretl for making it happen.

Expectations

Here we go!

I remember the days when I used to wait for a killer group of road riders to come out from Shadyside and pick Art B and me up for a long ride to Moraine State Park in the spring. It was always hard for me to get started because no matter how I tried to keep myself in shape over the winter, spring riding was always the toughest. I used to say to Art ” here they come – get ready to enter the pain cave.” I remember getting to the halfway point and laying on my back, shoving fig newtons into my mouth, guzzling Gatorade, and wondering how in the world I was going to make it home. Aside from bananas, fig newtons and Gatorade were the only fuel of choice in those days. My friend the Shark always says that ” ski legs are not riding legs.” And he is so right.

The group that keeps me young.

Fast forward to this past weekend where I went on my first longer ride of the season with my group of friends who keep me young. After about 2 hours of riding in 82 degree heat, I was kind of cooked. I am the oldest of the bunch and anyone who is older, in my general group of riding friends, is riding an e-bike. I am not ready for that yet but as I peddle into my 67th year, I realize that my expectations have to mellow a bit. One of my famous lines when being flogged on a long climb is to say that ” nobody is going to the Olympics so I am not riding that fast.” I admire those who still can hammer hills and push the pace of rides. But this season, I have an altered M.O. I am really going to enjoy the ride by backing off just a little bit instead of always chasing. I seem to enjoy the ride more if I stay within my limits. My expectations are that I will eventually get in better shape, but so will everybody else, and so if I ride to ride another day, I will be happy and really enjoy the rides much better.

I am grateful for good health. I have a lot of friends my age who have had some serious health issues. I heard my doc Syed say one time that “s@#$ happens in your 60s” So I am grateful that I can still ski at a higher level and that I can ride a mountain bike seeing that a lot of people my age and older are taking a hot bath at the end of the day and watching Fox News – ranting back at the TV. My friends are younger and they keep me in the game. But the bottom line is that I have been blessed with good health and when I arise each morning, I thank God for His blessings on me and my family . You can never underestimate the benefits of good health.

At the end of our ride on Saturday, we all went to Mad Mex for a post ride lunch. Aside from the early season physical test, the real important thing was that I was riding with my friends. As I looked around the table and saw the faces of the people, I sat back and was grateful as I listened and laughed at the stories that were told. The cool thing about riding or skiing for that matter are the friendships that are created over the years. That is the important thing. Not how fast you ride or what you did, but sharing the experience of riding and reflecting about all of that over a beer and some good food.

Friends make the experience.

So as all of you start a new season try to remember what is really important. You are getting exercise in the sunshine and rekindling your friendships. Maybe you are new to it all? Maybe you will make some new friends along the way? Whatever you do, adjust your expectations to what is good for you and not necessarily good for other folks. Spring is tough but try to enjoy it at a pace which is good for YOU.. Any type of aerobic fitness can be enjoyed at a slower pace and it will keep you coming back for more. As we jokingly say, ” start slow and taper off.” Thanks for reading.

The Wrap Up

Enforcement

The one thing I will say this year about the ski season was ………that I was glad that we HAD a ski season. From changing my boots in the lot at Laurel Mountain to the Covid 19 security seen above at June Mountain, Ca. the theme was always the same. Please comply with the mask and social distance rules so that we can stay open. Admittedly there is a lot of controversy about masks but it is a small price to pay for the knowledge that the areas were doing the best that they can to stay open during the pandemic. The gentleman above said to me that he appreciates all the public was doing this season to help them stay open. He was concerned not only about the skiing, but for the welfare of the many employees that operate a ski area. Their livelihoods depended on compliance from the public.

No matter where I went this year, the theme was the same. Please comply for us to stay open. It was interesting to see how things transpired as the season went on. The mask laws were always enforced everywhere. When Jan and I went to Deer Valley, Utah in February, they had staff monitoring the lift lines to make sure that people had their masks on and up and over the nose. Signs were everywhere in ski areas this year instructing people to social distance in the lift lines and everywhere on the premises.

The only thing that was hard to monitor for the lift line staff was riding the chair lift. In the beginning of the season, there seemed to be more of a concern for only riding two people per chair- whether it was a triple or a 6 pack. That seemed to expand the lines significantly. Then there was the polite request from the lift line monitors for people to ride together if comfortable. More and more people rode together which reduced the lines but face masks were still enforced no matter how many people loaded the lifts together. Everyone had the option to ride alone. We were at Mt. Rose in Tahoe last Monday and a guy beside me requested to ride alone. I told him I completely understood and he was very gracious. I also told him that we were all fully vaccinated and he said he was too but didn’t trust anybody. He was nice about it but stood firm that he wanted to ride alone and that was fine with us. Generally the line monitors everywhere gave people a chance to ride as they felt comfortable.

All in all, I had the opportunity to get a good read on how the ski areas were doing with initially skiing in the East and then two western ski trips to see how it was being handled in Utah, California and Nevada. One of the other comments from the ski area personnel was that they knew they were being monitored by the state. And their fear was that if the state saw non-compliance or lack of enforcement on the part of the ski areas, they would shut them down. This was the fear from last summer when there was a lot of speculation about whether the ski areas would open for 2020-2021 and if they would stay open. So far so good. My intel from friends in Colorado and Vermont also confirmed that initially there were issues with chair lift lines but as the season progressed, that seemed to wane a bit. The larger areas had lift line issues but the smaller areas or more remote areas had no issues at all.

June Mountain , Ca. views never disappoint.

So as we wrap up another ski season as the areas slowly start to close, I am again grateful that we had a season in these very trying times. It will be interesting to see how the areas did financially seeing that there was a different scene this year. No big apres ski scenes, restaurants at 50% capacity at best with the “Grab and Go” food options being the norm. Most areas got their money up front with the sale of IKON and Epic Passes which is the only way to go considering the price of daily lift tickets. But the food and beverage sales had to take a hit. Again- it will be interesting to see what they report as far as revenue and what lies ahead for the 2021-2022 ski season. I always get a little melancholy with the knowledge that I won’t be on the slopes for another 8 months. I thought about that when I was making some nice giant arcs on some great groomers at the end of the day at Mt. Rose. I thought to myself” Pat- this is what you need to think about this summer when you are getting that ski itch.” I love the feeling of making the skis carve on some great groomers. It brings a smile to your face for sure. Even though the western snow pack was down 50% this year, and the really cool stuff was not accessible, it was still fun to rip the groomers and that feeling of making a nice rounded arc turn never gets old. So bring on the spring and summer. They are fun seasons too, but I will be looking forward to another ski season as the leaves start to turn in the fall. Thanks for reading .

Connections

The Minarets- The View that Never Disappoints

Sorry I missed my Monday post but here it is a little late. I was skiing Mt. Rose, Nevada on Monday with my pals Eric and Hutch. We were on our usual spring trip to Mammoth and finishing in Tahoe. Hutch and I both said on the chairlift that if Eric had not moved to Nevada, we might not be here. It is our connection to him that enables us to ski in a great part of the country seeing that he moved there from Vermont. I have been skiing with Eric for over 40 years and his friend Hutch from Vermont for over 20 years. But it is just not the “hookup” of a friend in ski country, but rather a lifelong relationship that has developed between us as a result of skiing. The connection is more than skiing- it is true friendship when times are good and not so good.

Top of Diamond Peak. Maybe one of the best views in skiing. Lake Tahoe.

Then there is the spontaneous connection like what happened at Mammoth. My friend Robb from my local area, mentioned to me via social media that he and some friends were going ski touring in California and would we be available to ski with them at Mammoth before they went on their excursion? I texted back an enthusiastic “yes” and we connected at the top of chair 1 at Mammoth and had a grand day skiing together. Robb, Andy, Don, and Perry, all friends from my local ski area, were delighted to be led around by Eric who is the most familiar with the Mammoth terrain. It is not often that you can get a group of 7 and stay together. But these guys are all great skiers and the “group of seven” stayed connected and maxed out the vertical. Even though the really good Mammoth skiing off the the gondola was not available that day due to wind hold, Eric gave the boys all they wanted skiing the lower half of the mountain. The connection between the Pittsburgh boys and the Vermont/Tahoe boys was a good one and now they have connections in both Vermont and Tahoe.

Andy and Robb
Smiling Perry- Don was there somewhere?

Finally there is the connection that makes you think. Why did it happen, and perhaps for a reason? We were skiing June Mountain after leaving Mammoth and taking in some amazing scenery. At the top of of one of the chairlifts, we heard a voice calling to us. Skiing off the chair behind us was a smaller person, bundled up with large goggles and helmet. As the person approached us, the conversation was about how we all met at the gondola at Mammoth and we were recognized by the person as the “Stockli” guys. This person was skiing Stocklis too and was very happy to connect with us that morning. As the conversation continued, it was noted that the person was 60 years old. I said ” well you are a young guy”, kidding as we were older. The person replied that “she” was not a “he” and my gaffe became apparent. She laughed and said she was a lesbian and for me not to worry about it. In fact , she said” I take it as a compliment” Hard to tell with all the clothes on, but Deb from Mammoth was happy to ski with us as she said we were “really good skiers” and that we got her psyched to ski that morning. She seemed to want to hang with us and I boarded the chair with her because I felt bad alluding that she was a he. Guilt ridden hell that morning but apparently I was meant to make that connection. Deb told me that she moved to Mammoth from Vegas and loved working at the gondola. It was a good gig for her retirement years. She had a tough time with some customers at the gondola the day before. Apparently they didn’t want to wear their mask and the altercation became a little nasty. She said most of the people are like us, very compliant. But this year, she said about 15% of the people have been jerks. We had some good runs together and when I saw her later in the lunch line, she looked at me and said” thanks for skiing with me. I needed that this morning and you guys were great.” Not sure what was going on with Deb, if the altercation the day before had her down, or something else? But again , the connection was meant to be and perhaps skiing once again proved to be a conduit. You never know what is going on in people’s lives and if somehow, you can make their day a little brighter, you have succeeded as a human for at least that day.

Lifelong connections, spontaneous connections, or random chance connections are all good. I know one thing. Next year at the Mammoth gondola, there will be a happy face reconnecting with us and thanking us for saying hello. Good on ya Deb. Thanks for reading.

June Mountain Perfectly Groomed

The Brendan Boat

From the Best of http://www.chroniclesofmccloskey.com

Just trying to take a break from all the Covid-19 stuff and give you all a little enjoyment for St. Patrick’s Day. Back a number of years when I was in Ireland riding my bike, I peddled my arse to the west coast and ended up on the Dingle Peninsula. That is where I purchased the item above that depicts St. Brendan and his monks rowing their dory boat. You see St. Brendan and the monks were from a place very close to Dingle and they are famous for their explorations of the Aran Islands and westward spreading the gospel. Read Tim Severin’s book ” The Brendan Voyage” for a fascinating account of their voyages. It is said that they made it all the way to Newfoundland 500 years before Leif Erikson and close to 1000 years before Columbus made his way to the Caribbean. National Geographic also did a piece in August of 1977 reporting on Severin’s re-creation of the voyage outlined in the book. My point today is that St. Brendan and the boys were not much into social distancing. In fact they went way out of their way to spread the gospel and also meet new people and visit new lands on the way. The Irish are like that.

St. Patrick’s Day is a celebration of what the saint did in Ireland as a Christian missionary and bishop. It also celebrates Irish culture with parades, Guiness, Irish Car Bombs, and similar merriment but also recognizes the social character of the Irish and their descendants like me. My mother was a huge fan of the day and also a huge fan of all things Irish. Her humor was represented in sayings like the above and also in her love for things like Belleek china, Waterford crystal and making Irish soda bread. But again- it involved people, and our house growing up had that classic Irish tradition of gathering friends and family and enjoying the humor and the company. I spent many times on the piano in my folk’s house playing Irish songs and to this day do the same at home. My mom’s favorite saying was that “happiness is like a perfume, you can’t spread it on others without getting a little on yourself.” And she did in many ways- cooking, singing, entertaining her friends and relatives, and well…….being Irish. I believe I received her sense of humor as a gift because I always try to look at life from the bright side. If I can offer some humor to my friends and family along the way, I feel good and I hope they do as well. I tell my inane stories of my experiences on the chairlift and on mountain bike rides, much to the amusement of my friends who have graciously heard the stories over and over again. But I believe that a little self deprecation, which is the root of many of my stories, leads to belly laughs and people shaking their heads and saying………..McCloskey???????”

 

So this Tuesday is St. Patrick’s Day. Yes- we are in the middle of a national crisis. The parades have all been cancelled, restaurants are closing, bars are closing, we are encouraged to be diligent and wash our hands and keep our distance. Not in the Irish tradition at all. But we need to do it. But when the day comes, and you have “The Quiet Man” on television or maybe “Waking Ned Devine” , think of the folks that you would like to be with and give them a call or a text. Have a laugh and try to keep some humor during some trying times. I will probably do that and bore people with more stories and corny Irish jokes, but they will laugh and say- ” thanks for the call man”.        Slainte’ .

“When All Else Fails, We Still Have Trails”

Multi Use Trails

The motto above is the moniker of one of the most interesting trail systems I have seen to date. Round Valley, near Park City, Utah is a paradise for cross country skiers, fat bikers, hikers, and dog walkers. The well groomed trails encourage multi use and 25K is groomed for traditional cross country skiing and freestyle XC over 700 acres of preserve.

Perfect conditions for the Fat Bike.

This preserve was once slated for development until some of the townspeople thought better and put together a foundation- http://www.mountaintrails.com to encourage an alternate use for the land. They were successful and today, it is a very popular place for recreation. Well marked, and used for many pursuits, it shows how forward thinkers can offer an alternative to the rabid development of available land for housing or commercial pursuits. Especially in a town where recreation is king.

Tom Smiling Like a Butcher’s Dog.

Not only are the trails well marked and groomed, but there is a sense of pride that you can feel there with all the activity. Some of the different things that I noticed aside from the layout was the general health and shape of the people who regularly use the system. At altitude, it is impressive to see older people skating up a steep hill on freestyle XC skis. With a big smile on their face they greeted us as they hammered up the hill to the summit which has a breathtaking view of the surrounding Wasatch Mountains. You could see fat bikers off in the distance climbing on miles of trails and the traditional cross country skiers making good use out of the track setting- again for 25K. Gliding along they smiled and said hello as their dogs followed in hot pursuit.

Well Behaved and Trail Saavy Dogs

Speaking of dogs, I was amazed at how many of them were along with the hikers, skiers, and riders . At no time did they interfere with activity and they seemed to know to get to the side when going downhill so as not to impede the progress of their owners. All off leash, they seemed to have a sense of how to move with the flow of traffic and at no time did they seem like a menace to anyone on the trails. My friend’s dog always wanted to avoid the hill to the finish and tried to make her way to the short cut. Only to be encouraged to do the hill by my friend Tom. Even the dogs are welcomed to get into shape and never avoid a hill for fitness . But their sense of the trail layout and the difficulty of some trails and the gentle grade of others showed me that man’s best friends are more aware than I thought.

Just Smiling and Rolling Along

I always say when I venture west how impressed I am with the fitness of people out there. Even “older” folks seem to be in great shape and don’t let their advancing age hinder their pursuit for outdoor activities and the great visuals of the Wasatch. I suppose if you have over 300 days of sunshine, world class skiing, water sports, and multi use trail systems like Round Valley, you really have no excuse not to take advantage of the great outdoors. They have a great life out there. Again- for more information on a really well thought out recreation area, check out http://www.mountaintrails.org and see for yourself how active people can make a difference to better their lives and other lives as well. Thanks for reading.

So How is it Out West?

The Ski Lodge

So this year has been a little different in the local ski areas. The chair above has been my lodge as I change my boots in the parking lot and try to minimize contact except for outside skiing and rides on the chairlift. Personally, as I have posted before, I am happy to be skiing and have to hand it to the ski areas to even be operating in this era of the Pandemic. I am grateful. So how is it in other areas around the country you might ask? We all have heard about the long lines in Colorado and Tahoe and even locally the lines have been robust. I am thinking that the Pandemic has encouraged people to get outside and also the snowy, cold winter around here has brought about a renewed enthusiasm for skiing. It has also been a good winter around the country. My friends have reported huge snows in the Pacific Northwest and some longer lines in several other western areas.

Last week my wife and I ventured to Park City, Utah at the invitation of some very good friends who live there. They have been careful with social distancing and so have we, so our only unknown was the airport and plane. We were careful but the airports were reasonable and allowed for distancing. Even the planes were sanitized and we were fortunate to not have anyone in the middle seat. We wore our masks, sanitized the seats and tray tables and also our headrests. All was well and we made our way to ski at Deer Valley, Utah.

The Empire Canyon Area at Deer Valley.

One of the first things we noticed was that Deer Valley was not really that crowded despite what we had heard about neighboring Park City Resort. They limit the lift tickets and since I had an IKON Pass, I was able to ski without a reservation and my wife was able to get a buddy pass at the ticket window each day without issue. In typical Deer Valley protocol, the slopes were impeccably groomed much to my wife’s delight, and the sun shined brightly every day, even though there were cold temperatures . I noticed that the indoor dining was restricted and a reservation system was in place for all the ski lodges. You could get “Grab and Go” meals either by ordering on the Deer Valley App or ordering at the window. Eating outside was encouraged. But there was very little indoor warming encouraged.

In the lift lines, signage was plentiful regarding social distancing and all Deer Valley employees were on alert to instruct anyone who had their facemasks down to pull them up. Even on the exit ramps on the chairlifts, there were signs to use your mask when unloading. Instructors had masks on when teaching and all of the employees had masks for every function in the area. It was expected that all guests complied and it was a small price to pay for the privilege of skiing Deer Valley.

Main Street in Park City was still pretty crowded and even though there were protocols for social distancing, the amount of people made it so that we did not shop or eat on Main Street. We dined with our friends in their beautiful home and did take out one night.

Best View in Park City

So, even though there are consistent similarities in Covid protocol in all ski areas this season, the west is doing a good job with the amount of locals skiing and also visitors who now are a little more comfortable traveling. Like the McCloskeys. The atmosphere seems a bit subdued out there as the apres and dining scene are affected by restrictions. You could actually feel it when walking around. Something was definitely different. All bets were off at the No Name Saloon as it seemed to be a haven for the ” cabin fever” crowd. We stayed away for now. I will see what Mammoth Mountain is doing at the end of this month, but if I have the experience that we had in Deer Valley, I will be comfortable and again grateful to be skiing. Thanks for reading.