Don’t Circle the Drain

Janet and I went out to dinner the other night with some neighbors who are a little older than we are. They were laughing and joking about some friends of theirs when asked how they were doing? The friends remarked that they were just circling the drain. We all laughed about that visual but in the middle of the night, I took it a little more seriously and thought that I hoped I would never make that statement of being sucked into the vortex of oblivion. I want to be like the spider clawing furiously away from that drain and out of the tub. I try not to think about age but when I do, I make sure I am always taking every opportunity to be active and healthy, and not throwing in the towel. Lots of fun, active times ahead. My friends who are contemporaries feel the same. Take Helen and Eric above. They live in Tahoe and enjoy life in the Sierras. The photo above is from their month long trek in the Himalayas. They ski, hike, trek, and do not circle any drain.

This picture above is Nancy and Mark Hutchinson from Randolph Center, Vermont. They hiked the Long Trail this summer which is from the Massachusetts border all the way to the Canadian border. There are no drains in the Hutchinson household. They take their vacations and are active.

Now you have Bob Bannon. The Lord of Lumens. Bob schedules all the local mountain bike rides and is the guru of lighting systems for night mountain bike riding. Always has spare lights and batteries and is so enthusiastic about riding even with a full schedule of silk screening clothing for a living and being a referee in high school and college volleyball. He is not circling any drain any time soon.

Here is a guy recovering from a close personal tragedy. Mike Rich always has a smile on his face and spends his free time hunting and enjoying the outdoors even with a heavy heart. It would be easy for Mike to feel sorry for himself, but he gives unselfishly to others especially young guys who are at risk for lifestyle choices. No drains out there in Burgettstown.

How about my buddy Art Bonavoglia? He is in his 6th season teaching skiing in the Vail Ski School. When the graphic arts business went in the tank due to on-line publishing and the like, Art went down another path. They love him in Vail. They call him the singing ski instructor. He regales his students with Tony Bennett songs on the chairlift. Art is not going down any vortex.

My main man Mike Smith. Owns a marina on Lake George, flies his own plane, skis, hikes, and sky dives. An amazing ball of energy for a guy in his late sixties. He will work, ski, skydive, most people into the ground. The water is full to the top at Lake George. No swirling drains up in the Adirondacks.

Lastly- a great inspiration to me on enjoying life into his 90s was my grandfather John Reynolds. As an avid fisherman, we went everywhere to fish and he and his buddies would rise with the birds to get that first bite either in the Everglades, or on the lakes in Canada. I had the honor of being their first mate and seeing up close and personal guys in their 80s and 90s enjoying the wilds of nature. No sitting around for these guys.

I guess the point here is that sometimes we let people influence us with statements like, ” when are you going to slow down?” Or “aren’t you a little old for that?” Or maybe “wouldn’t you rather be sitting by the fire under an afghan?” Yes I would – after a great ski day or a great mountain bike ride. I don’t roll over under the comforter if it is cold outside. I like to get out there no matter what. So do these friends of mine mentioned above. They do not go gently into that good night. They are kicking and clawing to stay out of the vortex. Most of them don’t even get close to that swirl just yet. With a new year dawning, if you are thinking that somehow you are getting slowly sucked into that circling drain swirl, maybe it is time to reverse the process. Get active in 2018. You are never too old for anything. Thanks for reading.

Messiah

I have to hand it to George Frideric Handel. His oratorio produced in April of 1742 still stands today as one of the finest pieces of orchestral and vocal performance. On my way out of the beautifully decorated Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh the other night, Janet asked me how I knew every word and the accompanying solo artist performance? Aside from the fact that “Messiah” is all based on scripture and reveals the salvation message of the Bible, the music is powerful and the choral work is so inspiring it brings people like me to tears. The Pittsburgh Symphony and the Mendelssohn Choir bring this masterpiece to life and I always take the opportunity to take it in during the holidays when I can. The reason I know it well, is that at Christmas time, I play it often in my vehicle.

“Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill made low.” Isaiah 40:4 “Oh thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain.” Isaiah 40:9

On my way to the mountains to ski, I listen to this verse and imagine the power of that day. In my meager effort to imitate the tenor part here, I sing it in my car much to the delight of passing truck drivers and toll booth operators. They laugh and think I am rocking out to something on the radio. Little do they know. Listening to this, and seeing the mountains around me in the car, it is almost like I am transported to a place higher than where I am.

“Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His name Emmanuel; God with us.” Isaiah 7:14

I take this in silence in the vehicle. Contemplative and the counter tenor part is inspiring.

“And the angel said unto them: Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2 10-11

Aside from thinking about Linus and Lucy in a Charlie Brown Christmas here, the soprano part definitely stirs the Christmas soul in all of us. This is a signature performance for the soprano in the oratorio and in Heinz Hall the other night, Rachel Gilmore was spectacular. I crank this up in the car when I listen on the road, because I really appreciate the talent of a trained soprano.

“All we like sheep have gone astray,we have turned everyone to his own way;and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Isiah 53:6

I hear this and think how crazy the world has gotten. Some of the things that have happened in the news- natural disasters, violence, division among us, it makes you think when you hear a chorus like the Mendelssohn sing this verse in a venue like Heinz Hall. Not only does the music stir you, but the words make you think about the message of Christmas. We need some help here folks.

Then comes the ultimate moment when tradition has all of us stand when the orchestra and the chorus sing the Hallelujah Chorus. One year I took my wife Janet to see the performance and it was a sing a long. All the local choirs came and sang each part with the Mendelssohn. When the Hallelujah Chorus was sung, all of Heinz Hall was singing and I almost jumped out of my seat. I sang the tenor part and was part of a powerful group of people singing their hearts out with one of the world’s finest symphony orchestras and an equally talented Mendelssohn Choir. We have a little history here in that my wife’s grandmother sang in the Mendelssohn years ago and when my mother in law went with us this year, she told the tales of the practices and performances in days gone past.

“Oh death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? Corinthians 15:55-56

Driving, or listening in Heinz Hall, I think of all who have gone before us. This beautiful message sung by the tenor and the counter tenor, makes me smile and think that they are happy and enjoying the best Christmas of their lives in the company of a celestial chorus of angels. What a vision.

Heinz Hall comes alive for one last chorus of the Great Amen and everyone is up and reveling in the magnificence of the Pittsburgh Symphony, the brass,the violins,the cellos,the resounding kettle drums, and the combined voices of the chorus that shake the walls. To a sentimental Christmas guy like me, memories come alive of Christmas in the past, and great treasures of Christmas present. I hold my wife’s hand as we listen to the last verse from Revelations 5:9.

I love it. I cannot wait to take it in again. If you get the chance, take in “Messiah.” One of the truly great musical and visual performances you will ever see. Merry Christmas. Thanks for reading.

Euro-Ski

So the other day, someone asked me what was the most interesting ski lesson that I have ever taught. I thought about it for a while and said, ” Well, aside from the time I taught a blind nun with a colostomy, or a blind Hell’s Angel from Chicago, I guess it was the Euros in Kuhtai in the Austrian Tyrol. I was there with Mark Singleton and Kenny Griffin representing Western Pa. in an event that the Austrian government called ” Ski Happyning.” We were selected by PSIA( Professional Ski Instructors of America) to represent our region along with a group from all over the U.S. One week of touring and one week actually placed with a ski school in an area in Austria. We were selected to go to Kuhtai, a little hamlet high up in the Austrian Alps. The ski school director picked us up and drove like a mad man through the night up these twisty mountain roads that led to the ski area. There he placed us in the hotel for the night and told us he would see us in the morning to shadow his instructors and their lessons for the week. You see, in Austria, tourists come to ski for the week and part of the package is a mandatory session each day with the ski school. It is tradition as well as something that the patrons of the resort look forward to each year when they take their winter vacations.

Late that night, the road was covered with an avalanche and the instructors who lived in the town below were unable to get to Kuhtai to teach their lessons. So the three amigos from Pennsylvania went from being the guests to the employees in a real hurry. The ski school director came to us and explained the situation and said, ” Do the best that you can, but you guys are being put to work.” He was a bit of an iron ass anyhow so it was not surprising that he was discouraged that a trio of apple cheeked American yahoos would be teaching his clients.

After some of the local instructors took the beginners, we were given our groups and off I went with a group of Austrian ladies who were none too pleased to be with the American, instead of their usual handsome Austrian blonde ski god. I did the best that I could seeing that I spoke little German and mostly had to communicate with physical instructions on what I wanted to accomplish. I showed them the PSIA certified technique of a wider stance and they were having none of that. They shook their heads “no” and said for me to go ahead of them and guide them down the slope. As I looked back, they had their feet glued together in standard,Arlberg, counter rotated, form at the time, and saw no reason to try a more athletic approach to stance which would enhance their turning and balance on the hill. It was quite a challenge to try to show them the wisdom of separating their feet but again, no way they were buying it. At the end of the day, they were all smiles because I had basically guided them all day which was a minor miracle in itself seeing that I had never skied the area and relied on a map and their instructions as to our direction. They bought me a beer at the end of the day and we had a few laughs in the bar, not understanding any of the conversation. I know that most Europeans speak English from my prior experience, but they held that from me with giggles and glances.

Regrouping with Kenny and Mark at the end of the day, we all had similar experiences and to have a challenge like that with a language barrier was almost as daunting as my experience teaching visually impaired individuals.

Taking us back down the mountain road at the end of the week, the ski school director thanked us in his limited English and as we left his van, he handed me their ski school banner which you see above. It hangs on my baker’s rack in the basement as a reminder of a wonderful time in Austria and a most challenging ski lesson.

Kind of reminds me that I need to get back to Europe to ski again. It has been a long time and the atmosphere and the history of the sport over there is well worth the effort. Think snow and thanks for reading.

Let’s Keep Daylight Savings Time – all the time!

Did you know that Benjamin Franklin was the first guy to have the bright idea about Daylight Savings time? Did you know that we could save more than 1% of electric use if we had DST all year? Did you know that the University of Michigan did a study that concluded that when the time change comes in the fall, there were 227 vehicle/pedestrian deaths versus 65 in the summer. Did you know that Carnegie Mellon did the same study with roughly the same results? Safer to drive with more daylight? Even when daylight dwindles in the fall/winter?

The old adage that standard time is better for chicken and dairy farms doesn’t hold water. In fact, the animals don’t like the changes and would rather have more daylight in the evening. They are used to being fed and milked in darkness and want to thrive, and distribute methane during the day,….. in more daylight. Nothing like a contented cow? How about a contented mountain biker?

I don’t mind pulling out the lights for night riding when the time change comes, but it sure would be nice to sneak in a ride before darkness after work or at least only use the lights to finish a ride. I was even a proponent of moving the clock ahead in the fall instead of falling backward to have more daylight in the evening. People are used to getting up in the U.S. before dawn(70 % of us do), so what is the difference if it is a little darker for more time in the morning if it affords you more light in the evening? People would be more active, use less electricity, drive more safely, (commute in daylight instead of darkness or dusk, driving home when they are tired.)

I can also tell you from a skier’s perspective, the light starts to get flat around 3:00 in the afternoon. If you had a little extra light you could ski right through that 3:00 benchmark and make a full day out of it with decent daylight until the lifts close. You ski so much more confidently when you can see clearly. To me, there is a lot of benefit to extended daylight in the evenings even in the fall/winter months when the sun is low on the horizon for those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere.

There is a lot of history to DST. Franklin Roosevelt was a proponent to protect our soldiers in World War II. And in fact, lately, with the passage of legislation, the clocks are changed later than in the past with the spring ahead slated for the second Sunday in March and the fall back on the first Sunday in November. But if we can do that, why don’t we just go the full gamut for the four months and continue the summer time schedule? We can all get through the dark winter better,and when the spring rolls around, we will have more daylight anyhow. More Vitamin D for all of us, improving our moods. Less crime on darkened streets during regular pedestrian hours. So, we need to start to pester our politicians about this matter. Maybe a note to your senator or congressman? Have a farmer, mountain biker, skier, or anyone else for that matter that values daylight after school or work, do the same. The vociferous rooster, the clucking chicken, the farting Holstein, will all thank you. Enjoy your Thanksgiving. We all have a lot to be thankful for- especially the prospect of more daylight.

Dude!

So, this week I celebrated another lap around the sun and I thought about my place in the world and where I am currently with friends, family, and business associates. It’s funny, but as you age, you think about what is appropriate and how you should act and think based on chronological advancement. I always say I will advance chronologically, but never mature. That give me a youthful outlook on life as I continue to pursue things like skiing and riding a mountain bike. But it is equally curious when I hear myself referred to as …..”dude.”

This word, in the vernacular of the active set, is kind of curious and not really in my vocabulary. But I find it refreshing and funny actually when it is used in conversation with some of my younger friends as well as some of my more grizzled, granola crunching associates. There are various uses to this moniker which sort of goes like the following: ” Dude? – how are you man?” Kind of addressing you as “dude” instead of your given name. Or there is the use of surprise when perhaps you have done something spectacular. ” Dude!!!!- I can’t believe you did that?” ” Awesome dude!!” Perhaps you did something not so spectacular and out of character for you. ” Duuuuuuuude??? Really man? ” Or perhaps as an expression of something really great that your greeter has done. ” Dude!!!- you cannot believe the powder we were shredding today!!” Or perhaps from what I call my communist skier friends, ” Dude!- we were tele skiing the most amazing face today. You would have loved it” or from the dirtbag mountain biker friends, ” Dude- we rode Wolf’s Rocks today without a dab. We were really ripping it – dude”

Maybe there is a question that your greeter has? ” Dude- did you really do that?” Or – ” Dude- I saw this dude rocket down that trail at full speed without any fear. That dude rips man!!” The versatility of this word is amazing. But, I can say, without hesitation that I have never used the word in conversation. Kind of like how I would like to grow a patch under my lip but I could never quite do it because it doesn’t really match my Howdy Doody personality. I have often been seen as too clean cut for that but deep inside, I would like to be a ………….dude!!

My friend Angelo always refers to me as “dude”. He is so laid back and uses the word in an endearing way when he says, ” Dude- whatever you want to do, I am in.” He leads us on great rides in the Laurel Highlands and I posted about his business recently – http://www.naturalcause.org Angelo is really a good dude- oops! Not really in my vernacular. But he is a …….good dude.

My Colorado friends tend to be laid back and refer to me as “dude” quite often. ” Dude- you have to get out here man. It is puking snow and you need to be here with us. You are a good dude and need to be skiing with us today” My friend Jeff from Sacramento is a snowboarder and the term “dude” is an accessory to being a snowboarder. You have to use that word if you want to snowboard and we all loved it when he joined us at Mt. Rose recently and stated. ” You old dudes are fun to ride with.” Old dudes? Seems like an oxymoron? But we were laughing when he continually referred to us as the “old dudes.” He splitboards, he is an IT consultant, a real outdoor enthusiast and really …….a good dude.

So, in conclusion for this week, if someone addresses you as “dude” take it as a compliment that you are still able to hang in the halls of the youthful experience. If you are a “good dude”, you are held in esteem probably by someone who is younger, or at least thinks they are younger. I always enjoy telling them that I have socks older than them, but if they think I am a “good dude” I am happy. I can still hang in the world of snowboarders -even as a skier. I am a mountain biker, a general good citizen of the planet, or whatever other category registers with “good dude.”

So be a good dude and someone will smile at you and say,……”Duuuuuuude!!!!” Thanks for reading dude.

My Global Warming

This poor guy reminds me of my plight with my endless search for winter,not making light of the current global warming issues which we all face. The world’s temperature has risen 2 degrees since 1880 which has had a dramatic effect on weather, El Nino, La Nina, hurricanes, fires, arctic ice pack meltdown, etc. This is no joke and whether it is the result of the normal cycles of freeze and thaw in the annals of time for our globe, or whether we have significantly contributed to the fray with CO2 emissions from industrial pollution and automobile emission pollution, unregulated in some countries,it is a major debate. I suspect that it is somewhere in between but I am not a scientist ( or a politician for that matter) and therefore leave the debate to those more informed. However, I do know that I have an issue with our warmer winters.

While I was out on the mountain bike the other night, I saw and felt the first snowflakes of the season. It was a night ride up on North Ridge when I was pleasantly surprised and thought to myself, maybe we will have a winter after all?

This time of year when the time changes, it can become depressing with the lack of daylight. Therefore, night riding is a must and getting out on the weekends is even more paramount. The guy at GNC approved of my purchase of vitamin B3 along with my fish oil pills. He said my mood would improve with the D3 and I told him, ” Brother, I am always in a good mood. But I will take the pills.” People like me make their plans for ski trips with the hopes that all the money spent on airfare, cars, food, lift tickets, is worth while because the locale out west will hopefully have enough snow. It has been a crap shoot in recent years, but the plans are still made. Which leaves us to the other part of winter- skiing and snowshoeing locally.

I am hoping for a ” good winter” around here. This past weekend, I made sure all of our skis are sharpened and waxed and I check the weather feverishly to see when I can make those first turns. Frankly, anything before Christmas is a bonus because our weather is changing. Winter does not really arrive until January as of late, and ending sometime in March to early April. I jokingly, but sometimes sadly say that our weather is turning into North Carolina weather. There definitely is something to this global warming. I caught a break last year out in California and Nevada with record snowfall, but that was after several dismal winters out there from a skier’s perspective.

I love it when it snows around my birthday here in Pennsylvania which is mid -November. And that is usually my countdown to see when the first turns occur. I have been enthused about winter since I was a kid. However, when it does not happen and warm weather continues, I tend to get nervous and jerky. But I have a new M.O. this year. I can’t make it snow. I can’t control the weather. I just have to be thankful that I am healthy enough to participate in activities around here that can be adjusted to the weather. If there is no snow, I will continue to ride. If it snows, I will ski and snowshoe. But I am promising myself that I will not stress out. With all that is going on in the world today, I am thankful every day that I have my family and my health.

So do yourself a favor and be active and try to enjoy the winter. It is a good time to get back to the YMCA if you don’t like to be outside. Get with friends who are like minded and grind through it together. If you are an outside person, don’t let the weather dictate your fun. Get out in it and enjoy the elements no matter what presents itself. Headlamps, rain suits, wool hats, gloves, all are available to minimize discomfort even when it is sleeting sideways. It makes that post winter workout worthwhile when you are with friends enjoying a hot toddy around a crackling fire. I love winter. I just hope it sticks around. Thanks for reading- think snow!

The 40 Year Competition

This is my friend Mike Smith who I have profiled before in my posts. He owns a marina up on Lake George and every year, we ski together at Gore Mountain and Whiteface up in the Adirondacks. For a review, Mike has jumped over 2200 times out of an airplane, he pilots his own plane and has flown open cockpit planes in the past with the leather helmet and goggles doing aerial acrobatics over Lake George to the delight of his neighbors and kids from the Hole in the Wall camp. He is also a strong skier whose lifestyle is gas pedal to the floor.

I first met Mike years ago at Laurel Mountain in Pennsylvania where he worked as the mountain manager. He then went on to work for Herman Dupre at Seven Springs as the mountain manager there and then took a job with several grooming vehicle companies eventually settling down with the marina. During the time of his sales career with the companies who make the groomers for the ski resorts, Mike visited a lot of areas in New England as well as out west. He ended up skiing at many of them with the mountain managers and would always call me and say, ” Hey McCloskey- are you working today?” To which I would respond in the affirmative and he would laugh yelling through the phone what great conditions he was having and how he was racking up more ski areas than I had at the time. You see, we have this 40 year old competition to see how many different ski areas we have officially visited and skied. We wrote them down one night over beers at the Algonquin on Lake George and ever since then, we have had this competition to see who is ahead. For documentation purposes, the areas visited have been in New England, New York State, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia,New Jersey, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, California,Nevada,New Mexico,Michigan, Oregon, Washington, Canada, Austria, Switzerland and Germany. Never made it to South America or Australia or New Zealand but they are on the bucket list.

There are rules though which govern this competition:
You must officially have a lift ticket and take at least one run.
The tally must be for different ski areas- no credit is given for multiple visits to any ski area.
The only exception was Tuckerman Ravine which has no lifts. We hiked and skied there many times.

I remember one year passing the Donner Ranch Ski Area in Tahoe and my friends all wanted me to stop and hike up to take one run to rack up another area on Smith. They know all about this competition. The area was closed for the day and I reminded them of the rules. Smith and I would go back and forth with phone calls when each of us visited another area that we could add to our list. I delighted in calling him and he the same. In fact, when we ski together, his comment is that he knew he was making me mad when he called me daily on a visit to a new ski area. I laughed about it but you know, he was right. He did irk me when he would call on a daily basis while I was strapped to my desk. Jagoff!

I was behind for many years but eventually caught up to him and now have surpassed him because he is out of the grooming business and he skis mostly areas that he has skied before. However, I make it my business to continue the competition and when I visit a ski area, I always look for another place to get my tally ahead. My last addition was Homewood in Lake Tahoe which has beautiful views of the lake and advanced me to 108 different ski areas visited and skied in my life. One of my observations about ski areas is that smaller, family owned areas seem to have more of an appeal than the large corporate giants. The spirit of skiing is alive in the hard work and effort it takes to keep a small area running. The ambiance of a little area in Vermont or New Hampshire with roaring wood fires in the lodges and rustic architecture, to me is more appealing than the concrete behemoths that are the norm for lodges in the corporately owned areas. High speed chairlifts are not always the panacea for the skier. Sometimes those slow lifts add to the atmosphere and allow for conversation between runs. I like that. Sure, I like to rack up vertical with high speed lifts, but there is nothing wrong with the smaller areas and their fixed grips and surface lifts. Kind of reminds you of how skiing was in the old days. Single chairs are a classic a la Mad River Glen.

So, 108 different ski areas skied and visited is a pretty good achievement but before I puff out my chest too big, one final note. I met Ogden Nutting a few years ago who is the patriarch of the Nutting Newspaper empire which currently owns the Pittsburgh Pirates and Seven Springs Ski Area, Hidden Valley Ski Area, and manages Laurel Mountain on State property. Mr. Nutting has the unofficial record of 475 different areas visited in his lifetime. This was written up in Ski Magazine. I sheepishly boasted about my 108 but enthusiastically voiced my admiration for his achievement. He said, “my boy( I was 59),you have a lot of years left.” So, lets hope I can continue to accumulate visits to different areas. I have trips planned for this year, but if I spot an opportunity to take at least one run at some place where I have never been, I will do it. I need to keep my foot on Smith’s neck like a true hard core competitor. LOL. Thanks for reading and think snow.