“Self Betterment”

Listening to a podcast the other day on my way to the mountains, I heard the term “self betterment” and thought it was an awkward word combination. I know what the author was trying to say which probably would have been “self improvement” but so be it. It caused me to think about what to do as we age and how to keep moving forward.

My friend Pete and I were talking the other day about education and how important it is to continually read and listen to books on tape or podcasts. Maybe take continuing education classes?  You learn something when you do those things and your mind is challenged. I, for one, am a voracious reader and enjoy mostly non-fiction of which my focus has been French and Indian War history as well as the founding of this country. I live in an area rich in history especially pre-revolutionary and revolutionary times. Places like Fort Ligonier are precious to me as I can gaze into the past while looking at uniforms and artifacts housed in the museum there. I like to read books by David McCullough such as his recent book, ” The Pioneers”. I learned a lot about the western emigration to Ohio and the life on the Ohio River in the early days of our country. The more I read, the more I learn and can truly up the ante in my appreciation of local historical lore.

Sometimes “self betterment” comes in the form of lessons learned. I always say, no matter what happens, you always take away a learning from any experience – positive or negative. Take a recent trip to Chicago. After a conversation with an Uber driver who was from the Middle East, he became agitated with me. I was trying to make conversation and keep things light, but he didn’t take it that way and told me flat out that he didn’t have to talk to me. After he dropped me at the hotel, he gave me a look that could melt stone as I reached for my bag. I didn’t know what was about to happen as he told me to ” get the f out of his car.” Kind of un-nerving to say the least and he didn’t care in the least what rating we gave him. But I think things were lost culturally there and most likely my fault. My humor is sometimes not appreciated and the learning or ” self betterment” I learned that day was to keep my mouth shut and speak when spoken to.

Associating with people who value life and experiences is always a path to ” self- betterment”. People with positive attitudes, a kind spirit, a volunteering heart, are people who can make you a better person. Just because you age, does not mean you cannot improve your life and your appreciation of life. I am trying to slow down and smell the roses so to speak and I surround myself with people who can teach me things and make me a better person. My wife has done that for sure. She has good insight on many things and her kind spirit is always a message to me as she selflessly takes care of her aging mother every single day. The old saying that ” you are who your friends are” is so true. My grandfather also said on the flip side of a coin, that ‘ if you fool with a skunk, you end up smelling the same way.” Look for people who make you better.

My friends tend to be skiers and mountain bikers. But we have more than that in common. Many of those folks have made me a better person. They educate me, they are thoughtful and kind, and they enjoy the outdoors and point out things to me that I would never notice. People who now have retired and give back to the community in ways that cannot be measured.

Bottom line…………”self betterment”? Education? Experience? Friendships?” If you pay attention, as you age, you can learn something every day. Thanks for reading.

The Silver Bullets to Aging

So as I soar into Medicare age, people have been asking me lately, ” McCloskey- have you lost weight?” Others, who are not active friends, have said,” How do you keep yourself in shape” ” What are you doing?” ” Is it too late for me to get started?” My active friends know because we all do the same things together. We ride mountain bikes at least 4 days a week all year long and we ski. I am usually one of the oldest guys in the group but as Scot Nicol of Ibis Bikes once told me……” Pat- don’t think about it – just keep doing it.” So I do. But there are some things that have helped me along the way so that I don’t just wither away into old age. The grays are coming on strong, the face is starting to resemble a catcher’s mitt, but my purpose is always to encourage folks to be active and don’t let age be a factor. Let me share some pretty basic nuggets.

I was listening to the Rich Roll Podcast http://www.richroll.com and he always has the most interesting guests including Dr. Dean and Anne Hornish who were touting the benefits of replacing the NAD cellular component as we age. Apparently, NAD ( Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide) is a component responsible for energy, cellular reconstruction and has sleep benefits. We lose this component as we age and there is a new supplement that is available called Tru Niagen which seems to work. I have been sleeping better and I do have a lot of energy. My wife Janet says taking this is like adding gasoline to a fire but for the most part I feel a difference. I can’t tell you much more about the research, but maybe listen to Rich Roll and the Doctors Hornish to find out more.

The second thing I have done for a while is take fish oil pills. Not a big secret as it has been known that taking a supplement with Omega 3 is good for your joints and can help lower cholesterol. I don’t have joint problems so maybe this is working too? Again, I will not go into the science because there is a lot of that out there.

Third- I use one tablespoon of MCT Oil in my coffee every morning. I have heard that if you combine this pure coconut oil which is a medium chain triglyceride along with the animal based fish oil at night, you maximize your energy output and can keep your weight in check. I get it from General Nutrition Centers and they have all the information. Again-it seems to work for me.

A fourth component is diet. I am basically back to a diet that I ascribed to 40 years ago while I was a runner. Chicken, fish, fruit and vegetables. I stopped eating junk. The muffins for breakfast, desserts, pies, cakes, cookies,ice cream, etc. I used to think I was invincible and that my body was a furnace with exercise. But as my cholesterol numbers started to trend in the wrong direction, I made up my mind that I needed to watch what I eat. I am not perfect. But amazingly I lost 10 pounds and that was not my purpose. I feel better eating cleaner and the lighter I am, the easier it has been for me to exercise.

Fifth- get a good doctor. My mountain bike pal, Syed Hyder, is also my doc. He is not only a good friend and fun to be with on rides and social outings, but he is a good doctor. But the best thing is that he knows me. He has said, ” Pat- you are the only patient that I have on Coumadin ( blood thinner) that skis and mountain bikes. But you have done it for years and I am comfortable with that.” The caveat is no blunt force trauma but I am careful on the slopes and the trails. Well sort of. I had an incident years ago with a DVT in my leg ( look it up) and also a pulmonary embolism in my lung( look that one up too- it will scare you.) But I have been taking Coumadin for 30 years without incident and I tell folks all the time that are new Coumadin users, that you can be active and still be on that drug. I am a living testament to that. There are caveats but I encourage folks to contact their doctor for the medical opinion and contact me for the layman opinion from someone who has been very active and used Coumadin for years. Glad to answer any questions with the disclaimer that I am not a doc.

A 6th component is products from Hammer Nutrition http://www.hammernutrition.com I use their energy gels and also their electrolyte replacement tablets( FIZZ) in my water bottle to keep me hydrated and to replace lost electrolytes during exercise. I would encourage the use of these products and to read their monthly publication that will come to your house in the mail. Tons of informative articles on health and exercise.

A final factor is Ray Vactor the Chiropractor. LOL!! I love that. Ray is an old friend and my chiropractor. But I have been a believer in the re-alignment of the spine for optimum performance due to a steady flow of energy in the nervous system. Ray has kept me healthy in this area of holistic health for over 30 years. I do the recommended stretches after my morning showers and with monthly adjustments, I have been pain free for a long time. Research your potential visits to a chiropractor, but I can tell you Ray Vactor the Chiropractor has helped me. http://www.wexfordchiropractic.com for those in the Pittsburgh area.

The fact of the matter is there really is no silver bullet that will let you drink from the Fountain of Youth. But there are some simple things that you can do as you age that help the process of feeling good for as long as the good Lord lets you feel at all. Positive attitude, healthy clean eating, some supplemental help along the way, and regular exercise can rocket you along in life and age is only a number. Again- just my opinions. Thanks for reading.

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More Cowbell

Well folks, back in the saddle again and commenting on a unifying item called the cowbell. In World Cup ski races, you can hear the cowbells clanging and ringing on he sides of the race trail as the racers scream by at top speeds. The Swiss have a habit of bringing monster cowbells that sound more like a clanging gong than a ring of a standard bell found on the necks of the bovine community in Switzerland.

I came prepared this past weekend with my official Swiss cowbell that I bought on my honeymoon some 31 years ago in Zermatt. This tradition of cheering on the competitors is also used in World Cup Mountain Bike racing and last weekend the alpine sound greeted the downhill competitors as well as the cross country competitors as they made their way down rock strewn and root infested Snowshoe, West Virginia. I rang my bell for reigning World Champion Nino Schurter as he climbed the summit of a grinder right before a treacherous rock garden. I rang for the rest of the field and was joined in a chorus of bells of all shapes and sizes. I rang for all American competitors as I hoped that the home squad would make a good showing on American soil. This is the World Cup Finals after all in Wild, Wonderful, West Virginia. How much more American can you get than that? Kate Courtney- our former World Champion for Cross Country, dug deep and finished 5th in the XC race which guaranteed her a victory in the overall season title. ” USA, USA, USA,” went the massive crowd chant along with an assembled thousands of ringing cowbells.

As I thought about the event on the way home which included some great riding at places like Tea Creek and Silver Creek Backcountry trails nearby with my band of traveling mountain bikers, I thought of what the cowbell meant in the melee of the excited fanfare. I thought about how I had not been to a World Class event in some time but looking at the athletes, soigneurs, photographers, team mechanics, nothing much had changed. The gathering of the mountain bike tribe was still pretty much in tact even though some of us had aged and many new youthful faces had emerged. The vibe that Snowshoe created was energetic and supportive of cross country races and downhill alike. But the thing that really struck me was the unity of the crowd, cheering on their favorites and taking in the brilliant sunshine ringing their cowbells enthusiastically regardless of age, faith, race, creed, color, Democrat, Republican, whatever. We are all mountain bikers and we love our heroes as well as the tribe we ride with. All joined together as one unified throng of thousands, ringing our cowbells and smiling. Everybody should take a lesson from the mountain bike tribe. We have a lot more in common that we think. Thanks for reading.  Click on the follow button and join in the fun as I continue to muse about things in later life.  Thanks.

A Refreshing Break

My friend JR gave me a Yeti cooler like the one you see here and I loved it. It was subsequently ripped off much to my chagrin. So I got another one and decorated it and it is one of my prize possessions. I fill it with ice every day and drink a lot of cold, refreshing water for many reasons. My original blood clot in my calf was the result of a crash on my road bike in Ireland and a long plane ride home. Dehydration also played a part and I have been dealing with the results of a DVT and a Pulmonary Embolism ever since. Don’t get me wrong, I am fine. I can ski, run,ride a bike, etc. But I wear a compression sock when I am at my desk or on a plane because my calf swells and I take Coumadin with no effects other than keep my INR in check. But no residual effects of the embolism these 30 years later. Had I taken the time to drink more water, I may have never had any of these things happen to me.

You may never think of it, but in the winter, you need as much water as you do in the summer. At the ski areas out west, there are water coolers everywhere and I always take advantage drinking lots of water at altitude. The first day, I tend to get a headache due to the altitude adjustment but drinking lots of water takes that away and all is well. It tends to be dry out west and in the summer and winter, it is important to hydrate.

Not to dwell on TMI here but I have also had the unfortunate experience of having a kidney stone. Another result of not drinking enough and salts and calcium build up in the kidneys. Maybe one of the most painful experiences of my life and another reason I live with the Yeti cooler at all times.

Nothing is more refreshing after a mountain bike ride than to sit down in my soccer chair and bring out the cooler of ice cold water. I sit there,re-hydrate, and take a breather. Which brings me to the real subject of this post. After 274 posts, 4 years after my wife suggested to me that I write a blog to get all of my stories in my head published,( I also have 2 volumes that I had made into coffee table books), I am going to take a break. I am again out of gas and need to put the Chronicles on hold for a while.

It has been a lot of fun but it is time. I may pick it up again sometime, as it is only a hobby. I have appreciated all the nice comments and not so nice comments. It is nice to see that people have followed the blog and have enjoyed it. My only vision beyond chronicling my adventures and thoughts for my son Jack to read with grandchildren some day down the road, is to encourage people to do things that they might not ordinarily do. As you age, it is important to stay active. Never let people tell you that you are too old to do anything. Try new things. Engage with new friends. Be positive and enjoy what life has to offer. Some people my age come home from work and get a hot bath and watch Fox News all night. What kind of a life is that? It is great to be with people of all ages and I find it especially rewarding to be in the company of younger people while skiing, or riding and hearing what they have to say about the world from a younger perspective. Like drinking water from that Yeti, their ideas are refreshing. So in the mean time, try new things, be kind, be positive, and take that pause that refreshes after a wonderful day in the world. Thanks so much for reading.

Inept

Self deprecation has always been one of my strong suits. An Irish trait really. I have attempted some new ventures with humorous results and like Dirty Harry Callaghan says,” A man has to know his limitations”. Now I am pretty comfortable on a pair of skis and can ride a mountain bike fairly efficiently, but have not had success in some other ventures over the years….. like golf. A golf club in my hand never had a natural feel-kind of like a telephone pole, and when I would manage to par 3 or 4 holes and then launch a tee shot into an adjacent house near the golf course, I knew that my feel for the game was lacking. I was a good caddie back in the day. I understood the game and even caddied for Ben Crenshaw at the Open Qualifier at Shannopin Country Club in Pittsburgh when he was a student at the University of Texas. But when it came time for me to actually play the game, I really had no feel and was too nervous and jerky for golf. Fast forward and I found myself in recent years playing in scrambles tournaments to benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities. Scrambles were fun in that you could just bang one off the tee and if it was not good, all you had to do was put your ball where the best tee shot was in your foursome and go from there. No pressure at all. But when I had to play my own ball at a place like Laurel Valley in Ligonier, I was exhausted and shattered after 15 holes due to many swings, lost balls, and generally a course that was way above my ability level. I have since given up the game and politely refused any further invitations. I always felt intimidated by that little ball staring at me on the tee and the possible errant trajectories that it could take after one of my swings. I am fairly athletic- but golf? No feel at all.

Then there was the time that I thought it would be cool to try kayaking. I took an adult continuing education class at the University of Pittsburgh with a lot of instruction rolling the kayak in a swimming pool. Another example of not having a feel for the sport. I always felt like I was going to roll the thing over anyway and was never seated comfortably in a kayak. Then came our final exam up at the Youghiogheny River. I had a rain suit on which was useless seeing how many times I tipped the kayak and to add insult to injury it was snow showering during the event. I eventually dragged my sogging body down river and unloaded the kayak never to attempt the sport again. I missed being a river rat at Ohiopyle because I thought I would have a home there with all the other pine cone eaters but it was not to be. I did take my wife and the in-laws white water rafting one time at Ohiopyle, but the result was basically the same with me flipping out of the raft at Dimple Rock and laying on my back in the Swimmers Rapids and floating behind much to the consternation of my wife and mother in law. They did’t realize I was out of the rear steering position until I passed them floating on my back. See you in a mile dear!!!

I was a “B” tennis player in my day with a self taught ” whirly bird” service motion that people found quite humorous. In one tournament, the opponent started laughing because he thought I was kidding. I said, ” No man, that is my real serve.” He laughed again and killed me in the tournament. I eventually gave up tennis for running and did that for quite a few years until I took up cycling which I still do today.

So, after several failed attempts at other things for variety, skiing and cycling have been my mainstay activities for years and at this point, I am not interested in trying anything else. I am often asked if I ever tried snowboarding or telemark skiing. I really have no interest seeing that I really like to alpine ski. Been doing it for 57 years so why deviate? Also, mountain biking has basically taken over my cycling world because I am a bit concerned about violent drivers and drivers who do not pay attention while texting. Road cycling is starting to get a bit sketchy for me. Riding in the woods is pleasant and no irate drivers throwing chipped ham sandwiches at me and yelling at me to get off the road. True story. Had mayonnaise on it too.

One last activity that has come and gone for me is fishing. I used to go with my grandfather a lot and had some outings with my family where we caught a fair amount of baby sharks. But for the most part, I am unlucky in the angling department and it came to a head years ago with unsuccessful attempts landing a fish at the ocean, I took to desperate measures. I went to Piggly Wiggly and bought a whole Red Snapper and put it on a hook and threw it into the ocean trying to please my son when he came down to the beach to see if I finally caught something. When I hauled it in, it was full of seaweed and my son said,” Dad- it looks dead.” I looked at my friend who came down too and I whispered,” Piggly Wiggly” He fell down laughing and that basically ended my fishing career.

So I figure- just stick with what you know and at this point I am satisfied with my activities that will take me into old age. Ski to live and ride to ride another day. Thanks for reading.

LOST!

Now I know in this day and age with GPS and technology that allows one to navigate from the seat of a mountain bike on any trail in the world, a map might seem archaic at best. Not for me. Being a little bit of a curmudgeon, I still depend on maps in my pack to get a good read on where to ride. Case in point are the Purple Lizard Maps which are available at http://www.purplelizard.com These maps are water proof, tear proof, peanut butter proof, beer proof, and generally a good way to get around. I just ordered my current version after using one for the last 20 years up in Rothrock State Forest near State College, Pa. These maps are great …….if you know how to use them. Like, read the trails and fire roads correctly instead of taking the wrong one and ending up 25 miles from my starting point at Tussey Mountain.

I got hopelessly lost after mis reading the map. It was getting dark, I was already an hour late to meet my wife and her room mate from college. I was out of water, my cell phone did not work, and my Cliff Bar situation was getting bleak with a fuzzball caked piece left. I pretty much figured I might be spending the night because I didn’t have a light either. There is a sign on the chairlift stanchions at Whiteface, New York, and Killington, Vermont that says,” Don’t ski alone. These mountains are as desolate and remote as they were 200 years ago.” So is the backside of Tussey and I thought of those signs as I was starting to get concerned about my lack of navigational skills. Fortunately, I met up with a couple camping near Greenwood Furnace who offered to take me and my bike back in their pickup truck to Tussey. They were the only people I had seen for hours. Had they not been there, I would definitely have spent the night up against some tree. Not that I could not do that, but my wife would have been out of her mind with concern. As it turned out, by the time I came back to the Ritchey house where my wife and her room mate Kathy were waiting, I heard an ear full and knew that I needed to study the maps a little more closely. After all these years riding there, I am pretty familiar with the area now and the map is more of an insurance policy than anything. But I am glad I got the current version to use on my upcoming trip there to do the Coopers Gap Epic with a bunch of great mountain biking friends.

I will tell you that I do a lot of adventurous things, but getting lost is a bit unnerving especially when you are running out of food, water, and light. Take the time I was mountain biking up in Ellicottville, New York riding away from the Race Loop Trail at Holiday Valley and into the Allegheny National Forest. I had a map of the area, although a bit outdated again, and I zigged when I should have zagged and voila, I ended up lost again- no water, sparse energy bar supply, and no lights. However I had cell service and called my friends at Mud, Sweat and Gears Bike and Ski Shop, who asked me about my location. I described the clearing with a potential of 3 different trail options that were not real clear on the outdated map. They knew and directed me to the right trail and as I made my way to town for something to eat, I bought a new map from the shop right before they closed for the night. They laughed at my old map and said, no wonder I was lost. Most of the trails are not featured on the old map.

My wife does not like me to ride by myself but if I am careful and have the right amount of food,water and the current version of the trail maps, I am pretty self sufficient these days. Most of the areas I ride are popular and you see a lot of people. But some are more remote like the Laguna Wilderness Trail System that I rode a lot back in the day. I had a good map for those rides but the signs warning about mountain lions was a bit concerning. Never saw one. Only the big blue Pacific Ocean. But without the map, you can get DFL on those trails very easily. And they get fairly remote quickly with the threat of the big cats and rattlesnakes.

Bottom line, good idea to always ride with a partner or on trails that are familiar and have bail out points. Secondly, a good map or better yet, a GPS that you can count on. I have to get one and get into the 21st century. But in the mean time, my maps are up to date and hopefully I will read them correctly and not cause my wife heartburn. Ride safely my friends and thanks for reading.

Full Circle

So all of us were back from our western ski adventures, and once again at our home resort for what was probably the last weekend of the season. The sun was out and the snow was soft and the crowds were gone. Most people at this time of year around here are itching to get out on the golf course or ride their bikes, and skiing takes a back seat for the spring. But some of the nicest snow conditions are in the spring and if you don’t want to hit golf balls and have them plug on every shot or ride mountain bikes in amazingly wet and muddy conditions, you can enjoy the last turns of the season. I did and with this group of dedicated skiers, we bid farewell to the 2017-2018 season. I already purchased my Highlands Pass for local skiing next year and also my Epic Pass renewal for the trips westward. You see, I get a little depressed with the last turns of the season because it will be another 8 months until I am on snow again and I am not getting any younger. Although, I am inspired by Stan Friedberg’s Guiness Book of World Records achievement as the oldest heli-skier in the world. At 91, Stan can still turn em and it is an inspiration to all of us. Gives me a lot of hope for many more seasons.

Every year takes some effort to get the ski days in. We all start off with the first reports of the opening at Seven Springs, our local mainstay area, and we all clamor to make turns early on one slope and a couple of trails as snow making and cold weather allows. Then we look northward to the Lake Erie storms and make our way to Western New York to take in some of that early season fluff. Then for Janet and me, we made our way to Utah to ski with Mike and Judy Smith and their daughter Shayna and husband Nick for a couples trip that included a harrowing “thin cover” run that rattled Janet. She composed herself and skied well for the rest of the trip but was a little unhappy with me for taking her to “no man’s land” with thin cover in Utah.
Funny thing about skiing is that until you get to the mountain, it is a royal pain hauling all the gear like a sherpa, getting to and from the airport, and fighting the crowds on holiday weeks. Then you have weather. Like when I made my way to the Adirondacks to ski with my pal Mike Smith- the other Mike Smith. . Along with meeting my friend from Vermont, Mark Hutchinson, I braved probably two of the worst snowstorms I have ever driven in on the New York State Thruway. But the turns and days with those guys at Whiteface and Gore were worth every minute of white knuckled panic. I also ran a traffic light in Amsterdam, NY which got me pulled over by a State Police officer. However, after a nice chat between two guys alone in a snowstorm and my contrite explanation of why I ran the red light, he cut me a break and told me to get back on the Thruway and don’t try to take the short cut.

Moving forward, got up early most Saturday mornings to meet at Laurel Mountain with my group there and had some fantastic days until the 78 degree thaw and biblical rains forced an early shut down of Laurel.

Perseverance was the call after slicing my tendon in my knuckle and making my way to the annual guys trip – this time in Colorado. Dr. J and the physical therapy team were cautious about my trip so early after the injury but after returning with 320,000 vertical under our belts, he was relieved that I came back with no injury to the healing tendon. Got to ski with my buddy the singing ski instructor from Vail- Art Bonavoglia listening to his tunes on the chairlift. Always a pleasure to ski with my old pal Art who is really skiing well. Also, got pulled over again in Idaho Springs, Colorado by the local police officer who said I was speeding in the 25 MPH zone. Most people think this is hilarious because I am the most cautious driver they know. A speeding ticket? McCloskey? But again, the police officer was from Pennsylvania and we had a nice chat about the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles. He asked me if I was a Steeler fan and I said, ” What is the right answer?” He said he was from Harrisburg and I congratulated him on the Eagle victory. He let me go like the officer in New York. 2/2 in potential citation stops. Someone is looking over me.

Finally full circle back at the Springs with the group that you see above. It takes some dedication to ski locally and to make the time and effort for ski ventures out of state but this group does it and looks forward to every season. So, as I made my last turns for the 2017-2018 circle of ski life, I was a bit forlorn. But looking back, it was a good season and now I switch gears to spring and summer activities, patiently waiting for the cool weather of the fall, the turning leaves, and the first flakes of 2018-2019. Thanks for reading.