The Roundabout

The first time I ever saw a roundabout was when I was riding my road bike in Ireland, streaking into the town of Cork. All of a sudden I found myself in this circular juggernaut, riding the “wrong way” on the left hand side of the road as per Irish road rules, and battling cars coming from all directions. Somehow I found my way through and it spat me out the other side where I had to stop and take a mental breather.

It is my personal opinion that roundabouts are a cruel Halloween joke foisted on the public to cause strain and stress in an already volatile driving situation. Somehow engineers think that these roadway puzzles are helpful in relieving traffic situations but in my time on the road since Cork, I have seen nothing but potential mayhem ensue. Three of them in a row in Glens Falls, N.Y. For what purpose? One right in the middle of the main drag in Kings Beach, Nevada. Costing the taxpayers millions of unnecessary dollars. Then there is the infamous one that I navigated this past weekend in Westfield, N.J. for my nephew’s wedding. Driving through that circular death trap is nothing short of harrowing. New Jersey drivers are aggressive to begin with and when you couple that with a roundabout situation where they come at you from all directions, the white knuckles come out on the steering wheel, the language deteriorates, and you hang on for dear life. Here comes one racing in hot from the left…………..HORN……….incoming from the right…….no quarter at all……..the guy gives you the bird…………Hang on, the guy on the left is still coming hard…………make it to the third exit…………HORN………….another friggin HORN……Whew…………I made it!!!!!

Whenever I make it past Easton, Pa on my way to visit my sister, it is game on. I tell Molly that she and her fellow Garden State drivers are not good enough to drive that fast and cross four lanes without even looking. No wonder there are 21 car pileups on Interstate 78 headed east in New Jersey. I find myself uptight when visiting my sister because there are too many people over there and the drivers will cut you off without blinking an eye. I leave room between me and the car in front and in New Jersey, that is a license for 5 cars to squeeze in front, barely missing my front bumper. As my co-worker Jenni MacDonald says, ” Pat, turn signals are a sign of weakness.” She drives in Seattle and LA. Enough said.

Fortunately, I only had to drive the demonic roundabout in Westfield once this weekend and as I left on Sunday morning making my way back to the ‘burg, I felt the relief in my shoulders and my demeanor getting more calm as the miles went by. I tend to be a conservative driver much to the consternation of my family. My son Jack always correlates my conversation with the speed of the vehicle. He says, ” Dad, as you make your conversational points, your foot gets farther and farther from the accelerator and you become dangerous.” Whatever!

As I move on in life, the stress created in places like New Jersey is less appealing. Don’t get me wrong, I always like to see my sister and her family and there are nice things to appreciate in Jersey. But the drivers are nuts. Western Pennsylvania is miles from the mayhem of the east coast. I have many ways to commute to my workplace and I always choose the road less traveled. My route is non-stressful and bucolic in a way, especially this time of year. I appreciate the back roads draped in the changing canopy around me.

As I calmly navigate the back roads to work, sometimes with the SPA channel on Sirius XM gently soothing me on the way,(I know, I am a dorc), I think about how relieved I am not to live and work on the east coast where I would fight the dragons of the roadways,choking traffic, and face the evil roundabouts that troll for drivers like me. The devil himself lives in the center of those circular tempests and delights in frightening the uninitiated. No Halloween horror movie could be better scripted that the PA. driver in the middle of the Westfield roundabout. So my advice is, drive safely, heads up for the maniacs, and steer clear of roundabouts if at all possible. Thanks for reading.

The Oldest Guy

” Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming,” Wow! WHAT A RIDE!”

-Hunter S. Thompson

I have also heard this with the ending, ” missing parts, leaking oil and screaming “Geronimo.” I always subscribe to this way of living because I like adventure, travel and experiences in my own way. However, due to a series of events recently, I have had some thoughts that question my verve. Some of this began a couple of weeks ago when I was discovering that I was the oldest guy on the mountain bike rides.  I really should not let that bother me but with the death of my brother in law at 61, and some other news of contemporaries who have had their troubles, I began to question my lifestyle as I march quickly towards 63. Sometimes, I feel like I am in an out of control vehicle and can’t stand on the brakes hard enough. Life is screaming by.

Then God plops me down right in the middle of Somerset county in an old barn for Biff Swager’s 65th birthday party( Is that the greatest name in the world?……Biff Swager!!!). Biff’s wonderful wife Annie organized the surprise party and all the old ski crowd came out in force. The food was wonderful, the band was GREAT, and the group danced their asses off( no other good way to put it), yes they danced their asses off and the joy of life was in full swing. Sue Baum Treacy summed it up best when she marveled at the group and vowed that we all have to get together this winter and ski because that is what brought us all together as kids in the first place. She and her husband John walk the walk by recently retiring and hopping on the back of their motorcycle, touring the west.

So, that was a real shot in the arm and dispelled any thoughts about age when I saw my group of contemporaries really enjoying each other’s company and killing it on the dance floor- of an old barn. Even Herman Dupre who is in his 80s, said he has so much work to do, he wants to live until he is 124. His wife Sis said “I will give him 100 from me and that is it.” We all laughed and as I drove off into the night, I thought what a great group and a great reason to keep living life as large as possible. You don’t have to climb Everest or do something outrageous to be adventurous. For me, taking that first ski turn down a chute out West, or rolling over a giant boulder field in West Virginia on the MTB is adventurous. Just have a positive attitude and engage in new ventures. The joy of a bike ride in cool fall weather can garner the same feeling of adventure that Jimmy Chin feels on a mountain peak. Not as dramatic, not as bold, but still relatively speaking, a personal adventure. Do what you can but like NIKE says…………just do it!!!

I remember asking Scot Nicol, the founder of IBIS Bicycles, one time on a ride,” how long do you think we can keep riding mountain bikes like this Scot?” He looked at me and said, ” Pat- don’t even think about it. Just keep riding.” This is sage advice from a Californian who really enjoys what he does. But what else dispels those internal thoughts that say, ” you are 63- who are you kidding?” Besides the joy of a ski turn and the beauty of the mountains, and the fitness created by riding a mountain bike, there are things that define self worth. The love of a spouse, the caring for friends, volunteering, being there for a cause, and spreading the good word of the Kingdom. True self worth is nothing more that knowing you are loved by the Good Lord. We are so blessed. It is incumbent upon all of us to care for each other, one person at a time, one neighborhood at a time. Make the effort folks, because as I have recently seen, life is fragile and we need to make the most of every moment. The time that is spent with your family and friends is so valuable. Sometimes you don’t realize it until someone is gone.

I know where I am going someday. But in the mean time, I will definitely leak oil, skid broadside in a cloud of smoke, and live life with that promise ahead of me. Who cares if I am the oldest guy? Thanks for reading.

The Bike and the Box Turtle

So, I am pounding up the Bathtub Trail, kind of clearing my head on a solo mountain bike ride this week and I come upon a box turtle right in the middle of the trail. I did something unusual- I stopped. I checked him out and marveled at the way the color of his shell blended in with the rapidly changing leaves all around me. I looked at the texture of his shell and thought to myself, what a wonderful Creator who weaved this beautiful ecosystem we have to enjoy right in my own county park. As I made my way up the trail, I noticed the diversity of the leaves that were beginning to cover the ground. Flaming red maple leaves, brilliant yellow oak leaves, multicolored ash, chestnut, and other species of deciduous trees that spread their foliage like a patchwork blanket before me. Fall has arrived and I am contentedly happy.

Usually I try to ride for a good workout and push myself, even on solo rides. But this day was reserved for more pleasant riding, kind of like mobilized hiking enjoying the natural world all around me. At this time of year, the trails are usually dry and you can pretty much ride as fast as you can and feel “in the zone” as you rail the corners and pound up the hills. This is the time when most of us are in peak shape and the euphoria that you feel after a fast paced ride is intoxicating. But, there are days in the fall when I like to just ride the bike for relaxed transportation in a world that is peaceful, welcoming, and shelters you from the pressures of the real world. The changing leaves are all around and along with the shorter evenings, the cooler temperatures, and the smell of the tannin in the leaves displays something that Western Pa. has in it’s bag of tricks to entice travelers and natives alike. If you are out in it, close your eyes and take a deep breath of that musty, woodsy, cool air into your lungs. Only at this time of year does it smell like that. Summer fragrances, winter blasts of cold air,spring evening smells, are all good eye closing intakes, but the fall air is the best.

The mountain trails in our Laurel Highlands are coming alive with color, and arm warmers, vests, tights, are all practical wear as the cooler temperatures welcome in the coming winter season.

But back to the box turtle. Instead of using him as a speed bump, I took the time to examine him and notice how he fits in. The diversity of the changing flora seem to welcome him as part of their patchwork of color. The buck are starting to surface and as they stare at you with their fully grown racks, they are part of this diversified animal kingdom that makes up the forest in the mountains and parks of Western Pa. Turkey, grouse, groundhogs, raccoons, birds of all species, including the majestic osprey and red tail hawk, are busy preparing for the long winter ahead. Bald eagles are visible in the mountains and their wingspans continually amaze me as I stop to take in their flight pattern in the ridges to the east. I see open chestnut pods releasing their treasure to the scurrying squirrels and chipmunks. Acorns,and seeds of all kinds are being scooped up by very busy little rodents who take great chances using the trails full of hikers and mountain bikers. The come perilously close to losing their life as they dodge the knobby tires of the many bikes on the trails.

But as my mind wandered, I thought about how all of this fits together. The trees, the leaves, the animals, all form the ecosystem that we call the forest. As I ride along, not in anaerobic debt, I take in the smells, the sounds, and the sights of a changing natural world. Yet it is one entity created out of a patchwork of diversity. Kind of makes you think doesn’t it? Enjoy the fall. Thanks for reading.

Being a Brand Ambassador

For those of you who know me, you are aware that I get excited about things. My friends always laugh and say, ” Really Pat, is this the best?” I say, ” this is absolutely the BEST!” They chuckle and laugh at my enthusiasm for a wide variety of products. Recently, I went camping with a friend and used an instant coffee called Alpine Start out of Boulder, Colorado. Now I am a bit of a coffee snob but cranking up my Jet Boil, I got the water nice and hot and used the packet of Alpine Start which is a convenient instant coffee for the outdoors crowd. I was pleasantly surprised and so was my friend when we sipped the absolutely delicious coffee each morning. When I tell you it is the best, believe me, it is. I can hear my friends, but try some Alpine Start.   info@alpinestartfoods.com

As part of my enthusiastic nature, I usually contact a company and tell them how much I like their product. In some instances, like with Alpine Start, they made me a “brand ambassador.” I am not on the payroll, I just get some courtesies for promoting the product and a nice SWAG box full of goodies. It is their way of saying” thank you” and hoping that I talk it up with my friends. So what makes me a candidate to be a “brand ambassador” for anything? Well, lets go to another example from my friend Niall who is in the bicycle industry. He asks me from time to time to post something on my blog about new lines that he carries. For that courtesy, he makes me a “brand ambassador” and I get more SWAG and some courtesies from his companies that he represents. I don’t do it unless I believe in the product, but Niall says that I cover a wide swath of outdoor people with whom I interact and that makes me, in his eyes, a good brand ambassador. I am not a pro athlete, I am not on the payroll, the companies just see me as an enthusiastic guy who might exert some influence on my friends in the outdoor world to try a particular product.

When I became certified as a ski instructor back in the day, it opened up another similar opportunity to take advantage of “pro deals” which gives me deep discounts on ski equipment and clothing. For this courtesy, these companies rely on us to use the product when skiing and generate some conversations on the chair lifts which may result in a sale of the product to the public. Again, not on the payroll, just promoting the products in exchange for some nice discounts on products which I would normally use anyhow.

Taking this a step further, being a brand ambassador can be applied to recommending a shop with whom I am comfortable. I like Dirty Harry’s Bike Shop in Verona, Pa. and recommend their products and services. Barry and the boys are always nice to me down there when I buy something or get my bike repaired. I appreciate their friendship and great service and recommend them mostly because they are my friends. I am not on the payroll, just promoting them because of their friendly expertise.

Taking this a final step, our marketing department for the company where I am employed recently had a lunch and learn where they said that we all are “brand ambassadors” for the company when we interface with customers, carriers, and suppliers. When you think of it, if you are employed, you are representing your company every day. In exchange for a good job, benefits,culture, and the occasional SWAG, you should promote your company like I do with Armada. We do a great job for our clients like McDonald’s, and they appreciate the hard work and ethic that we have in servicing their supply chain needs.

So again, you don’t have to be a pro athlete to be a brand ambassador. I do it as an employee of my company. I also do it for companies like Alpine Start where I believe in their product. I promote my local bike and ski shop. I also promote product which I believe is superior in the outdoors industry such as Stockli Skis, Lange boots, and Patagonia clothing. Yes I get a pro/bro deal, and it helps my financial bottom line, but I would not do it if I did not believe in the product. You have to be true to yourself, otherwise, you are just a deal monger and your influence and recommendations are nothing short of shallow. So, think about it. You can be a brand ambassador. If you are enthusiastic about a product, email the company and tell them. You never know, they might come back to you and ask about your sphere of influence and make you a “brand ambassador.” I doesn’t cost you anything other than the specified guidelines for promotion and your good word. Thanks for reading.

“That’s what friends are for”

 

I have been thinking a lot about friendship lately and what really matters and what is just plain BS. These two characters, John and Richard Nicolette are my oldest friends. We all met in the neighborhood as kids and are still pals today. We got together last winter at A-Basin in Colorado and even though I have not seen them for a while, it is always like we just left each other. That’s what good friendship is all about.IMG_1412

I have good friends with whom I mountain bike. We have a lot of fun and get together weekly. Fun times, good riding in great places, and lots of laughter and beers and soccer chairs in the parking lots.

My wife and I have our mutual friends with whom we ski, and vacation. The Smiths are always there for fun times -winter and summer. We get together frequently even though they live in Yardley, Pa. Their daughter Shayna is getting married this weekend and we will be there to celebrate the nuptials.

Hang in there- I have a point or two to make. I have my ski crowd both local and out of town. Again lots of fun. Great times skiing. How could it not be with good snow and apres on the deck afterwards wherever we may be. My pal Eric Durfee, who lives in Incline Village, Nevada,is a great host and we have done a lifetime of adventures together. His daughter Kress is getting married in September in Squaw Valley and Janet and I will be there celebrating those nuptials too. We celebrated his son Nathan’s wedding this spring in Charleston, S.C.

So what is the point of all of this? Thinking about friendship, it is all about cultivation. I have had a lot of friends for a long time. I try to keep in touch, get together, make an effort. Like my mom said, ” To have a friend is to be a friend.” It is easy on vacations, ski trips, mountain bike trips, etc. But where does the rubber meet the road? When the times are not so good. When you need to be there as a friend in hard times. If a friend is ill, has marital problems, financial problems, depression, issues with kids, you need to be there as a friend to listen. You need to be there at all hours whenever the need arises. That is being a good friend. I forget things so I have to write them down and my yellow tablet at work is filled with names of friends who are hurting and I remind myself if nothing else, to give them a call and listen to their problems. If I can help, I get together with them. That’s what being a friend is all about and that weeds out the BS of shallow relationships. Some friends have come and gone in my life. It happens for one reason or another. But the good friends over the years have been there for me in thick and thin, and I like to think I have done the same for them.

I remember being at a party with some new “acquaintances” back in the day. This crowd was rather highbrow for me and all they were concerned about was where I lived, where I went to school, what did I do? They wanted to see if I fit in. I told them I counted bananas on Smallman Street and that spread like wildfire through this particular party in the East End of town. I am not pretentious in the least and this crowd was not my crowd and quickly faded out of my line of sight. I have highly successful friends, and friends who are on their last legs. The common denominator is that we care for each other and our friendship is real. I can wear a tux with the best of them, and also do hard manual labor for a friend in need, covered in mud with a smile on my face. They would do it for me. That’s what friends are for.

So, think about it. Think about who your real friends are and who are acquaintances. You can put yourself out for a lot of people and that kind of attitude is needed these days. You can make new friends. Friends are important. I am burying one this week who was 93 years old and a great friend to a lot of people. Call a friend who you have not talked to in a while. Time is getting shorter friends, we need each other. Be there for your spouse- your best friend. Thanks for reading.

“To have a friend is to be a friend”

My mother’s famous line was ” to have a friend is to be a friend.” No one could embody that statement more than Hot Harry Kirsch. All of us in the North Park Running and Cycling community lost a friend tonight when we heard the news that Hot Harry had ” run his last mile at 8:30 PM.” With his family around him, he passed quietly and peacefully.

Hot Harry was an icon in the running scene in Pittsburgh. As a marine, and a retired trolley/bus driver, Harry began running in earnest in his 50s and over the course of his life he ran over 50 marathons including his beloved Marine Corps Marathon. Organizing bus trips to Washington D.C for years, Harry supported the Marines by bringing hundreds of runners together to hear the Marine at the top of the hill shouting,” Pain is fleeting, pride is forever.” Harry ran countless Boston Marathons , one of which in 1987, I was fortunate enough to be his room mate. Harry was always supportive to first time marathoners with his cheery disposition and friendly ways. He encouraged veteran runners as well in advance of events and in the glow of the finish line.

For years, runners who parked at Stone Field in North Park finished their runs seeing the familiar open trunk on Harry’s car filled with bottles of drinks and cups that Harry would provide not only on race days but every day of running in the park. He had a way of gathering people and generating enthusiasm and even started the first running club in the park -Hot Harry’s North Park Runners. At events nationwide, runners would often see the singlet of the club at events and inquire about Hot Harry. The North Park runners were only too happy to oblige in telling the tales of the retired bus driver who attracted so many runners to his fold.

Harry loved the ladies and ran often with a group of accomplished women runners many of whom were national class. They loved Harry and made a point to run with him whenever they could.

Harry also attracted the characters. Doc Chuck, Merz, and a host of others whom he named. Big nose Bill, Sad Bill, Bushy Debbie, 10 Mile Bill, the Pretty Boys,and many, many more who all claimed Harry as their fearless leader. He would invite all the runners and their families to picnics at his farm in Evans City and we all would see Harry giving the kids tractor rides tirelessly into the evening. Harry loved the Park and enjoyed every moment meeting new people and welcoming them and encouraging them to join in his community. He drank a lot of coffee. Boy did he like coffee!!

Hot Harry was truly a friend to all of us in the North Park running community. He made the effort to be there for all of us and not only in the fun times of after work running and the weekend races, but there for us in sad times as well. Harry valued the friendships and made an effort to contact people who were hurting and people who were injured, sick, or just having a bad day. When you saw that smile and his familiar,” Heyyyyyyyyy” , you know that no matter what was going on in your life, Harry would make you smile and make you feel that things were better in your world.

Second Corinthians 5 says that we all will abandon our earthly bodies and take on the new bodies that we will have for eternity in heaven. I believe that Harry willingly left this world and his earthly body behind, with all of its mileage and marathons, and strapped on a new pair of celestial NIKE shoes and streaked toward the finish line at the pearly gates. There he was welcomed with the statement” well done my good and faithful servant.” Thanks for everything Harry. We will miss you.

Mr. Ozanam

I first met Darelle Porter when he and Maurice Montgomery coached my son’s AAU basketball team in high school. I was introduced to basketball when Jack was in grade school, and then on to high school and culminating in a wonderful experience with the DeJuan Blair All Stars- the AAU team. Looking at the picture above, you can see Darelle dunking on Alonzo Mourning back in the late 80s when he was a Division 1 star player at Pitt. I am an outdoors guy and basketball was foreign to me as I had never spent much time in a gym, much less know anything about basketball. I stuck out like a sore thumb in my flannel shirts and Bean boots. But I learned a lot from Darelle and Alvis Rodgers during our time up at the Ammon Rec Center in Pittsburgh’s Hill District and at the various tournaments that the DeJuan Blair and the Metro team played regionally and nationally. To have a Division 1 star coach the team and give the outdoors guy instruction was special, but that is not the story I want to tell here. Darelle’s passion is kids. More than any records at Pitt, more than any times as a Division 1 coach, Darelle’s heart is with the Ozanam Program whose mission statement is ” We are committed to making a difference in the lives of the youth we serve.”

I first learned about Ozanam when I saw the after school basketball program up at Ammon. As executive director of Ozanam, Darelle has a lot to do coordinating after school basketball, after school homework tutoring for high school kids, dinner programs at the Rec center, and a general care for the welfare of kids entering a critical time in their lives. There are many ” make it or break it” moments in the inner city and kids can easily be steered in the wrong direction. The Ozanam After School Program makes it possible for kids to learn in a friendly environment, enjoy a nutritious hot meal, and get expert instruction on homework or applying for college scholarships and admissions.

The impressive thing about Darelle is that as busy as he is, he personally handles all the training on the court with all the kids in the program. His passion is kids and basketball and he is there every day, after school, and in the summer promoting skill development and team work along with Alvis Rodgers and Karen Hall who was a former U.N.L.V. star and NCAA Div 1 coach.

The grade school programs are generally centered around the Rec center and as the kids move on to high school, Darelle makes a point to take groups to college campuses and cultural events throughout the east. He is one busy person but the smile on his face leads one to believe that he really enjoys his work and has a passion for the physical and educational welfare of the children and young adults that he serves.

On a personal note, I got Darelle and Maurice involved volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House in Pittsburgh and both the AAU Team and the Ozanam After School Program became involved serving meals to the families of the children who were getting critical care at Children’s Hospital. Darelle and the Ozanam ASP still are involved and enjoying Darelle’s Italian Ice which he brings to every event. He has a side business selling Italian Ice all through the city at different venues and his stands are manned by kids in the Ozanam Program. The energy that he brings is amazing and the value of a job for the kids is not lost on the community.

As I learned from our involvement in basketball, there is a lot more to it than just the game. Coaches like Darelle, Maurice, Alvis Rodgers-another Div 1 standout at Wake Forest, and Karen are inspirational. It is not just about winning and losing. It is all about team work, personal development, family gatherings and discussions at the tournaments, and binding people together. In this day and age, programs like AAU and the Ozanam Center bring unity and not division. People like Darelle make a difference and devote their lives to a higher cause.

Ozanam needs your help. To continue to make a difference in the lives of the youth they serve, financial help is needed. If you would like to participate, you can log on to http://www.ozanaminc.org and make a donation. Programs like this are extremely valuable and need to be supported by the community. People like Darelle need to keep up the good work that they do. Ozanam makes a difference. You can too. Thanks for reading.