Colorado Soul

You have to give credit to die hard skiers who are willing to get up at 4:00 AM or earlier to beat the traffic on a Saturday morning on I-70 West to get to their favorite ski area. Not really a problem during the week but as our group noticed the line of traffic coming up the mountain on Saturday, we admired the grit and determination of Colorado skiers to get their vertical. Not everyone has the opportunity to rent or own a place in the mountains and those who make the trek on Saturday morning instead of Friday night are to be admired.

After skiing for 7 days at all the EPIC areas, our group of 60+ age group guys were closing in on 300,000 vertical feet. Now to be clear, one guy raced for Dartmouth, one for Cornell, and one was the ski coach at Stowe for many years. These guys can ski for sure but Saturday morning there was a different feel to the trip seeing the new fluff of several inches in Silverthorne with the prospect of more at the top of the Continental Divide. As we put the rental truck in 4 wheel drive, we made our way up past Keystone and viewed people who were camping and starting their back country adventures along the road. Many of the staunch outdoor people of Colorado avoid the cost of a pass or lift ticket and enjoy paying for their own vertical with their own sweat and physical climbing effort. These are not the types who looked down on us while we were clomping in our ski boots at Beaver Creek after getting off the bus from the parking lot below.( They didn’t look down on us on the slopes though- that is our domain).

Working our way early to the parking lot, we were guided to a perfect place up front of a quickly filling lot next to” The Beach” where folks set up their tail gate parties ready for a sunny day in the Rockies on their day off. Our fearless leader had us up early to beat all the traffic and as we rode the first chair of the day, we were inspired by the grooming and the beauty of the morning. But what we did notice was that there was a spirit of comaraderie among the faithful that made the effort to get a close parking spot, and get on the lift as soon as it opened. Lots of “whoops” and ” yee haas” as the sunny day began. No frills at the lodge but what looked like a great skillet breakfast if you wanted to partake. Also lots of cool historical pictures adorning the walls. As we viewed the East Wall, we noticed tracks again of those who delighted in climbing for their vertical within the bounds of the ski area. We had a general tour of the area which provided a different skiing experience than we had all week. Yes there were some thin spots due to the seasonal lack of really deep snow but we successfully avoided core shots to our finely tuned skis. We are a little particular as to the tuning and waxing of our boards but most of the faithful up on top of the Continental Divide that day had no such concern. They made it here and they were going to enjoy every minute of it. Core shots to the bottom of the skis be damned.

Towards the end of the day, folks started to crank up the grills, pop the beers on the Beach and pull out lawn chairs in the parking lot. It was a festival atmosphere celebrating all that is good about skiing and making the effort to get to the mountains. These Colorado people work hard during the week and listening to their stories about how they got here from parts all over the country, you get the feeling that they came to ski. They work to ski. This was a priority in their relocation. The natives are just as zealous but they have a laid back attitude that is ….well….native I suppose.

Most of the areas on the EPIC Pass are resorts. There are a lot of tourists and folks who come to be seen. But up there on the top of the divide, there are no pretentious attitudes. Live and let live and ski to die are the mottos of the day. There are no condos, Starbucks, fur coats and boots, luxury restaurants and faux Alpine base villages.(Not that there is anything wrong with that- PC Pat!) Here is great skiing and basic needs. As we shamelessly changed our clothes at the end of the day and drank a beer in the sunny parking lot, we felt part of a larger group of fun seekers who week in and week out, seek the magic of the Rockies and the communal welcome of good turns on challenging terrain. As we made our way out of the pass at the end of the day, I felt a content, ” these are my people” feeling and reveled in the majestic views at the top of Loveland Pass. Folks- if you want the real spirit of skiing, go to Arapahoe Basin or A-Basin as it is described by the Colorado faithful. For me, a much better experience than most ski areas. Squeezing out every last flake of snow this season, I thank you for reading.

Hat Hair

One of the aberrations of any athletic activity is if you think your coiffe will look good after a sweaty ride under a bike helmet or a perspiring day under a ski helmet or wool hat, you are mistaken. Hat hair, helmet head, or any other number of adjectives to describe the plastered, greasy, sweat infested hairdo at the end of the day is something that needs attention. Now there are those who refuse to wear a wool hat or a helmet during the most ferocious storms and cold weather in the winter only to hope that the windblown look will survive and look attractive in the bar at the end of the day. Some folks fall prey to this mistake by wearing a wool ski band in zero degree weather so that they can mimic the spring skiing models in Ski Magazine. Not something to do in mid winter conditions. But the rest of us who value our warmth and safety, wear the wool and the helmets and suffer the nerd like look of the plastered head at the end of the day.

Enter the trucker hat. Now with a noggin like mine, I need XL hats- period. Take the oversized, wide brimmed versions made by Big Truck Hats out of Squaw Valley, California. http://www.bigtruck.com I have several of these hats because they fit my melon real well and don’t look like most hats that fit like a yarmulke. These large trucker hats come down close to your ears and have a wide brim that not only covers the aforementioned head grease real well, but they are stylish. A great addition to one’s attire on the deck of a ski area after a great day on the slopes. Great for women and men alike and with a good pair of Ray Bans, you are ready for anything that is offered at the after ski party. Now if you didn’t cover up that goop, you would look rather disheveled and that could last into dinner which would further the disgust factor. The trucker hat is approved for after ski dinners and no one would think any less of you for wearing a hat at dinner especially if they saw the matted horror that lies beneath the stylish lid. Showers are not always timely and the covering is essential.

Summer is coming and like my matted sweaty head seen above with 3 time Tour de France champion Greg Lemond, it was immediately time for a shower or a quick visit to the duffel bag for a Big Truck hat. There are others that fit the bill in my collection which include the HKD Snowmaker hat, the various ski area hats that I wear, and the sweat stained favorite Tarpon hat from Patagonia. Hat hair has definitely taken a toll on that lid after rides but it is a badge of honor if I can get by the initial smell factor. A sweat stained trucker hat is high on the approval rating for any weekend warrior.

You may also be interested in knowing that hat hair is in our history as well. Take Thomas Jefferson here with a bad case of hat hair after apparently removing his tri- cornered hat to pose for this photo. Or perhaps the Marquis De Lafayette- our friend who helped wrap up the Revolution? His bouffant was altered by the tri cornered hat as well. Imagine if they had Big Truck hats back in their day? Quite stylish for apres activities at the Monticello or on the continent.

So when you are selecting hats for covering the helmet or hat hair, remember to be honest with yourself and take in consideration the size of your head. Most golf course hats, baseball team hats, and others with the adjustable cloth band are no where near large enough to proudly wear. They are just too small and come down only remotely close to the benchmark top of your ear. But the snap back trucker hats can typically be easily fitted to a large cranium and come down close to that benchmark. Nothing else is acceptable. Spend the money on a Big Truck hat or get one similar at your favorite ski area, bike shop, or resort and you will find that it will become part of your standard post ski/ride attire. Do your fellow skiers and riders a favor. We don’t want to look at hat hair. Thanks for reading.

Breakfast at the Grange

“The Grange is a fraternal organization in the United States that encourages families to band together to promote the economic and political well being of the community and agriculture”

It is amazing how a little Vermont maple syrup can make even the most stoic farmer smile. I have this habit of taking my own Vermont maple syrup with me whenever I know I am going to have pancakes for breakfast. My wife and son just shake their head but not long ago, I used to take my son to the buckwheat pancake breakfasts at the Mt. Nebo Grange and always brought my maple syrup. This time of year when the sap starts running(not me running- the sap out of the maple trees), and the northeast starts the process of manufacturing syrup, I take advantage of the buckwheat pancake breakfasts that spring up locally on my way to the ski slopes. It is a rite of passage with spring skiing and in his formative years, I would take my son Jack to the Mt. Nebo Grange before we would head to the mountains. He didn’t quite know what to make of it but when we entered the building, the elder ladies and gentlemen of the Grange would seat us and serve the most delicious buckwheat pancakes. Interesting thing about buckwheat pancakes is that there is quite a bit of preparation which includes making the batches of batter ahead of time and allowing the yeast to do its thing. When you slather butter on them and pour the maple syrup and take your first delectable bite, there is a hint of a brewed substance almost like the taste of beer. Jack was not a fan but satisfied himself with the regular pancake offerings and bacon which brought a smile to his syrup smeared face.

It is curious that when you enter a place like the Grange, all of the members seem to know each other and even though the breakfasts are open to the public, there is this sense of belonging and if you are a stranger, you are given a seat with a wary eye. That all starts to melt when they see a young guy like Jack as they try to make him feel welcome even though we are not “Grangers”. The old farmers would check us out and when I brought out the Vermont syrup, their Log Cabin generic swill started to look pretty average at best. I would see the curiosity in their faces and offer to share my treasured gold with them. They willingly took up my offer and looked over at Jack and me and a crack of a smile came to their rather serious faces. The next thing you know, the table was swarming with curiosity seekers and my syrup suddenly vanished. I learned my lesson on subsequent visits by bringing more syrup and suddenly Jack and I became known as the “syrup guys” and like “Cheers” we all were greeted with a robust “hello” when we entered the building. It was only for a couple of weekends but somehow, Jack and I felt like we fit in to this fraternal organization of farmers or would be farmers which is slowly fading with urban sprawl.

I always made it my business to expose Jack to a lot of events and experiences when he was growing up. I explained the mission of the Grange and although we were not of an agricultural bent, he understood what the organization meant and why it was slowly losing membership as the farms were being sold to developers and the membership of the Mt. Nebo Grange was aging. But to share that experience of home made food, and seeing the culture of the farm life, was a good experience for father and son.

So, if you happen to be looking for some entertainment and good food during “cabin fever” time, look for buckwheat pancake breakfasts near you. They tend to pop up at this time of the year and if you need some syrup, contact http://www.maplesyrupvermont.com and tell Pauline I sent you. We have good syrup here in Pa. but I must admit that I am partial to Vermont Grade A Golden Color with Delicate Taste. That is what you want to order. Thanks for reading.

The Spinning Alternative

So this was a milestone winter for me in that I finally retired from running. 9 months of the year I ride a mountain bike but in the winter, when the trails get really nasty( not nasty for my fat bike friends) but nasty in my estimation, I always turned to running until the spring. My knee started to bother me on uphill runs and I decided to preserve it for future use. I have no issues with it skiing and riding and want to keep it that way so all my years of running are finally coming to a close. So aside from hiking, I needed an alternate form of exercise to keep in some semblance of shape and I returned to …………..the spin class at my local YMCA.

As I first entered the studio, I was welcomed by a wide array of folks getting set up on their bikes. The guy in front of me with his Tough Mudder Finisher T-Shirt warming up in a rage, the homemakers, the young girls in their yoga outfits, the tri-athlete with his headphones on oblivious to anyone in the room, and the instructor who began turning up unfamiliar music in the acoustically challenging loud room. Now I am an old rocker and used to loud music, but when the spin class music cranks up, I can’t hear a thing that the instructor says with her headset microphone planted firmly in her mouth. Maybe it is just me but all I hear is blah blah blah…………three, two, one………..and then whatever? So I just watch her and when she stands, I stand and when she sits, I sit, as I pedal to the beat of heavy metal or some other form of music. No Atlantic Records or Motown anywhere in sight. And that’s okay.

As the puddle of sweat forms under my bike, I look around the room at the various forms of fitness. Standing and jumping is foreign to a mountain biker and so many times, I just sit and pedal to the beat and sweat profusely. A good workout, no doubt, but not really aligning itself with cycling in particular. I remember a few years ago, when my wife and I started taking the class together, the instructor at the time came in and said if we were talking, we were not working hard enough. She was a hard body, had a look of disdain, and looked right at me and said,” and- I beat all the guys at everything that I do.” With that, I kept warming up wondering what these classes would entail with this intense woman of stone. Interestingly, after a few weeks, she heard me mention that I was riding in the MS-150 ( the charity ride for MS that goes from Pittsburgh to Lake Erie). This event was a two day event with a stop over at my Alma Mater – Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa. She told me she wanted to ride with my friends and I said that she was surely welcome. Obviously she wanted to prove a point and she showed up loaded for bear.

At the start of the ride, my friends wondered who this woman was with the time trial bike and disc wheel. She had a skin suit and a time trial tear dropped shaped helmet and menacing sunglasses and as we began the slow ride from the start, my friends wondered what she was doing with a group of older riders who were out for a good time and not a race. Interestingly enough, after the first hill, she was gone. And I don’t mean in front of us. I mean she was off the back after the first hill. Long story short, she was weeping, mascara running down her face, as I waited 45 minutes for her outside of Meadville and we rode the hill together up to the college. She could not believe that she, a “professional athlete”, could not ride with a bunch of old guys. I felt kind of sorry for her seeing that it meant so much to her, but I encouraged her to keep riding outside and it will all come together. I told her that there is a difference in riding a road bike or a mountain bike and spinning in a studio. The experience of anticipating shifting, how to ride in a group, drafting, etc. Not that there is anything wrong with spin class, it is just different outside. She was somewhat comforted and encouraged as I deposited her into the loving arms of her man waiting for her at the college.

So as I continue to spin a couple of times a week, the exercise is good but I have no expectations that when I get out on the road or mountain bike in the spring, I will be in good riding shape. The spring is tough no matter what you do to stay in shape. The only guys who seem to overcome the spring pain are the fat bikers(not fat cyclists, but those who ride fat bikes) and the road guys who ride all winter no matter what the weather does. That is not for me as I like to do other things in the winter. But I know that I will be challenged for a while when the new riding season starts. But in the mean time, I will continue to form the puddles of sweat and listen to the pounding rhythmical cadence of music, bikes, and spinning flywheels. I just wish I could understand what the instructor is saying? It is hell to get old. Thanks for reading.

The Arctic Plunge

The picture you see above is Gus Brickner aka the Human Polar Bear. My dad was fascinated with the exploits of this long distance swimmer who distinguished himself by his winter swims in the Monongahela River in the winters around Pittsburgh. His famous New Years Day plunge in 1962 was witnessed here by yours truly and my dad. He said,” Patrick, lets go down and see Gus Brickner jump in the Mon.” As an 8 year old kid, I was thrilled that my dad wanted to take me and off we went to see the guy who eventually logged 38,500 miles swimming, two English Channel attempts, and swimming behind the ice breaker boats in the Mon during the most brutal winters near Charleroi, Pa.

My dad was an engineer and he always wanted to show me things that meant something to him as a technical person. I remember going to Geneva on the Lake when I was a kid and my dad taking me to Sandusky, Ohio to see the big ore freighters that traveled the Great Lakes bringing iron ore to the steel mills. He would explain the process of making steel and eventually built a continuous caster scale model for me to enter into the Buhl Planetarium Science Fair. Now, I knew nothing about continuous casting in the steel industry as a young kid and when asked about the project, I fumbled my way with the nuns trying to explain what my dad had told me. To my surprise, I was not a technical person, but my explanation along with my contrite personality with the nuns, got me a good grade and also an entry into the Science Fair. I( we- my dad) eventually ended up in the finals and once again, I had beads of sweat coming out of the arm pits trying to explain the virtues of the continuous caster. My dad was so proud of his- er a – my project.

Not long after the visit to the Mon to see Gus the Polar Bear, it seemed like spring came early and off we were to the ball games at Forbes Field. My dad, being a fan of baseball, explained the technical aspects of fielding a baseball to me and under no circumstances was I ever to do a “basket catch” like my idol Roberto Clemente. My dad dissed him as a “hot dog” but I was impressed that he could throw out guys at the plate all the way from right field. To me – the “Great One” was something but to my dad, if you did not have the glove over your head and trap the ball with the other hand so as not to drop it, you were not technically a good ball player. My dad- seen here in the middle with the great Honus Wagner back in the day in Bellevue.

It really did not matter to me that we went down in the middle of winter to see a guy jump in the icy river, or make the trek to see the giant ore boats, or go to the ball park, or launch Estes rockets across the street that my dad had built for me. It was the chance to spend time with my hero, my dad. He took the time for me and showed me things as a young kid that I remember to this day- a man in my 60s. I remember the kite flying when my dad would use three balls of string and stretch the kite out into the stratosphere- or so it seemed to me. The cleaning bag flying balloons powered by a little can of sterno glued to a cross bar of balsa wood – floating away into the clear night air. So many fun projects and excursions. The first time my sister and I went skiing, we were stuck in a raging snowstorm on the Pa turnpike – on my dad’s birthday, because he wanted to get us started on what he termed the sport of a lifetime. He and my mom did not ski but they made sure we did. The father and son swim competitions where I would see that big smiling face swim to the wall watching me take off in relay fashion.

Gus Brickner, the great Roberto were all heroes to me. But the main hero was the guy who took the time to take me to see them. For you young fathers out there, take a page out of R.J McCloskey’s book. Spend time with your son and daughter. You will never get that time back and they will remember it forever. I did. I saw Gus jump in the river when it was snowing in 1962. 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.

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.