Nothing Wrong with New Kicks.

So, I know that I have posted several times about my 46 year old Vasque Hiker IIs shown here on the right. These hiking boots are absolutely bomb proof and have their original laces and Vibram soles. Amazing! They have been everywhere and could really write a blog or a book themselves. But recently my toes have been hurting when I have been hiking and I realized that as I have aged, my feet have actually grown. I believe it is because the arch collapses and your foot gets longer. Oh well. But it has been causing an issue with my feet in my favorite boots. I would have used these until I died because there is absolutely nothing wrong with them and I even reported that to Vasque. They gave me a very nice response.

Fast forward- my lovely wife purchased a new pair of Vasque hiking boots for me for my birthday( shown on the left) which are great. In fact yesterday during our regular Sunday afternoon hike, I remarked how much I liked them and how comfortable they are. Janet and I like hiking and we have a lot of local options. But Janet’s response was not what I expected. In her quiet, unassuming way, she said that retiring the old boots and putting on the new ones is very much like what happens in life. Sometimes you need new things……like relationships, hobbies, food choices, even some friends. I was taken back on the friends and relationship part but she went on to explain. She quoted Dr. Henry Cloud when he said that some relationships are “unsafe.” Dr. Cloud says that sometimes relationships or friendships become strained and they can become toxic or “unsafe” and we need to be willing to acknowledge that and make a change and perhaps retire those people who are causing us pain and making us uncomfortable. Like an old pair of boots that now don’t fit too well. Sometimes you need to be willing to make a change for the better.

Relationships and friendships are not the only ones that need scrutiny. Perhaps when we are doing some self examining and want to make some lifestyle changes, we need to look at the balance sheet of those things and determine if making a change will help us grow and move forward. Maybe it is time to start eating more healthy? Maybe we need to change our lifestyle and incorporate another kind of outside activity or any kind of activity that may change an unhealthy existence.

Recently I made such a decision and decided after riding a road bike for 40 years, I was going to sell my current ride and stick to mountain bike riding. That was a drastic change for me because I liked riding the road. But lately, my old routes through apple orchards and farms have now been transformed into routes through newly constructed subdivisions. Traffic is worse and people are texting, not paying attention, talking on the cell phone, changing channels on the XM Radio and all in all becoming a hazard to those riding a road bike. There have been several fatalities around here and I did not want to take the chance on trusting someone coming up behind me and not paying attention. Like putting the old hiking boots aside, I committed to my other ride( the mountain bike) and hiking with my wife. A lifestyle change for sure seeing that I have ridden/raced my road bike for years in many places. It was time for a change. Lots of good memories on the road bike but like the old boots, time to go.

The new boots are comfortable ( I am also an easy fit) and like any new experience, if you make the commitment and take a chance to improve your situation( relationships, friendships, lifestyle changes) the results can become surprisingly pleasant. To hike now without pain is a real pleasure. Off with the old and in with the new is a good plan for someone like me who wants to keep active and lead a healthy existence for the rest of my life. So as we get older, maybe we take a look at what has become routine and maybe be willing to reexamine what is really important,or what is hurting us, and make the necessary changes. Nothing like a new pair of kicks. Thanks for reading.

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Creative Genius

You don’t have to be a Picasso, or Brahms or Mozart, or even Martin Scorsese to be a creative genius in my book. Lots of my friends are really creative and can look at an opportunity, or a problem, or a riddle and figure out how to best create a solution. Perhaps the best creative genius that I knew, who was able to solve most problems and riddles, was my father. A Carnegie Tech mechanical engineering graduate, Dick McCloskey saw most things as a fun challenge. His engineering mind was always at work and he relished the opportunities to create solutions that would last. He could plumb, do electrical work, solder, and artistically create things like the treasure chest that he made me as a kid. I still have it some 55 years later and store my mountain bike maps there. My dad made us an ice skating rink in the backyard by using 2X4s as rink perimeters and a large roll of Visqueen plastic as the liner to the rink. He would fill it with water every winter and we were not allowed on it until it was completely frozen for fear the skates would cut the plastic. Many nights were spent on that rink on the back patio and it was the centerpiece for the neighborhood kids for winter entertainment.

When I first started to go to Tuckerman Ravine in the spring for the ritual of spring skiing, I needed a way to lash my skis to the external pack that I owned. My dad rigged up some aluminum tubing with some hasps and wing nuts and presto, I had a frame that allowed me to attach my skis with the boots in the bindings to the outside of the pack. Skis pointed to the sky on either side of the pack.

Interestingly, my friend Eric who lived in Vermont at the time, was faced with the same challenge and he made his supports from wood. We have laughed about that in later years as the boy from Steeltown had metal supports and the boy from Vermont had supports made exactly the same from wood. Creative genius from two different perspectives.

But the masterpiece which was created around the same time by my dad, was the ski bench that he made me and I still use some 42 years later and is featured in my blog photo here. I remember going to my dad and saying to him that I needed to have a bench now that I knew how to tune my own skis. Thanks again to my creative genius friend Eric Durfee ,who taught me everything I needed to know about tuning skis. He was also perhaps the best ski instructor I ever had but that is another story. I told my dad that I needed to have a bench using the vices that Eric had given to me and he looked those over with great thought. What popped up in his creative mind was something I would never have imagined. A door from the hardware store complete with hinges. He knew that I needed to have a place for my bindings to fit and he cut the door to the specifications of my skis allowing the bindings to rest in a cut out hole in the door between the two vice pieces. He then mounted the door on the wall of my townhouse in the garage with supports underneath either side of the horizontal door. When I was finished tuning my skis. I flipped the door up to be secured by a hasp on the wall and pushed the supports up against the wall and the whole bench was out of the way until the next time I needed to use it.

The interesting thing is I still use the bench today and as an aside, it also serves as a refrigerator in our garage for items that my wife wants to keep cold. My dad never saw that coming, but the creative genius of my wife allowed her to think about a place to keep things cold in the winter and as long as I did not get metal filings or wax in the food, she was open to storing things on my ski bench when it was not in use for it’s original intent.

I could go on and on about my dad’s creative genius. There were so many things that he made for me that we enjoyed together when I was a kid. Today people just buy things. My dad made them, and his love for creating solutions is something I will never forget. Perhaps the biggest benefit about my dad’s creativity was the chance for me to spend time with him. I cherished those moments and I think about him every time I open up that bench, heat up the iron to wax the boards, and get the file ready for the side edge tunes. My dad never skied, but he and my mother made sure my sister and I did and I am in their debt so many years later. Creative genius is more than just the solution. It is the catalyst to education and a chance for guys like me to appreciate and look back so many years later with thankfulness and love for my dad and mom. Although my creativity is on the other side of the brain, I still look back with respect and love for those who educated me with their ability to see the solution. Thanks for reading.

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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.

The Natural Portrait

My friend Helen Durfee always said that the fall season in Western Pa is just as nice as Vermont, just a little less dramatic. She grew up in the Laurel Highlands and lived the first part of her married life in Vermont. I agree that Vermont and New England are famous for “leaf peeping” but I have to say that this particular fall here in Western Pa. has been spectacular. img_1111

I have been treated to some amazing days of mountain biking and hiking this fall where I have taken the time to enjoy the color of the leaves. I have taken the time to “savor” the days like a fine steak or fresh seafood. I try to take little bites and enjoy the flavor. Like my commute to work on Squaw Run  Road. I don’t go the fastest route to work but rather the scenic roads to enjoy the changes in the leaves each day. This year the changes have been remarkable. img_1117

Another contributing factor to my enjoyment of Fall 2016 has been the app that was suggested to me by my friend Eric Durfee( Helen’s husband and native Vermonter). It is called ProHDX and can be downloaded on your I-Phone. This particular app allows you to shoot a photo and really get the focus and colors sharply so that the end result is an I-Phone photo that looks particularly good compared to most. I am not a real good photographer and the only camera I have is on my I-Phone. But I have really enjoyed using this app and the convenience of the I-Phone on a ride or a hike can yield some spectacularly sharp images. img_1106

The one nice thing about a hike or taking in the view from a mountain bike is that you can avoid all of the cars packed with “leaf peepers” and enjoy the quiet transformation of the season in the woods of Western Pennsylvania. Many past seasons have been rushed with race pace rides looking at nothing other than the persons backside in front of me. Games, practices, kid’s activities take a lot of time and effort for many of us. But as you age and the seasons of rushing to activities wane, it is a great practice to slow down, take in the seasons, and enjoy the flames of the maple leaves, the golden colors of the oak trees and even the pale shading of the ferns on the forest floor. In my old backpacking days, I did take the time to hike and enjoy the fall in the Laurel Highlands. But in the many years since, those times had been replaced by soccer games, basketball games and general activities with my wife and son. Now I have a college student who does his own thing, and my wife and I are trying to slow down and enjoy what God provides for us by way of a natural display of color. img_1108

So, I guess the message here is to savor your experiences. The yearly season change where the warm days try to hang on into Indian Summer, create some spectacular viewing if you take the time to enjoy the days. You don’t have to go to the mountains to enjoy the scene. Just look out your window, your windshield, or take a walk in the neighborhood. Smell that fall aroma of leaves. See the tannin of the leaves change the creek colors. Notice the difference. Slow down. Thanks for reading.

What to do with “old things”?

I was thinking the other day about my favorite pair of Topsiders that I had since high school. Now that is a long time ago and just for fun, I tried to keep those shoes functional as long as possible. I am a big believer in duct tape for all things and that is what kept those shoes together. They were great ” go out of the garage” shoes to get mail, the paper, take the garbage out, etc. But sadly, they disappeared several years ago. I lost track of them and all of a sudden they were gone.
I had some t-shirts that suffered the same fate. Favorite t shirts that all of a sudden were gone. Didn’t even make the duster bin. Gone. Interesting how old things can be a part of your life. Take my backpack from college.IMG_0139 I have used it ever since as a ski boot carrier. Now most people would ask why I have not purchased a new one for the ski boots, but really, there is nothing wrong with the pack. I just have used it and realized that it is 43 years old. Still functional. In ski season, I put it in the corner of the particular lodge where I am skiing and it patiently waits for me until the end of the day.
Look at my hiking boots. photo Vasque Hiker IIs from college. They have been everywhere. They still have the original Vibram soles. A testament to quality manufacturing and although I still use them on rugged hikes, they mostly serve as boots to mow my unusually steep hillside. I need the traction and the sturdiness to make the cutting easier.
This is my old road bike.IMG_0140 It served me for 25 years and logged miles all over the US, Europe, climbed Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, battled in criteriums, road races, and time trials. It finally became a little dangerous to ride because of all the miles. I was afraid of the fork or the frame cracking so I retired it to a place of honor in the garage. Look at those original Look pedals and the downtube Shimano shifters. The 3Rensho- a classic frame and bike that will not be forgotten. I look at it every day when I exit the garage. My old Merlin mountain bike- lots of fun with the Greenlees crew back in the day in races in West Virginia and weekly rides. photo I finally retired that as well after 16 years of use. Went to new technology but fixed it up for my son to ride but he was not interested. It also hangs in the garage as a reminder of the old days. Retired, on the hook, in a place of honor in the garage. 🙂
How about my old North Face sleeping bag?IMG_0023 Many nights in the lean to shelters at Tuckerman Ravine in New Hampshire keeping me warm on those snowy, windy nights. It served me well in my tent on charity cycling events where I camped out. It even was my bed when I crammed into a hotel room with friends at the Ski Industries of America show in Las Vegas. I was the odd man out with no bed, but no problem. I slept in my trusty bag on the floor of the MGM Grand.
My ski poles are 30 years old. Taken out of Craig Morris’ locker and used ever since as ski and hiking poles. No reason to buy new ones. These are fine. I try to keep up with ski technology but as far as poles go, if they feel right – why not use them?
I have a lot of new technology in sporting equipment but I have a lot of old stuff too. Still works. But thinking about it reminds me of people who come into and out of your life. There are the faithful friends like the backpack. Always there for you for years without complaining. They are a little worn like the backpack but still are there when you need them. Always faithful, always friends. There are the folks like the retired bikes. Memories of all the fun years but maybe they are gone now from this earth. You think of them often when you look at pictures of them, or you put memories of them in a place of honor where you can always look at them and be reminded.
There are the people like the Topsiders and the t-shirts that disappear over the years. For some reason, you lose track of them and they are gone. Sometimes a sad thing, sometimes just a slip of friendship on both sides and POOF- they are gone. There are the hiking boot people who are abused and beaten but still are your friends. They know you. They love you and no matter how many times you put them in tough spots, they always support you and get you through. True friends those hiking boot people.
Old things. Sometimes things to be cherished, kept, sometimes lost, sometimes still a faithful part of your life. Do you have some old things that have the same circumstances? Think about them. Thanks for reading.