Navigating the World Cup with the Shark

Shark and Brad Copeland.- Mechanic for World Cup MTB Champ Kate Courtney

” Paddy- take a picture of the Shark with Brad here. He loves my shirt” For the uninitiated, Brad Copeland is Kate Courtney’s mechanic. Kate was our World Cup overall champion and former world champion who rides for Scott USA. Kate still competes and Brad is always by her side. But this weekend, the Shark was at their side as one of his many adventures in the expo booths at the UCI World Cup Mountain Bike Finals in Snowshoe, West Virginia. Mark Sauers, aka the Shark, is a real character and our friend who always makes life interesting when you are in his company. Shark is an enthusiastic mountain biker who is in great shape and always has us laughing as he refers to himself in the third person. ” Paddy- get the Shark’s picture” ” Paddy- don’t forget to text the Shark where you are.” ” Paddy, the Shark is ready to ride.” Hilarious, as is his shirt which he wore that attracted all kinds of attention. I wont’ bore you with why Mark is called the Shark. Suffice to say that in the 35 years I have ridden with him, he has always been…….”.the Shark.”

So after a grueling ride with John Palmieri and the HSD group on the trails of West Virginia, we came back to the condo and showered up to see the world’s best in the races in the afternoons. Part of the routine is to visit the expo booth area and see all the manufacturers booths which also serve as the headquarters for the teams racing in the event. The best of the world are there and racing men and women’s short track, downhill and cross country events. Download Red Bull TV and you will see all the events and the excitement that always attracts us to the wilds of West Virginia. The UCI World Cup loves West Virginia and now loves the Shark.

John Palmieri of HSD fame. Our ride leader for the weekend.
Our group on the tough, muddy, rooty , slimy, rocky trails of West Virginia.
The Shark with Specialized Rider Sina Frei

After Brad commented on Shark’s shirt in the Scott Booth, Shark responded in typical fashion,” The Shark will trade you the shirt for this bike right here.” Brad laughed and said, ” well maybe Shark?” And we wished Kate good luck and moved on.

Lauren Smith of Red Bull TV with the Shark

As we proceeded on our way, we saw the British commentator for Red Bull TV, Lauren Smith, who was totally blown away with the Shark’s shirt. We had a nice chat with her and commented how much we liked the UCI coverage on Red Bull TV. She loves coming to America and is particularly fond of Snowshoe, as is much of the UCI. The races will return to Snowshoe next July and Red Bull TV will be there.

American Cross Country Racer- Haley Batten

Moving along, we noticed that the women racers in the pit area were very approachable and receptive to photographs. Especially when the Shark requests it. Looking at the large gregarious guy in the shark shirt, they are intrigued and come over to us and have a great laugh with the Shark. Haley Batten, who races for Specialized and is one of the rising stars of the sport, laughed at some of the Shark’s outrageous comments in a large decibel range and had to have her picture taken. We told her that Shark is famous and she bought it hook, line, and sinker. We cheered her on later in the women’s races and her engaging and friendly personality will make her a star for sure along with her amazing athletic ability on course.

Shark was on a roll as we set up a makeshift autograph booth with Shark and local North Park mountain bike racing legend Bob Anderson. Bob finds the Shark really amusing and as they both sat down at an empty table, people came over to see what the Shark was all about. He excused himself for a moment and raced over to the Santa Cruz booth when he heard that they were giving away free tires. As he screamed, ” hey, how about some tires for the Shark?”, the Santa Cruz guys willingly complied and the Shark came away with some of his many SWAG gifts.

Bob Anderson and the Shark at their makeshift autograph booth
Shark Swag

As you now know, the Shark has an engaging personality and infectious enthusiasm. After working the crowds in the expo booths, we made our way over to the races to see the world’s best compete. Shark bulls his way to the best viewing positions and encourages me to ring my Swiss cowbell when the racers come by.

Victor Koretzky and World Champ Nino Schurter slaying all in a grueling uphill section
Big crowds at Snowshoe
Yours truly with the official Swiss Cowbell- not some Wal-Mart imitation.
The women launching it in the downhill.

In reality, John Cassucio and his son Simon, Steve Gurtner, Bob Anderson, JB Loughney, Jessie Seeger, and I were all pilot fish in the wake of the Shark’s navigation of the World Cup. We all watched him work the crowds in the expo area and out on the course. Yes, he is hilarious, but if you get to know him like I do, you will find also a kind, generous, and caring person who values friendships. He calls me regularly and screams ” Paddy!!!!!” over the phone with the following ” how are ya?” It makes my day to hear his voice and enthusiasm as he starts another day in the world. He truly would give you the Shark shirt off his back if he felt you needed a lift. A character indeed, but one well worth knowing. I hope I can have another 35 years of riding with him. Well……………. Thanks for reading.

Paturday

Wolf Rocks at Laurel Mountain with the Paturday Crew- Photo by John Cassucio

My friend Jeff Chetlin calls my rides Paturday rides. Kind of a reference to the fact that my mountain bike rides as of late are more relaxed and the theme is to enjoy the ride. I also refer to my rides as PPPP. Pat’s Pleasant Park Peddling. You see, I have chased people on road bikes and mountain bikes for 40 years. This year I decided to just bring it back a notch and ride at my own pace. When my pals come on a Paturday ride, they know they will have a good ride, good mileage, good route and a good time. We don’t have to kill each other, we just need to enjoy the ride. Ride to ride another day, don’t get hurt, and well……………have fun. Nobody is going to the Olympics.

Take this weekend for example. The Paturday ride was at my favorite place locally to ride a mountain bike- Laurel Mountain. I don’t know what it is about the Laurel HIghlands but I feel truly relaxed up there. I like the Laurel Mountains at all times of the year, and I have a couple of good mountain bike routes that challenge the best and allow for the more casual to also enjoy. Paturday means when we come to a particularly tough rocky section- I let the tough guys go and I meet them at the end of that particular section. They have had a challenge, and if I don’t feel like killing myself, I just ride an alternate trail and meet them. They are all smiles and breathing hard and getting what they need. I have a more relaxed section and that is just fine with me. The people who ride with me get their share of the rocks and roots that make a Laurel Mountain ride classic. But I/we don’t have to do all of them. The tough younger guys on the Paturday ride do them all and I admire them for sure. But I get enough skipping the real killer sections. Paturday- something for everyone.

Enjoying the ride.

One of the benefits of the PPPP pace is the ability to look around and see things that I really never saw before. I see the huge ferns that line the trails at Laurel. I take the time to go out to Wolf Rocks Overlook and see the Laurel HIghlands in all their splendor. In a couple of weeks, that overlook will yield spectacular views of the gently rolling ridges with the leaves blazing with color. I never took the time to notice that before. I was too busy chasing the guy in front of me. I also notice that when I ease into a ride instead of blasting out of the parking lot and redlining my heart rate, I do much better on the ride. It takes me a good 45 minutes to warm up. I guess that is a function of getting close to 67 years of age. I am like a diesel. I am not fast anymore, but if I can warm up, I can ride for longer periods of time. If I try to follow the tough guys and blast out of the parking lot- my ride is basically over. Ease into it, enjoy the flora, the things you can see on the trails, and the ride is much more enjoyable if you just take it down a notch.

I have been blessed with a lot of fun friends who ride. The cool thing about mountain bikers is that they are relaxed and the emphasis is fun on the trails. Sure, there are some that still race, or ride race pace, and want to use the rides for training. That is great. But even those guys like the ” chill” atmosphere of a Paturday ride and know that every ride does not have to be a training ride. Mountain bikers are fun people where the apres ride is as important as the ride itself. People bring snacks, beers, chairs and a general state of comradery exists.

So, I guess the point here is no matter what you do, run, ride, hike, or walk, – try a PPPP pace or make it a Paturday pace. I think you will enjoy yourself and see things that you never allowed yourself to see before. Thanks for reading. Fall is coming. A wonderful rime of the year here in Western Pa.

CycloXpgh ’21

The B Group on Mt. Washington

It has been a couple of years since I did the last Cyclo X Ride to and through all the city parks in Pittsburgh. This ride is the brain child of a really fit cyclist – Aaron Shaffer. An educator by trade, Aaron thought through this event several years ago and plotted a route that would take cyclists for a great tour of the city enabling people to use their mountain bikes as transportation. Aaron- seen here on the left below, always seems to draw a crowd. The “A” group, which Aaron leads, usually rides between 75-80 miles with 7,000 feet of elevation on the ride. Aaron was the lone survivor this year in the “A” group . It was hot and those guys ride fast and hard.

Aaron and the Shark- plotting the route.

There is a less formidable version of this ride which the “B” group enjoys but nonetheless, it usually is around 60 miles and roughly 3000 feet in elevation. This was the group that I rode with this year as I am the senior statesman on the whole ride. Mike Connors led this ride as he is the map guy and knows the route along with the Shark- Mark Sauers. Wondering whether I was a little ” long in the tooth” for this ride anymore and with the predicted 88 degree humid weather typical to Pittsburgh this time of year, and the projected mileage and elevation, I made my way to the Grist House Brewery for the start a little timid but ready to ride an event that I finished twice before . The cool thing about Cyclo X is that it has a lot of road riding through the city and then you pop into the city parks which are loaded with trails for mountain biking and give you a sense of being out in the wilderness even though civilization is just beyond the trees.

Phipps Conservatory on a glorious day.

Riding in reverse this year, we made our way to the Point ( where the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers converge) and over to to the Southside of the city making our way through Panther Hollow and up into Oakland to ride Highland, Schenley and Frick Parks. Winding our way up and out of Panther Hollow we had a tough trail to navigate with trees down and tight rooted single track. But the reward was a nice pedal through the Carnegie Mellon campus, the Pitt campus and eventually back down to ride the railroad tracks along the river.

Carnegie Mellon campus with Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning in the background
Pounding the tracks with the B Group
The Emerald Trails in Mt. Washington.

The tough part of the ride for me comes when we ride to Mt. Washington which is a grueling climb in the heat. Most of our group went on a nasty, tight switchback, trail which leads to the top at Grandview Ave. Riding that before, I elected to take 18th street all he way up – getting baked all the way and running low on my drink bottle. I took a couple of the folks who had gravel bikes with me because they were skeptical of their ability to navigate the rooty, tight switchback trail climb, littered with broken glass and rebar. Probably a wise move and we all were led up the hill by the affable and very capable rider Samra Savioz. I tell my western friends that we don’t have the sustained long climbs like they do but ours are really steep and tight.

The lunch stop is usually Red Beards Tavern on Mt. Washington. Great food and a friendly outdoor tavern atmosphere. We take the joint over and it is usually where we regroup with the ” A” Group. Loading up on liquids, we kept the waitstaff running with pitchers of water. But they were so friendly that they didn’t mind and seemed to enjoy the rowdy group of riders who frequent their establishment once a year at Cyclo X.

The Red Beard Lunch Stop

Coach Lou with an interesting coiffure in the heat at lunch

Chief Guyasuta and George Washington conferring on Mt. Washington as to what this vehicle is with the fat tires?

Making our way through more Emerald Park trails on the Mount, the group made our way down McArdle Roadway into Station Square and over the Fort Pitt Bridge back to the Northside by Heinz Field where people were starting to revel already for the upcoming evening Steeler game. The party people tailgating on their boats paid us no mind as we made our way to the old Western Penitentiary for the climb to the final park- Riverview. It was at this point where I made the prudent decision as the old guy to head right and take the North Shore trail back to the origin of the ride – The Gristhouse Brewery in Millvale. There I changed clothes and enjoyed one of their delicious, fruity, hazy IPAs and relaxed under an umbrella and a picnic table with those of us who also chose to take the ride back. Samra, Everyday Dave, Shark, Laurie, Fred, Ron, and Coach Lou and some others, decided to tough it out and make the final climb to Riverview and Fineview and then down to Millvale. Lots of mileage either way and lots of vertical feet on the 2021 reversed version of Cyclo X.

8:00 AM at the Grist House -ready to ride.

I tell people all the time that this is really a mountain bike ride in the city. Although there is a lot of road, there is a good amount of trails in the parks and the fat tires rule . It is a bit sketchy for gravel bikes but for those with experience and skill like our fearless leader, Aaron, gravel bikes can be used with caution and dexterity.

So, Cyclo X PGH ’21 is in the books and kudos to those who finished the whole ride. The ” A” group are pretty amazing and our ” B ” group was pretty amazing as well. Good riders who made the commitment to spend the day in one of the most beautiful cities in the world on a truly gorgeous day. Thanks Aaron and thanks for reading.

These excellent photos courtesy of Ron Chamberlain and Samra Savioz. Great riders and pretty good photographers too.

The End of an Era

So, I was on a mountain bike ride with my pal Steve Gurtner the other day and he said, ” did you hear they tore the cabin down on County Line Road?” I said- “Dixon’s ?” He said yes. “nothing but a big old hole in the ground now” I was a little shocked and took a drive over to see for myself. Sure enough. A big old hole in the ground where once stood the Rich’s cabin or as my dad used to call it…..” The Dixon Hilton.”

The cabin had come into some neglect and disrepair in the last number of years and my childhood friend Dixon Rich said that it was time for it to come down. Dixon bought the cabin from his folks a while back and as the years went on, it didn’t get much use and was becoming a liability. So Dixon sold the property to some friends who will build a new place. As I stared at the hole in the ground, lots of memories came rushing back to me from my childhood weekends in the cabin near Seven Springs Resort where we all skied as kids

.

The old ski lodge and yours truly.

I grew up with Dixon Rich and we have been friends since the minor league in baseball. His dad bought the cabin a long time ago and every weekend, Bob Rose used to take all of us kids up in the station wagon to spend the weekends at the Rich cabin. Sleeping bags all over the floors were common and the bunk beds were filled as well. Usually it was either Sally and Bob Rose, Barley and Dixon Rich Sr., or Ted and Mary Struk who had the chaperone duties and cooking detail to keep all of the neighbor kids from the Berkley Hills area fed and in line. That was the standard weekend in the winter for all of us thanks to the generosity of Dixon Rich Sr. who got the place for all of us to enjoy. I couldn’t wait for the phone to ring on a Friday afternoon when Bob Rose Sr. would call and say- ” 15 minutes- be ready and have all your gear ready.” We would ski Friday nights until 11:00, all day Saturday, Saturday night, and all day Sunday until we would pack up and head back to the burg. That is where we all really learned to ski at Seven Springs, and spending our nights at the cabin on County Line Road. For years!!!!

Dixon and I still skiing together nearly 60 years later.

As the years went on, kids became teen agers and there were all kinds of cars in the driveway. The key to the cabin was always on the top of the entry door and the only rule was before you left, you better put the key back where it belonged. If those walls could talk, you would hear some tall tales from that cabin with all of those raging hormones and visitors coming from near and far to ski weekends with the Berkeley Hills crowd. The parents would still show up from time to time but their git up and go for us had gone up and left as they aged a bit. The Dixon Hilton was party central for many of us growing up on weekends in the Laurel Highlands. Dix and I got into mountain biking around the same time and we used the cabin as a meeting place for our growing number of riding friends. It was cool to have a place to stay and hang out after a big ride from the cabin, over to Hidden Valley and back again. Dixon and I would also take mega rides to Ohiopyle and often get lost on the way back. We relied on the sunset to give us direction and if it got too late, the kindly neighbors from Indian Head would give us a ride back up the hill to the cabin where we were completely exhausted. When they had the NORBA National Mountain Bike series at Seven Springs, Dixon and I raced in our category, and then watched the national class races. The whos who of mountain bike racing came to Seven Springs in those days and somehow they all heard of the parties at the cabin on County Line Road. It was not uncommon to see luminaries of the mountain bike world show up in Dixon’s yard. Maurice and Elaine Tierney of Dirt Rag Magazine, Sue Haywood, Kurt Vooreis, and even Gary Fisher graced the grounds of the Dixon Hilton. The cabin became the meeting place for rides and the after ride festivities for years and it became our little year round resort.

Tough Trail at the NORBAS

Time flew by and our little band of neighbor kids spread out all over the country. The cabin didn’t get much use in recent years and one time Dixon was staying there and he called me on the phone. ” Hey Patrick, you wouldn’t believe it. I was sleeping and at about 3:00 AM the deck fell off.” ” I didn’t know you had to shovel snow off the deck to relieve the weight.” ” All of a sudden it was gone” We both had a good laugh about that one along with some other good memories.

I talked to Dixon the other day and he told me about the sale. I asked him if he kept some memorabilia from the cabin and he said that he had, including the valued pair of Jet Stix. We both laughed and said most people would not even know what they were. For you younger folks- google Jet Stix. Also- he said he kept the flashing yellow light that they used to alert people coming up County Line that the cabin was open and people were there.

Looking at this hole in the ground, I will miss the old days. But I will always be grateful to the Rich’s, the Roses and the Struks ,and my parents, for their investment in the kids in the neighborhood. That cabin was our home in the winter and I could not think of a better way to grow up. I am still skiing sixty years later and my enthusiasm has not waned one bit. That love of the sport was ingrained in us as kids and I will always be thankful for the cabin on County Line Road. Thanks for reading.

The Axe Man Cometh

Scott and his Weapon

Scott Ross is a big dude. Aside from being a tech service engineer for Xylem, traveling the world on water treatment projects, he has a passion for trails. Oftentimes, returning from a trip to some exotic country for work, Scott can be seen out in the woods with his huge axe removing deadfall so that the trails are passable for hikers, and mountain bikers. Scott is a mountain biker himself but his passion is making sure that storms don’t keep trails closed due to trees falling and blocking our way.

You can always tell where Scott has been.

Scott’s sphere of influence is usually in our local park system but he has been known to clear trails as far away as Canada. You can always tell where Scott has been by the remnants of his work……wood chips. These chips are collected by many people for use in their fireplaces, grills, etc. But whenever I see these chips, I know that some serious work has been done to clear a big tree that has blocked the trail in some form or fashion.

The Man at work.

As you can see, Scott is a big guy and has all the tools to take some massive deadfall from the trails, all by himself. The county does not allow power tools for removal other than for the county workers who clear the trails for a living. But the county appreciates volunteer work and Scott is probably the most tireless volunteer out there now. Sure, he does it for exercise, but he also has a passion for trail systems and the people who use them. My crowd usually buys Scott a beer whenever we see him because we appreciate the work it takes to clear some pretty large trees that fall during storms. Scott loves riding his mountain bike, loves the trails, and makes sure that they are clear for all of us. But oftentimes, when I come up on a section of trail that Scott has cleared, thoughts come into my head.

I think to myself, what kind of dedication does it take to do this on a regular basis after traveling and working around the world? You would think that Scott would be exhausted from such a work schedule. But like most volunteers, he has a passion for the cause to which he is so dedicated. I think about the past year and how so many of us have been isolated or forced to keep our volunteer activities in check because of the Pandemic. But, things are opening up now and people and causes need some serious help. We may not be able to take down large heavy trees to benefit the hiking and mountain bike community, but we certainly can help and be there for individuals or organizations that are trying to get back on their feet. People are hurting, restaurants are hurting, volunteer organizations are now opening up opportunities to engage once again. I heard it said once that you don’t have to go to a foreign land to volunteer. You have people right in your back yard who need a friend, comfort, food, and shelter, that we can provide- one life at a time. Scott’s volunteering is very graphic and public. People know what he does and appreciate his hard work. But there is also a need for many things these days that are not so public. Behind the scenes volunteering is so vital- especially in these days of recovery.

So when you see a nice clean trail- think of Scott. And when you see an opportunity to help someone, or a cause, think about chopping the barriers with your own axe and clearing a path for others. You will feel good like Scott does and the beneficiaries of your kindness and dedicated volunteer work, will appreciate it – like we do when we ride a trail in Scott’s wake. Thanks Scott and thanks for reading.

The Magic of Cairns

The marker on the trail.

Recently on some mountain bike rides I have come across cairns marking the trails. These piles of rocks, sometimes artistically created, serve as a marker as to where the trail goes and how a hiker or mountain biker should proceed. There has been a lot of controversy about these piles in a lot of publications because the critics have said that the purpose of cairns has been distorted. The dialog has been around people using cairns to show where they have been like some kind of geological social media instead of using the cairns as the markers they are intended to be. I would see them all the time on the trails in and around Mt. Washington in New Hampshire and was happy they were there to mark my path in some pretty unpleasant weather. The fog and limited visibility sometimes made navigation impossible were it not for the strategically placed cairns marking the trail.

I witness daily the controversy on my local trail where a little cairn marking a left turn on the trail is built and torn down repeatedly apparently by people with different views on the purpose of cairns. Personally I like them and although I understand the view of not putting one up with no meaning, I do know that someone, somewhere marked the trail for a purpose. In a way, those people were saying ” look where I have been and mark your way on this trail.” So the controversy is a bit complicated because although cairns do mark the trails, someone had to build them as a guide for all of us who come upon a fork in the trail.

When I came upon my local controversial cairn the other day, the metaphorical meaning of cairns creeped into my mind as I bounced along the trail. I thought about people in our lives who serve as a kind of marker for us. Blazing the trail ahead and guiding us perhaps to places and events that we would not ordinarily see. Those people pile up the rocks of experience for us and guide us to a greater understanding of the world around us. People like Jeff Chetlin seen here in the middle leading a ride out of Yellow Creek here in Pa.

Jeff is our mountain bike, hiking, back country skiing, motorcycling, snowmobile riding, metaphorical cairn that inspires all of us. We are inspired by his infectious enthusiasm for the world around us. Recently, he and his wife Julie invited all of us to their home in Bend, Oregon where we were all treated to days of great riding. Jeff values his friends and as he says, ” there are only so many QDLs in life.” Quality Days Left. Jeff is a proponent of making the most out of all of them.

The Chetlin Tribe

Recently, Jeff had a bit of a setback. After a surgical repair to some congenital issues with his heart, he had some complications that have him currently rehabbing. This has been a tough time for Jeff whose ” gas pedal to the floor” personality have him impatiently working through all of this. It has been tough on Julie and the boys and although all of us are praying for a speedy recovery, this has not been easy and Jeff is seeing some of his priorities shift a bit. But we all know he will make a big time comeback and will soon be leading us around again. I can hear him saying to me on a particular tough section of trail, ” Pat- is there a stoplight up there?”

It’s funny how I have recently been thinking of these little piles of rocks and then this metaphorical understanding of cairns in our lives. No one said it better though than Steve Gurtner who recently texted the following picture and verbiage:

The Gurtner Cairn

” Like all of you, I have been thinking about Jeff and Julie. You’ve all seen these piles of stones, cairns, when we are out riding. When I came across one out there, I knew that Jeff probably blazed this trail, that I was on the right track, and I was encouraged to keep pedaling. So Jeff, here is a cairn at our house, so I can let you know you are on the right track and I hope to encourage you on your ride. Maggie and I love you both.”

Think about the people in your life that inspire you. Cherish them and make sure you get QDLs with them. Pray for Jeff and Julie and the boys for a speedy recovery. Thanks for reading and thanks Steve for the inspirational message.

ADVENTUREFEST 2021

So, I am laying in my tent Friday night listening to the Biblical rains falling on my rain fly and hoping that it will stay dry for me as I get through the night of really foul weather at Adventurefest 2021. For those of you who might be wondering what in the world is Adventurefest, it is a really spectacular weekend of men getting together at Agape Farm and Retreat Center in Shirleysburg, Pa. It is an annual thing that my friend Mark (aka Shark) Sauers and I attend in the mountains of central Pa where there is axe throwing, bon fires, drones, bike tosses, motorcycling, mini-bike riding and for us mountain biking at Raystown. Typical frivolity for a group of 150 or so of us who get together to camp and listen to really great messages from pastors affiliated with the Assembly of God Church.

So, before you hit the click button, give me a chance here to explain the good news presented by the pastors starting with Jonathan Wyns on Friday night as the welcoming speaker. Accompanied to the ” Long Building” by the musical excellence of the Morgan Dolan band, we were treated to a message that initiated the theme for the weekend called ” Boots on the Ground.” A military term basically adapted to the message of getting into your boots and moving forward to present the good news of the Gospel to your friends and family and having the courage to stand up and be the men that we were created to be- as husbands, fathers, and friends. The typical misconception of Christian messaging today is that it is condescending, or ” above it all.” When really the opposite is true when you hear testimonies of guys who sold drugs, used drugs, recovering alcoholics, and general sinners expressing their need for the saving message that Jesus died for our sins and welcomes us into His fold if we only believe. That is it. A positive message if I ever heard one and one that I feel needs to be shared. Shark always says why wouldn’t we share good news? Like telling our friends and family about a good restaurant or a good bike or a good pair of skis. Stuff that we do all the time. Why not share the good news of the Gospel? I did not grow up in the Pentecostal tradition so over the years it took me a little time to understand and be comfortable with the vigor of the messages presented and received by the men. But let me tell you, if you have ever heard an Assembly of God preacher, you will not forget it. Whether you are a believer, have faith, or have no faith, listening to one of these guys stirs something deep in your soul that at the very least will make you think. Jonathan started that and as we made our way back to our soggy tents, I definitely thought about what the heck is going on in our world and what I need to do to at least try to make it a little better.

Saturday morning welcomed us with brilliant sunshine and after I cranked up the Jet Boil and prepared the Shark breakfast, he spoke to a group of 20 or so early risers about the need to move forward like the disciples did in the book of Acts. For those of you who know the Shark, he is a fun loving guy but never sell him short on his faith. The man can present. I was so impressed with my friend’s message about the rag tag group of fishermen who changed the world. The mountain biking at Raystown Lake never disappoints and we connected with our Adventurefest friend Roger Evans from West Virginia. Roger always rides with us and is a quality guy who we really like. Strong rider too. It was just the three of us this year riding but we connected with a young lady from Sunbury , Pa who turned out to be a terrific rider and gave us all we could handle with her riding skills and fitness. Sarah from Sunbury.

Saturday evening the band struck up again and the speaker was a retired fireman from Buffalo who is now a pastor with AOG. Tom Sember gave all of some sobering statistics like percentages of men who are absent in the lives of their children. Percentages of guys in prison who had no father growing up or an absent father. Inner city statistics of kids with no fathers or father figures. Really heart wrenching and Tom, in the AOG preacher tradition, put it out there strongly to us to be the men we are supposed to be regardless of the culture we live in today. Boots on the ground and take that step forward. He kind of resonated with me because I tend to not be a pushy person and am a little shy about sharing the gospel unless people give me an opening. But he said he didn’t care if people thought he was a “Jesus freak”. ” Who cares ?” he said, and we should not care either if we share good news especially in this tumultuous world that we live in. Sleeping in my dry tent again, and looking up at the stars, I thought a lot about what Tom said and rested comfortably after a good ride, good dinner, and really great fellowship and preaching.

One of the great traditions of Adventurefest is the late night hike up the mountain to a wooden cross. It is there that guys present their life stories and how the Gospel has changed them. Growing up like I did, I had it pretty good. But listing to these guys from inner city Philadelphia give their testimonies about where they have been and where they are now and hammering a nail into that cross symbolizing that they are giving it all to the Lord to fix, I am always stunned. Greg Nass, the director of Adventuremen and Adventurefest works tirelessly with his amazing staff, for a year to put on this event and no matter how tired he is, he is always there at that cross and hammering a nail in for our children. That they grow up and know the Lord. Greg is an amazing individual.

Pastor Jimmie Rivera from the City Limits Assembly of God in Allentown,Pa. presented the closing message on Sunday. After Shark and I packed up right before another torrential thunderstorm, we made our way to the Long Building and sat in the front row to listen to a truly amazing preacher. Like I said before, AOG preachers are not shy and Jimmie talked about the courage of Joshua in the Old Testament in very graphic terms that had men wriggling in their seats. But the message was consistent with Boots on the Ground in that Joshua had great faith and put one foot in front of the other, and crossed the Jordan River to victory over the enemy. The perspiration was coming down Pastor Jim’s face as he put it out there about the importance of commitment and not to go back to the norm on Monday morning. Make a difference and be the man, father, husband, friend, you are supposed to be.

So if you haven’t clicked me off yet and are asking yourself, ” McCloskey- what on earth are you doing out in the middle of nowhere sleeping in a tent with a bunch of rowdies every year?” The answer is simple – good news to be shared. Mountain bikes, grills going strong, bacon, drones, basketball, mini-bikes, motorcycles, bon fires, fishing, camping- all make Adventurefest fun. But the messaging all make sleeping in the tent and roughing it a little out of the norm so worthwhile. Come to Adventurefest next year. Ask me, Shark or Greg Nass about it and we will give you details. Thanks for not clicking and reading.

” For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believe in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” John 3-16

Benchmarks

Tussey Mountain Trail at Rothrock State Forest

I think we all try to assess our fitness in the beginning of the season with a series of ” benchmarks” which are tests to see where we are. Personally, I have several hills on many of my mountain bike rides that I use as tests, and if I can ride them with no issue and not get off my bike, I know that I am still in the game. It takes some effort but they loom ahead as a reminder and they are there so that I can see how well I am doing at different points of the season. Usually in the spring these benchmarks are harder because I am just getting over my winter maintenance mode. This year I am backing off a bit. I don’t need to race anymore and I can ride at my own pace. But I still like to see where I am and if these benchmarks become easier as the spring and summer evolve.

Wet Rocks Define the Benchmark

Sometimes the conditions of the tests make them particularly difficult. Like now in the springtime with all the rain in the east, the slimy rocks and roots make for a particular challenge and you have the choice to either back off and ride around the challenge, or get off and walk, or ……..get it in gear and take the test. See how you do with a weather affected benchmark. Can you still ride it no matter what? It takes effort to do the latter but that is the criteria for assessing fitness and a sense of self satisfaction that you can still do this!

In today’s world, you have Garmin devices or apps on your phone that can also give you information on where you are. Time of a ride, distance, vertical feet of climbing, speed, etc are all measured and visible to you after and during each ride. There are also the competitive apps like Strava that can measure your effort against someone else or a group of riders on the same trail. I would have jumped on this years ago but now, I ride to ride another day.

Rainstorms Adding to the Difficulty of Benchmarks.

Some days, you just don’t feel like challenging yourself. The weather is bad, your motivation is lax or you just plain don’t feel like it. No one is watching and really the personal challenge is always up to you. There are always roadblocks to getting in shape or maintaining fitness but you have the choice. Either accept the challenge or not. Maybe not today but tomorrow? Your call. Kind of like the benchmarks we set for ourselves in life too? The challenge is always there to do the right thing. Help out a neighbor in need. Thinking of other people and what they are going through. My mother always said ” to have a friend is to be a friend.” It is so true and some days, we are not really motivated but we ” put it in gear” and do the right thing even if we don’t feel like it. Kind of like hitting that benchmark hill in full gear even though your motivation is not there at the moment.

My dad always had a saying for doing things that you may not like to do at the moment. He said it was like ” hitting yourself in the head with a hammer because it feels so good when you stop.” I laugh when I think of that but really, there are times when you have to reach for that higher gear and go for it. Help that neighbor battling a life threatening disease. Or the friend who is going through a personal struggle. I keep a legal pad on my counter in the kitchen that reminds me to pray for people whose names are on that list. But also, to remind me to do something for them. No matter what the weather is, no matter how tired I am, no matter how inconvenient. When you hit that higher gear and challenge that benchmark of kindness and civility, you feel so good. It is not the food that you brought them, or the flowers, candy, treats or whatever. I am sure they are appreciated. But the real appreciation lies in the fact that you thought of them and no matter what- you are there for them.

As we get older, complacency can settle in. But just like the hill challenge on a mountain bike ride, there are daunting challenges out there for you to tackle. Be up for the challenge and help your friends and even people who you may not know. Volunteer, donate, give your time and resources, and hit that higher gear. You will feel a sense of purpose and a calling that is highly rewarding. Thanks for reading.

Wolf Rocks. Laurel Mountain , Pa.

The Fresh New Season

Floral greetings on the hiking trails.

I am not sure whether I am just taking the time to notice or whether this spring has been more spectacular than most . The blossoms and growth in the woods and along the trails are really exploding and I have been thinking to myself as I hike and ride the mountain bike this year, what a blessing this has been. To have sunny days and vibrant colors emerging from the cold winter is really amazing especially around Western Pa where I live. It is usually rainy and wet in the spring and we all jokingly call it mud season. But, so far so good.

The Happy Hiker

I crowbarred my wife Janet out of the house this weekend and she is always glad that I prod her to get outside and enjoy the fresh air. We have a lot of good hiking right near our house and when you look around, you really could be anywhere as you make your way down the paths and trails sighting new plant growth and the usual visuals of the pine forests near our home. The thing I always have to remember is that we have a lot to appreciate right in our own backyard.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love hiking and riding in other parts of the country. There are so many places that have their own special atmosphere and vistas. Everyone who lives in those parts, are really proud of their landscape and their trails that they love to show us.

Western Vistas

There are really great places out there to hike and ride and the mountain views are really spectacular. But really, everyone in all parts of this country have good views and great trails if you are willing to take the time to spend especially in your own back yard. Copper Harbor, Michigan, Mohican State Forest in Ohio, The Moon Rocks in Davis, West Virginia. I love to visit other places and so do my friends, but there is a reason people live where they live. Family, friends, jobs, familiarity, and other factors generally dictate where people are located. Oftentimes I think to myself that I would love to live in the west. But I would never look down on my local outdoors opportunities and think that there is something better. I try to enjoy my local mountains and parks and be happy that I have the health and ability to do so.

The Moon Rocks- Davis, West Virginia.

I watch a lot of You Tube videos of people riding MTB in different parts of the country. And really they have a lot to offer. The thing that is most noticeable is the pride of the locals when they show a newcomer their local treasure of trails. They have an enthusiasm in their voice and a smile on their face that says- ” hey man, this place is the bomb.” And it often is and people are happy to hike or ride there. But is it the ” bomb?” Maybe the ” bomb” is your local scene with your friends in your local mountains or trails. Wherever you live?

Local Laurel Highlands lushness

I always chuckle at the conversations that lead to ” one -upsmanship” You know- like you telling someone from another place what a great time you had on your local trails and they tell you ” Oh man- that is nothing. You should have seen it out here this weekend.” I am sure that it was nice, but there are great hikes and rides everywhere. My dad had a funny saying that said, ” First liar never has a chance.” That is the classic response to ” one- upsmanship.” ” You think that was good? Well, you should see mine” In reality, my friends in Oregon love their trails. My friends in Colorado and California love their trails. My friends in Vermont love the Green Mountains. And I don’t blame them a bit. But I never have that longing to always be there instead of where I am. Love to visit and travel. But I always am thankful for the local scenery and the ability to enjoy it. I never demean the local scene. And there is something to be said for sharing it with my wife and my friends.

Bend, Oregon
Laguna Beach, California

But this coming weekend, I have a friend visiting from Philly and he loves to ride. I will be proud to show him around and let him see the fresh new season we have around here with all the blossoms, flora and everything that is spring on the local trails. I am sure that I will tell him that this is the BEST around here. LOL!! Enjoy what you have- wherever. Thanks for reading.

Laurel Mountain goodness

Expectations

Here we go!

I remember the days when I used to wait for a killer group of road riders to come out from Shadyside and pick Art B and me up for a long ride to Moraine State Park in the spring. It was always hard for me to get started because no matter how I tried to keep myself in shape over the winter, spring riding was always the toughest. I used to say to Art ” here they come – get ready to enter the pain cave.” I remember getting to the halfway point and laying on my back, shoving fig newtons into my mouth, guzzling Gatorade, and wondering how in the world I was going to make it home. Aside from bananas, fig newtons and Gatorade were the only fuel of choice in those days. My friend the Shark always says that ” ski legs are not riding legs.” And he is so right.

The group that keeps me young.

Fast forward to this past weekend where I went on my first longer ride of the season with my group of friends who keep me young. After about 2 hours of riding in 82 degree heat, I was kind of cooked. I am the oldest of the bunch and anyone who is older, in my general group of riding friends, is riding an e-bike. I am not ready for that yet but as I peddle into my 67th year, I realize that my expectations have to mellow a bit. One of my famous lines when being flogged on a long climb is to say that ” nobody is going to the Olympics so I am not riding that fast.” I admire those who still can hammer hills and push the pace of rides. But this season, I have an altered M.O. I am really going to enjoy the ride by backing off just a little bit instead of always chasing. I seem to enjoy the ride more if I stay within my limits. My expectations are that I will eventually get in better shape, but so will everybody else, and so if I ride to ride another day, I will be happy and really enjoy the rides much better.

I am grateful for good health. I have a lot of friends my age who have had some serious health issues. I heard my doc Syed say one time that “s@#$ happens in your 60s” So I am grateful that I can still ski at a higher level and that I can ride a mountain bike seeing that a lot of people my age and older are taking a hot bath at the end of the day and watching Fox News – ranting back at the TV. My friends are younger and they keep me in the game. But the bottom line is that I have been blessed with good health and when I arise each morning, I thank God for His blessings on me and my family . You can never underestimate the benefits of good health.

At the end of our ride on Saturday, we all went to Mad Mex for a post ride lunch. Aside from the early season physical test, the real important thing was that I was riding with my friends. As I looked around the table and saw the faces of the people, I sat back and was grateful as I listened and laughed at the stories that were told. The cool thing about riding or skiing for that matter are the friendships that are created over the years. That is the important thing. Not how fast you ride or what you did, but sharing the experience of riding and reflecting about all of that over a beer and some good food.

Friends make the experience.

So as all of you start a new season try to remember what is really important. You are getting exercise in the sunshine and rekindling your friendships. Maybe you are new to it all? Maybe you will make some new friends along the way? Whatever you do, adjust your expectations to what is good for you and not necessarily good for other folks. Spring is tough but try to enjoy it at a pace which is good for YOU.. Any type of aerobic fitness can be enjoyed at a slower pace and it will keep you coming back for more. As we jokingly say, ” start slow and taper off.” Thanks for reading.