Familiarity breeds……………comfort.

So I got spanked last week on a mountain bike ride mainly because I am trying to get back into riding shape after a winter of skiing and hiking. The guys I ride with go all winter and are in good shape for the spring riding season. I will get there but not quite yet. But another factor for the spanking was the fact that we went on a familiar trail backwards. I hate to go that way because it is does not flow well and it is full of rutted, short nasty climbs. It is so much easier and flows better the way I usually go and going the way we did last week took me out of my comfort zone for a lot of reasons.
I tend to gravitate towards the familiar at times. Lines down ski slopes are also repeated until I feel totally comfortable. Now don’t get me wrong, I can handle the challenge of different routes on snow or on trails, but there are some routes that are comfortable, easy to ride, and allow me to relax and enjoy the ride and not be totally challenged with something with which I am not familiar.

So familiarity with the terrain breeds a relaxed approach and often I am comfortable with that. But other times I think to myself that at my age, I should challenge myself and not be complacent riding or skiing familiar lines. You don’t really learn much if you keep doing the same thing over and over. Riding mountain bikes should be challenging and skiing unfamiliar lines should be the same. By testing yourself, you can stretch your comfort zone and perhaps increase your technical ability.

There are times where I just want to cruise. But if you don’t challenge yourself, you can easily fall back into a rut where your pals are increasing in speed and ability and you are left behind. I don’t want that to happen so I force myself to ride and ski variable lines whenever the mood strikes me. I have to do it or I will be riding and skiing by myself. Young people challenge me. I tend to ride with younger folks and if I am able to hang on, I am a happy man. My ski group are my peers but they are fast and strong and if I don’t challenge myself, I won’t be able to hang with them either. So familiarity is not always a good thing.

Sport mirrors life don’t you think? As we age, if we tend to stay complacent, we don’t learn anything and are left behind. If you read fiction, try a biography. Try a new restaurant. Take a continuing education class. Go to a different venue for vacation. Meet new people. Have civil discussions with folks who are not of your political persuasion. Tough to do these days, but if we are to grow and survive, we need to listen and debate in a civil manner. Challenge yourself to listen to other opinions. Like a new trail, experiences in life can challenge you but when you come to the end, you have learned something. ” Hey, I found a new trail and it is great!!!” You perhaps have honed your skills and now you have advanced your repertoire.

People tend not to want to fail. I fall into the same category sometimes. But like skiing or riding, if you stop falling, you stop learning. I have reached a level of expertise where I don’t fall much, but when I do……it is a yard sale. But I pick myself up and learn from the experience. We are going to fail at things. But staying in the same familiar rut, doesn’t help anything. I struggle with this, but I know I have to expand the comfort zone. Where will I live someday? What does retirement look like? Keep moving forward, Pat. Here is to the unfamiliar!! Ride it for all it is worth. Thanks for reading.

Q.D.L. ( Quality Days Left)

My friend Jeff Chetlin( pictured here front and center in the orange shorts) said to me the other day on a MTB ride,” Paddy- I want you to get in your Jeep and think about what I am saying. I want you to think about quality days left.” He said, ” Today is a quality day. Sunshine, a long ride with friends, beers and lunch in the parking lot sitting around on soccer chairs, enjoying each other’s company after a great ride ” That is a quality day.” ” How many of these days do we have left?”
I thought about that on the way home and as Jeff also said, we really don’t know how many of these quality days we do have left. He is ten years younger than me but still, we don’t know. I asked the same question basically to my ski crowd a few weeks ago. ” How much longer do you think we will be able to ski the chutes, rip GS turns, and ski at a high level comparatively speaking?” The general consensus was if we kept ourselves in shape, didn’t get injured( longer recovery at an older age), and nothing catastrophic happened, we should be able to ski like this into our 70s. We saw a guy at Snowbasin one year making beautiful GS turns on the groomers at high speed…..at 75 years young. So back to Chetlin. He has ideas on how he wants to utilize his QDL.

Jeff seems to think that he needs to someday soon move to Bend, Oregon to pursue his dream of maximizing QDL. In many ways, his environment dictates and contributes to his QDL. He is questioning whether he wants to spend the rest of his active years in Pennsylvania or make the move to his favorite place out west. We all currently travel to ski trips and mountain bike trips but aside from those great days, our QDL are currently here in the Keystone State. But in my mind- that is ok. All of our friends are here with the exception of a few, and life is what you make of it, right? So I thought more about it and asked myself in my Jeep, what do I think is a quality day? Well, I have this positive way of viewing things and really, every day is a gift. When we wake up and are blessed with another healthy day, it is a quality day to me. I know that the epic mountain bike rides with friends and epic ski days with friends are quality days, but I think about every day being a quality day. No matter the weather, no matter what the circumstances, if you are blessed with friends, a good work environment, and a wonderful spouse, you have quality days. A great quality day is spent with my wife Janet. We need to value each and every day because we have each other currently in good health.
We will always value each other no matter what, but we need to maximize that time together. I am sure that Jeff feels that way about his wife Julie who is his partner in everything that he does.
So, I can dream about quality days left out west in some great location. But currently I live in Pittsburgh and must make the QDL alive and well right here. Again, the travel QDL are important and always will be memorable, but days like we had last Saturday with our MTB crew, riding in the spring sunshine, sitting around and telling stories in our soccer chairs, and sipping a cold brew, that is a quality day for sure. How many do we have left? Only the Lord knows that for sure. But my goal is to make every day a quality day, no matter what the day presents. I know what Jeff means about life in Bend. And, he may attain that goal soon. But for the time being, I am looking forward to the Coopers Gap Epic Ride in a few weeks at State College with the Chetlins and looking forward to more fun times with my Janet in whatever we do. Thanks for reading and maximize your QDL.

Coffee- The Great Motivator.

I was not always a coffee drinker. In fact, the first time I ever drank a cup of coffee was when I was on a trip with my wife in San Diego. She said, ” it would be really nice if you would sit and have a cup of coffee with me.” I always thought that coffee was for ” big people” and that it stunted your growth as my mother taught me. So, up until I was in my mid thirties, I had never had the pleasure of experiencing the warm, tasty, caffeinated slide of liquid down the old gullet. It was a revelation. images-1

Fast forward and I found myself in the land of coffee- Seattle, Washington where Starbucks and Seattle’s Best reign supreme. img_0576
I took advantage of all that coffee had to offer there but the fun part was finding the small , boutique coffee stands in places like Enumclaw, Washington on the way to ski at Crystal Mountain. You pull in and order a custom crafted cup of Java from the smiling, female baristas and make your way to the ski area with a warm, travel cup to start your day. mount_rainier_from_west

I often find myself drinking the Java on the way to work or to a work out like cycling or skiing. Aside from the purported benefits of reduction of risk of Type II diabetes, Alzheimer disease, Parkinsons, heart disease, and colorectal cancer, I find that coffee gives you a degree of sharpness in the morning. I find that if I drink a cup on the way to a cycling outing, it gives me a little jolt that is needed because as you age, it takes more time to warm up. But the coffee helps you get out of the parking lot a little easier and I notice it when I don’t drink before I ride. Same benefit with skiing. When I finish the coffee in the lodge, and strap on the boards, my first turns are more focused and the rhythm of the ski turns are assisted by that initial caffeine boost in the morning. Even going to work, it give me focus to begin my day. But aside from the caffeine benefits, what is so special about the proverbial cup of coffee that warrants discussion? images

I have found that there is a whole culture out there of coffee aficionados who revel in the relaxing atmosphere of a coffee shop. Starbucks, McDonald’s and smaller boutique shops encourage folks to relax and enjoy the coffee with soft music and the opportunity to use the internet conductivity to conduct business or just browse the internet while enjoying a fresh cup of coffee. My wife and I enjoyed this type of atmosphere at La Prima this Christmas in the strip district of Pittsburgh. A simple cafe that specializes in the coffee experience. We marveled at the artistry of the frothy creamy decoration on the surface of the cup and just enjoyed the experience instead of getting a “to go” cup and slamming the beverage down during our shopping outing. sawada-coffee-10dec2015-003

But I have to tell you that most of the time, I am slamming the coffee on the way to something. I remember coaching my son in his early soccer years and pounding a cup of coffee before the Saturday morning game. My wife always said that me drinking coffee was like pouring gasoline on a raging fire as I became an enthusiastic, motor mouthed, raging lunatic of a coach. My son cringed as I loudly encouraged them to shoot the ball, defend, and die for the team- all in a grade school soccer game. img00002-20091022-1737

So, the caffeine thing is not lost on me and the benefits of coffee to begin my day or as a performance enhancer is recognized as I slam the coffee down my throat. img_1301

Janet is always telling me that I have to relax and I try to get into the cafe, coffee shop experience, but most of the time I am slamming. Even after all these years, I am a rookie when it comes to the true taste of coffee. I like a strong cup but I really like a little coffee in my cream and sugar. My associate Steve Elliott, with whom I work, says that to really enjoy the taste of coffee, you have to drink it black. I am not there yet and although I am trying to wean myself off the cream and sugar, I have a long way to go. But in the meantime, I will enjoy the sweet, creamy, experience of a slammed cup of Java and thank my wife for introducing me to one of the small pleasures of life. As I age, I notice the smaller things and appreciate them. Hopefully the coffee will appreciate me with healthful benefits that supposedly exist. Enjoy a good cup of steaming coffee and thanks for reading.

The Power of Positive Thinking

No matter which button you pushed this week, you probably could use an inspiring story to uplift your day. I would like to tell you about one of the most positive people I know. I would like to tell you about Daniel Chew. ridinguphill

I first met Danny way back when my group was first involved in the Allegheny Cycling Association Criterium Races at Highland Park Zoo. Danny was part of an elite group of riders that included Mac Martin, Danny’s brother Tom, and Matt Eaton. All of whom had national pedigree as road bicycling racers. These guys not only rode and raced together all over the country but they took the time to work with the weekend warriors like my group. Fun guys, but very talented and Danny was one of them. The interesting thing about Danny Chew is that he was always smiling, always engaging and when you first meet him, he asks you all about yourself. He does not dwell on his accomplishments at all but is more interested in what you do, where do you live, where do you ride, and ……do you know any athletic women who would be interested in dating a bike racer like him. He has an infectious laugh and his smiling presence was one of the rich memories I have of racing at the Zoo. 4721_rosensteel_151003

Daniel was a four time contestant in the Core States US Pro Cycling Race in Philadelphia and finished 12th in 1985 and 16th in 1987 as a freelance pro with no team support. He raced against the best in the world. In 1996 he was first place in the Race Across America finishing in 8 days, 7 hours and 14 minutes. Think about that for a minute. He won again in 1999 and competed a total of 8 RAAMs in his career. In 1983, he founded an iconic race here in Pittsburgh called the Dirty Dozen where racers take on 12 of the toughest hills in Pittsburgh and 12 of the toughest hills anywhere for that matter. He was one of the oldest winners  and competed as well as ran the race up until the present time.

3273_rosensteel_151003 Danny is a math whiz so his statistics on his web site about his races are legendary and he cheerfully challenged people to beat his record of climbing the stairs at the University of Pittsburgh Cathedral of Learning. Danny loves the bicycle. His mission of riding a million miles in his lifetime is still a dream and a reachable goal in spite of a recent setback in Ohio that changed his life.

While riding his bike he lost consciousness and crashed. The result was vertibae damage and spinal cord damage that has left him paralyzed from the chest down. He is currently in the rehabilitation program at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago on the campus of Northwestern University. His brother Tom researched the best rehabilitation facilities and found that RIC is viewed by many to be the finest in the country. Appropriate for one of the finest athletes in the country. I went to visit Danny last week and although he stated that this was a tough pill to swallow, his confidence in his recovery and his zeal for the road forward was truly inspiring. img_1140

Despite the life changing injury and the unknowns about his recovery, Danny has not lost that inquisitiveness about what you are doing and what is going on back home in Pittsburgh. Although he shared details of his rehab program, he was more interested in what was happening in the cycling community and how my wife and son were doing. The nurses were all doting over him because he is such an engaging individual. He is cheerful in spite of what has happened and is looking forward to his life back home when he returns sometime in December. He claims that he will continue his quest for the million miles on a hand cycle if that is his fate, but he has sought out  some military veterans and other enthusiastic hand cyclists to learn all about what lies ahead for him. He is excited to continue his life in spite of this debilitating injury.

Daniel was not only inspiring in his racing days, but in my mind, he is even more inspiring now with his positive attitude. I personally believe his life will be even larger as he continues to inspire others with his goals and his personality. I can see him on the speakers circuit someday to inspire others that no matter what happens to you in life, you can continue on if you have positive thinking and a positive attitude. Chuck Swindoll, the famous pastor always says,” I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it.” I pray for Danny and his recovery. I am sure that God has a good plan for him.

If you would like to contribute to his recovery, you can go on the web and sign on to http://www.youcaring.com There is a section where you can contribute. Also, if you are local to Pittsburgh, there is a fundraiser at the Southside Works 425 Cinema Drive which will show films of RAAM and give a chance for all of the cycling community to get together and rally around this cause for our friend. The date is Sunday the 20th of November at 4:30. Pray for Danny and his family and get involved in his recovery. He is inspirational for sure. 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.

We were Outlaws

Lets have a little fun this week? How many old mountain bikers does it take to screw in a light bulb? Four!!! One to screw it in and 3 to remember how great the old bulb was. That is about right when we remember the days when we were outlaws on the trails. Billy Kirk and I were talking at our post riding place, the OTB Cafe when he said,” Hey Pat- how about a post on the old days?” So here we are Billy. Back in the late 80’s when a lot of my crowd started riding, we had equipment that was relatively simple.img_1097 Shocks had not been invented yet so we were all riding chromoly hard tails,cantilever brakes, with 3 ” knobby tires and no suspension. I had a Scott with a “U” brake that kept collecting leaves, mud,cigarette packages, and other various and sundry items because this bike was really meant for fire roads out west instead of nasty, rooty trails of the east. But we all managed. Trouble is- our local trails were really hiking and horse trails and the police didn’t appreciate our new activity on these established trails especially at night. night-ride-october-2-of-1
But we continued to ride and when the police yelled at us through their bull horns to get off the trails, we simply shut off our lights and waited them out. They got smart and started to park at our lot to wait for us as we came back with our lights. But we waited them out until they left, scrambled to our cars and trucks and left in a hurry, spewing invectives about donuts. Other trail users didn’t like us back in the day and we had to somehow carve out a place for our activity on our local and statewide trails. img_1098

Fast forward- mountain biking was becoming real popular in 1989 and the first local race series started with Gary Bywaters forming the Month of Mud. Back in the day, most of us were road riders and mountain biking was new to us as we struggled with the new equipment in a race setting. img_1095 Not to mention the fact that By had us racing in late October and November. Snow began to fall at the Brady’s Run course one year, and at the end of the race, there was 6 inches of fresh powder on the trails. Needless to say, guys like me ended up over the bars multiple times. The Cranberry Course was often flooded and By used to place pink flamingos on the course to lighten the atmosphere. We even had a course at Traxx Farms where we raced through a pumpkin patch. All of this effort for fabulous prizes such as a rock, a pear or an apple. The season ending trophies were By’s old race walking trophies with the name plates removed and typed result labels scotch taped to the trophies. A lot of these stories rest in the lore of the Month of Mud and I love to tell the fast guys today about the “good old days.” Some of them can relate but most of them were toddlers when we raced the original Month of Mud races. Hell, I have socks older than most of those guys. But they are fast!!!

It is fun to talk about the old days of mountain bike riding in Western Pa and West Virginia.The characters and the personalities are many. But life moves on and like the old bulb, it really has to go. The Month of Mud today is big time with sponsors, 100+ riders and multiple classes. A much different event than the exploratory atmosphere of the old days. Also, we have as a community, carved out a place on the trails with the good work being done by Trail Pittsburgh, LHORBA( Laurel Highlands Off Road Bicycle Association) and PORC( Pittsburgh Off Road Cyclists). A lot of sweat equity being done to validate our place on the trails. We don’t have to hide from the police anymore, they ride with us. Times change, equipment has surely changed and a lot of us old veterans are keeping current by continuing to ride and investing in the new products. Despite knee replacements, hip replacements, family obligations, time constraints with work, and other distractions, the old guard still rides and passes on the traditions to the new guys and gals. We learn a lot from each other. That is the thing about activities like mountain biking. The participation level spans all age groups. A lot of time has passed for many of us, but the thrill of the trail captivates us on many levels. So Billy, I will continue to tell the stories and when it becomes too repetitive, just put me in the corner and tell me to go to sleep. Thanks for reading.

Photos of  Jeff ” Bionic Knees” Wuerthele,  Karl “the legend” Rosengarth, and yours truly, courtesy of Dirt Rag Magazine.

Tuscany in Ontario

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Sometimes the more you learn, the more you realize how much you don’t know. Take wine making for instance. Now, I have been to a lot of wine making regions on various trips but that was not the focus of the trips and I have not paid much attention. My lovely wife enjoys a glass of wine but I admit that giving me a nice glass of wine would be like giving a beautifully ripe strawberry to a hog. However on a recent trip to the Niagra on the Lake, Ontario region of Canada, my education process began. img_1050

There are hundreds of wineries in this beautiful region and we had the opportunity to visit two of them complete with tastings for Janet. I observed and listened intently to some things I did not know. For instance, the glasses used for some wines are different in that they are wider and deeper and encourage one to get their nose in the glass and smell the aromas which enhances the taste on the palate. We learned about pairings of wines with food. Cabernet Franc is an excellent choice with tomato dishes and pizza. Merlot is excellent with lamb. Chardonay, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc are great with seafood. There are red blends that are great with filets and all things chocolate that include berries and other fruits along with a blend of wine. We learned about the different grapes that are grown to produce the various selections of wines. img_1043

Most of this information was given to us at the Trius Winery where we also had a delicious lunch on the patio in the brilliant fall sunshine. img_1049

We then moved on to the Colonari Estate Winery where I was intrigued by the “Appassimento” process of drying out the grapes to a certain degree to enhance the body and structure of the juice which in turn enhanced the sweetness of the wine. This is labor intensive and involves moving trays of grapes into a drying greenhouse. Only three wineries in the region use this process and blend some of their wines with 40% juice from this process. This particular winery was amazing and the grounds looked like you were right  in the middle of the northern Italian wine regions. img_1052

If you take the time to do the tastings at selected wineries, you can learn a lot. Again, I don’t know much about wine but I learned a considerable amount from listening to the hosts who served the various choices of wines at the tastings. I asked what was the difference between California wines and the Ontario wines and the comment was made that California has a consistent warm climate which enhances the sweetness of the juice. The “Appassimento” process facilitates this to a degree in the Ontario region because of the short growing and wine making season. img_1039

As an aside, the Niagra on the Lake region is an excellent place to ride a bicycle with a beautiful bike path that extends all the way to Niagra Falls winding its way along the wineries and flanked by the Niagra River. You can also ride by Ft. George which was built by the British in 1789 and recreated and restored in the 1930s. Riding into town, you can take in the various shops and restaurants of which Zees is one of our favorites with excellent food like braised lamb shank and the house specialty grilled swordfish. A great place to stay is the Harbour House B&B which is right on Lake Ontario which is beautifully appointed and maybe has the best house made granola I have ever tasted at their complimentary breakfast. img_1048

All in all, we enjoy Niagra on the Lake and venturing into Canada from our house in Pennsylvania is only a four hour drive. But once you are there, it has the feel of Europe with the vast areas of grapevines, road signs in metric measurement, and bilingual tourists from all over the world. img_1037

Again, introducing me to good wine is kind of lost when I prefer an ice cold IPA. However, I am learning and the process is definitely interesting. I learned just about how much I don’t know about a particular subject but I will venture north again with my lovely wife to learn more and enjoy the wonderful ambiance of Canada. Thanks for reading.