A Refreshing Break

My friend JR gave me a Yeti cooler like the one you see here and I loved it. It was subsequently ripped off much to my chagrin. So I got another one and decorated it and it is one of my prize possessions. I fill it with ice every day and drink a lot of cold, refreshing water for many reasons. My original blood clot in my calf was the result of a crash on my road bike in Ireland and a long plane ride home. Dehydration also played a part and I have been dealing with the results of a DVT and a Pulmonary Embolism ever since. Don’t get me wrong, I am fine. I can ski, run,ride a bike, etc. But I wear a compression sock when I am at my desk or on a plane because my calf swells and I take Coumadin with no effects other than keep my INR in check. But no residual effects of the embolism these 30 years later. Had I taken the time to drink more water, I may have never had any of these things happen to me.

You may never think of it, but in the winter, you need as much water as you do in the summer. At the ski areas out west, there are water coolers everywhere and I always take advantage drinking lots of water at altitude. The first day, I tend to get a headache due to the altitude adjustment but drinking lots of water takes that away and all is well. It tends to be dry out west and in the summer and winter, it is important to hydrate.

Not to dwell on TMI here but I have also had the unfortunate experience of having a kidney stone. Another result of not drinking enough and salts and calcium build up in the kidneys. Maybe one of the most painful experiences of my life and another reason I live with the Yeti cooler at all times.

Nothing is more refreshing after a mountain bike ride than to sit down in my soccer chair and bring out the cooler of ice cold water. I sit there,re-hydrate, and take a breather. Which brings me to the real subject of this post. After 274 posts, 4 years after my wife suggested to me that I write a blog to get all of my stories in my head published,( I also have 2 volumes that I had made into coffee table books), I am going to take a break. I am again out of gas and need to put the Chronicles on hold for a while.

It has been a lot of fun but it is time. I may pick it up again sometime, as it is only a hobby. I have appreciated all the nice comments and not so nice comments. It is nice to see that people have followed the blog and have enjoyed it. My only vision beyond chronicling my adventures and thoughts for my son Jack to read with grandchildren some day down the road, is to encourage people to do things that they might not ordinarily do. As you age, it is important to stay active. Never let people tell you that you are too old to do anything. Try new things. Engage with new friends. Be positive and enjoy what life has to offer. Some people my age come home from work and get a hot bath and watch Fox News all night. What kind of a life is that? It is great to be with people of all ages and I find it especially rewarding to be in the company of younger people while skiing, or riding and hearing what they have to say about the world from a younger perspective. Like drinking water from that Yeti, their ideas are refreshing. So in the mean time, try new things, be kind, be positive, and take that pause that refreshes after a wonderful day in the world. Thanks so much for reading.

Inept

Self deprecation has always been one of my strong suits. An Irish trait really. I have attempted some new ventures with humorous results and like Dirty Harry Callaghan says,” A man has to know his limitations”. Now I am pretty comfortable on a pair of skis and can ride a mountain bike fairly efficiently, but have not had success in some other ventures over the years….. like golf. A golf club in my hand never had a natural feel-kind of like a telephone pole, and when I would manage to par 3 or 4 holes and then launch a tee shot into an adjacent house near the golf course, I knew that my feel for the game was lacking. I was a good caddie back in the day. I understood the game and even caddied for Ben Crenshaw at the Open Qualifier at Shannopin Country Club in Pittsburgh when he was a student at the University of Texas. But when it came time for me to actually play the game, I really had no feel and was too nervous and jerky for golf. Fast forward and I found myself in recent years playing in scrambles tournaments to benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities. Scrambles were fun in that you could just bang one off the tee and if it was not good, all you had to do was put your ball where the best tee shot was in your foursome and go from there. No pressure at all. But when I had to play my own ball at a place like Laurel Valley in Ligonier, I was exhausted and shattered after 15 holes due to many swings, lost balls, and generally a course that was way above my ability level. I have since given up the game and politely refused any further invitations. I always felt intimidated by that little ball staring at me on the tee and the possible errant trajectories that it could take after one of my swings. I am fairly athletic- but golf? No feel at all.

Then there was the time that I thought it would be cool to try kayaking. I took an adult continuing education class at the University of Pittsburgh with a lot of instruction rolling the kayak in a swimming pool. Another example of not having a feel for the sport. I always felt like I was going to roll the thing over anyway and was never seated comfortably in a kayak. Then came our final exam up at the Youghiogheny River. I had a rain suit on which was useless seeing how many times I tipped the kayak and to add insult to injury it was snow showering during the event. I eventually dragged my sogging body down river and unloaded the kayak never to attempt the sport again. I missed being a river rat at Ohiopyle because I thought I would have a home there with all the other pine cone eaters but it was not to be. I did take my wife and the in-laws white water rafting one time at Ohiopyle, but the result was basically the same with me flipping out of the raft at Dimple Rock and laying on my back in the Swimmers Rapids and floating behind much to the consternation of my wife and mother in law. They did’t realize I was out of the rear steering position until I passed them floating on my back. See you in a mile dear!!!

I was a “B” tennis player in my day with a self taught ” whirly bird” service motion that people found quite humorous. In one tournament, the opponent started laughing because he thought I was kidding. I said, ” No man, that is my real serve.” He laughed again and killed me in the tournament. I eventually gave up tennis for running and did that for quite a few years until I took up cycling which I still do today.

So, after several failed attempts at other things for variety, skiing and cycling have been my mainstay activities for years and at this point, I am not interested in trying anything else. I am often asked if I ever tried snowboarding or telemark skiing. I really have no interest seeing that I really like to alpine ski. Been doing it for 57 years so why deviate? Also, mountain biking has basically taken over my cycling world because I am a bit concerned about violent drivers and drivers who do not pay attention while texting. Road cycling is starting to get a bit sketchy for me. Riding in the woods is pleasant and no irate drivers throwing chipped ham sandwiches at me and yelling at me to get off the road. True story. Had mayonnaise on it too.

One last activity that has come and gone for me is fishing. I used to go with my grandfather a lot and had some outings with my family where we caught a fair amount of baby sharks. But for the most part, I am unlucky in the angling department and it came to a head years ago with unsuccessful attempts landing a fish at the ocean, I took to desperate measures. I went to Piggly Wiggly and bought a whole Red Snapper and put it on a hook and threw it into the ocean trying to please my son when he came down to the beach to see if I finally caught something. When I hauled it in, it was full of seaweed and my son said,” Dad- it looks dead.” I looked at my friend who came down too and I whispered,” Piggly Wiggly” He fell down laughing and that basically ended my fishing career.

So I figure- just stick with what you know and at this point I am satisfied with my activities that will take me into old age. Ski to live and ride to ride another day. Thanks for reading.

LOST!

Now I know in this day and age with GPS and technology that allows one to navigate from the seat of a mountain bike on any trail in the world, a map might seem archaic at best. Not for me. Being a little bit of a curmudgeon, I still depend on maps in my pack to get a good read on where to ride. Case in point are the Purple Lizard Maps which are available at http://www.purplelizard.com These maps are water proof, tear proof, peanut butter proof, beer proof, and generally a good way to get around. I just ordered my current version after using one for the last 20 years up in Rothrock State Forest near State College, Pa. These maps are great …….if you know how to use them. Like, read the trails and fire roads correctly instead of taking the wrong one and ending up 25 miles from my starting point at Tussey Mountain.

I got hopelessly lost after mis reading the map. It was getting dark, I was already an hour late to meet my wife and her room mate from college. I was out of water, my cell phone did not work, and my Cliff Bar situation was getting bleak with a fuzzball caked piece left. I pretty much figured I might be spending the night because I didn’t have a light either. There is a sign on the chairlift stanchions at Whiteface, New York, and Killington, Vermont that says,” Don’t ski alone. These mountains are as desolate and remote as they were 200 years ago.” So is the backside of Tussey and I thought of those signs as I was starting to get concerned about my lack of navigational skills. Fortunately, I met up with a couple camping near Greenwood Furnace who offered to take me and my bike back in their pickup truck to Tussey. They were the only people I had seen for hours. Had they not been there, I would definitely have spent the night up against some tree. Not that I could not do that, but my wife would have been out of her mind with concern. As it turned out, by the time I came back to the Ritchey house where my wife and her room mate Kathy were waiting, I heard an ear full and knew that I needed to study the maps a little more closely. After all these years riding there, I am pretty familiar with the area now and the map is more of an insurance policy than anything. But I am glad I got the current version to use on my upcoming trip there to do the Coopers Gap Epic with a bunch of great mountain biking friends.

I will tell you that I do a lot of adventurous things, but getting lost is a bit unnerving especially when you are running out of food, water, and light. Take the time I was mountain biking up in Ellicottville, New York riding away from the Race Loop Trail at Holiday Valley and into the Allegheny National Forest. I had a map of the area, although a bit outdated again, and I zigged when I should have zagged and voila, I ended up lost again- no water, sparse energy bar supply, and no lights. However I had cell service and called my friends at Mud, Sweat and Gears Bike and Ski Shop, who asked me about my location. I described the clearing with a potential of 3 different trail options that were not real clear on the outdated map. They knew and directed me to the right trail and as I made my way to town for something to eat, I bought a new map from the shop right before they closed for the night. They laughed at my old map and said, no wonder I was lost. Most of the trails are not featured on the old map.

My wife does not like me to ride by myself but if I am careful and have the right amount of food,water and the current version of the trail maps, I am pretty self sufficient these days. Most of the areas I ride are popular and you see a lot of people. But some are more remote like the Laguna Wilderness Trail System that I rode a lot back in the day. I had a good map for those rides but the signs warning about mountain lions was a bit concerning. Never saw one. Only the big blue Pacific Ocean. But without the map, you can get DFL on those trails very easily. And they get fairly remote quickly with the threat of the big cats and rattlesnakes.

Bottom line, good idea to always ride with a partner or on trails that are familiar and have bail out points. Secondly, a good map or better yet, a GPS that you can count on. I have to get one and get into the 21st century. But in the mean time, my maps are up to date and hopefully I will read them correctly and not cause my wife heartburn. Ride safely my friends and thanks for reading.

Hat Hair

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

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

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

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

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

The Spinning Alternative

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

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

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

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

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

The Oldest Guy

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

-Hunter S. Thompson

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

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

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

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

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

The Bike and the Box Turtle

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

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

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

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

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