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.

Hot Time in the City

I have ridden my mountain bike in a lot of great places in this country. California, Moab,the Pacific Northwest, Colorado, but I have to tell you , last Saturday was one of the best days on the bike- ever! Aaron Shafer put together a ride to and through all the city parks in Pittsburgh,Pa. my home town. Don Cunningham encouraged me along with some others to attend. Aaron is the fit guy in the red jersey who had the bright idea and we all met at his instruction at the Grist House Brewery in Millvale, Pa at 8:00 A.M. After a cruise on the bike path along the Allegheny River accompanied by the early morning scull crews, we ascended Federal Street- one of the steeper climbs in the city to the entrance of Riverview Park. Now, the 25 of so riders had a variety of different bikes for the occasion. Guys showed up with road bikes but had no chance of riding a trail with them. Aaron, who is a skilled rider, had a cross bike along with some others. A good choice but personally, I was happy I had my mountain bike for many reasons including comfort with fat tires, dual suspension, and upright bar positioning. Lots of others had the same idea. Riding the technical trails of Riverview was a treat with the dry conditions.

Moving on to the North Shore Trail by way of Woods Run, we made our way across the river and rode around the beautiful fountain that is the showpiece of our Golden Triangle. The group pedaled along to the historic South Side with the intent of eventually making our way up Mt. Washington. We lost some folks along the way with that news and the group split with some of the hardier riders taking a twisty technical trail to the top of Mt. Oliver to Mt. Washington, while the rest pedaled the long climb up 18th Street. I have lived here most of my life but have never known there were beautiful parks on Mt. Washington with incredible views of the city. Emerald Park was one of them and we rode perfectly manicured trails and gravel paths with a stop for lunch at Red Beards Bar and Grill.

One of the cool things about Pittsburgh is the emergence of little outdoor cafes that are indigenous to the neighborhoods that surround the city. Red Beards is one of them and sitting outside at a table with a view of their outdoor “beach bar” was a relaxing experience. So much so, that I parted from my usual long ride protocol and had a cold draft with a sandwich to fuel the balance of the ride. After some further attrition due to family obligations, some of the guys departed after our visit to the mount. After a rapid descent down McArdle Roadway to the Southside, we made an additional stop at the OTB Cafe where I remarked to the young lady tending bar that a lot of us were patrons of the OTB in North Park. She said, ” Oh I see, you guys made a visit to the gritty, grimy OTB?” We laughed, I pounded a Coke with a lime, and we proceeded to climb into Panther Hollow near the University of Pittsburgh campus. Assembling at the iconic Phipps Conservatory, we made our way through the scenic trails of Schenley Park and Frick Park. Both of these parks are well ridden and maintained by city mountain bikers and offer some technical terrain that rivals any city park in the country.

After further attrition due to the fact that it was now about 6:00 PM, we were down to 8 riders to which Mark,” the Shark” Sauers, remarked, ” Hey – I made it to the elite 8.” We all laughed and although Aaron and Fred Fischer took an additional trail as the rest of us took a breather at the bottom of Frick, we all made our way to Highland Park for the final city park visit. Riding with the cool breeze and realizing that the fabulous day was coming to a close, we exited Highland Park and as Aaron and Fred took one more climb up Stanton Avenue which is one of the climbs on the famous “Dirty Dozen” ride of Danny Chew fame. The rest of us booked down Butler Street to cross the bridge back to the brewery.

Interestingly, the emergence of cafes, restaurants, and new places of business is evident as you make your way through Lawrenceville. Once a declining, post industrial neighborhood, the resilient community has emerged as one of the more trendy neighborhoods in the city and what better way to investigate all it has to offer than from the seat of a bicycle. Pittsburgh is no longer the dirty, dusty, steel town of old. Continually rated as one of the better places to live in the country for many reasons,our city parks tour could be an attraction to the outdoor set visiting or contemplating relocation.

At 7:00 PM with approximately 60 plus miles of road, gravel roads and trails, and 5700+ vertical feet of climbing behind us, the beers at the Grist House sure were tasty and the food trucks, which are a hallmark of the new style breweries popping up in town, had ample fare to satisfy the hunger of the Shafer riders.

Moral of the story, get on your bike and investigate your city. You will see things you never knew existed and if you come to Pittsburgh, get on a mountain bike and go for a ride. The city of three rivers will surprise you. Thanks for reading.

Photos courtesy of Mark “the Shark” Sauers and Pat McCloskey.

A Natural Cause

A number of years ago, my wife Janet and I were strolling through Sausalito, California when we came upon a gallery featuring the artwork of Grace Slick. Now, I was a huge fan of the Jefferson Airplane when I was younger and Grace fronted the band with her sultry yet powerful voice. I was pleasantly surprised to see that she was also a very talented painter held in great esteem in the Bay Area. People surprise you. Not that you think they are not capable, but it is a pleasant surprise to see folks from one genre of accomplishment, move into another with relative ease. Case in point- my friend Angelo Ross.

I first met Angelo while we both were ski instructors and he was making his way up the PSIA ladder to his current position as a Development Team member of the Educational Staff. Angelo always took ski instruction seriously along with his main line of work as an Environmental Science teacher at Greensburg Salem High School here in Western Pa. I also ride mountain bikes with Angelo and on a recent trip to West Virginia, he told me about yet another passion that has turned into a very interesting business.

You see, Angelo is a talented artist whose work has developed over the years and now is featured on athletic and casual wear.

The story goes that Angelo became acquainted with the equally talented folks at Commonwealth Press in Pittsburgh who saw the value of his work and mentioned to him that they should begin the process of marketing Angelo’s art work on casual and athletic wear. Thus was the birth of http://www.naturalcause.org One of the interesting things about this is that Angelo is marketing his art work through the medium of clothing, but he has another cause in mind besides pure mercantilism. You see, he lives Environmental Science – his passion, and therefore is dedicated to furthering the goals of local environmental causes like the Youghiogheny Defense Fund. This is part of the Mountain Watershed Project http://www.mtwatershed.com which preserves the environmental integrity of the Youghiogheny River among other waterways in our region. Whitewater rafting and fishing are prominent in these waterways and Angelo is dedicated to preserving these for generations to come. A portion of all proceeds that he generates through Natural Cause goes to organizations like these. Another cause for his generosity and passion is the Mt. Davis Challenge bicycle race, run in conjunction with the Confluence Tourism Association which promotes recreational activity in the Laurel Highlands. Jim Sota runs the event and it has been a successful race for many years. Angelo supports the cause. The man walks the walk and does not just talk the talk.

I am continually amazed by people. You know them through one area of your life and then you realize that there is much more to this person than you thought. People have abilities that cross over in their lives and it is refreshing to see that a young guy who you know from skiing and mountain biking has such a passion and such a talent and that he is creative enough to market it and donate to causes that reflect his passion.

I love hearing the stories like Natural Cause. I like to hear how they were created and how the business is doing. There is a lot of negativity swirling around these days and I make it my business to always be positive and encouraging. It is great when I see positive attitude and generosity come from others like Angelo. Natural Cause is a breath of fresh air to our local environmental causes and I hope that you all will go to his website http://www.naturalcause.org, view Angelo’s art work, and order some product. You can wear it with pride knowing that your money has been well spent and that the beneficiary of your generosity are the watersheds, trails, and events that make our region so special. Well done Angelo Ross!!! Thanks for reading.

Almost Heaven

Why is it that it always rains sideways when I go mountain biking in West Virginia? I remember the NORBA races back in the day at Snowshoe when it poured biblically the night before the races and the course was a peanut butter mess with extremely high humidity. I suffered like a dog. The years that we all went down to Slatyfork for the Fat Tire Festival, we could hear the torrential rains swelling the creeks outside of the Jerico Bed and Breakfast http://www.jericobb.com in Marlinton and woke up to flash flood warnings. But we rode. This year we went to a great event called Dirt Fest run by Dirt Rag Magazine http://www.dirtragmag.com in Big Bear, West Virginia and again, it rained cats and dogs on the Friday that we arrived. It was like “Almost Heaven” was saying to me,” Pat- you have to bring your “A” game down here and we are not going to EVER give you a gimme.” Even though we had brilliant sunshine on Saturday and Sunday, the damage had been done and the slime on the rocks, boulders, and roots which define West Virginia riding, made Saturday morning the usual challenge. There are people like Tom Florcik http://www.trailflobikes.com and Sue Haywood who make it look easy and send it over the big drops. But I tend to be more cautious because as I always like to say, ” I ride to ride another day.”

So why do I keep beating my head against the wall and venturing into a most challenging environment? I do it for the beauty of West Virginia and the people who make the event so much fun. Dirt Rag Magazine has been around for over 25 years and was the brain child of Maurice and Elaine Tierney. I am happy to say that I have known MO a long time and have had many enjoyable riding days with him along with cohorts like Karl Rosengarth and Jeff Wuerthele. Dirt Rag arranged all the logistics with Big Bear which is a formidable task along with arranging a whole myriad of suppliers in the bike industry to attend with demo equipment. Along with great food by Doan’s Bones Bar b Que http://www.doansbones.com and the fabulous pizza supplied by Liz Klevens, the event was lacking for nothing. The movies and the beer supplied by Green Flash http://www.greenflashbrew.com and Oskar Blues http://www.oskarblues.com did not disappoint and the whole weekend went off without a hitch. No one seemed to mind the muddy but steadily improving conditions. But what really brings us back year after year? The People!! The mountain bike community is a friendly lot of “crunchy”, ” earthy” people who love the outdoors and can really ride the challenging conditions. It is not often that you see a group of ladies like Val from Asheville, NC, Chrissy from the Canaan Valley and Stephanie from the burg, pound fearlessly over muddy, rocky obstacles with smiles on their faces and laughter all around. Mountain bikers know how to have fun and at the end of the day, know how to kick back and enjoy the fading sunlight and the roaring fire complete with stories about the adventures of the day sipping a cold IPA. I love my crew and also love to gather with the “tribe” at events like Dirt Fest. The Chetlins, the Girones, and Sy were missing but they were in Bend riding. So, they had an excuse. Our local crew makes a contribution to the scene with characters like the Shark, Bob Bannon and John O’Toole- veterans of the sport, Johnny Mac and Bob Anderson- really skilled riders, Pete Hilton, Mike Connors and his son Riley-fun, good riders, and Angelo Ross- the originator of http://www.naturalcause.org . John Casuccio, Joe D’Oro, Michele with an “L”, Michelle with two “Ls”, all skilled MTB folks, and of course Jeff Balicki who got MVP for the weekend riding the heinous rocks and roots just out of knee replacement surgery three months ago. If you ever saw passion for a sport, look no further than this affable barrister from Pittsburgh. He worked hard to get back on the trail and will be ready for ski season for sure. It’s the people…..people!!!! That is why we ride. Sure it is challenging, it is hard, it rains like a cow peeing on a flat rock, but the people of Dirt Rag and the folks of the eastern mountain bike community make it fun with the camping stories, the crackling fires, and the beers. Barry and the guys from Dirty Harry’s make sure all of us ride in style and repair the damage after weekends like this. The local shop is part of the community and we should all support them.

So if you ride mountain bikes, find events like Dirt Fest and support the cause. You will not only have a lot of fun no matter what the weather does, but you will make friends for a lifetime sharing the passion of riding and the truly spectacular trails. Thanks for reading.

Glimpses of the Tour de France

So I said to my wife Janet the other day, ” Well dear, guess what time it is?” She said, ” What time is it, dear?” I said, “Its Tour de France time!!!” Her response was “Ugh” because she knows that for the next three weeks, I will be in the basement at night watching the recap coverage of the day’s stages on TV. Nothing like Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen in their coverage backed up by Bob Roll and Christian van de Velde. Phil Liggett has some classic commentary like, ” He is digging into his suitcase of courage.” or ” The Heads of State are all assembling at the front.” I laugh when I hear him say,” He is riding like a scalded cat.” Or perhaps his classic,” He is wearing the mask of pain” His foil, Paul Sherwen, was actually a Tour de France rider who keeps the affable Liggett grounded when he says, ” Yes, sadly Phil, you never rode the Tour.” I love the hilarious banter between these two very knowledgeable Brits.

I have never been to the Tour but it is definitely on my bucket list. I would love to take in the pageantry and scenery of the French countryside and to see some of the iconic climbs of the Tour through the Alps and the Pyrenees.

But I have had some brushes with the Tour which included a wonderful experience a few years ago riding with our 3 time Tour champ, Greg LeMond.

Thanks to my friend Scott Weiner, I had this opportunity for two weekends in separate years, and when you get to spend that kind of time with a guy, you get to ask great questions about the Tour and get some amazing answers from a truly interesting person. You can still see glimpses of his strength when he cranks up those massive thighs on the flat or when he takes pictures with his hands off the bars for miles. A riding talent to say the least and a very friendly and approachable champion.

Riding in the Netherlands a number of years ago, I got to see up close and personal, the fervor of the Dutch people for cycling. The world seemed to stand still as all the shop owners, businessmen and women, children, and travelers all stopped to see the stages on Eurovision wherever they could. All the chatter in the cafe’s was about the Tour. I was there during the event and rode some of the classic roads of the Amstel Gold Race- the premier road race in the Netherlands. People constantly talked to me about my thoughts on the Tour and showed their visible excitement for what is like the Super Bowl of sports in Europe.

But I also have an interesting local connection to the Tour who is a most interesting guy. Jean Marc Chatellier owns an excellent French bakery in Millvale, Pa. He and I always talk about the Tour at this time of the year and I find that I frequent his bakery not only for his absolutely delicious pastries, but to spend the time talking to him all about the Tour. I like his takes on the controversies, the French riders, the Americans, the UCI and the Tour organizers. If you get the chance, go visit Jean Marc and take the time to watch this video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NZ4E_6NVQw&sns=em

I know that a lot of cyclists and people in general have lost interest in the Tour because of all of the doping scandals. In this edition, the controversy has been all about the Cavendish/Sagan crash and the ultimate expulsion of the reigning world champion from the event. But aside from all the madness, the Tour remains one of the most revered sporting events in the world. It puts the beauty of France on display every year and personally, I love watching all of the action. Janet eventually comes to watch especially when NBC shows the beautiful mountains and French countryside. She wears her” mask of pain” most times as she was not a bike racer, but knows how much I enjoy the tactics, and the history of this truly remarkable event. It is a lot more than guys just riding their bikes around France.

So I will be in to see Jean Marc tomorrow morning probably to see if I can get one of those exquisite cheese brioche rolls right out of the oven like the last time to accompany my extraordinarily strong coffee. He will greet me and drop what he is doing to chat about the crash, the UCI, the French riders who now are making a mark in the Tour. He is proud of his heritage and of his knowledge of cycling. I am glad to have made his acquaintance for many reasons. Vive le Tour!!!!! Thanks for reading. Word Press followers, click on the title to see pictures and video.

Whether to weather the weather?

I have always been fascinated with weather. I can remember times watching a lightning storm dance over the ocean, or ripple a cornfield with fingers of electricity that lit up the darkened sky against a mountainous backdrop. Nature’s fury can be dangerous with tornadoes, and hurricanes. In our neck of the woods, there is a tornado alley this time of year just north of where I live and I have seen the destruction that occurs when a tornado or a micro-burst ravages trees and buildings. My wife and I are glued to the TV when a hurricane story begins on the Weather Channel.

Speaking of the Weather Channel, I always envied Jim Cantore’s job.

Jim Cantore

I always wanted to be the reporter hanging on for dear life in my Weather Channel Gore Tex outfit. I saw myself clinging to a light pole in a hurricane, 100+ MPH winds, garbage cans flying by my head, debris everywhere bringing the storm into the comfortable living rooms all across America. Pat McCloskey reporting live from Tampa, Florida, Niles, Ohio, or Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. It’s crazy but I would love that job. Always wanted to be a storm chaser too. Looking for the tornado waiting to be born.

In addition to being fascinated by weather events, I love to be out in it. I have my Gore Tex outfits and am completely waterproof when I ski in torrential rainfall. The snow is soft and great even though the water is cascading down my goggles like a Yosemite waterfall. This spring has been particularly wet here in the east and if you don’t get out to enjoy your outdoor activities because of weather, you don’t get out much. I have ridden my mountain bike more days this spring in foul weather than I can remember, but as my friend Mark ” the Shark” Sauers says,” There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing choices.”

The funny thing about being out in the foul weather is that once you make the effort, you are glad you did even though most people would think you have lost your mind. I can remember having my best results back in my weekend warrior days when the skies would open up on an mountain bike race course or during a road race. Most people either quit or didn’t bother to start. The ones who persevered sometimes didn’t have the attitude to continue like the guy changing his shirt here at the NORBAs at Seven Springs. He had enough when the skies opened up for a third time – concurrent with each lap. Mac Martin, a legend in cycling, taught me to persevere in bad conditions. He always said that if you think you are suffering, the other guy is suffering worse. Just continue on. I can remember going over the handle bars in Month of Mud races where it snowed 6 inches during the race. But grinding it out despite the crashes, paid off in the end. A little suffering for the weekend warrior taught me lessons in competition. You have to outlast the bastards.

Those days are gone now but I still make it a point to get out no matter what the weather is doing. I have skied in raging snowstorms and seen some amazing snow events. I have ridden on the road and trails in torrential rain and snow and coming back half frozen or soaked to the bone, I still have a smile on my face. Sure the sunshine is great, but look what you miss if you let weather ruin your fun. If you have the mindset that you go out no matter what, you will be happy you did instead of sitting on the couch. Get the gear- it is worth it no matter what you pay. If you suit up correctly, you can enjoy nature at it’s grumpiest. Experience the muffled silence of a snowstorm in the woods. Enjoy the smells of the green forests during a rain storm. The fragrance of the blossoms blooming in the humid air of the woods is better than any department store perfume counter. The soft tapping of rain on the leaves of the canopy is relaxing and even though things can get a bit sloppy, the experience of that soft rain is rewarding. Be like the Shark, no matter what, get out. No such thing as bad weather. Thanks for reading.