The Quintessential Pennsylvania Hunting Camp

If you are familiar with Pennsylvania, my home state, you will know that hunting is BIG around here. Especially this time of year. There are lots of white tail deer in our state and I mean lots, and this time of the season they are running! A tradition that has been passed on by hunters here in the Keystone State is the maintenance and upkeep of the classic hunting camp. So many stories about guys ” going up to camp” for the hunting season. Plenty of food, booze, and camaraderie to spread around for days. The camps are typically built from salvage material and over the years they are improved and additions made by family and friends. Marienville, Kane( the icebox of Pennsylvania), Bradford, and other central Pa. haunts have been the home of hunting camps for generations.

So it was a nice surprise when I was invited to come to camp with my friends Bob and Julie, and as I made my way on a cold Saturday morning with snow on the ground, I turned off I-80 and made my way eventually to the  double track that led to …..” the camp.” As soon as I saw Bob cutting wood for the wood stove, and smelled the smoke in the cold air, I was reminded of how much I like fires and fireplaces and wood stoves. I exclaimed to Bob, as I came into the camp, that this place was the classic Pa. hunting camp to which he had a big smile on his face and agreed with a wheelbarrow full of wood and told me to get to work. It was cold last Saturday and the main source of heat for the house was the wood stove. But as the other folks entered the camp, food and sleeping bags began arriving and placed in the kitchen and the living area near the wood stove. No matter what ever happens, a mattress and a sleeping bag is all you need at a camp for pure comfort at night. The heat of the stove is mesmerizing and you know that no matter how bitter the weather is, there will be warmth, wood, and plenty of craft beers and food to feed the guests for the weekend.

As Julie rolled out the breakfast sandwiches and Charlotte tended to her large pot of chili, I got ready to roll for a day of outdoor adventure in the Pennsylvania wilds. You see, I love cold weather, fires, snow and the smell of wood smoke. Did I mention I like fires? LOL!!

Hunting camps have been passed on for generations and the traditions of a day in the woods followed by a hot meal and some beers and discussions of the one that got away have been the stuff of legend for Pennsylvania hunters. Yes there is hunting in the surrounding states but when you talk deer hunting, and camps, you are most likely going to reference central Pennsylvania. Really no argument there because we do have the largest deer population and also a very large black bear population. The group had been down in the woods before I got there and were still marveling at the sighting of two large bald eagles by the lake. Dr. Jack came rolling in and the group was complete. As we made our way to S.B Elliott State Park and through Parker Dam State Park, we were treated to a scenic drive right into the parking lot. As we forded some rather deep stream crossings we came upon our friend John who mystically appeared out of nowhere and when I asked how on earth he ever found us, Bob responded that they all had ridden motorcycles up there for years and knew all the terrain quite well. You see, we were there for a mountain bike weekend and not a shot was fired. No ammo, rifles, or any mention of the buck that got away. But rather the buck that we saw while riding some of the more scenic trails this state has to offer. Most of us had orange or yellow clothing to distinguish ourselves from the running herd, but yours truly had on a black rain suit which I quipped, ” I will be mistaken for a bear which should be ok seeing that it is not bear season yet.” In any event, at the end of the ride, the merry band of riders settled in again by the wood stove and the beers started cracking. As the chili made its rounds and the rest of the nuts, chips and snacks were enjoyed, our pal Tom probably summed it up best when he said, ” You know, the best part of the ride is sitting around afterward, enjoying a cold beer, some good food and stories shared by friends in the woods. Yes, I was invited to a hunting camp. But the aura of the camp was just as good for riders as it is for hunters because it is all about the people.

Good friends getting together to ride mountain bikes, but so much more than the ride. The company is great, in a classic setting.  And the older we get, the more we appreciate it. Turning 65 this week was a revelation and it made me take stock in life and remember that there are people who care about you and like to be with you ……….up at camp. Thanks for reading and remember to follow the blog by entering your email address to the left of the page or scroll down to the bottom on your smart phone.

“Self Betterment”

Listening to a podcast the other day on my way to the mountains, I heard the term “self betterment” and thought it was an awkward word combination. I know what the author was trying to say which probably would have been “self improvement” but so be it. It caused me to think about what to do as we age and how to keep moving forward.

My friend Pete and I were talking the other day about education and how important it is to continually read and listen to books on tape or podcasts. Maybe take continuing education classes?  You learn something when you do those things and your mind is challenged. I, for one, am a voracious reader and enjoy mostly non-fiction of which my focus has been French and Indian War history as well as the founding of this country. I live in an area rich in history especially pre-revolutionary and revolutionary times. Places like Fort Ligonier are precious to me as I can gaze into the past while looking at uniforms and artifacts housed in the museum there. I like to read books by David McCullough such as his recent book, ” The Pioneers”. I learned a lot about the western emigration to Ohio and the life on the Ohio River in the early days of our country. The more I read, the more I learn and can truly up the ante in my appreciation of local historical lore.

Sometimes “self betterment” comes in the form of lessons learned. I always say, no matter what happens, you always take away a learning from any experience – positive or negative. Take a recent trip to Chicago. After a conversation with an Uber driver who was from the Middle East, he became agitated with me. I was trying to make conversation and keep things light, but he didn’t take it that way and told me flat out that he didn’t have to talk to me. After he dropped me at the hotel, he gave me a look that could melt stone as I reached for my bag. I didn’t know what was about to happen as he told me to ” get the f out of his car.” Kind of un-nerving to say the least and he didn’t care in the least what rating we gave him. But I think things were lost culturally there and most likely my fault. My humor is sometimes not appreciated and the learning or ” self betterment” I learned that day was to keep my mouth shut and speak when spoken to.

Associating with people who value life and experiences is always a path to ” self- betterment”. People with positive attitudes, a kind spirit, a volunteering heart, are people who can make you a better person. Just because you age, does not mean you cannot improve your life and your appreciation of life. I am trying to slow down and smell the roses so to speak and I surround myself with people who can teach me things and make me a better person. My wife has done that for sure. She has good insight on many things and her kind spirit is always a message to me as she selflessly takes care of her aging mother every single day. The old saying that ” you are who your friends are” is so true. My grandfather also said on the flip side of a coin, that ‘ if you fool with a skunk, you end up smelling the same way.” Look for people who make you better.

My friends tend to be skiers and mountain bikers. But we have more than that in common. Many of those folks have made me a better person. They educate me, they are thoughtful and kind, and they enjoy the outdoors and point out things to me that I would never notice. People who now have retired and give back to the community in ways that cannot be measured.

Bottom line…………”self betterment”? Education? Experience? Friendships?” If you pay attention, as you age, you can learn something every day. Thanks for reading.

Colorado Soul

You have to give credit to die hard skiers who are willing to get up at 4:00 AM or earlier to beat the traffic on a Saturday morning on I-70 West to get to their favorite ski area. Not really a problem during the week but as our group noticed the line of traffic coming up the mountain on Saturday, we admired the grit and determination of Colorado skiers to get their vertical. Not everyone has the opportunity to rent or own a place in the mountains and those who make the trek on Saturday morning instead of Friday night are to be admired.

After skiing for 7 days at all the EPIC areas, our group of 60+ age group guys were closing in on 300,000 vertical feet. Now to be clear, one guy raced for Dartmouth, one for Cornell, and one was the ski coach at Stowe for many years. These guys can ski for sure but Saturday morning there was a different feel to the trip seeing the new fluff of several inches in Silverthorne with the prospect of more at the top of the Continental Divide. As we put the rental truck in 4 wheel drive, we made our way up past Keystone and viewed people who were camping and starting their back country adventures along the road. Many of the staunch outdoor people of Colorado avoid the cost of a pass or lift ticket and enjoy paying for their own vertical with their own sweat and physical climbing effort. These are not the types who looked down on us while we were clomping in our ski boots at Beaver Creek after getting off the bus from the parking lot below.( They didn’t look down on us on the slopes though- that is our domain).

Working our way early to the parking lot, we were guided to a perfect place up front of a quickly filling lot next to” The Beach” where folks set up their tail gate parties ready for a sunny day in the Rockies on their day off. Our fearless leader had us up early to beat all the traffic and as we rode the first chair of the day, we were inspired by the grooming and the beauty of the morning. But what we did notice was that there was a spirit of comaraderie among the faithful that made the effort to get a close parking spot, and get on the lift as soon as it opened. Lots of “whoops” and ” yee haas” as the sunny day began. No frills at the lodge but what looked like a great skillet breakfast if you wanted to partake. Also lots of cool historical pictures adorning the walls. As we viewed the East Wall, we noticed tracks again of those who delighted in climbing for their vertical within the bounds of the ski area. We had a general tour of the area which provided a different skiing experience than we had all week. Yes there were some thin spots due to the seasonal lack of really deep snow but we successfully avoided core shots to our finely tuned skis. We are a little particular as to the tuning and waxing of our boards but most of the faithful up on top of the Continental Divide that day had no such concern. They made it here and they were going to enjoy every minute of it. Core shots to the bottom of the skis be damned.

Towards the end of the day, folks started to crank up the grills, pop the beers on the Beach and pull out lawn chairs in the parking lot. It was a festival atmosphere celebrating all that is good about skiing and making the effort to get to the mountains. These Colorado people work hard during the week and listening to their stories about how they got here from parts all over the country, you get the feeling that they came to ski. They work to ski. This was a priority in their relocation. The natives are just as zealous but they have a laid back attitude that is ….well….native I suppose.

Most of the areas on the EPIC Pass are resorts. There are a lot of tourists and folks who come to be seen. But up there on the top of the divide, there are no pretentious attitudes. Live and let live and ski to die are the mottos of the day. There are no condos, Starbucks, fur coats and boots, luxury restaurants and faux Alpine base villages.(Not that there is anything wrong with that- PC Pat!) Here is great skiing and basic needs. As we shamelessly changed our clothes at the end of the day and drank a beer in the sunny parking lot, we felt part of a larger group of fun seekers who week in and week out, seek the magic of the Rockies and the communal welcome of good turns on challenging terrain. As we made our way out of the pass at the end of the day, I felt a content, ” these are my people” feeling and reveled in the majestic views at the top of Loveland Pass. Folks- if you want the real spirit of skiing, go to Arapahoe Basin or A-Basin as it is described by the Colorado faithful. For me, a much better experience than most ski areas. Squeezing out every last flake of snow this season, I thank you for reading.

Breakfast at the Grange

“The Grange is a fraternal organization in the United States that encourages families to band together to promote the economic and political well being of the community and agriculture”

It is amazing how a little Vermont maple syrup can make even the most stoic farmer smile. I have this habit of taking my own Vermont maple syrup with me whenever I know I am going to have pancakes for breakfast. My wife and son just shake their head but not long ago, I used to take my son to the buckwheat pancake breakfasts at the Mt. Nebo Grange and always brought my maple syrup. This time of year when the sap starts running(not me running- the sap out of the maple trees), and the northeast starts the process of manufacturing syrup, I take advantage of the buckwheat pancake breakfasts that spring up locally on my way to the ski slopes. It is a rite of passage with spring skiing and in his formative years, I would take my son Jack to the Mt. Nebo Grange before we would head to the mountains. He didn’t quite know what to make of it but when we entered the building, the elder ladies and gentlemen of the Grange would seat us and serve the most delicious buckwheat pancakes. Interesting thing about buckwheat pancakes is that there is quite a bit of preparation which includes making the batches of batter ahead of time and allowing the yeast to do its thing. When you slather butter on them and pour the maple syrup and take your first delectable bite, there is a hint of a brewed substance almost like the taste of beer. Jack was not a fan but satisfied himself with the regular pancake offerings and bacon which brought a smile to his syrup smeared face.

It is curious that when you enter a place like the Grange, all of the members seem to know each other and even though the breakfasts are open to the public, there is this sense of belonging and if you are a stranger, you are given a seat with a wary eye. That all starts to melt when they see a young guy like Jack as they try to make him feel welcome even though we are not “Grangers”. The old farmers would check us out and when I brought out the Vermont syrup, their Log Cabin generic swill started to look pretty average at best. I would see the curiosity in their faces and offer to share my treasured gold with them. They willingly took up my offer and looked over at Jack and me and a crack of a smile came to their rather serious faces. The next thing you know, the table was swarming with curiosity seekers and my syrup suddenly vanished. I learned my lesson on subsequent visits by bringing more syrup and suddenly Jack and I became known as the “syrup guys” and like “Cheers” we all were greeted with a robust “hello” when we entered the building. It was only for a couple of weekends but somehow, Jack and I felt like we fit in to this fraternal organization of farmers or would be farmers which is slowly fading with urban sprawl.

I always made it my business to expose Jack to a lot of events and experiences when he was growing up. I explained the mission of the Grange and although we were not of an agricultural bent, he understood what the organization meant and why it was slowly losing membership as the farms were being sold to developers and the membership of the Mt. Nebo Grange was aging. But to share that experience of home made food, and seeing the culture of the farm life, was a good experience for father and son.

So, if you happen to be looking for some entertainment and good food during “cabin fever” time, look for buckwheat pancake breakfasts near you. They tend to pop up at this time of the year and if you need some syrup, contact http://www.maplesyrupvermont.com and tell Pauline I sent you. We have good syrup here in Pa. but I must admit that I am partial to Vermont Grade A Golden Color with Delicate Taste. That is what you want to order. Thanks for reading.

Dude!

So, this week I celebrated another lap around the sun and I thought about my place in the world and where I am currently with friends, family, and business associates. It’s funny, but as you age, you think about what is appropriate and how you should act and think based on chronological advancement. I always say I will advance chronologically, but never mature. That give me a youthful outlook on life as I continue to pursue things like skiing and riding a mountain bike. But it is equally curious when I hear myself referred to as …..”dude.”

This word, in the vernacular of the active set, is kind of curious and not really in my vocabulary. But I find it refreshing and funny actually when it is used in conversation with some of my younger friends as well as some of my more grizzled, granola crunching associates. There are various uses to this moniker which sort of goes like the following: ” Dude? – how are you man?” Kind of addressing you as “dude” instead of your given name. Or there is the use of surprise when perhaps you have done something spectacular. ” Dude!!!!- I can’t believe you did that?” ” Awesome dude!!” Perhaps you did something not so spectacular and out of character for you. ” Duuuuuuuude??? Really man? ” Or perhaps as an expression of something really great that your greeter has done. ” Dude!!!- you cannot believe the powder we were shredding today!!” Or perhaps from what I call my communist skier friends, ” Dude!- we were tele skiing the most amazing face today. You would have loved it” or from the dirtbag mountain biker friends, ” Dude- we rode Wolf’s Rocks today without a dab. We were really ripping it – dude”

Maybe there is a question that your greeter has? ” Dude- did you really do that?” Or – ” Dude- I saw this dude rocket down that trail at full speed without any fear. That dude rips man!!” The versatility of this word is amazing. But, I can say, without hesitation that I have never used the word in conversation. Kind of like how I would like to grow a patch under my lip but I could never quite do it because it doesn’t really match my Howdy Doody personality. I have often been seen as too clean cut for that but deep inside, I would like to be a ………….dude!!

My friend Angelo always refers to me as “dude”. He is so laid back and uses the word in an endearing way when he says, ” Dude- whatever you want to do, I am in.” He leads us on great rides in the Laurel Highlands and I posted about his business recently – http://www.naturalcause.org Angelo is really a good dude- oops! Not really in my vernacular. But he is a …….good dude.

My Colorado friends tend to be laid back and refer to me as “dude” quite often. ” Dude- you have to get out here man. It is puking snow and you need to be here with us. You are a good dude and need to be skiing with us today” My friend Jeff from Sacramento is a snowboarder and the term “dude” is an accessory to being a snowboarder. You have to use that word if you want to snowboard and we all loved it when he joined us at Mt. Rose recently and stated. ” You old dudes are fun to ride with.” Old dudes? Seems like an oxymoron? But we were laughing when he continually referred to us as the “old dudes.” He splitboards, he is an IT consultant, a real outdoor enthusiast and really …….a good dude.

So, in conclusion for this week, if someone addresses you as “dude” take it as a compliment that you are still able to hang in the halls of the youthful experience. If you are a “good dude”, you are held in esteem probably by someone who is younger, or at least thinks they are younger. I always enjoy telling them that I have socks older than them, but if they think I am a “good dude” I am happy. I can still hang in the world of snowboarders -even as a skier. I am a mountain biker, a general good citizen of the planet, or whatever other category registers with “good dude.”

So be a good dude and someone will smile at you and say,……”Duuuuuuude!!!!” Thanks for reading dude.

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.