HSD- High Speed Dirt

John Palmieri – the man behind HSD.

You know, it takes a special kind of giving person to organize anything these days. People are so busy that they hardly have time for anything and to organize a weekly mountain bike ride schedule is almost unthinkable. Enter John Palmieri. The man behind what is probably the most organized mountain bike group in Western Pa, West Virginia and Eastern Ohio. High Speed Dirt or HSDMTB as it is known on Facebook, is an amazing juggernaut of cycling activity. With at least 4 organized rides per week advertised on FB, John has assembled an amazing group of kids, parents, women, and generally a diverse group of riders all displaying his reasons- to get people together by riding mountain bikes. It is not so much the organizing of rides that fuels John’s passions, but the mantra of seeing to it that people meet people and make friends for life.

Rides with 50 or more people are not uncommon for HSD.

By profession, John is a 33 year employee of Allegheny Technologies Incorporated serving as their Senior Director of Ethics and Compliance. He and his wife Dana, who shares his passion for people, are busy people. What started out as an email group of 20 people who wanted to get together to ride, HSD has grown to a Facebook Group of 3000 riders in the tri-state area. John is amazed at the growth and interest and it is all because of his infectious enthusiasm for people…….via mountain biking. He laughingly calls himself the ” deputy weather man” because he is always checking the weather before posting a ride which he usually always attends. That is commitment. From family rides, to women’s only rides, to beginner rides, the schedule usually allows for at least 3 groups to form based on ability and speed.

The next generation of riders.
The Women’s Ride

John claims that he is most proud of the women’s rides because the turnout has been great with at least 12-15 scheduled rides so far this year, all led by women of all abilities. Mountain biking tends to be more male involved and it is encouraging to see the participation of the ladies on the HSD schedule. The other popular rides are the family rides where parents bring their kids to enjoy the trails introducing the next generation of riders to the great sport of mountain biking.

John not only organizes rides but also the popular apre’ ride which includes the grill, beverages and the ever popular “Send It Sausage” an adaptation of the popular hot sausage sandwich which always brings out the crowds when advertised.

Send It Sausage
The ladies sending it in North Carolina

John says the ever popular Chili Ride is coming up soon with the coveted Chili Trophy presented to the winning entree. HSD now has apparel including jersies, socks, and now fleece hats for apre’ ride merriment. This guy thinks of everything. I wish I had half his energy!!

Riding recently with John down in West Virginia where we attended the UCI World Cup Final at Snowshoe, I found a very engaging and friendly captain of the HSD squad. John always says he likes to ride with the new people so that they feel welcome and not intimidated on any rides. He loves the family rides and has said that people have come up to him and stated that the ” the impact on their lives has been very personal.” This fuels John in his mission to get people to meet people as first and foremost. As he expands his “mission” he is now including some “road trips” to places like Sedona, Asheville, Jake’s Rocks and Raystown and coming up next spring or summer, he will include Bentonville, Arkansas to the mix. John says these trips are basically his vacation which he and Dana enjoy together. Not many people would dedicate their vacation to see that people meet people- John and Dana do. That is what I find most endearing about these two as they ride through life on their knobby tires. Through HSD and it’s now 3000 strong membership, the rides are scheduled all year to include the popular snow rides. HSD has fun all year long and it is all due to an enthusiastic normal guy and his wife who put others first instead of their own wants and needs. Isn’t that what we need today more than anything? Someone who is willing to give up their time so that other people can come together? Not many people like John Palmieri. HSD is a fortunate organization and growing. Go to Facebook Groups and look up HSDMTB and join up if you are interested. John is the moderator who approves applications and he will do it with a smile as he sees another person joining up to ride and eat some Send it Sausage and enjoy a post ride beer. . Thanks for reading.

Bring on the Fall

Fall Decor

I love the fall. So happy that the steamy, hot, humid weather has ended and the days are sunny, the nights cooler and the leaves are starting to change. Janet does a great job celebrating the season with decorating the house and we both feel the change coming. Love it. Hauling out the fleece, watching college football games, going to the farm markets teeming with pumpkins, cider, apples and people who are celebrating like we are. Did I say I love the fall?

As I age, I also celebrate little things that I may not have paid much attention to in a younger day. Just appreciating what is around us. Little things like a cold beer after a mountain bike ride with my friends. The other night,( in a place which I dare not mention because the local residents would string me up if I gave away information on their beloved trail system,) we all sat around after the ride with our fleece, our camp chairs and various beverages relaxing in the cool temperatures. My friend Sandy McKee told us his daughter lives in Vermont and usually brings a couple of cases of Heady Topper beer from the Alchemist Brewery when she visits mom and dad. Sandy hauled a couple of these out at the ride, and I have to tell you, I was excited. It is not too often we get to sample Heady Topper here in Pa. A very popular beer in New England which almost never makes it out of there because of its popularity. To have a couple of cases make their way here is a real treat and Sandy just made the cool, evening post ride amazing! It’s hard to put into words the feeling you get when you drink in that first sip of a great beer after a ride. But sitting down in your camp chair, drinking in that first sip, looking at the changing leaves and talking about the ride with friends is really special. The post ride is almost as good as the ride itself.

A real treat – Heady Topper
Sandy McKee in the foreground. Made our evening ride more special.

I know I talk a lot about mountain biking in this blog but really, it is a great way to exercise and a wonderful way to take in the trails and scenery in wooded settings all around the country. This time of year in Pennsylvania, the weather is pretty cool and dry, and is actually our best weather in these parts. In my opinion, nothing better than taking it in on the seat of a bike. What makes it even more special is that I got a new bike recently which is light, fast, and enjoyable to ride. I have been riding a monster truck recently (a 29er plus) and although it is great on really rough terrain like we have in the mountains around here and in West Virginia, it is tough to haul that weight around as I grow older. The new light steed brings me back a little. A real gift as I start the fall riding season.

The Transition Spur

So taking that second sip of the Heady Topper, I looked around at my group and was thankful that I had good friends to share the experience of riding and reveling in the post ride. Bob K always brings snacks, and as we all sit around munching and sipping away, time stops for a moment or two if I allow myself to take it all in. I think sometimes that the fall also ushers in the final quarter of a year and as another one slips by, I think how important it is to grab every moment to enjoy what life has to offer. Simple things like trails, leaves, apple cider, and being with friends who value the same things. And of course – Heady Topper. Thanks Sandy. Thanks for reading.

Fall in the Laurels.

Navigating the World Cup with the Shark

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

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

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

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

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

Lauren Smith of Red Bull TV with the Shark

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

American Cross Country Racer- Haley Batten

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

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

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

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

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

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

9/11 in PC

McPolin Farm – Park City, Utah
Old friends are the best!

Janet and I had the opportunity to visit Park City, Utah last week and do some hiking in the spectacular Wasatch range. We generally visit the west during the winter for skiing but decided to augment that with a trip to see Park City in the summer. The town is bustling and the weather is usually downright perfect for walking around and hiking in the neighboring ski resorts like Park City, Deer Valley, and the Canyons. We also took a trip to Sundance which is well worth the drive and the hike up to Stewart Falls was spectacular. We enjoyed that opportunity with our dear friends, the Birsics, who are Park City residents.

Sundance, Utah

Janet likes to hike and we do a lot of that at home. This was a little different in that the hikes are a little more strenuous but she was a trooper as we climbed lots of vertical feet to witness some of the most breathtaking vistas in the Wasatch. As we hiked through aspen groves and wildflower lined hiking trails, we marveled at just how beautiful the mountains are in the summer. Crossing some of the ski slopes, I reminded Janet of where we were and how she had skied them this past winter. She remarked that they looked a lot more steep in the summer. A typical comment for someone viewing ski trails in the off season. We just missed the fall season with the changing leaves but we had a hint of it here and there where a short storm blew in and the leaves began to fall in the chillier stormy wind. We could see the beginning of fall with some of the leaves already starting to turn in what is a rather short season in Utah.

Views of the Jordanelle Reservoir in Heber from Deer Valley

All week the weather was beautiful and we took advantage of great restaurants, shops, and other places of interest in Park City. On Saturday, September the 11th, we visited the McPolin Farm for a little walk on their well maintained hiking paths and our eyes became fixed on the huge American flag that hangs from the iconic white barn that is visible from the highway. People were clamoring to get a photo op in front of the flag and I wondered to myself if they just wanted the photo op or whether they had some sense of patriotism on the day commemorating the tragedy in the twin towers, the Pentagon, and Shanksville. Jan and I had our opportunity for the photo and thought about what President Bush had said that morning. In an eloquent speech from Shanksville, site of the Flight 93 crash, the former President tried to rally all of us to move on from the partisan politics and realize that we are all Americans. Whether you are conservative or liberal in political persuasions, white, black, Latino, native American, or whatever, we are all Americans and should band together to realize that we all are brothers and sisters under this banner of democracy and freedom. The former President said it so well.

As we wound down our week of being in the beautiful mountains, we kept telling ourselves how blessed we were to visit such a great town in a great part of the country. The 9/11 date gave us pause to reflect on how all of us who live in America are blessed to have great opportunities, the chance to help our fellow citizens, and the general feeling of kindness that should be the hallmark of all Americans. We live in a beautiful country and people from all over the world come to visit what we call home. As I looked at that flag one more time, I said a little prayer that all of us come together. Just like we did on that fateful day in 2001. I will never forget that day and neither will all of us who saw the details of that day unfold. We need to appreciate our country, the landscape from ” sea to shining sea”, and know that we are better than what has transpired in this last year. I look at those mountains and think what a great country we have. Happy to be able to see it and thankful for the opportunity to enjoy it. Thanks for reading.

Paturday

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

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

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

Enjoying the ride.

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

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

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

CycloXpgh ’21

The B Group on Mt. Washington

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

Aaron and the Shark- plotting the route.

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

Phipps Conservatory on a glorious day.

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

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

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

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

The Red Beard Lunch Stop

Coach Lou with an interesting coiffure in the heat at lunch

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forgetting What is Behind

You know, one of the things l like about watching the Olympics are the stories that are told. It takes a lot to get to the Olympic stage and the sacrifices that are made. But you also get to see athletes putting the past behind them and concentrating on what is ahead of them. Not everyone can be a medalist and those who can’t, move on and hope that they have a better result in the future. Others have overcome a lot of adversity just to get there. They have forgotten that adversity or sadness in their lives and have moved on to perhaps the most memorable time in their lives- competing in the Olympic Games.

Interesting this week also, aside from watching the Olympics, I have had the pleasure of listening to our pastor preach on the letter of Paul to the Phillipians. Our pastor is an athlete, played college basketball, and oftentimes ties his sermons in with athletic themes. This week was no exception as he delivered a message about “running the race.” You can see the passage above in a framed piece that my wife gave to me right around the time we were married. It has the metaphorical meaning of describing a race and striving for the goal. But the spiritual message is that belief in the Lord and what He did on the cross really enables you to forget your past because you know that ……..you are forgiven. A really uplifting message if there ever was one. Forget what is behind you, and strive for the ultimate goal. A timely message during the Olympics.

There is also a story behind this framed passage which I would like to relate. I have always treasured this piece given to me by my wife, Janet. She knew the value of this to me as a runner and also as a Christian. It has great meaning and is inspirational to view every day in my office here at home. But this framed piece has also had a journey in that I gave it to a friend of mine one day as he was diagnosed with cancer. He was distraught as anyone of us would be with the news and I met him one day for lunch and presented him with this framed message as a way to buoy his spirits and give him some inspiration in the troubling days that lie ahead for him with his cancer treatment. We had a lot of discussions over the time of his illness. I told him about the power of prayer and that Janet and I had him on our list- front and center. But, sadly, he passed away. One day, months later, his wife asked me to meet her after a devastating fire destroyed their home. I felt so bad for her as she described the trials she had been through after Dan’s death and then to have her home destroyed by fire. It was incredible that she even was able to talk about it in a calm manner at our lunch visit.

I listened to her and then suddenly she pulled this framed piece out of her purse and gave it to me. She said that Dan had always treasured it and looked at it every day during his suffering and treatments. She said it gave him peace that she could not quite understand. She also said ,incredibly, that it was the only thing that survived the fire by way of personal belongings. It was untouched and unscathed. She couldn’t believe it and wanted me to have it back because she knew how much it meant to me and to Dan and that I could remember him when I looked at it. As hard as life was for her, she became a believer, and now has moved on in her quest for her own prize.

I am not sure at which point or why she was actually moved to believe, seeing that she had every right to be bitter and angry at the way life had turned out for her. But in some way, perhaps the message of this little framed piece inspired her like it had inspired her husband Dan during his trials here on earth. Paul has a way of doing that.

As I look at this piece today, I have visions of Dan running across the finish line in Heaven. Having a celestial Olympic moment. A smile on his face as he left his past behind and pressed on towards the goal. Hopefully we all have that same goal in life as we run together. Thanks for reading.

Driven

I love the Olympics. Have always been fascinated with them since I was a kid. Love to watch the summer and the winter games and try to see as much of it as I can. I even spent a week at the winter games in Lake Placid in 1980. Long time ago. There has been a lot of controversy around the Olympics especially in these times. Costs, political issues, Covid concerns, but the Olympic spirit in my mind, always remains no matter what. Even though the games have been compromised by outside issues, the fact of the matter is that they are still the visible pinnacle of sport to many around the world and also seem somehow to unite all of us under one athletic banner.

I was talking to a friend this weekend about a book that I am reading about Everest and what drives people to climb such a peak. The drive is the same there as it is in the Olympics or sports in general at a world class level. I am always amazed at the personal interest stories about how athletes make it to the Olympics under great personal hardships and sacrifice. If you ask any world class athlete, they will all have similar stories of practice, missing life events, growing up too fast, spending time in foreign countries in difficult conditions. Love to see the stories of the parents and their sacrifices too. But what does it take to make it to the top? Luck, passion, skill, drive, or a combination of all of these?

Nino Schurter- Defending gold medalist in mountain biking

Simone Biles- the GOAT.

I have always been a competitive person. I dabbled in a lot of sports regionally but as I age, my get up and go for a lot of that has gone up and left. But I have always been a fan and when the Olympic theme comes on the TV, the hair stands up on my arms a bit because of my respect for the games and the athletes who have sacrificed so much to get there. I like watching a lot of events that I would not ordinarily have an interest in and the athletes all have one thing in common- drive. Listen to the interviews. You can see the passion and the one sided focus and the stories of personal sacrifice that make up the athletes persona. You can see the tears on their parent’s and coach’s faces as they compete to win the gold medal.

Lots of folks are negative on the Olympics these days because it has been so politicized but I always look at it from the athlete’s perspective. No matter what extraneous issues are presenting themselves, theirs is the story. Not the politics, not the pandemic, not the costs, – for me, just the stories of the athletes and their passion to win with humility and lose with grace. Some of the stories are humorous at the world class level. Take Missy Giove here. She was not happy a few years ago at the NORBA Nationals Mountain Bike Championships when she was beaten in her semi final heat for dual slalom. Missy was always a character on the mountain bike circuit and I loved to hear her interviews and see her compete at the national level. She was tough as nails but when she lost, her humor took over and she gave the crowd a show they will never forget.

For me, again, it is always the stories. The GOATS. Katie Ledecky, Simone Biles, Allison Schmitt, Michael Grady ,Nino Schurter, and a host of other incredible athletes that make up the Olympic games. Weekend warriors like me will never truly understand the competitive drive and the level at which these athletes perform. But in my own way, I can remember what it feels like to have butterflies at the start of an event. The thrill of winning something and more often of losing something. But at the world class level, it is incomprehensible to the mere mortal. But the scenes presented at the Olympic Games are priceless in my book and I am always happy every four years when they come around for our enjoyment. Don’t get caught up in the politics. Just enjoy the games. Can’t wait until February for the winter games either. Ba da bup ba badda, budda bup baddup bup bup badda! Love that theme. It gets me excited. Thanks for reading.

Well, It Is Their Turf

We are the interlopers.

Several years ago, I traveled to the west coast a lot for work. I always took my skis or mountain bike with me and enjoyed some of the beautiful outdoor recreation places that the west has to offer. Some of this wilderness has been compromised by building and commercial developments. It is progress, I know, but it often encroaches on land that has been the home to wildlife for centuries. Take this scenario in Laguna Beach, California where I did a lot of mountain bike riding back in the day. Beautiful trails in the Laguna Wilderness Park with majestic vistas of the Pacific Ocean around every corner. I was surprised when I saw this sign at the trailhead but it made sense. With all the beautiful homes popping up in and around Laguna with incredible views, it made sense that the development had squeezed some privacy away from the natives- that being mountain lions. A rare sight to be sure but nonetheless something that you had to watch for and if possible ride on trails with other riders and hikers.

Laguna Wilderness Trails

The American Black Bear

On another cycling trip to the Skyline Drive in Virginia, my friend Frank Habay and I rounded a corner on our road bikes and came to a screeching halt when we saw two black bears in the middle of the road. I looked at Frank, he looked at me, and the bears looked at us. I knew we would not out run or out ride them, but they rambled up over a wall and into the woods. After breathing a sigh of relief, we continued and the conversation between Frank and me was that they don’t bother humans anyhow. Easy to say after they left but at the moment, it was a little un-nerving.

My wife and my son were visiting friends in Tahoe and during one of our hikes out there with our friends, my wife became concerned about seeing a bear. They are in the neighborhoods and if you have birdseed in your backyard, they are coming for a visit. Our friends had many experiences with the visitors when their bird feeders were out. We did not see any on the hike and when we were safely in our car, Janet lamented that we had not even seen a bear. I told her and Jack not to speak too soon because there, right in front of us crossing Rt 50, was a big black bear heading to a residential neighborhood looking for his next meal. I commented to my son Jack that it looked like he just came out of Starbucks. Probably had a latte this morning on his way to the neighborhood. We laughed but the reality of the fact is that bears are becoming more used to people as a result of development. As Joni Mitchell used to say……….” they paved Paradise and put up a parking lot.” There are consequences.

I see a lot of wildlife in my local park and also in the mountains near us. My one friend likes to look for rattlesnakes in the mountains. I tend to look from a distance but the more people develop property and move towards the wilderness, the more they will see wildlife that has been displaced and looking for new homes.

Beautiful creatures just wanting to be left alone.
Hi there!

I guess the point of all of this is that you can’t stop progress but it is nice to see that there are still places in the world where life goes noninterrupted in the wilderness. Locally, it is nice to see entities like the Allegheny Land Trust and the Hollow Oak Land Trust reserving land space for us to enjoy as well as provide a habitat for animals who are looking to thrive in a natural space. Sean Brady, Executive Director for Hollow Oak, told us on a recent hike that the stream that runs through the property has 23 species of fish that were endangered by development. Recently, a country club closed it’s doors locally and the thought was that it would turn into another housing development. Kudos to the residents of the area and their local municipality to turn the space into a park with trails and a natural setting for the neighbors to enjoy. It also provides a home to animals who would have been displaced again in favor of development. Again, I get progress, but there has to be some consideration for the generations to come.

So, the next time you are out and about in the mountains, on the trails or waterways, value any time that you can see wildlife in their own habitat. Nothing to be feared but instead, look at the sight with wonder. Take the time to get to natural places and take in the silence, the fresh air, and the beauty of our natural world. I am happy when they don’t pave Paradise and put up a parking lot. Thanks for reading.

The Axe Man Cometh

Scott and his Weapon

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

You can always tell where Scott has been.

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

The Man at work.

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

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

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