Go Nordic!

Olympic Gold Medalist Jessie Diggins,

Years ago, I met a young lady who was a member of the Middlebury College Nordic Ski Team. She was recounting her workout routine while quickly demolishing a half gallon of ice cream right before my eyes. She had to pay close attention to her diet and make sure that she was eating enough calories to fuel her practices and meets. In many cases, they just can’t eat enough. You see, cross country ski racers are a rare breed. Among endurance athletes, they have the most impressive VO2 data and their engines are unmatched in the endurance sports world. We have a real superstar right here in the U.S with Jessie Diggins who is a member of our U.S Nordic Ski Team and a gold medalist from the most recent Olympic games in Korea. She has had tremendous success on the World Cup and is a favorite for gold in the upcoming Olympics in China. These athletes are amazing and their skill and endurance is worth watching on the upcoming coverage of the Olympics in February. Check them out.

More gold in China?

If you take it down several notches, there are opportunities out there for the mortal man to participate in this winter sport. I am an alpine skier and rarely get to go cross country skiing any more but I have always had respect for people who make use of Nordic ski centers like the one we have at Laurel Mountain right here in Pa.

Laurel Mountain Nordic Ski Center

The cool thing about cross country skiing is that you can enjoy it casually like a nice tour through the woods or you can make it a real workout. Traditional skis can be used in the machine made tracks and the feeling of gliding along with your skis floating though the tracked trail is spectacular. Shorter skating skis are also available and you can skate your way along groomed trails which is another great workout. Finally, there are wider touring skis that have metal edges which allow you to break trail on a freshly fallen snow landscape like a golf course. Many ski touring centers offer rentals and if not, most outfitters like L.L. Bean. Public Lands, and REI have equipment for sale or rent. With the recent big snow in the East, I see many people out on the golf courses and on the groomed trails these days trying to make the most of the winter weather.

Tracked Trails.

Years ago, I had touring skis and would ski at night on the golf course near my home with a light on my head. A fun workout on clear, cold nights. Oftentimes in those days, I would also visit my friend Eric in Vermont and as a diversion from alpine skiing at Killington, we would take cross country equipment out of his garage and head to the quarry near his home in Bethel, Vermont. It was there that we skied up and down gravel and sand piles showing off and usually crashing and burning many times until we either had destroyed his equipment or were so stiff and sore and snow covered that we left and headed home for a cold beer. Fun times in those days in Bethel.

I often joke with my friends who cross country ski. I call them communist skiers. They laugh because they know that I associate cross country ski racers with the Eastern Bloc. Most of the success in recent years has been with skiers from the Baltic countries or Russia as well as the usual suspects from the Scandinavian countries. But look out for the Americans. We are coming on strong and the term communist skier jokingly will be a term of the past for me.

As much as I like alpine skiing, I do miss the days when I used to cross country ski. I may take it up again although Janet and I like to snowshoe when we are not skiing. We take advantage of the snow when it comes. If you are looking for a good day in the woods, there is nothing like a sunny winter day with cross country equipment in hand. Try it and perhaps look up your local Nordic ski center or consult with L.L.Bean, Public Lands, or REI and enjoy the winter. Thanks for reading, watch the upcoming Olympics on NBC and Peacock, and think snow.

You Can Teach An Old Dog New Tricks

Kathy Brennan- Eastern Division CEO of PSIA

At the invitation of my friend Angelo Ross who is on the Alpine Education Committee for PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America), I had the opportunity to recently ski with Kathy Brennan who is the new CEO of PSIA Eastern Division. Kathy is an accomplished skier and on the staff at Waterville Valley, New Hampshire. She is traveling the east from Maine to North Carolina listening to ski area management, snow sport school personnel, ski patrol, and industry suppliers all on the subject of how to make the organization better. Kathy is dedicated to promoting PSIA as an education platform and to be a true partner to all of the entities within the ski industry in the East.

Angelo Ross

Along with being an Examiner for PSIA and staff member of Waterville Valley, Kathy has been named as the new CEO and will have a full plate of responsibility. Hearing her vision for the organization and her mission to improve the relationship between PSIA and ski area management and to make them aware of the educational opportunities for those who teach their guests, was quite impressive. I asked her what her response was to the comments that ski lessons are extremely expensive and that the quality of the instruction does not often meet the financial layout by the guest of the area. Kathy said that her mission is to make ski area management aware that if they support the education of their instructors, they will get a better product to their customers.

Personally, I am a lifetime member of the organization seeing that I have passed my 40 year mark as a fully certified Level III instructor. Although I do not teach anymore, I still like to see what is happening in ski instruction and Angelo’s invitation was a welcome chance for me to sit in on a clinic that Kathy organized. You can instantly tell how competent a skier is by the shape of their turns, their balance and edging skills. As I followed Kathy during the clinic, I was impressed at how comfortable she was on skis in any conditions and how I could learn something from her. We had numerous discussions on the chairlift and when we had a chance to follow each other, she had some pertinent commentary on my skiing which I will work on this season. I told her I have been watching the World Cup and was anxious to activate my inside knee more during the execution of a ski turn. Gold Medalist Debbie Armstrong refers to it as “driving the inside knee” but my friend Mark Hutchinson, former race coach at Stowe, says differently. He says at our age we aren’t driving anything. We are putting our body position and our knee position in place to succeed. Our ski race knee driving days are over. LOL!!! Kathy understood and helped me understand that as a taller skier, it was important to create those edge angles. She showed us some drills where we could instantly see that if our upper and lower body were not truly separated( a flaw to many taller skiers), we would compromise our turns for success. I learn something new every year and breaking some age old habits is tough. But after 60 years of sliding on snow, there are still things to learn and I am not too far gone to try to keep up with the modern technique.

Our invited group of alpine skiers, telemark skiers, and snowboarders,

It was also interesting to see how pressure control, edging, and rotary movement are common to all three disciplines of snow sports. Our group had telemark skiers, alpine skiers and snowboarders. All in all a great day on snow with the new CEO and my friend Angelo Ross. It was great to ski with him as well. An accomplished skier and PSIA luminary in his own right. Follow his podcast- Chaos and Company on You Tube. No matter what you do, there is always something to learn each year. Take the time to research the latest equipment and technique. You are never too old to learn. Thanks for reading and think snow.

The Lift Line

WOW!!!!

You know, one of the more aggravating things in the ski world is the lift line. Now usually one can avoid such things when you arrive early and try to get some runs in before the hordes of people descend on a ski area. But sooner or later a perfect storm of events happens and it produces one of the more distasteful by-products of the ski experience- the lift line. Here in the east, we got a late start, the weather has been warm and sketchy, and when the first measurable snow hit, everybody who bought a pass, got new ski equipment for Christmas, hasn’t made it out yet because of the weather and the holidays, and those who looked at a sunny day and decided this was their day- all descend on a ski area and cause gridlock. This isn’t the case all the time especially when the weather isn’t up to snuff or it is raining or it is too darn cold to stand around. Those who survive those events can usually avoid lines. But if you choose to ski on weekends, and the perfect storm hits- both literally and figuratively- you will have lines. So what to do?

Well, like I said before, if it is one of those days- on the weekend, you can get there early and ski until it is unbearable. You can try the single line- if there is one. You can look and see where the smaller line is on either side of the lift or with experience, you can see whether the inside of the line is faster or the outside. You can look for a friend or friends and try to sneak up politely to join them. Lots of tactics. Or you can give up and head out if it becomes too crazy. You give up a nice day but you can fight to fight another day especially when you might be able to ski mid- week. But even that with people working remotely, sometimes lines form on nice days mid-week and we all just have to deal with that. Again- it doesn’t happen all the time and when a lot of terrain is open, there are lighter lines because people can spread out to multiple lifts. But when things are just getting going, and not much terrain is open, and only a couple of lifts, it can look like a sea of rats all converging to get that ride up the lift, getting dinged in the helmet by an anxious fellow rider who is itching to get the safety bar down. What skiers go through to get those coveted runs and turns. In the east it usually is a good 8 months between ski seasons so most people try to ski locally and get their trips west planned. But it is a short window and to get up early, schlepp all the gear, put on your boots, zip up, click into your equipment and make it finally to the slopes, it can be a real pain in the a@#. But we all like to ski and we have to deal with inconvenience to participate in our favorite sport. So lift lines be damned, we get out and do it. How can we make it bearable if we choose to ski on a perfect storm day?

Well I for one, try to be positive. I am usually one of the first guys on the chairlift in the morning and when the hordes come out, I always figure that I at least got several quality runs in already. I also like people and skiing is a great social activity. Early in the year, you see friends whom you have not seen since last ski season and you connect with them in line. By the time you have caught up on their kids, the holidays, the new equipment they have purchased, the new clothes, and where they are planning to ski west this year or in New England, you are already sliding towards the loading area. When you are engaged in a good conversation and catching up with ski friends, the line seems to move better than when you are by yourself. I also like to hear people’s take on how things will go this season. It is interesting to hear people’s opinions on the resort, the snowmaking, the grooming and in short, their thoughts on skiing in general. You hear some great stuff on the chairlift and to me- people are interesting. Covid, skiing, kids, families, the occasional politics, and other conversations make the ride go quickly and then you are in line again to start it all over again- after a few good turns. Not so bad if you can remain positive and appreciate the camaraderie of those who find the winter and the outdoors as pleasant as you.

So yes- the lift line will try your patience even if you utilize these tips. Sooner or later you will decide that you have had enough and will leave to ski another day. The perfect storm days come and go no matter where in the country you are skiing. And with the season passes selling like hotcakes by the large conglomerates who are buying up resorts, you never know what is ahead. Just know that if it is wicked cold, raining, you have mid-week options, and maybe more terrain open, there will be more days than not when the lines will not be too bad. So if you can, stay positive, take advantage of some fun conversations in the line and enjoy the day. Things always look darkest before they turn black……………….just kidding. Think snow and thanks for reading.

Pushing the Season

Boyne Mountain, Michigan

This time of year, I always got anxious to start the ski season. I pushed it many times by traveling north to New Hampshire while I was in college to ski with a friend of mine. We visited a friend of my dad’s who had a cabin near North Conway and we skied Cranmore and Cannon. Fast forward and I made a lot of early season trips to Killington to ski with my friend Eric and some of his pals who eventually became some of my pals due to frequent visits to the Beast. But some of the more interesting early season trips were to a place where you might not expect. Boyne Mountain , Michigan.

I passed my PSIA certification for ski instruction at Killington, Vermont way back in the day and when I returned to Pittsburgh, I had some really great opportunities to expand on what I had learned out in the mid-west of all places. Larry Cohen, Bob Irish and Chip Kamin were all mentors of mine when I was preparing to take my test. Chip was an examiner in the central division of PSIA ( Professional Ski Instructors of America) and he invited all of us to attend some clinics at Boyne Mountain. I didn’t know much about skiing in the mid west other than it was an 8 hour plus drive to the top of the mitt of Michigan – similar to my driving times to New England. The ride up was interesting as we talked about skiing and instruction most of the way. These three guys were probably some of the most enthusiastic guys I knew at the time and it was a great way to start the ski season heading off to the mid-west for these clinics. Chip had a fellow examiner , Peter Battiste, who was quite impressive and was able to convey some things in the clinics that I had not heard in my clinics in the east.

Chip Kamin and our crew at Tuckerman Ravine back in the day.

There are differences in teaching at a smaller mountain that I was able to use in subsequent years while teaching at Seven Springs here in Pa. An interesting note is that some of the best ski racers in the country cut their teeth in racing programs at ski areas smaller than Seven Springs and Boyne Mountain. I taught skiing at Sugarloaf, Maine right after college and prior to my certification. Sugarloaf was a big mountain and the clinics I attended there were excellent but based on miles and miles of skiing and teaching on a big mountain. Boyne had less than 1000 ft vertical but Peter and Chip and his cohorts made the most of it and the early season learnings there were ingrained in my head to this day. Short radius turns, make use of the hill, edging exercises, and many other drills that utilize a smaller setting can still be beneficial in personal skiing and teaching. I see so many people at a smaller mountain not making use of the terrain. But the clinics at Boyne back in the day taught us all how to utilize a smaller mountain not only in skiing tasks but also in the teaching progressions which do vary from teaching at a larger mountain. How to get a student to be successful in a smaller crowded area is not easy and with conditions that are icy and not optimal for learning, you had to make the best of it to teach a successful lesson. But aside from the drills and exercises, one of the main things I learned is that enthusiasm many times can carry the day. We learned that when the weather is not optimal, the class size is large, the hill is crowded, there are a lot of factors that work against the instructor. But if one has an infectious passion for the sport, it can carry the day and these three guys who mentored me were a prime example of that enthusiasm.

Early Season in the Mt. Washington Valley in New Hampshire.

Sadly, my three mentors have all passed away as well as Peter Battiste. Ken Griffin, my old ski instructor pal and executive at Boyne Mountain , told me the news about Peter. I think back on those days and how their enthusiasm and passion ignited a young Pat McCloskey early in the seasons. I have retired from ski instruction but still maintain my certification status and have an interest in what is new in ski teaching. There have been many changes since my exam. Penn State has been retained as a consultant for PSIA and the education process is now very similar to a college and grad school level course. There are also revisions that will make the certification process more uniform across divisions of PSIA. Examiners will all be trained to be consistent in their evaluation or “assessments” to limit the variation of interpretations across divisions. I try to keep in touch with the process but mostly these days, I try to utilize what I hear and learn in my own skiing and no longer in a teaching mode. You never stop learning and Larry, Chip and Bob taught me that a long time ago. They are missed but the result of their passion is alive in me today. Thanks for reading and think snow!

The Return of the Ride King

Jeff Wuerthele- aka ” The Ride King”

You know, you have to be a special kind of enthusiast to get two knee replacements and then come out on a 28 degree morning to bounce around on the rocks and roots of Laurel Mountain in November on a mountain bike. Jeff Wuerthele is that kind of person. In fact this whole crowd of guys who are in their 50’s and 60’s are enthusiasts who think nothing of weather and just appreciate the opportunity to ride in the Laurel Highlands on one of the last nice, sunny days of the year. From this point on, the weather here gets a little sketchy but these guys take it all in stride. They are also skiers and snowboarders so it stands to reason that they are not inhibited by weather that would make most people shy away and just sit on their couch watching SportsCenter. These are fun guys and I am happy to call them friends. In fact, my doc who is also in this group, commented that we all are good friends united by the sport of mountain biking. Guys like Jeff Wuerthele kept us all together for years with rides in the mountains and I am happy to have him back on the trails. He said it was the first group ride he has done in a while and he was happy he showed up.

Just to give you a snapshot of how these guys tick- lets take a quick look at this group, of which I am the elder statesman soon to be 67 years young.

Jeff Wuerthele- retired, former bike industry luminary and overall fun guy who lives full time in the Laurel Highlands and enjoys snowboarding and riding a mountain bike- again after two knee replacements.

Angelo Ross- the youngster in this crowd. A true renaissance man who is a retired school teacher, is currently on the Alpine skiing education staff for the Professional Ski Instructors of America. He has his own podcast, his own clothing business, and is also a guide for Wilderness Voyageurs in Ohiopyle, Pa. Very talented in a lot of areas.

John Cassucio- successful businessman and mountain bike and skiing enthusiast who is in excellent shape and fuels himself on Hammer products and vitamins. He is a testament to living cleanly and respecting his health as he ages. Not to mention a fun guy with a great sense of humor, and a skilled videographer.

Mark” the Shark” Sauers- mentioned many times in this blog. A true character who is a successful sales guy in the medical field, a certified snowboard instructor and excellent mountain biker. Perhaps his greatest asset is his willingness to share his faith on the trails with all those who ride with him. He walks the walk for sure.

Steve Gurtner- dentist and enthusiastic skier and mountain biker. Great sense of humor and a really skilled rider. His famous self deprecating line is ” Pat- we are bringing our B game to an A ride.” Not quite true in his sense because he is a fit, skilled rider, but funny all the same.

The Doc- Syed Hyder- seen here on the right. Syed is always on a busman’s holiday on our rides because he is always patching up people. The story of him inserting a presta valve into some guys chest on a ride to relieve air pressure is legendary in the medical community. An excellent and skilled rider and a really funny sense of humor always entertains us on the rides.

5 old ding dongs trying to repair Syed’s tire. Jeff working hard- LOL!
The Doc prior to Wolf Rocks eating his tire.

While we were all out in the woods as far as we could be from the cars trying to repair Syed’s tire in many different ways, we all remarked that just hanging around in the sunshine in the Laurel Highlands was enjoyable enough. Nobody cared that we were temporarily dead in the water as it was all part of an adventure for old guys out in the wilderness. That is the cool thing about mountain biking. Probably more than any venture I do outdoors, this community is responsible for fostering many lifetime friendships. Hard to explain – you have to be a mountain biker to understand. But, the adventures, the laughter, the camaraderie and the ability to participate as we all get older is fantastic. Most of my friends are either mountain bikers or skiers or in many cases, both. Lots of gray hairs under those helmets.

The wonderful end to the day of adventure was eating at the Out of the Fire Cafe in Donegal with our good friends – Julie and Jeff Chetlin. Jeff is very much like the Ride King in that he is the lynchpin of many cycling groups. Currently rehabbing from a health issue, Jeff is anxious to rejoin this group of merry men as well as others in the expansive network of Chetlin ride partners. He and Julie were so happy to see everybody and hear the stories of mishap on the trails. He is missed and we are all sure he will soon return to full health. Like Syed, he remarked that he has met all his good friends through mountain biking. Again, there is something about this sport that is uniting in many ways and we all feel it one way or another.

Angelo, the Ride King and Cassucio- just hanging around.

So, as I finish my rambling this week, I guess the point of all of this is that there is value to being active outdoors that extends beyond the health benefits. To participate in a healthy, challenging sport and to foster life long friendships as a result, is a real plus as we all age. I always remember Scott Nichol, of Ibis Bikes, stating a simple encouragement. When I asked him how long did he think we all could do this at this level as we age? His simple remark was,” Pat- don’t think about it- just keep doing it.” That has been my mantra for sure- just keep doing it. And if I can do it with friends like these guys, I will be a happy man living a long, healthy, fruitful life. Thanks for reading.

Gore Tex Days

Pennsylvania Foliage

In the last week or so, the foliage has been spectacular here in Western Pa. There has been a lot of comments on how late the changing of the leaves came due to the warm October and climate change in general. However, almost on cue, the leaves around here have changed in a dramatic way. I love the fall and to hike or ride a mountain bike viewing the leaves is a great way to spend some time in the outdoors.

Jill Lake at The Lodge at Glendorn.

,However, as much as we like to enjoy the fall and the changing foliage, there invariably comes the change in the weather where the leaves are brown, the rains come, and in general, a feeling of despondency on the part of a lot of folks who know that the winter is not far behind. We tend to get some pretty nasty weather here when ” the winds of November come early.” Now I am a winter guy and enjoy the snow and cold weather for various reasons, but what to do when it is not quite winter and we are in the “tweener” season here in the Keystone State? We can hunker down and binge on Netflix, or we can make the decision to continue to be active. I tend to focus on the latter as many of you know from my blog.

When it rains in Ireland, the locals refer to it as a “soft day”. That’s a lovely thought isn’t it? A soft day. I can just hear them say it. If you don’t like it, just wait a few minutes and it will change. Back and forth, but it will change. They don’t let it bother them and I tend to think in a similar manner. Especially if you invest in a good rain suit and well………….get out in it. I have several friends who hate the rainy late fall weather here and I constantly tell them that the only way to beat it is to get out in it. My wife and I donned the Gore Tex and got out in the rain for a really visually spectacular hike this weekend. Janet is starting to realize the functionality of a good rain suit and how you can always adhere to the old saying,” there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing choices.” The leaves are still colorful in the rain and when you have finished the hike or whatever outdoor activity you choose, you have the feeling that you got over on something. You beat the bad weather and got some exercise. This is a well beaten mantra of my blog, but I focus on it to give the naysayers some incentive to change their thinking.

Time for the lights.

The time change is coming this weekend too. And instead of spending the next 5 months hibernating in a gym, why not get some lights and ride or hike? Light technology has changed immensely since I first started riding in the dark way back in 1988. Do some research and see the amazing changes that have been made and the increasing lumen capacity and battery life that now exists with lighting technology. The cost has come down significantly.

Wolf Rocks – Laurel Mountain
Top of North Face- Seven Springs, Pa

So I guess the message here , short and sweet, is don’t let the rain, cold, and nasty weather get you down. Take the offensive and get out in it. Invest in some good foul weather gear and some lights. You won’t be disappointed. And if you see my pal Pete and me hosing off our rain suits in the car wash after a ride, don’t laugh. You could have a smile on your face like us. Thanks for reading.

Friday Night Lights

Jeremiah Hasley and Kristin- his mom!

Nothing quite restores your faith in humanity than taking in a high school football game on Friday night. It is there you see excitement and happiness. Kids hanging out and supporting the booster club refreshment stand. Looking around to see who is there with smiles and maybe this boy or that girl is noticing them. The booster parents talking to each other about where their son or daughter is going to college, how is life going in general, and a feeling of camaraderie in selling whatever they can to support the team or the band. Football parents talking about the upcoming game. Who will win? Will they go to the playoffs? Who will they play? And if there are any offers on the table for their sons to play college football? Everyone is happy. Everyone is excited. And the stadium where I went last Friday night is nothing short of spectacular. Pine Richland High School Stadium looks like a small college stadium. Well kept, beautiful field, and when the band came out to play……..WOW!!!! A lot of college bands could take a look and see an amazing spectacle. Even the tuba players were all ladies. With white tubas. What an atmosphere and makes you feel pretty good that the youth of America- at least the ones participating in high school sports and the band, were really on track.

Senior Night – Jeremiah and mom and dad.

So, the forecast looked iffy and I donned the rain suit to go inside to meet Daryl, Chris, and Craig Hasley. We were all there to see Daryl’s son Jeremiah play for the Pine Richland Rams. Now the interesting thing about the Hasleys is that they all support the football program and they all are excited to see Jeremiah play. The cousins, the uncles, the aunts, and even the matriarch of the family – Mrs. Hasley. Mother to Daryl, Chris and Craig and Jeremiah’s grandmother. No matter what the weather, she is there to support her grandson. That night it was senior night and the pride for Daryl and Kristin, when they escorted their son Jeremiah on the field, was evident in their bright smiles and happy conversation. Big night for the Hasleys for sure.

As the night went on, I was amazed at the announcer who seemed to say at the end of every play, ” Tackle by the senior- Big Jeremiah Hasley.” Or ” gain on the play by the senior- Big Jeremiah Hasley” Or ” reception by the senior, Jeremiah Hasley.” The young man is a human wrecking ball and it is not surprising that a lot of Division I football programs are interested in him. But he made his choice recently and accepted a full scholarship at Duke University. The young man is not only a good football player, who plays both sides of the ball the whole game, but is an excellent student and Duke should feel privileged to have him as a student athlete. This season is a wonderful finish for him seeing that he has state championships already in the bank as Pine Richland is the reigning Class 5 A State Football Champion. No small feat and unfortunate that their championship winning coach is no longer with the team. The school board had a perceived issue with him and summarily dismissed him despite his huge success and his cohesiveness with the team. The seniors were devastated that their coach was the victim of an agenda that was never really validated. But the team persevered and Jeremiah leads the team this year as the captain and soul of the team. At 6’3 and 225 pounds, Jeremiah is an imposing figure on the field and he is visibly the leader of the Rams as they wage their way through the 2021 season. But that is not exclusively why Jeremiah and young men like him restore our faith in humanity. It goes much farther than his scholarship and his athletic ability.

Jeremiah and his grandma.

You see, Jeremiah has character. When Daryl and I went down on the field after the game, we came up to a completely exhausted player who leaves nothing on the field. He was tired and in a ball of sweat, but was the first to say- ” Hi Mr. McCloskey- how are you? ” Thanks a lot for coming to the game.” He summoned up all the positivity he could after a brutal hard hitting game to greet me and thank me for coming. Not the typical dead fish handshake, or someone who doesn’t look you in the eye when he greets you, but rather a polite, engaging young man who on senior night wanted to make sure that his grandma who was waiting in the wings was happy and that all his cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends like me had a good time at the game. How could we not?

Jeremiah at his old grade school classroom

Young men like Jeremiah give back to the community too. He recently visited his old grade school classroom and spoke to the students and answered their questions about football, what is is like to play, and other questions that Jeremiah patiently answered. They even asked for his autograph which he sheepishly gave them in humility befitting a young guy with his character.

As I said goodbye to the Hasley brothers, I went to my car and thought about what a great kid this Jeremiah is. I thought to myself, ” don’t believe all the junk you see on TV about the youth of America and the negative portrayal of the generation growing up today. Sure there are issues, but if you look at the youth today playing high school sports, participating in the band, or other extracurricular activities, you soon see that you can have faith in the generation coming up. As an older guy, I nostalgically look back on those days of my youth when I see things like Friday Night Lights. I am refurbished with the bright conversation and polite demeanor of a young man who has his life ahead of him. Good luck and God’s speed to Jeremiah and his parents. As Huey Lewis would say, ” his future’s so bright, I have to wear shades.” Thanks for reading.

Photos courtesy of proud mom – Kristin Hasley

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.