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.

Youth Mountain Biking is Booming!!!

When I was a kid, I loved to be outside. Still do, and it was fostered by my mother who always encouraged us to get outside and get some fresh air. Playing army in the woods, unorganized baseball, kickball, football were only interrupted by the ringing of the dinner bell by my dad after all day outside. Eventually we got into organized sports and team play was everything. Today there are a lot of distractions for kids including video games,I-Phones, and TV which play havoc with a plan by parents to encourage kids to play outside. A lot of kids would rather play in the virtual world than play in the real world outside. Enter Trail Adventures- a program put together by Allegheny County Parks and Recreation here in Western Pennsylvania. If you go to the Allegheny County Website https://alleghenycounty.us and go to the Parks page and search for Trail Adventures, you will see a sign up for an amazing program coached by Drew Landefeld and Cody Pletz. These two young guys put their heart and soul into youth mountain biking at the North Park Trail System in Northern Allegheny County.

The program begins with kids as young as 6 years old all the way to 18 years old with different coaches and divisions teaching kids how to ride a mountain bike and safely tackle the trail system with its rocks and roots along the way. When you see the parking lot full of parents and kids all excited to meet at the big tree and get their instructions for the day from Drew and Cody, the wide eyed excited kids can’t wait to get started. This program begins in April and ends in late fall before the time change and the improvement and skill level is amazing for such a young group of kids. Drew and Cody herd the cats, so to speak, and before the summer is over, the parents and kids have huge smiles on their faces and a new generation of mountain bikers is on their way to a lifetime of enjoyment on the trails. You can also reference http://www.trailadventurespgh.com

Similarly for the competitive set, one of the hottest leagues in the country today is the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) which fosters high school racing and a genuine team dynamic. The charter states that NICA promotes skill development, healthy low impact outdoor recreation,coaches training, and environmental advocacy for the protection of trails. Aside from that, there is some pretty robust racing and it is not only huge on a national scale, but really huge for us locally. Jim Pottinger, who is department chair of gifted support in the Gateway School District, is the head coach of the Pittsburgh East Cycling Team which is based at Boyce Park in the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. Jim not only has his own kids racing,(daughter Riley and son Tobin- both tops in their division) but along with the 30 plus racers and 15 plus parents, they care and tend to the trails in Boyce which is one of our more beautiful parks in the county system. A robust race schedule happens late summer into fall with the championships held at Boyce Park. The team travels to races across the state of Pennsylvania along with local match ups with local teams. The team has strong support from Barry and Cindi Jeffries, the owners of Dirty Harry’s Bike Shop in Verona, Pa. Not only does Pittsburgh East get equipment support, but Barry and Cindi have funded a lot of the trail work and the race support for the team and park as well.

Lou Marshall, who coaches the Pittsburgh North Cycling Team, also has a strong connection with Pittsburgh Pro Bikes and together with a team of talented racers from the North Allegheny and Pine Richland School districts, they are very competitive both regionally and nationally, but they have a strong emphasis this year on training and riding for fun.   West Virginia has strong representation as well with over 130 racers currently competing and coached by Cassie Smith, a nationally competitive pro racer in her own right.

A disturbing statistic is that over 35 percent of teenagers today are considered obese. Youth mountain biking clubs and NICA clubs are battling this statistic and encouraging kids to get outside and play in the woods and mountains which they will be able to enjoy for the rest of their lives. Not everyone can play football or baseball on a team, but a lot of kids can certainly ride a bike and enjoy a sport that will last them a lifetime. Message being, get off the keyboards and play outside. Get involved as kids in a local program like Trail Adventures, compete or just ride with a local NICA club. And get your parents out to coach, train and be a part of a booming environment which is mountain biking. It is alive again folks. Be a part of it. Thanks for reading. Click on the tab to the left of the website and enter your email to be a follower. Also at the bottom on your smart phone. I will try to entertain and not bore you………once a week.

Photos courtesy of Jim Pottinger and “Coach” Lou Marshall.

” You see that trail? Don’t take it”

Please observe this picture of so called ” experts” trying to all repair a chain at a recent MTB event in West Virginia. Take a moment to take it in. Then PLEASE,PLEASE, take a moment to review this link. https://youtu.be/L6YrqZ7HZ-0 This is the opening scene from my favorite movie ” The Quiet Man” with John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Ward Bond, Barry Fitzgerald and the affable Victor McLaglan. Stop, take a moment and watch this hilarious scene where everybody’s an expert as in typical Irish fashion. Finished? Ok? Don’t skip it. You won’t get the rest of this drivel.

Now, fast forward from this iconic film from 1952 to the present day characters hovering over the good doctor’s chain down in West Virginia. Everybody involved is an expert. Initially, the issue is the Doc. His bike is used and abused as he makes a practice of riding over every log and rock pile he can and trashing his bike in the effort. He abuses himself too. How many guys fall and break their nose on the rocks only to put it back in place and keep riding? Dirty Harry’s Bike Shop always tells us that they could fix the Doc if only he would leave his bike long enough for them to do a thorough and well needed repair. Nonetheless, issues ensue and the repair is like a magnet to the confident crew of “experts”. First comes the ” Shark” who muscles his way in and takes hold of the chain and mumbles what is needed by way of a quick link which ultimately is the wrong one. Minutes, which seem like hours, roll by with the crew getting impatient to ride only to be stalled by the first attempt to quickly repair the chain.

The others, like the author here, making a funny face at the behest of our rider/photographer who laughs at the scene and makes detrimental and funny remarks about the Doc and his assistant trying to muscle the repair. The photographer’s wife here is disinterested as she longs to begin the ride so as not to put the afternoon’s activities any further behind. We are there to see the Mountain Bike World Cup Finals and the quick link issue is anything but quick.

Finally John, similar to the Barry Fitzgerald character who comes in to rescue John Wayne from the pile of Irish “experts”, brings the right link to the repair and silently and swiftly repairs the chain and the Doc is saved from further ridicule. Then the real fun begins. What trail to take? ” You see that trail over there? Don’t take it, it will do you no good.” In typical Irish fashion, the crew discusses where to go and the maps come out, the memories of the trails, and the GPS indicators which do absolutely no good in remote West Virginia. Finally the quick witted photographer and unofficial leader of the pack takes over and takes us on a repetitive route of rocks, roots, steep climbs and missed opportunities. Once again the maps come out and everybody’s an expert on where to go, and if we can ride to a place where we can take a chairlift out. The Doc takes the main group on a detour as he says he knows that the fractal group has gone ahead there. He turns left with no idea about where the “left” will take them.

Mountain bikers are funny people. Passionate in their pursuit of fitness, fun, great gear, and finally knowing how to survive and where to go on the wilderness trails which we all love. But everybody is an expert. We all think we know all the trails and don’t need maps or GPS. When we get lost, it is someone else’s fault and the resultant conversation of what trail we should have taken, fruitlessly leads us to conclusions of no consequence. The beers come out afterwards and the abuse continues with laughs, recommendations on what are better trails, and what we all will do the next time we ride together.

Newcomers are always pleasantly surprised at the variety of personalities and abilities on the rides and if nothing else, they will know that if they take the trail that they think is right, it will do them no good at all. Thanks for reading.

More Cowbell

Well folks, back in the saddle again and commenting on a unifying item called the cowbell. In World Cup ski races, you can hear the cowbells clanging and ringing on he sides of the race trail as the racers scream by at top speeds. The Swiss have a habit of bringing monster cowbells that sound more like a clanging gong than a ring of a standard bell found on the necks of the bovine community in Switzerland.

I came prepared this past weekend with my official Swiss cowbell that I bought on my honeymoon some 31 years ago in Zermatt. This tradition of cheering on the competitors is also used in World Cup Mountain Bike racing and last weekend the alpine sound greeted the downhill competitors as well as the cross country competitors as they made their way down rock strewn and root infested Snowshoe, West Virginia. I rang my bell for reigning World Champion Nino Schurter as he climbed the summit of a grinder right before a treacherous rock garden. I rang for the rest of the field and was joined in a chorus of bells of all shapes and sizes. I rang for all American competitors as I hoped that the home squad would make a good showing on American soil. This is the World Cup Finals after all in Wild, Wonderful, West Virginia. How much more American can you get than that? Kate Courtney- our former World Champion for Cross Country, dug deep and finished 5th in the XC race which guaranteed her a victory in the overall season title. ” USA, USA, USA,” went the massive crowd chant along with an assembled thousands of ringing cowbells.

As I thought about the event on the way home which included some great riding at places like Tea Creek and Silver Creek Backcountry trails nearby with my band of traveling mountain bikers, I thought of what the cowbell meant in the melee of the excited fanfare. I thought about how I had not been to a World Class event in some time but looking at the athletes, soigneurs, photographers, team mechanics, nothing much had changed. The gathering of the mountain bike tribe was still pretty much in tact even though some of us had aged and many new youthful faces had emerged. The vibe that Snowshoe created was energetic and supportive of cross country races and downhill alike. But the thing that really struck me was the unity of the crowd, cheering on their favorites and taking in the brilliant sunshine ringing their cowbells enthusiastically regardless of age, faith, race, creed, color, Democrat, Republican, whatever. We are all mountain bikers and we love our heroes as well as the tribe we ride with. All joined together as one unified throng of thousands, ringing our cowbells and smiling. Everybody should take a lesson from the mountain bike tribe. We have a lot more in common that we think. Thanks for reading.  Click on the follow button and join in the fun as I continue to muse about things in later life.  Thanks.

A Refreshing Break

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

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

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

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

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

Hat Hair

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

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

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

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

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

The Spinning Alternative

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

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

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

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

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