The Magic of Cairns

The marker on the trail.

Recently on some mountain bike rides I have come across cairns marking the trails. These piles of rocks, sometimes artistically created, serve as a marker as to where the trail goes and how a hiker or mountain biker should proceed. There has been a lot of controversy about these piles in a lot of publications because the critics have said that the purpose of cairns has been distorted. The dialog has been around people using cairns to show where they have been like some kind of geological social media instead of using the cairns as the markers they are intended to be. I would see them all the time on the trails in and around Mt. Washington in New Hampshire and was happy they were there to mark my path in some pretty unpleasant weather. The fog and limited visibility sometimes made navigation impossible were it not for the strategically placed cairns marking the trail.

I witness daily the controversy on my local trail where a little cairn marking a left turn on the trail is built and torn down repeatedly apparently by people with different views on the purpose of cairns. Personally I like them and although I understand the view of not putting one up with no meaning, I do know that someone, somewhere marked the trail for a purpose. In a way, those people were saying ” look where I have been and mark your way on this trail.” So the controversy is a bit complicated because although cairns do mark the trails, someone had to build them as a guide for all of us who come upon a fork in the trail.

When I came upon my local controversial cairn the other day, the metaphorical meaning of cairns creeped into my mind as I bounced along the trail. I thought about people in our lives who serve as a kind of marker for us. Blazing the trail ahead and guiding us perhaps to places and events that we would not ordinarily see. Those people pile up the rocks of experience for us and guide us to a greater understanding of the world around us. People like Jeff Chetlin seen here in the middle leading a ride out of Yellow Creek here in Pa.

Jeff is our mountain bike, hiking, back country skiing, motorcycling, snowmobile riding, metaphorical cairn that inspires all of us. We are inspired by his infectious enthusiasm for the world around us. Recently, he and his wife Julie invited all of us to their home in Bend, Oregon where we were all treated to days of great riding. Jeff values his friends and as he says, ” there are only so many QDLs in life.” Quality Days Left. Jeff is a proponent of making the most out of all of them.

The Chetlin Tribe

Recently, Jeff had a bit of a setback. After a surgical repair to some congenital issues with his heart, he had some complications that have him currently rehabbing. This has been a tough time for Jeff whose ” gas pedal to the floor” personality have him impatiently working through all of this. It has been tough on Julie and the boys and although all of us are praying for a speedy recovery, this has not been easy and Jeff is seeing some of his priorities shift a bit. But we all know he will make a big time comeback and will soon be leading us around again. I can hear him saying to me on a particular tough section of trail, ” Pat- is there a stoplight up there?”

It’s funny how I have recently been thinking of these little piles of rocks and then this metaphorical understanding of cairns in our lives. No one said it better though than Steve Gurtner who recently texted the following picture and verbiage:

The Gurtner Cairn

” Like all of you, I have been thinking about Jeff and Julie. You’ve all seen these piles of stones, cairns, when we are out riding. When I came across one out there, I knew that Jeff probably blazed this trail, that I was on the right track, and I was encouraged to keep pedaling. So Jeff, here is a cairn at our house, so I can let you know you are on the right track and I hope to encourage you on your ride. Maggie and I love you both.”

Think about the people in your life that inspire you. Cherish them and make sure you get QDLs with them. Pray for Jeff and Julie and the boys for a speedy recovery. Thanks for reading and thanks Steve for the inspirational message.

ADVENTUREFEST 2021

So, I am laying in my tent Friday night listening to the Biblical rains falling on my rain fly and hoping that it will stay dry for me as I get through the night of really foul weather at Adventurefest 2021. For those of you who might be wondering what in the world is Adventurefest, it is a really spectacular weekend of men getting together at Agape Farm and Retreat Center in Shirleysburg, Pa. It is an annual thing that my friend Mark (aka Shark) Sauers and I attend in the mountains of central Pa where there is axe throwing, bon fires, drones, bike tosses, motorcycling, mini-bike riding and for us mountain biking at Raystown. Typical frivolity for a group of 150 or so of us who get together to camp and listen to really great messages from pastors affiliated with the Assembly of God Church.

So, before you hit the click button, give me a chance here to explain the good news presented by the pastors starting with Jonathan Wyns on Friday night as the welcoming speaker. Accompanied to the ” Long Building” by the musical excellence of the Morgan Dolan band, we were treated to a message that initiated the theme for the weekend called ” Boots on the Ground.” A military term basically adapted to the message of getting into your boots and moving forward to present the good news of the Gospel to your friends and family and having the courage to stand up and be the men that we were created to be- as husbands, fathers, and friends. The typical misconception of Christian messaging today is that it is condescending, or ” above it all.” When really the opposite is true when you hear testimonies of guys who sold drugs, used drugs, recovering alcoholics, and general sinners expressing their need for the saving message that Jesus died for our sins and welcomes us into His fold if we only believe. That is it. A positive message if I ever heard one and one that I feel needs to be shared. Shark always says why wouldn’t we share good news? Like telling our friends and family about a good restaurant or a good bike or a good pair of skis. Stuff that we do all the time. Why not share the good news of the Gospel? I did not grow up in the Pentecostal tradition so over the years it took me a little time to understand and be comfortable with the vigor of the messages presented and received by the men. But let me tell you, if you have ever heard an Assembly of God preacher, you will not forget it. Whether you are a believer, have faith, or have no faith, listening to one of these guys stirs something deep in your soul that at the very least will make you think. Jonathan started that and as we made our way back to our soggy tents, I definitely thought about what the heck is going on in our world and what I need to do to at least try to make it a little better.

Saturday morning welcomed us with brilliant sunshine and after I cranked up the Jet Boil and prepared the Shark breakfast, he spoke to a group of 20 or so early risers about the need to move forward like the disciples did in the book of Acts. For those of you who know the Shark, he is a fun loving guy but never sell him short on his faith. The man can present. I was so impressed with my friend’s message about the rag tag group of fishermen who changed the world. The mountain biking at Raystown Lake never disappoints and we connected with our Adventurefest friend Roger Evans from West Virginia. Roger always rides with us and is a quality guy who we really like. Strong rider too. It was just the three of us this year riding but we connected with a young lady from Sunbury , Pa who turned out to be a terrific rider and gave us all we could handle with her riding skills and fitness. Sarah from Sunbury.

Saturday evening the band struck up again and the speaker was a retired fireman from Buffalo who is now a pastor with AOG. Tom Sember gave all of some sobering statistics like percentages of men who are absent in the lives of their children. Percentages of guys in prison who had no father growing up or an absent father. Inner city statistics of kids with no fathers or father figures. Really heart wrenching and Tom, in the AOG preacher tradition, put it out there strongly to us to be the men we are supposed to be regardless of the culture we live in today. Boots on the ground and take that step forward. He kind of resonated with me because I tend to not be a pushy person and am a little shy about sharing the gospel unless people give me an opening. But he said he didn’t care if people thought he was a “Jesus freak”. ” Who cares ?” he said, and we should not care either if we share good news especially in this tumultuous world that we live in. Sleeping in my dry tent again, and looking up at the stars, I thought a lot about what Tom said and rested comfortably after a good ride, good dinner, and really great fellowship and preaching.

One of the great traditions of Adventurefest is the late night hike up the mountain to a wooden cross. It is there that guys present their life stories and how the Gospel has changed them. Growing up like I did, I had it pretty good. But listing to these guys from inner city Philadelphia give their testimonies about where they have been and where they are now and hammering a nail into that cross symbolizing that they are giving it all to the Lord to fix, I am always stunned. Greg Nass, the director of Adventuremen and Adventurefest works tirelessly with his amazing staff, for a year to put on this event and no matter how tired he is, he is always there at that cross and hammering a nail in for our children. That they grow up and know the Lord. Greg is an amazing individual.

Pastor Jimmie Rivera from the City Limits Assembly of God in Allentown,Pa. presented the closing message on Sunday. After Shark and I packed up right before another torrential thunderstorm, we made our way to the Long Building and sat in the front row to listen to a truly amazing preacher. Like I said before, AOG preachers are not shy and Jimmie talked about the courage of Joshua in the Old Testament in very graphic terms that had men wriggling in their seats. But the message was consistent with Boots on the Ground in that Joshua had great faith and put one foot in front of the other, and crossed the Jordan River to victory over the enemy. The perspiration was coming down Pastor Jim’s face as he put it out there about the importance of commitment and not to go back to the norm on Monday morning. Make a difference and be the man, father, husband, friend, you are supposed to be.

So if you haven’t clicked me off yet and are asking yourself, ” McCloskey- what on earth are you doing out in the middle of nowhere sleeping in a tent with a bunch of rowdies every year?” The answer is simple – good news to be shared. Mountain bikes, grills going strong, bacon, drones, basketball, mini-bikes, motorcycles, bon fires, fishing, camping- all make Adventurefest fun. But the messaging all make sleeping in the tent and roughing it a little out of the norm so worthwhile. Come to Adventurefest next year. Ask me, Shark or Greg Nass about it and we will give you details. Thanks for not clicking and reading.

” For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believe in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” John 3-16

Connections

The Minarets- The View that Never Disappoints

Sorry I missed my Monday post but here it is a little late. I was skiing Mt. Rose, Nevada on Monday with my pals Eric and Hutch. We were on our usual spring trip to Mammoth and finishing in Tahoe. Hutch and I both said on the chairlift that if Eric had not moved to Nevada, we might not be here. It is our connection to him that enables us to ski in a great part of the country seeing that he moved there from Vermont. I have been skiing with Eric for over 40 years and his friend Hutch from Vermont for over 20 years. But it is just not the “hookup” of a friend in ski country, but rather a lifelong relationship that has developed between us as a result of skiing. The connection is more than skiing- it is true friendship when times are good and not so good.

Top of Diamond Peak. Maybe one of the best views in skiing. Lake Tahoe.

Then there is the spontaneous connection like what happened at Mammoth. My friend Robb from my local area, mentioned to me via social media that he and some friends were going ski touring in California and would we be available to ski with them at Mammoth before they went on their excursion? I texted back an enthusiastic “yes” and we connected at the top of chair 1 at Mammoth and had a grand day skiing together. Robb, Andy, Don, and Perry, all friends from my local ski area, were delighted to be led around by Eric who is the most familiar with the Mammoth terrain. It is not often that you can get a group of 7 and stay together. But these guys are all great skiers and the “group of seven” stayed connected and maxed out the vertical. Even though the really good Mammoth skiing off the the gondola was not available that day due to wind hold, Eric gave the boys all they wanted skiing the lower half of the mountain. The connection between the Pittsburgh boys and the Vermont/Tahoe boys was a good one and now they have connections in both Vermont and Tahoe.

Andy and Robb
Smiling Perry- Don was there somewhere?

Finally there is the connection that makes you think. Why did it happen, and perhaps for a reason? We were skiing June Mountain after leaving Mammoth and taking in some amazing scenery. At the top of of one of the chairlifts, we heard a voice calling to us. Skiing off the chair behind us was a smaller person, bundled up with large goggles and helmet. As the person approached us, the conversation was about how we all met at the gondola at Mammoth and we were recognized by the person as the “Stockli” guys. This person was skiing Stocklis too and was very happy to connect with us that morning. As the conversation continued, it was noted that the person was 60 years old. I said ” well you are a young guy”, kidding as we were older. The person replied that “she” was not a “he” and my gaffe became apparent. She laughed and said she was a lesbian and for me not to worry about it. In fact , she said” I take it as a compliment” Hard to tell with all the clothes on, but Deb from Mammoth was happy to ski with us as she said we were “really good skiers” and that we got her psyched to ski that morning. She seemed to want to hang with us and I boarded the chair with her because I felt bad alluding that she was a he. Guilt ridden hell that morning but apparently I was meant to make that connection. Deb told me that she moved to Mammoth from Vegas and loved working at the gondola. It was a good gig for her retirement years. She had a tough time with some customers at the gondola the day before. Apparently they didn’t want to wear their mask and the altercation became a little nasty. She said most of the people are like us, very compliant. But this year, she said about 15% of the people have been jerks. We had some good runs together and when I saw her later in the lunch line, she looked at me and said” thanks for skiing with me. I needed that this morning and you guys were great.” Not sure what was going on with Deb, if the altercation the day before had her down, or something else? But again , the connection was meant to be and perhaps skiing once again proved to be a conduit. You never know what is going on in people’s lives and if somehow, you can make their day a little brighter, you have succeeded as a human for at least that day.

Lifelong connections, spontaneous connections, or random chance connections are all good. I know one thing. Next year at the Mammoth gondola, there will be a happy face reconnecting with us and thanking us for saying hello. Good on ya Deb. Thanks for reading.

June Mountain Perfectly Groomed

The Brendan Boat

From the Best of http://www.chroniclesofmccloskey.com

Just trying to take a break from all the Covid-19 stuff and give you all a little enjoyment for St. Patrick’s Day. Back a number of years when I was in Ireland riding my bike, I peddled my arse to the west coast and ended up on the Dingle Peninsula. That is where I purchased the item above that depicts St. Brendan and his monks rowing their dory boat. You see St. Brendan and the monks were from a place very close to Dingle and they are famous for their explorations of the Aran Islands and westward spreading the gospel. Read Tim Severin’s book ” The Brendan Voyage” for a fascinating account of their voyages. It is said that they made it all the way to Newfoundland 500 years before Leif Erikson and close to 1000 years before Columbus made his way to the Caribbean. National Geographic also did a piece in August of 1977 reporting on Severin’s re-creation of the voyage outlined in the book. My point today is that St. Brendan and the boys were not much into social distancing. In fact they went way out of their way to spread the gospel and also meet new people and visit new lands on the way. The Irish are like that.

St. Patrick’s Day is a celebration of what the saint did in Ireland as a Christian missionary and bishop. It also celebrates Irish culture with parades, Guiness, Irish Car Bombs, and similar merriment but also recognizes the social character of the Irish and their descendants like me. My mother was a huge fan of the day and also a huge fan of all things Irish. Her humor was represented in sayings like the above and also in her love for things like Belleek china, Waterford crystal and making Irish soda bread. But again- it involved people, and our house growing up had that classic Irish tradition of gathering friends and family and enjoying the humor and the company. I spent many times on the piano in my folk’s house playing Irish songs and to this day do the same at home. My mom’s favorite saying was that “happiness is like a perfume, you can’t spread it on others without getting a little on yourself.” And she did in many ways- cooking, singing, entertaining her friends and relatives, and well…….being Irish. I believe I received her sense of humor as a gift because I always try to look at life from the bright side. If I can offer some humor to my friends and family along the way, I feel good and I hope they do as well. I tell my inane stories of my experiences on the chairlift and on mountain bike rides, much to the amusement of my friends who have graciously heard the stories over and over again. But I believe that a little self deprecation, which is the root of many of my stories, leads to belly laughs and people shaking their heads and saying………..McCloskey???????”

 

So this Tuesday is St. Patrick’s Day. Yes- we are in the middle of a national crisis. The parades have all been cancelled, restaurants are closing, bars are closing, we are encouraged to be diligent and wash our hands and keep our distance. Not in the Irish tradition at all. But we need to do it. But when the day comes, and you have “The Quiet Man” on television or maybe “Waking Ned Devine” , think of the folks that you would like to be with and give them a call or a text. Have a laugh and try to keep some humor during some trying times. I will probably do that and bore people with more stories and corny Irish jokes, but they will laugh and say- ” thanks for the call man”.        Slainte’ .

” Oh Thanksgiving- Oh!”

” Oh Thanksgiving , Oh Thanksgiving. How we greet you as in days of yore. Coming as you do in autumn when the summer ain’t no more. Oh Thanksgiving, Oh Thanksgiving, Oh!”

At the beginning of most Thanksgiving dinners in my house growing up, my Grandmother Reynolds would always recite this crazy little poem. We all would laugh and any new people or strays as they were called, would look at each other in bewilderment and wonder – ” what was that?” But Thanksgiving in our house was always a big deal. My mom was a heck of a good cook and she would make several turkeys, mounds of stuffing and potatoes, gravy and all the fixings for all of the relatives and those friends whom she felt needed a helping hand or lift at the holidays. She and my dad always worked so hard to make it nice and the meal was off the charts delicious. My favorite meal of the year. Plus, with my mom being the consummate entertainer, the house always looked festive and the fireplace was roaring because my mom thought of it all as entertainment and our house as a stage.

Fast forward and my dad bought a green Buick station wagon to pick up all the relatives. At 16, that was my job, and we laughingly called the station wagon the “ambulance” with the advancing age of my relatives. In fact, when they had too many Manhattans at my house, which I always made to help my dad, the term ambulance took on a serious meaning because I literally had to pour them into the station wagon in various stages of inebriation- they were Irish you know. My mother’s Aunt Lee would always be looking for her glasses after too many highballs which were invariably perched on the top of her head. My mother’s cousin would be putting the ignition key into his side window of his car. I told him to sit tight and I would take him back home later. The Manhattans were lethal and my dad’s eggnog was even more so. Octogenarians tended to be fragile anyhow and after several bombs served at my folks house, they only had one recourse- home in the ambulance.

It got to the point eventually when the ” ambulance” became only the delivery vehicle as we got older and my sister and I were in charge of delivering the Thanksgiving meal to all the elderly relatives who really could not make the trek to my folks house any more. I can remember many a Thanksgiving spending the whole afternoon delivering 5 complete turkeys and the accompanying dinner to each of the relatives, helping them get it ready, saying grace with them, and then headed on to the next stop. My mom and dad were amazing in their zeal for Thanksgiving and to make sure that all of our family in some way was together with at least a good homecooked Thanksgiving dinner.

Oftentimes I was beat up before I started the deliveries with the neighborhood Turkey Bowls. The Slippery Rock kids and the Clarion kids who played football, took great delight knocking all of us younger neighborhood kids into the middle of next week at the annual football fest. I was careful not to get hurt before ski season, but can remember catching many passes and then getting absolutely creamed by a kid who played college football. My dad would come over to the field and tell me to start getting ready for the deliveries in the green station wagon and believe me, I was happy to leave.

When I think back on those days, I marvel at my folks who made entertaining an art form. They were very generous to my relatives and also our neighbors and the time spent on making 5 turkey dinners amazed me. They did it as a team and even to a young kid, it was impressive. Even more so as I look back today. I am grateful for my parents and the generous spirit in which we were raised.

I remember asking them why they went through all the effort and my mom’s famous line was always” Patrick- happiness is like a perfume that you can’t sprinkle on others without getting a little on yourself.” I really think that they got more happiness out of doing those nice things than the people that they served.

I think there is a lesson to be learned here in that in this day and age of isolation due to Covid, a polarized political climate, and general uncertainty. The need for reaching out is even more paramount than in my parent’s day. There will be a lot of people this year spending Thanksgiving without their family. It will be a strange year and yet, if we all pitch in and sprinkle a little bit of that perfume, we all will be better off until things return to normal someday. Even in these hard times, we all have a lot to be grateful for. I am thankful every day for many things and even though this year will not be shared with relatives and friends, I will be happy to look at my wife and say , ” things will get better real soon.” Thanks for reading and reach out to someone who might want to hear from you. Sprinkle some of that perfume.

Another Lap Around the Sun

I always liked that expression, ” just another lap around the sun.” A funny way to describe birthdays of which I had one this weekend. Everybody has birthdays. No big deal except as I get older, they take on a little more significance to me because I am starting to see them as time slipping away. I have a friend who thinks of it as quality days left and to make the most of them. Now I am not ready for the glue factory by any stretch of the imagination, but you do start to think of these things as yet another year or lap around the sun goes by.

Mom and me at Lake Erie

Thinking about laps, I think about all the time I spent running laps around North Park Lake , or lapping my favorite mountain bike loops, or lapping my favorite ski runs. Up the chair and back down again trying to make the best turns I could. Running around the lake to see how fast I could go and to get in shape for something. Riding the bike and only seeing the guy’s rear end in front of me struggling to keep up or going fast enough to keep from getting run over.

These days, the laps are more about taking in the scenery and enjoying the ride more than anything. Looking at the changing leaves in the fall, or taking in the mountains from the seat of the chairlift or at the beginning of a run. Sure I try to make good turns but it is not about the most vertical feet attained anymore. Trying to enjoy the laps and make them count a little more from the experience side of things. Slowing down to take in the peaks and valleys below on a mountain bike ride. Enjoying the laps instead of always killing myself to attain some goal.

Sitting on a rock in Bend, Oregon – taking it in.
Enjoying some laps with my wife.

As I thought back this weekend on laps around the sun, I thought about what the next laps should include. I think we all have to think about that as we work through the Covid situation and the state of the country. There are people out there who are struggling and part of our mission on this next lap should be to help them . We all should focus on being kind and considerate in this age of social media nastiness. The political stress is waning now and I think we all could make great use of our lap around the sun helping people in need and being kind to others including those who don’t necessarily agree with us. These quality days left can include just being aware of your family, friends and neighbors and going the extra mile for them. An old pastor friend of mine once said that you don’t need to go out of the country on a mission trip if you don’t want to go. There are plenty of opportunities to help people right in your own hometown or neighborhood. All you need to do is look, listen and be aware. Just a little daily consideration for your friends and family is great too. We all need to look for those chances each day. Not preaching here, just sayin. We all are in the same boat together. Maybe opening a door for an elderly person with a smile could make their day? A kind word of encouragement for a friend. Helping someone out whose vehicle is stuck in the snow. Letting someone with a handful of groceries go in front of you. (People do that for me because I am too lazy to get a cart and end up with too much. LOL) Little things sometimes go a long way to helping someone just make it through the day. A phone call?

Time flies folks and as I look at the difference between these two guys, I realize that the laps around the sun are going faster and faster. I feel sometimes like I am driving a Ferrari, way too fast, standing on the brakes and not slowing down at all. Lets all slow down and enjoy the laps. Lets all make good use of them. We need to look for opportunities to be kind. Thanks for reading.

The Beer in the Parking Lot

Mihalsky- Our favorite splitboarder and his Belgium White

The snap of the pop top, the removal of the bottle cap with the Dirt Rag 25th Anniversary bottle opener. ( My job) That familiar fizz of released Co2 and beer foam opens smiles just like the bottles or cans in the parking lot after a great day. One of the wonderful traditions of a day on the trails on a mountain bike or a day on the slopes, is that end of the day beer in the parking lot. Kind of a thing we look forward to as a tribe with almost ritualistic fervor. The clinking of bottles or cans is an unspoken toast between friends knowing that what is shared with that beer celebrates a great day.

The Notorious MTB Group

When you sit down in your camp chair after a great ride, not only is that first sip refreshing, but it is the celebratory gateway to some great conversations among friends about how the day went. Tough climbs, rough trails, scenic beauty from the seat of a bike, are all topics of conversation in the parking lot with a cold one in hand.

Hutch and the late, great , Proctor Reid

After a great day on the slopes, there is nothing like that beer that is waiting for you from the cooler. Cold, refreshing, and we are not even out of the ski boots yet. ” What a day!” ” That snow was superb!” ” How about that last run?” ” We will remember that one forever.” And on and on with the one-upsmanship continuing in the parking lot over who brought the most tasty IPA. ” Oh wait to you taste this one!”

Apres’ in the back of the Jeep.

It is hard to accurately describe these moments in time when a great day is celebrated with beers in the lot. We all need those moments to celebrate what we love and do best in our recreational lives. And we need each other more than we know. All the angst, issues, worries and concerns of everyday life seem to be put on hold in the parking lot. These days we really can’t go to the apres’ ski spots but really, who cares? I would much rather have that cold one in the lot with my buddies than drinking an overpriced draft in some watering hole where people have no idea what we all just did. Cleaning that trail section, dropping that cornice, and celebrating those efforts of the day, seem all too important to release them to the general public in a bar.

Things are a little different now anyways. There are more of us celebrating in parking lots and tailgates, socially distanced of course, and most likely, it will continue like that this coming ski season. And that’s ok with me. I can eat a sandwich on an outside bench, stay outside to ski or ride, and look forward to that ritual of friendship in the parking lot. Remember, it is not about getting blasted, or pounding beers, but rather about a gathering of friends with a toast outside. Enjoy a cold one with your friends. Thanks for reading.

Garage Door Bob and the Thirsty Thursdays

The tough guy who you see in the middle here with the studded fat bike tires for winter riding is Garage Door Bob. Aptly named because of his highly successful garage door installation and repair business – B&V Garage Doors. B for Bob and V for his lovely wife Vicky. To say that Bob is an avid mountain biker would be a bit of an understatement looking at his own garage filled with bikes, wheel sets, and parts. Bob loves to mountain bike and loves it all year long. The amazing thing is that Bob will ride on 90 + degree, high humidity days after putting in a full days work installing or repairing garage doors. He will do the same in raging snowstorms on icy trails. But what makes Bob and his wife Vicky really special is his ability to round up fellow riders weekly with a text that simply says” Thirsty Thursday- 5:45- Devil’s Elbow Grove- no replies. Just show up or don’t show up- don’t care.” Really a misnomer because Bob does care. He just doesn’t want all the text chatter all day while he is working. LOL!!!

Thirsty Thursday is a tradition that was started by Bob back in the day and has continued along with other weekly rides for our eclectic group of mountain bike riders. There are the tough guys up front who push the pace and then the stragglers who keep the group in sight to the best of their abilities. The tough guys wait at the turns to make sure everybody is along for the ride as it is a no drop ride. But for the most part, all the riders are able to at least keep up and Bob is happy with his weekly band of followers on the trails. We are squeezed a little tight here for social distance but the picture was worth it showing the weekly group and some additions and subtractions as the weeks go by, all year long. But as much as everybody likes the ride, the real thing that people look forward to is the post ride at the grove with beers, snacks, and food graciously provided by Bob and Vicki and Tina and the Shark. Another fun couple who like to contribute to the camaraderie. As long as I have know GDB, he has always brought snacks, beers and been extremely generous at the post- ride festivities- socially distanced of course, and making sure that everybody has a good time. There is something to be said for the post- ride. Sitting in your chair, sipping a beverage, and reminiscing about the crazy stuff that happened. Mountain biking is an accident waiting to happen sometimes. The conversation also turns to what we all will do on future rides and if there are any trips planned. These post ride festivities remind me of apres-ski in the winter around a fire talking basically about the same thing. What happened, what was funny, what do we do next?

Bob and Vicki, Shark and Tina fuel this weekly gathering in more ways than one. And in these days of Zoom, Teams, social isolation, masks, and other Covid related precautions, it is important to somehow be able to get together with your friends in some outdoor activity and have that one on one conversation with a live person. GDB makes it happen each week and although he says he doesn’t care who shows up, he is the first guy to encourage you to ride the whole loop and stay with the group no matter what. He feeds you, he inspires you, he pushes you and he motivates you. Something we all need at least once a week.

Don’t we all need a Garage Door Bob to keep us motivated through these strange social times? Don’t we need more than Zoom, Teams and other forms of communication that really don’t cut it for interaction? Don’t we need that time to sit back and enjoy the remnants of the evening and the cool temperatures seeing the smiles on everyone’s post ride faces? Socially distanced of course. Sure we do. We all need people like GDB and his Thirsty Thursdays. Thanks for reading.

” People- people who need people, are the luckiest people in the world.”
– Barbara Streisand – ” Funny Girl”.

The Operative Word is “Yes”

This photo was taken over the weekend up at McConnel’s Mills State Park here in Western Pa. Janet and I were hiking and I was experimenting with an app on the I-Phone called Pro HDRX. Pretty cool playing with that and also having an opportunity to spend some quality time with my wife on the trails. Janet and I are ” empty nesters” for the first time in a long time, and trying to be as active as we can in the current world circumstances. For us lately, the operative word has been “yes.” I participate in two major activities with friends but it has been important for me to spend time with Janet and get her more into the great outdoors than she already is, and doing some of the things that I have enjoyed for many years. She jokes that I have had a whole separate life when we talk about my activities over the years and the pre-Janet world. But now, we are in a situation where we can enjoy the time, activities and places together.

I must commend many of my friends who find themselves in the same situation and it has been fun to get together with them because we share the same thoughts about the empty nest and what that entails. The gift of time has enabled us to participate in hiking, cycling,swimming,shooting, skiing and snowshoeing. My wife and I laugh when I refer to myself as the “human crowbar.” I sometimes have to crowbar Janet out of her comfort zone and pry open that door of complacency and comfort. But once she is out the door and participating, she is happy and enjoying the many activities that we can do together. I am a Type A personality and Jan will never be in that mold, but that is why we do so well together. She tempers my enthusiasm where needed and I get her out the door enjoying things that she might not do on her own.

The interesting thing is that we have a lot of time to talk. That hasn’t been the case in many years because we were always on the go with activities with our son Jack as he was growing up. Not unlike a lot of couples. Games, practices, school, and also in the more recent years caring for her ailing parents and the constraints that are associated with that. We have no regrets but we are really enjoying the time together now that we have not had in a long time. We try to be safe in this Covid-19 world. We wear our masks, wash our hands frequently and respect others on the trails and other outdoor venues. But at some point, we will all have to accept some level of risk to be active. That is still being sorted out nationally and also in our own sphere of influence. But we persevere and try to get that fresh air that is sorely needed during this strange time.

Finally, we discuss why we feel the need to be active and go places. Is it just to check the box and say we have been there and done that? Is it because we want to post it on Facebook, or do we really like to participate because of the true gratification of being outdoors and being together. We both think it is the latter and when you see gorgeous scenery even right in your backyard, you appreciate the opportunity. Time spent together is priceless and whether you have a spouse, significant other, friend, or children, the gift of time is precious. The outdoors presents many opportunities to bond in discussion as well as a mutual appreciation of God’s great creation. We are all living in uncertain times and it is important to make the best of these times together. “Yes” is the operative word to opportunity and kindness goes hand in hand with that. Thanks for reading.

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Uncle Bob

Uncle Bob Smith was my dad’s best friend. They first met when they lived at the Perry Manor Apartments in the same building as my parents. As life moved on, Karen, Bobby and Cindy Smith became friends with my sister Molly and me and we all went on trips together and had great times at each others homes over all the years. Even though they were not blood relatives, we called them Uncle Bob and Aunt Jean because we all were so close. Basically like family. Karen, Bobby and Cindy were our cousins. Plain and simple.

Uncle Bob was raised by his mother in Lawrenceville because his dad died early. As a city fireman, Uncle Bob’s dad had a hazardous job and one day he fell into an oil tank which was on fire and died leaving his young wife behind, who was pregnant with my Uncle Bob. Growing up in the depression and post depression was not easy for a mother raising a son alone and Uncle Bob spent a lot of time at the local Catholic Church which provided needed resources for a young guy growing up in a tough neighborhood under dire circumstances. Father Jack McDowell took my Uncle Bob under his wing and was, for all intents and purposes, his surrogate father allowing him to work around the church and helping with neighborhood missions directed by Father Jack. Uncle Bob played a lot of baseball in the neighborhood and around Pittsburgh, and eventually became good enough to be drafted by the Chicago Cubs farm organization. But instead of the path to professional baseball, Uncle Bob joined the Navy to better provide for his mother financially and found himself on the USS Copahee, an aircraft carrier deployed to the Philippines and Japan.

Fast forward- I first got to know what a character Uncle Bob was when I asked him to be my sponsor for my confirmation at St. Sebastian’s Parish. The nuns had us all in line and glared at us if any one of us made a move that would somehow ruin the ceremony. As we walked down the aisle, Uncle Bob was cracking jokes to me and I tried desperately not to laugh. When we approached the Bishop, it was a silent, reverent moment until Uncle Bob blurted out” Hey Jack- How the hell are ya?” To which Bishop McDowell, the former Father McDowell from Lawrenceville responded,” Bob Smith you old rascal – what brings you here?” His miter( the bishop’s pointy hat), almost fell off his head as the two of them shared a laugh and the nuns were horrified. I knew how cool Uncle Bob was that day and he became a legend among all my friends from grade school.

Over the years growing up, I shared a lot of laughs with Uncle Bob. His irreverent humor was so funny to me and he and I became close and saw each other a lot in those days. He was truly an uncle in every form of the word and was a mentor to me on how to not take life so seriously.

I attended Uncle Bob’s military funeral this past week at the Cemetery of the Alleghenies. He was 94 and was the last of my dad’s friends to leave this earth. The military service was so moving and the Navy personnel along with some veterans from the local VFW presided.   The flag ceremony along with the 21 gun salute and “Taps” brought tears to my eyes. The Navy personnel presented the flag to Uncle Bob’s daughter Karen, and there was not a dry eye in that chapel. Three shell casings are placed in the flag representing Duty, Honor, Country. All befitting my Uncle Bob who served selflessly in a war far from his home. The World War II guys are leaving fast and soon there will be no veterans left from that war. As I left the ceremony I thought a lot about Uncle Bob and his life in Lawrenceville, and his service to his country. People like him were truly from the greatest generation and I also thought about what Uncle Bob would have said about the current situation in our country. I am sure he would have laughed it off and called a lot of the anarchists a few rude names but would understand that a lot of them have no idea of what it takes to be in the war time military. Education and understanding will do a lot to heal things and Uncle Bob got his education in the streets and hard knocks of life. We all should be so fortunate to have an Uncle Bob who made the best of his situation, helped his neighbors and friends, loved his mother, wife and family, and served his country. Rest in peace Uncle Bob and I will see you on the other side someday. Thanks for reading.