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.

CycloXpgh ’21

The B Group on Mt. Washington

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

Aaron and the Shark- plotting the route.

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

Phipps Conservatory on a glorious day.

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

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

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

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

The Red Beard Lunch Stop

Coach Lou with an interesting coiffure in the heat at lunch

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

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

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

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

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

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

The End of an Era

So, I was on a mountain bike ride with my pal Steve Gurtner the other day and he said, ” did you hear they tore the cabin down on County Line Road?” I said- “Dixon’s ?” He said yes. “nothing but a big old hole in the ground now” I was a little shocked and took a drive over to see for myself. Sure enough. A big old hole in the ground where once stood the Rich’s cabin or as my dad used to call it…..” The Dixon Hilton.”

The cabin had come into some neglect and disrepair in the last number of years and my childhood friend Dixon Rich said that it was time for it to come down. Dixon bought the cabin from his folks a while back and as the years went on, it didn’t get much use and was becoming a liability. So Dixon sold the property to some friends who will build a new place. As I stared at the hole in the ground, lots of memories came rushing back to me from my childhood weekends in the cabin near Seven Springs Resort where we all skied as kids

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The old ski lodge and yours truly.

I grew up with Dixon Rich and we have been friends since the minor league in baseball. His dad bought the cabin a long time ago and every weekend, Bob Rose used to take all of us kids up in the station wagon to spend the weekends at the Rich cabin. Sleeping bags all over the floors were common and the bunk beds were filled as well. Usually it was either Sally and Bob Rose, Barley and Dixon Rich Sr., or Ted and Mary Struk who had the chaperone duties and cooking detail to keep all of the neighbor kids from the Berkley Hills area fed and in line. That was the standard weekend in the winter for all of us thanks to the generosity of Dixon Rich Sr. who got the place for all of us to enjoy. I couldn’t wait for the phone to ring on a Friday afternoon when Bob Rose Sr. would call and say- ” 15 minutes- be ready and have all your gear ready.” We would ski Friday nights until 11:00, all day Saturday, Saturday night, and all day Sunday until we would pack up and head back to the burg. That is where we all really learned to ski at Seven Springs, and spending our nights at the cabin on County Line Road. For years!!!!

Dixon and I still skiing together nearly 60 years later.

As the years went on, kids became teen agers and there were all kinds of cars in the driveway. The key to the cabin was always on the top of the entry door and the only rule was before you left, you better put the key back where it belonged. If those walls could talk, you would hear some tall tales from that cabin with all of those raging hormones and visitors coming from near and far to ski weekends with the Berkeley Hills crowd. The parents would still show up from time to time but their git up and go for us had gone up and left as they aged a bit. The Dixon Hilton was party central for many of us growing up on weekends in the Laurel Highlands. Dix and I got into mountain biking around the same time and we used the cabin as a meeting place for our growing number of riding friends. It was cool to have a place to stay and hang out after a big ride from the cabin, over to Hidden Valley and back again. Dixon and I would also take mega rides to Ohiopyle and often get lost on the way back. We relied on the sunset to give us direction and if it got too late, the kindly neighbors from Indian Head would give us a ride back up the hill to the cabin where we were completely exhausted. When they had the NORBA National Mountain Bike series at Seven Springs, Dixon and I raced in our category, and then watched the national class races. The whos who of mountain bike racing came to Seven Springs in those days and somehow they all heard of the parties at the cabin on County Line Road. It was not uncommon to see luminaries of the mountain bike world show up in Dixon’s yard. Maurice and Elaine Tierney of Dirt Rag Magazine, Sue Haywood, Kurt Vooreis, and even Gary Fisher graced the grounds of the Dixon Hilton. The cabin became the meeting place for rides and the after ride festivities for years and it became our little year round resort.

Tough Trail at the NORBAS

Time flew by and our little band of neighbor kids spread out all over the country. The cabin didn’t get much use in recent years and one time Dixon was staying there and he called me on the phone. ” Hey Patrick, you wouldn’t believe it. I was sleeping and at about 3:00 AM the deck fell off.” ” I didn’t know you had to shovel snow off the deck to relieve the weight.” ” All of a sudden it was gone” We both had a good laugh about that one along with some other good memories.

I talked to Dixon the other day and he told me about the sale. I asked him if he kept some memorabilia from the cabin and he said that he had, including the valued pair of Jet Stix. We both laughed and said most people would not even know what they were. For you younger folks- google Jet Stix. Also- he said he kept the flashing yellow light that they used to alert people coming up County Line that the cabin was open and people were there.

Looking at this hole in the ground, I will miss the old days. But I will always be grateful to the Rich’s, the Roses and the Struks ,and my parents, for their investment in the kids in the neighborhood. That cabin was our home in the winter and I could not think of a better way to grow up. I am still skiing sixty years later and my enthusiasm has not waned one bit. That love of the sport was ingrained in us as kids and I will always be thankful for the cabin on County Line Road. Thanks for reading.

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.