My Neighbor the Southpaw

PITTSBURGH – 1987: Pitcher John Smiley #57 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches during a Major League Baseball game at Three Rivers Stadium in 1987 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

A couple of years ago- I saw this guy across the street struggling with the heavy snow in his driveway. I was using my snow blower at the time and went over to help him. He appreciated it and we got to talking. He looked kind of familiar and he introduced himself as John. Turns out he is John Smiley, formerly a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates. I remember him pitching and remember his great career of 12 years with the Bucs, the Minnesota Twins, the Cincinnati Reds and the Cleveland Indians. With an ERA of 3.80 and a 126-103 win loss record, John has a lot to be proud of in his former career.

PITTSBURGH – 1989: Pitcher John Smiley of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches during a Major League Baseball game at Three Rivers Stadium in 1989 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

Fast forward and I see him a lot recently hitting whiffle golf balls in his yard as he has taken up the game of golf again after his arm is finally healed after all these years of curve ball abuse. Of course I engage him about baseball. I was always a fan of baseball as my dad used to take me to Forbes Field as a kid and I saw all the greats from the 1960s play. Sometimes professional athletes or former athletes hesitate to engage in conversation about their sport but John is an extremely knowledgeable and engaging guy who loves to talk baseball. Right up my alley. We got to talking about his fun times in the Fantasy Camps in Florida in which he participates. For those of you who do not know, fantasy camps are for old guys trying to relive their youth on the baseball diamond with their old heroes. They pay a lot of money to play and the former professional players like John love to participate and tell all the old war stories in the evenings around the dinner table. John loves to tell me how funny former pitcher Steve Blass is and also about Bill Mazeroski’s amazing stories about the 1960 World Champion Bucs. I was amazed that Maz still participates at his age but these guys love baseball.

The University Club Father Son Baseball back in the day with my dad.

John likes to tell me stories about the nuances of the game like when he was pitching and the opposing team would pick up on his cadence and signal to the batter what pitch was coming. They stole the signals. One game in Montreal, John and his catcher at the time decided not to use any signals to throw the opposition off. They won easily and it was a moral victory for John and his catcher. I asked him what he thinks of the new electronic strike zone and John enthusiastically applauds it saying that any technological advance in the game that takes bad calls and chance away is a good thing. I was always a fan of baseball and loved my time playing in minor league, little league and pony league as a fat little catcher before moving on to other sports. But always liked baseball and to have a neighbor who loves to talk baseball and knows what he is talking about is a plus.

John also talks about how his father worked with him and got him to be dedicated to the game at an early age. Like a lot of kids who grow up to be professional athletes, there was not much time for fun outside of baseball. You had to train, play and practice at a very high level to make it. He said that he missed a lot of things as a kid growing up but would have never made the major leagues if it had not been for his dad and the coaches he had. He said that making it involved a lot of playing in the south in the heat. That separated the men from the boys, in John’s opinion, and in order to make it in the majors, you had to be dedicated and able to perform in all weather especially the heat.

A lot of professional athletes, again, don’t like to engage in conversation with fans. But John is quite the opposite. He sees that I am enthusiastic and interested in what he has to say about the game of baseball. I love his stories. Jan thinks I may be bothering him but I always insert myself in conversation with John while he is practicing with the whiffle balls. He is always quite energetic and never minds my endless questions. But that is who he is. A successful retired professional who loves the game and now has a nosy neighbor with whom to trade stories. As you would suspect from maybe knowing me, I tell him stories too. But nothing can compare to a career on the mound for a professional baseball team.

I am a talker. I struggle with listening sometimes but I always make a point of listening to John. I force myself to shut up and listen. A skill which needs constant work. But my talkative nature has led to some great conversations and ultimate friendships with some really interesting people. If I hadn’t initiated conversations with John, I would never know the great stories he has in his head. You have to listen, but you also need to initiate conversations sometimes. You never know how you will be rewarded. Thanks for reading.

The Tour de Death

Make Chetlin Great Again- seen here on the right.

So in the continuing effort to MCGA( Make Chetlin Great Again) a couple of us got together the other evening and took Jeff for another mountain bike ride. He is making amazing progress after a stroke a year ago and soon will be back to full strength. So, after a rain storm, it was decided that the trails in Frick would be a little sloppy. So Jesse Seager, the restauranteur extraordinaire( go to Point Brugge in Pittsburgh to find out), Darryl Huber( uber athlete in from Colorado for a visit) and yours truly took to the roads of ………..a cemetery. We laughed and called it the Tour de Death but Jesse told us when the trails in Frick Park get too sloppy in the winter, he can get a good ten miles in on the mountain bike all along the roads that go through the cemetery.

The Benedum Crypt

The amazing thing is all of the famous people interred in this famous cemetery. Business leaders like Michael Benedum, Henry Clay Frick, Henry J Heinz, Senator John Heinz, Henry Hillman and Willard Rockwell. Entertainers like Erroll Garner and Walt Harper are also interred here along with Jock Sutherland – former Pitt football coach and Pie Traynor- hall of famer for the Pittsburgh Pirates. But the truly neat thing about cycling through the cemetery is the beauty of the place and the incredible mausoleums and crypts of some very famous families in the Pittsburgh area. It occurred to me that people really went into a thought process about their memorial places and what they wanted to leave behind as a memory and tribute to their lives here in the ‘burg. Jesse and Jeff, as locals, gave us a great tour and it was in no time at all that Jeff probably had the most mileage and time on the bike to date. Every ride gets better and better for this guy. It won’t be long until he is 100 percent full strength. Who ever thought that part of his rehabilitation would be laps through a famous cemetery?

No complaints from the customers here.
People are dying to get in.
Military Sections Too

As we peddled along, Jeff commented that among all the groups he is involved with- skiers, moto- cross riders, and snowmobilers, he seems to think that the mountain bike community is the best. More laughs, more genuine people, and one of the reasons he won’t move permanently to his other home in Bend, Oregon. He likes the mountain bike community in Pittsburgh, even if we do ride through cemeteries from time to time.

The cemetery makes you think a little as you go along as to what is really important in life. Jeff commented that as we get older, it is not about how fast we go on the trails, how many miles we did, or even where we rode. It is more about getting together and enjoying the great outdoors. It’s being with friends, talking and laughing, reminiscing, and in general enjoying each others company. It rained on us a little bit but as mountain bikers, we really don’t care. We enjoyed the ride, the company and the views.

So the next time you think that it is too muddy to ride, maybe think about your local boneyard. It is quiet, peaceful, and offers some dry riding in the worst of weather conditions – and no cars which is a bonus. Take a tip from Jesse and Jeff, go hit it and when the trails dry, you can tell some stories out there about how you saw Pie Traynor’s final resting place. Thanks for reading.

The Last Turns

The Durfees

At the invitation of our dear friends, Helen and Eric Durfee of Incline Village, Nevada, we spent our last week skiing at Beaver Creek out in Colorado. With some fresh new snow and intermittent sunshine, we enjoyed all that BC had to offer. I reluctantly made my last turns for the season last Friday over at Arrowhead and Bachelor Gulch. As I looked over at the majestic Gore Range, I was thankful for a great season locally, in Utah, and finishing out in Colorado. Thinking about big toe, little toe, ( a tip from my pal Eric) and keeping my stance lower and wider, I made a series of GS turns until my legs were toast and I made the last turn at the bottom of Bachelor Gulch. This is always a melancholy time ( the end of my 60th year of skiing) but I reflected on the week and all that it had to offer us.

The always energetic Lynne Hartnett

One of the highlights of the week was to connect with my old pal- Lynne Hartnett. Lynne is one of the most enthusiastic people I know and her infectious attitude towards skiing is always welcome. Sometimes it is hard to connect, but we pulled it off and Lynne, along with another friend from the past, Robin Ouimette, seemed excited to ski with our group of four. A former Vail instructor, Lynne knows the mountain well and took charge much to the delight of our group. She encouraged my wife Janet to jump right in her tracks and as she made her beautiful turns down the mountainside, she really helped Janet and we all said- she upped Jan’s game for sure. Jan got some good pointers last week from Helen and Eric as well as the always affable Lynne Hartnett. Lynne runs women’s clinics at home here in Pa. and she was more than happy to share her experiences with my receptive wife. What a great time we had with Robin and Lynne , culminating with some beverages and hors d’oerves back at our condo which were masterfully prepared by Helen, who along with her husband Eric, are very skilled skiers. Eric, an ex- ski racer- fast and solid, and Helen- great technique who can ski anything and ski it all day long.

Pat, Robin, Lynne, Helen and Janet.
McCoy Park. Beautiful scenery .

I always am a bit sad when the ski season ends. We had a decent season locally although we got a late start. But for me, making turns and riding the chairlift is always a joy. When the last turn comes, I kind of shake my head knowing that another season has come and gone. Jan and I will try to stay healthy and be fit for another season. Hopefully we get many, many more but we are grateful for what we have experienced. As I sat on the plane ride home, I thought about what a great sport skiing is. Not only is it rewarding to make carved arcs on groomers, and skiing the uncut of a new fallen snow, but I thought of the wonderful social aspects of skiing. I think of all the fun we have had with the Durfees, the Birsics and the Flying Smittys from Philadelphia, and the always enthusiastic wonderful skier and friend- Mark Hutchinson. I think about my local group at Laurel Mountain and Seven Springs. Shark and Tina, Jon Brady, Melissa and Jaime, Dixon, Bob Potter, George Skylling, Daryl, Porter, Johnny Mac, Monty, Angelo Ross, Jamie Edson, Paul Barrante, Race Jace, and Dave “everyday” Gault, and a host of others who make the local scene exciting even in the worst of weather conditions. Finally, we all look forward to the weekly “Chair Report” by Jason Eshleman! Skiing fosters lifetime friendships and I am hoping that I have a lot more seasons to come. More runs, chairlift rides, , and more good times with those with whom I have skied for years. My mountain bike friends laugh when I talk about skiing all summer (most of them are skiers and boarders too). But in reality, I ride a bike to keep in shape for skiing. As much as I like the change of the seasons and the move from skis to wheels, I always look forward to the changing leaves and the first flakes, which will usher in more good times with all my winter friends. Thanks for reading and here is to spring!!!

Affirmation

Affirmation with the Cow Bell.

So the other day, I was riding my mountain bike at our local park trying to get back into some semblance of shape after a tough winter on our trails. Once the snow came and the thaws and freezes, the ice on the trails was too tough for me because I don’t have studs. So with the recent spring like weather, I figured I would go out again and start riding. I was making my way up a hill when a guy who was hiking with his wife said, ” Hey!………..good job”. I kind of chuckled at that comment and said thank you and kept riding. It kind of reminded me of the old mountain bike racing days when I would be killing myself up a hill and some kind soul observing on the side of the trail would look at me and say………..” Hey- good job.” Those kind of comments kind of spurred me on to the top of the hill and then helped me make my way enthusiastically to the finish line. It is amazing how a little positive commentary can spur you on.

I always returned the kindness at the World Cup Mountain Bike Finals in Snowshoe, West Virginia with my cowbell. When the pros would be making their way up a heinous climb, I would encourage them with my cowbell. Many of them were so focused that they they never wavered in their concentration. Others like American Haley Batten would smile and enthusiastically say “thank you” and keep riding spurred on by the pro-American spectators wishing her well.

The Shark and the affable Haley Batten

Affirmation is usually the result of the acclaim of a job well done. At Snowshoe, you can see the result of hard work of the world class athletes, and the support they got from their home team and trainers. We cheered them on- affirming their hard work. Affirmation comes after the support of someone trying to do something positive. Support them first- then affirm them.

We all have the opportunity to support people on their way up or maybe on their way back. For instance, I have a neighbor who had a severe stroke and is making his way back. He has been through a lot along with his supportive wife. The guy is a noted, retired orthopedic surgeon who has had some tough breaks with his health. I have tried to support him as well as his wife in different ways, but the other day- I saw Dr. Tim out on a walk using his walker encouraged by his ever supporting wife, Joyce. I looked at him and said, ” Good job, TIm.” You could see the smile on his face because I affirmed the hard work he has done to make it back. When I was at his house the other day, he showed me his strength by pulling me with his arms. The guy is a big strong guy and although he is in his 80s, he has made a remarkable come back. He deserves affirmation and we give it to him.

I have another friend who has had a stroke as well and he is making his comeback. Although he is younger, he has worked hard to come back. He is an avid mountain bike rider, skier, backcountry adventurer, snowmobiler, and traveler. He has his moments of despair, but I always affirm his hard work and tell him that he will be back stronger than ever. People need support when they have difficult times and we all can give that support. And when they make their way up over the hill metaphorically, we can give them the affirmation that they deserve.

Jeff on the comeback trail.

There are a lot of people today that can use our help. Friends who have had a death in the family, are having health issues, maybe are going through a divorce or other personal issues, or people that just need a boost up that hill. We can make the effort to support them and when they make progress, we can affirm that progress with a kind comment like- ” Good job- keep up the good work.” You may not need to use a cowbell to affirm them, but you can certainly recognize that people go through a lot and can use a word or support, a kindness afforded to them, and affirmation that gives them that boost that they need. To have a friend is to be a friend. Thanks for reading.

55+ years of Friendship.

My Pal- Dixon Rich

Dixon Rich and I have been friends since the minor league in baseball. We both talk about how we forged our friendship on the bench. I was a fat little catcher and Dixon played out in left field, but we talked a lot about how thirsty we were and couldn’t wait to get to Dixon’s house for a drink.

Fast forward- Dixon senior bought a cabin on County Line Road and all of us neighbor kids spent the weekends crashed out on the cabin floor in sleeping bags. What a wonderful way to grow up. The winters were always special to me and still are thanks to the Rich family and my pal Dixon.

Dixon, Melissa and Jaime. Laurel Mountain friends for life

Dixon is an accomplished attorney and tax specialist. You might not know that if you visited him and he answers the door with a red bandana adorning his noggin and baggy shorts and construction boots doing someone’s tax work. He plays the Dead while he works and really doesn’t know the difference between night and day. He works when he feels inspired and that may be in the middle of the night. Naps are important to Dixon as he takes them between work sessions. He is a character. A skillful tele-mark skier, Dixon likes to hide out at Laurel Mountain where it is quiet, scenic and he has the place basically to himself most days of the winter. He can work from anywhere and the Laurel Highlands are his home for the winter. The other day he pulled out a pair of old 70’s era alpine skis and attacked Lower Wildcat on an icy morning. I have not seen skis like that in a while but Dixon has a whole houseful of 70s era skis which he uses with tele equipment and a few selected pair for alpine outings.

Valuable nap time for the tax man.

Dixon and I have skied together for over 55 years. But we also have had many adventures in cycling. We used to ride from his cabin to Confluence, Pa on our mountain bikes, getting lost on the way home, running out of daylight and crashing exhausted at the Red and White Store in Indian Head hoping to get a ride back. One time in West Virginia at the Wild 100 Backcountry Race, we both ascended Prop’s Run just outside of the Elk River Touring Center. When we got to the top exhausted, Dixon smiled at me with vivid blue teeth and asked if I wanted some bubble gum. That was his ” Power Bar”. He loves Captain Crunch cereal and other sweet treats. I am trying to get him back into riding more and he claims he will join me again this spring and summer. But his antics on the slopes and on the trails are legendary. Ask him about the plastic shower cap he used to cover his fanny pack when riding. A bright floral pattern which protected valuable cargo in his pack. LOL!!

Dixon does not like to be pinned down with a schedule. He is happy to meet you and ski with you but it is on his timing and on his terms. I call it like seeing an “albino deer” – wonderful to see but never planned. Like me- he likes the quiet of a remote ski area and enjoys the scenery without all the hassle of what takes place at Laurel’s sister area – Seven Springs, which can get a bit hectic during the winter. He has a great head of hair and never wears a hat – no matter how cold. I am amazed sometimes but my wife always says that with that great head of hair, she wouldn’t wear a hat either.

But the most important thing about Dixon is that he is a good friend. They say if you leave this world with friends that you can count on your right hand, you are a lucky man. Dixon is one of those fingers to me. I will always remember when my father passed away unexpectedly in his sleep back in 2001. Dixon was one of the first guys there for me and tirelessly helped me to close down my dad’s business. I could not have done it without him and will always be grateful for his kindness, his help, and his expertise.

Friendships are important. Especially as we age. We need to stay active, pay attention to our health, and most of all, spend time in the great outdoors with friends like Dixon. Thanks for reading and if you see the albino deer sometime, say hello. You will instantly gain another good friend.

The Lift Line

WOW!!!!

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

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

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

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

The People Who Made a Difference

Peter Duke helping out in his son’s ski shop.

Scrolling through Facebook last week, I came upon an ad for Point 6 socks. Really great socks that I use for skiing and mountain biking. The owner and founder is seen above helping out in his son’s ski shop in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. I know this guy and was happy to see him again in a photo even though I have not seen him for many years. Peter Duke was a great influence in my life at the time that I met him and this is the story.

When I taught skiing at Sugarloaf, Maine back in the day as a young guy, I was working towards my certification for ski instruction through the Professional Ski Instructors of America. I took many clinics in New England and met Peter as one of my course conductors. As it turned out, I had Peter for several clinics and we got to know each other. He was tough. At the time, we had to do what they called final forms which are basically maneuvers on which we would be tested and Peter wanted to make sure that they were perfect. He was a taskmaster that made us all work hard to get the final forms correct and to make sure our teaching was up to snuff in order to pass the exam. He had no problem whacking me on the backs of my ski boots if my ankles and knees were not flexed and telling me that I needed to perform or I would not pass any test much less an evaluation for the clinic in which I found myself. It was my good fortune that Peter was hard on me. I needed the work and he was demanding but fair. I respected him and was happy that I was getting what I think was the best teaching at the time. At 21 years old and just out of college, the exam was important to me because it was a way to validate what I had invested in ski teaching up until that time. It was not a career but was a great avocation. You learn a lot about your own skiing while teaching and taking clinics with the best in the country. Peter was one of those people.

Fast forward, I was at my exam in Killington, Vermont and Peter was there He was not one of my examiners but took the time to talk to me and remind me of what I had learned with him. I passed the test and became” certified” and will always be grateful to Peter for his skills, his teaching and his demand for perfection. He even introduced me to the greatest rain gear at the time- Bukflex. It was a sailing outfit and when I saw Peter wearing the gear, I had to get it. I used it for many seasons skiing and teaching in the rain. Seems like Peter had it all going on and whatever I could glean from that guy- I took it.

Several years later I was skiing in Heavenly Ski Resort out in California and I remembered that Peter and Stu Campbell ( of Ski Magazine fame), were running the ski school out there at the time. I went to the ski school office and had a nice chat with the both of them and they gave me comp tickets for the week. Nice!!! We talked about the days when they were at Stowe. In those days, the guys from Stowe were the kings and kind of a fraternity of the best examiners and course conductors. Peter and Stu got the opportunity to run the ski school at Heavenly. I told Peter what a great influence he was on me as a young guy seeking my certification. He acknowledged and said it was a tough test that many people cannot pass. He was glad to be a part of my success.

Lake Tahoe from Heavenly Ski Resort

Several years ago, I had heard that Peter had founded SmartWool socks and eventually sold the business. He was a savvy businessman and I was happy to see that he had founded a company with such great notoriety. At the same time, I was running in an off road team trail race out in Colorado called the “Colorado Relay”. Lots of fun with my Armada Supply Chain Solutions team mates and we were enjoying the expo associated with the event. I came upon a booth with the name Point 6 and went to investigate. They were giving away socks for the runners to try. I was talking to the rep in the booth when I heard him say that the founder of Point 6 was the same guy that had founded SmartWool. I looked at him and said.” Peter Duke?” He smiled and said yes and asked if I knew him. I said yes and he said, lets get him on the phone. I think he was kind of calling my bluff but when Peter answered, he said” Hello Pat. What are you doing these days? ” I think he actually was happy to reconnect and was also happy that I visited the Point 6 booth. We had nice chat and after all these years, it was nice to hear his voice again. A lot of time had passed and the exam process was a distant memory, but I always remembered his clinics and a lot of what he taught me is still ingrained in my skiing today. I still buy Point 6 socks because of the quality. But I also like the fact that I am supporting the company of a guy who had a lot of influence on me in my younger days.

Facebook takes a lot of criticism for many things- warranted and not so much. But the nice thing is that sometimes, you see these pictures of people who you have not seen in a while and they remind you of good times in the past and maybe how people have come and gone in your life but remain an influence. Peter is one of those people. He probably does not realize the impact he had, but when I saw his picture on Facebook under the Point 6 ad, I was happy to reflect on our past association. Point 6 is a great company that makes quality merino wool apparel. If you get the chance, check them out. You will not be disappointed and now you know a little bit more about them. Thanks for reading and think snow!!!

The Return of the Ride King

Jeff Wuerthele- aka ” The Ride King”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.