The Oldest Guy

” Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming,” Wow! WHAT A RIDE!”

-Hunter S. Thompson

I have also heard this with the ending, ” missing parts, leaking oil and screaming “Geronimo.” I always subscribe to this way of living because I like adventure, travel and experiences in my own way. However, due to a series of events recently, I have had some thoughts that question my verve. Some of this began a couple of weeks ago when I was discovering that I was the oldest guy on the mountain bike rides.  I really should not let that bother me but with the death of my brother in law at 61, and some other news of contemporaries who have had their troubles, I began to question my lifestyle as I march quickly towards 63. Sometimes, I feel like I am in an out of control vehicle and can’t stand on the brakes hard enough. Life is screaming by.

Then God plops me down right in the middle of Somerset county in an old barn for Biff Swager’s 65th birthday party( Is that the greatest name in the world?……Biff Swager!!!). Biff’s wonderful wife Annie organized the surprise party and all the old ski crowd came out in force. The food was wonderful, the band was GREAT, and the group danced their asses off( no other good way to put it), yes they danced their asses off and the joy of life was in full swing. Sue Baum Treacy summed it up best when she marveled at the group and vowed that we all have to get together this winter and ski because that is what brought us all together as kids in the first place. She and her husband John walk the walk by recently retiring and hopping on the back of their motorcycle, touring the west.

So, that was a real shot in the arm and dispelled any thoughts about age when I saw my group of contemporaries really enjoying each other’s company and killing it on the dance floor- of an old barn. Even Herman Dupre who is in his 80s, said he has so much work to do, he wants to live until he is 124. His wife Sis said “I will give him 100 from me and that is it.” We all laughed and as I drove off into the night, I thought what a great group and a great reason to keep living life as large as possible. You don’t have to climb Everest or do something outrageous to be adventurous. For me, taking that first ski turn down a chute out West, or rolling over a giant boulder field in West Virginia on the MTB is adventurous. Just have a positive attitude and engage in new ventures. The joy of a bike ride in cool fall weather can garner the same feeling of adventure that Jimmy Chin feels on a mountain peak. Not as dramatic, not as bold, but still relatively speaking, a personal adventure. Do what you can but like NIKE says…………just do it!!!

I remember asking Scot Nicol, the founder of IBIS Bicycles, one time on a ride,” how long do you think we can keep riding mountain bikes like this Scot?” He looked at me and said, ” Pat- don’t even think about it. Just keep riding.” This is sage advice from a Californian who really enjoys what he does. But what else dispels those internal thoughts that say, ” you are 63- who are you kidding?” Besides the joy of a ski turn and the beauty of the mountains, and the fitness created by riding a mountain bike, there are things that define self worth. The love of a spouse, the caring for friends, volunteering, being there for a cause, and spreading the good word of the Kingdom. True self worth is nothing more that knowing you are loved by the Good Lord. We are so blessed. It is incumbent upon all of us to care for each other, one person at a time, one neighborhood at a time. Make the effort folks, because as I have recently seen, life is fragile and we need to make the most of every moment. The time that is spent with your family and friends is so valuable. Sometimes you don’t realize it until someone is gone.

I know where I am going someday. But in the mean time, I will definitely leak oil, skid broadside in a cloud of smoke, and live life with that promise ahead of me. Who cares if I am the oldest guy? Thanks for reading.

Hot Time in the City

I have ridden my mountain bike in a lot of great places in this country. California, Moab,the Pacific Northwest, Colorado, but I have to tell you , last Saturday was one of the best days on the bike- ever! Aaron Shafer put together a ride to and through all the city parks in Pittsburgh,Pa. my home town. Don Cunningham encouraged me along with some others to attend. Aaron is the fit guy in the red jersey who had the bright idea and we all met at his instruction at the Grist House Brewery in Millvale, Pa at 8:00 A.M. After a cruise on the bike path along the Allegheny River accompanied by the early morning scull crews, we ascended Federal Street- one of the steeper climbs in the city to the entrance of Riverview Park. Now, the 25 of so riders had a variety of different bikes for the occasion. Guys showed up with road bikes but had no chance of riding a trail with them. Aaron, who is a skilled rider, had a cross bike along with some others. A good choice but personally, I was happy I had my mountain bike for many reasons including comfort with fat tires, dual suspension, and upright bar positioning. Lots of others had the same idea. Riding the technical trails of Riverview was a treat with the dry conditions.

Moving on to the North Shore Trail by way of Woods Run, we made our way across the river and rode around the beautiful fountain that is the showpiece of our Golden Triangle. The group pedaled along to the historic South Side with the intent of eventually making our way up Mt. Washington. We lost some folks along the way with that news and the group split with some of the hardier riders taking a twisty technical trail to the top of Mt. Oliver to Mt. Washington, while the rest pedaled the long climb up 18th Street. I have lived here most of my life but have never known there were beautiful parks on Mt. Washington with incredible views of the city. Emerald Park was one of them and we rode perfectly manicured trails and gravel paths with a stop for lunch at Red Beards Bar and Grill.

One of the cool things about Pittsburgh is the emergence of little outdoor cafes that are indigenous to the neighborhoods that surround the city. Red Beards is one of them and sitting outside at a table with a view of their outdoor “beach bar” was a relaxing experience. So much so, that I parted from my usual long ride protocol and had a cold draft with a sandwich to fuel the balance of the ride. After some further attrition due to family obligations, some of the guys departed after our visit to the mount. After a rapid descent down McArdle Roadway to the Southside, we made an additional stop at the OTB Cafe where I remarked to the young lady tending bar that a lot of us were patrons of the OTB in North Park. She said, ” Oh I see, you guys made a visit to the gritty, grimy OTB?” We laughed, I pounded a Coke with a lime, and we proceeded to climb into Panther Hollow near the University of Pittsburgh campus. Assembling at the iconic Phipps Conservatory, we made our way through the scenic trails of Schenley Park and Frick Park. Both of these parks are well ridden and maintained by city mountain bikers and offer some technical terrain that rivals any city park in the country.

After further attrition due to the fact that it was now about 6:00 PM, we were down to 8 riders to which Mark,” the Shark” Sauers, remarked, ” Hey – I made it to the elite 8.” We all laughed and although Aaron and Fred Fischer took an additional trail as the rest of us took a breather at the bottom of Frick, we all made our way to Highland Park for the final city park visit. Riding with the cool breeze and realizing that the fabulous day was coming to a close, we exited Highland Park and as Aaron and Fred took one more climb up Stanton Avenue which is one of the climbs on the famous “Dirty Dozen” ride of Danny Chew fame. The rest of us booked down Butler Street to cross the bridge back to the brewery.

Interestingly, the emergence of cafes, restaurants, and new places of business is evident as you make your way through Lawrenceville. Once a declining, post industrial neighborhood, the resilient community has emerged as one of the more trendy neighborhoods in the city and what better way to investigate all it has to offer than from the seat of a bicycle. Pittsburgh is no longer the dirty, dusty, steel town of old. Continually rated as one of the better places to live in the country for many reasons,our city parks tour could be an attraction to the outdoor set visiting or contemplating relocation.

At 7:00 PM with approximately 60 plus miles of road, gravel roads and trails, and 5700+ vertical feet of climbing behind us, the beers at the Grist House sure were tasty and the food trucks, which are a hallmark of the new style breweries popping up in town, had ample fare to satisfy the hunger of the Shafer riders.

Moral of the story, get on your bike and investigate your city. You will see things you never knew existed and if you come to Pittsburgh, get on a mountain bike and go for a ride. The city of three rivers will surprise you. Thanks for reading.

Photos courtesy of Mark “the Shark” Sauers and Pat McCloskey.

“To have a friend is to be a friend”

My mother’s famous line was ” to have a friend is to be a friend.” No one could embody that statement more than Hot Harry Kirsch. All of us in the North Park Running and Cycling community lost a friend tonight when we heard the news that Hot Harry had ” run his last mile at 8:30 PM.” With his family around him, he passed quietly and peacefully.

Hot Harry was an icon in the running scene in Pittsburgh. As a marine, and a retired trolley/bus driver, Harry began running in earnest in his 50s and over the course of his life he ran over 50 marathons including his beloved Marine Corps Marathon. Organizing bus trips to Washington D.C for years, Harry supported the Marines by bringing hundreds of runners together to hear the Marine at the top of the hill shouting,” Pain is fleeting, pride is forever.” Harry ran countless Boston Marathons , one of which in 1987, I was fortunate enough to be his room mate. Harry was always supportive to first time marathoners with his cheery disposition and friendly ways. He encouraged veteran runners as well in advance of events and in the glow of the finish line.

For years, runners who parked at Stone Field in North Park finished their runs seeing the familiar open trunk on Harry’s car filled with bottles of drinks and cups that Harry would provide not only on race days but every day of running in the park. He had a way of gathering people and generating enthusiasm and even started the first running club in the park -Hot Harry’s North Park Runners. At events nationwide, runners would often see the singlet of the club at events and inquire about Hot Harry. The North Park runners were only too happy to oblige in telling the tales of the retired bus driver who attracted so many runners to his fold.

Harry loved the ladies and ran often with a group of accomplished women runners many of whom were national class. They loved Harry and made a point to run with him whenever they could.

Harry also attracted the characters. Doc Chuck, Merz, and a host of others whom he named. Big nose Bill, Sad Bill, Bushy Debbie, 10 Mile Bill, the Pretty Boys,and many, many more who all claimed Harry as their fearless leader. He would invite all the runners and their families to picnics at his farm in Evans City and we all would see Harry giving the kids tractor rides tirelessly into the evening. Harry loved the Park and enjoyed every moment meeting new people and welcoming them and encouraging them to join in his community. He drank a lot of coffee. Boy did he like coffee!!

Hot Harry was truly a friend to all of us in the North Park running community. He made the effort to be there for all of us and not only in the fun times of after work running and the weekend races, but there for us in sad times as well. Harry valued the friendships and made an effort to contact people who were hurting and people who were injured, sick, or just having a bad day. When you saw that smile and his familiar,” Heyyyyyyyyy” , you know that no matter what was going on in your life, Harry would make you smile and make you feel that things were better in your world.

Second Corinthians 5 says that we all will abandon our earthly bodies and take on the new bodies that we will have for eternity in heaven. I believe that Harry willingly left this world and his earthly body behind, with all of its mileage and marathons, and strapped on a new pair of celestial NIKE shoes and streaked toward the finish line at the pearly gates. There he was welcomed with the statement” well done my good and faithful servant.” Thanks for everything Harry. We will miss you.

Whether to weather the weather?

I have always been fascinated with weather. I can remember times watching a lightning storm dance over the ocean, or ripple a cornfield with fingers of electricity that lit up the darkened sky against a mountainous backdrop. Nature’s fury can be dangerous with tornadoes, and hurricanes. In our neck of the woods, there is a tornado alley this time of year just north of where I live and I have seen the destruction that occurs when a tornado or a micro-burst ravages trees and buildings. My wife and I are glued to the TV when a hurricane story begins on the Weather Channel.

Speaking of the Weather Channel, I always envied Jim Cantore’s job.

Jim Cantore

I always wanted to be the reporter hanging on for dear life in my Weather Channel Gore Tex outfit. I saw myself clinging to a light pole in a hurricane, 100+ MPH winds, garbage cans flying by my head, debris everywhere bringing the storm into the comfortable living rooms all across America. Pat McCloskey reporting live from Tampa, Florida, Niles, Ohio, or Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. It’s crazy but I would love that job. Always wanted to be a storm chaser too. Looking for the tornado waiting to be born.

In addition to being fascinated by weather events, I love to be out in it. I have my Gore Tex outfits and am completely waterproof when I ski in torrential rainfall. The snow is soft and great even though the water is cascading down my goggles like a Yosemite waterfall. This spring has been particularly wet here in the east and if you don’t get out to enjoy your outdoor activities because of weather, you don’t get out much. I have ridden my mountain bike more days this spring in foul weather than I can remember, but as my friend Mark ” the Shark” Sauers says,” There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing choices.”

The funny thing about being out in the foul weather is that once you make the effort, you are glad you did even though most people would think you have lost your mind. I can remember having my best results back in my weekend warrior days when the skies would open up on an mountain bike race course or during a road race. Most people either quit or didn’t bother to start. The ones who persevered sometimes didn’t have the attitude to continue like the guy changing his shirt here at the NORBAs at Seven Springs. He had enough when the skies opened up for a third time – concurrent with each lap. Mac Martin, a legend in cycling, taught me to persevere in bad conditions. He always said that if you think you are suffering, the other guy is suffering worse. Just continue on. I can remember going over the handle bars in Month of Mud races where it snowed 6 inches during the race. But grinding it out despite the crashes, paid off in the end. A little suffering for the weekend warrior taught me lessons in competition. You have to outlast the bastards.

Those days are gone now but I still make it a point to get out no matter what the weather is doing. I have skied in raging snowstorms and seen some amazing snow events. I have ridden on the road and trails in torrential rain and snow and coming back half frozen or soaked to the bone, I still have a smile on my face. Sure the sunshine is great, but look what you miss if you let weather ruin your fun. If you have the mindset that you go out no matter what, you will be happy you did instead of sitting on the couch. Get the gear- it is worth it no matter what you pay. If you suit up correctly, you can enjoy nature at it’s grumpiest. Experience the muffled silence of a snowstorm in the woods. Enjoy the smells of the green forests during a rain storm. The fragrance of the blossoms blooming in the humid air of the woods is better than any department store perfume counter. The soft tapping of rain on the leaves of the canopy is relaxing and even though things can get a bit sloppy, the experience of that soft rain is rewarding. Be like the Shark, no matter what, get out. No such thing as bad weather. Thanks for reading.

Virtual Reality. Really?

One of the more enjoyable evenings that I ever had was when I was in Yosemite a few years back and went to the evening star gazing event. As I reclined on the huge tarp that was laid on the ground, I looked up and saw the most amazing celestial show that I had ever witnessed. It was so dark, which allowed the visual of millions of stars and planets accompanied by shooting stars that rocketed across the sky every couple of seconds. The ooohs and the ahhhs eclipsed the park ranger narrative. But he was used to it as he remarked that the spectacular night sky was way more interesting than him.

Along with a suggestion by my star gazing friend, Viola Christy, I purchased an entry level telescope and began searching the heavens back home for planets and stars. I can remember texting my son to come and look because I had Saturn in the the view finder as well as a full moon another night, and his response was,” Dad- I can see it 50 times better on the Internet.” But I replied, ” Yes Jack- but this is real. It is small and barely detectable, but it is the real thing and not a picture.” It was kind of lost on him.

I must say that with the younger generation, there is an attraction to virtual reality and many millenials today would rather play a video game like Madden, than actually participate in the  sport itself. My son calls it “E-Sports” and no doubt it is gaining huge notoriety and millions and millions of dollars as a business. But is it really a sport? We have this debate all the time and my point is that it is important to get out and do something physical rather than spending all your spare time in a virtual physical activity world. At the risk of sounding like the old guy in his bathrobe yelling at kids to get off his lawn, ( as my friend Jeff Mihalsky laughingly says), it is a generational thing I guess. But at least my son plays sports and is active, even though the virtual world is still in his wheelhouse in his college years.

Personally, I think that there is a time and place for everything and relaxing with a video game is ok as long as it does not take over your life. I think it is really important for parents to expose their kids to all kinds of activities, whether they be hobbies, or individual or team sports. The outdoors are a wonderful education. Whether it is hiking, riding a bike, skiing, skating, the fresh air is great and the outdoor vision of the change of the seasons and activities has always attracted me. I never played Pac Man – I just did things outdoors. But that is me. But I do regret hearing that local grade schools sometimes cannot field a football team because no one tried out. Maybe the concussion concern is more apparent today, but more likely it is that the kids would rather play a video game than practice and play ball. Just a different attraction, I suppose.

For me, there is nothing like that night in Yosemite. I also like the occasional camping trip where I can smell the night air from my dome tent. Deep powder skiing days with brilliant sunshine. Mountain vistas. Riding an epic trail with friends. The camaraderie is real and you can actually enjoy it with others who value the outdoors like you do.

It is interesting to hear that video gaming is social. People actually make friends on X-Box Live even though they have never physically met them. But for me, the value of friends is to interact with them and see their emotions, their joy, their disappointments, their efforts in climbing a hill, making a three point shot, hitting a great fairway wood, skiing a great line and witnessing the event live.

Nothing wrong with gaming mind you, but for me, virtual reality is not really…..real. The real thing is that moon in the view finder, that wicked crash that I had last night on the mountain bike, the executed carved ski turn,that beautiful model airplane and how it flies, the chess match, breathing the salt air at the beach. Life is to be lived. Not virtually lived. Just my two cents. Thanks for reading.

Road Trip!!!!!

You know the familiar call to battle? ROAD TRIP!!!!! I always love to take road trips because of the excitement that is causes. The planning is almost as much fun as the trip. ” What are you bringing?” “When do we meet?” “Where are we staying?” “Who all is coming?” The emails and phone calls start flying and the excitement crescendos when the vehicles are all lined up and rolling. Sometimes you join in the caravan of fun from another location – bike racks loaded, your favorite music blaring. Road Trip!!!!!
I like road trips also because I can spread out my gear. I don’t have to have it all consolidated on a plane and can take my time enjoying the ride with my top popped, sun glasses on, and my favorite music making me tap my toes and bang on the steering wheel. This past weekend was no exception as my mountain bike group converged on State College, Pa. to take on the heralded Coopers Gap and Tussey Mountain Trails in the rocky mountains of Central Pennsylvania.

23 really good riders began the weekend rolling out of Pittsburgh at the direction of Jeff Chetlin and Josh Royston, our spirited and heckling leaders. As people came screaming into the parking lot at Tussey Mountain Ski Area, the conversation became lively and the comical sidebars of discussion ensued. Chetlin needled everyone and as the merry band of riders assembled, and rode up the first climb, the cameras came out. My friend Mike Smith, from Philly, was amazed at the quality of riders in this eclectic group including some fast couples- Jeff and Julie, Darren and MJ Allworth, Tim and Barb Girone, Dan and Mary Moore, and Dave Gault with his new gal Stephanie McCague Hughes who was our MVP. She was riding a demo bike and is a new rider. The rocks on the trails punished her but her determination to ride as much as she could impressed the veteran group.
I told the guys who I was riding with that these women ate nails for breakfast. Their skill and speed over the heinous rocky sections of the trails was a sight to behold.  

 

We had two docs on the trip who can really ride the rocks with speed. Mike Smith and Syed Hyder. Along with the Chetlins and Steve Guertner who are fast riding dentists, we were set with any medical issues or if someone smashed their choppers on the boulders. The balance of the group was made up of highly skilled veteran riders- Denny Lovell, Mike Connors, JB Loughery( who gave me great visuals on how to get over some really rocky sections), John Casuccio, Matt Graver, Craig Matthews, our local guide and trailmaster from State College, and the Pittsburgh Ride Kings themselves- Bob Bannon and Garage Door Bob Kowalski.

The rocks and roots really punish you but this group handled them with style.

Jeff Chetlin seen here on his new IBIS dual suspension carbon rig,along with his wife Julie, seemed to relish the punishment. As with most road trips, the evenings are spent with some beers and good food and a raucous recounting of the day on the trail. ” Did you see that endo?” ” I thought I was going to barf on that rooty, steep climb.” ” How about Mary riding that section?” Riding bikes through the lobby of the hotel had the guests and the employees all laughing at our crazy band of mountain bikers. Popping out of the elevators on bikes surprised some but made all laugh. One thing about mountain bikers is that they all like to have fun. No egos, no unfriendly passing on the trails, just smiles and laughs all the way.

Brice Minnigh from Bike Magazine has an interesting article in this month’s issue where he states that his riding group are the “trees that make up my forest.” A little corny but when you stop and think about the camaraderie of the people who make up a road trip, they are indeed a close clan that share a common goal. They are your forest of close friends. We are once again planning a fall trip to Rothrock State Forest and Cooper’s Gap when the leaves are ablaze and the weather cools to a comfortable temperature. I can hear the call to arms now in my mind. Road Trip!!! Take a look at the following video to see the difficulty of the trails but the skill level of this very talented band of riders. I was honored to be able to ride with them. Thanks for reading.

 

Videos by Jeff Chetlin.  Photos by Tim Girone and Jeff Chetlin.

Familiarity breeds……………comfort.

So I got spanked last week on a mountain bike ride mainly because I am trying to get back into riding shape after a winter of skiing and hiking. The guys I ride with go all winter and are in good shape for the spring riding season. I will get there but not quite yet. But another factor for the spanking was the fact that we went on a familiar trail backwards. I hate to go that way because it is does not flow well and it is full of rutted, short nasty climbs. It is so much easier and flows better the way I usually go and going the way we did last week took me out of my comfort zone for a lot of reasons.
I tend to gravitate towards the familiar at times. Lines down ski slopes are also repeated until I feel totally comfortable. Now don’t get me wrong, I can handle the challenge of different routes on snow or on trails, but there are some routes that are comfortable, easy to ride, and allow me to relax and enjoy the ride and not be totally challenged with something with which I am not familiar.

So familiarity with the terrain breeds a relaxed approach and often I am comfortable with that. But other times I think to myself that at my age, I should challenge myself and not be complacent riding or skiing familiar lines. You don’t really learn much if you keep doing the same thing over and over. Riding mountain bikes should be challenging and skiing unfamiliar lines should be the same. By testing yourself, you can stretch your comfort zone and perhaps increase your technical ability.

There are times where I just want to cruise. But if you don’t challenge yourself, you can easily fall back into a rut where your pals are increasing in speed and ability and you are left behind. I don’t want that to happen so I force myself to ride and ski variable lines whenever the mood strikes me. I have to do it or I will be riding and skiing by myself. Young people challenge me. I tend to ride with younger folks and if I am able to hang on, I am a happy man. My ski group are my peers but they are fast and strong and if I don’t challenge myself, I won’t be able to hang with them either. So familiarity is not always a good thing.

Sport mirrors life don’t you think? As we age, if we tend to stay complacent, we don’t learn anything and are left behind. If you read fiction, try a biography. Try a new restaurant. Take a continuing education class. Go to a different venue for vacation. Meet new people. Have civil discussions with folks who are not of your political persuasion. Tough to do these days, but if we are to grow and survive, we need to listen and debate in a civil manner. Challenge yourself to listen to other opinions. Like a new trail, experiences in life can challenge you but when you come to the end, you have learned something. ” Hey, I found a new trail and it is great!!!” You perhaps have honed your skills and now you have advanced your repertoire.

People tend not to want to fail. I fall into the same category sometimes. But like skiing or riding, if you stop falling, you stop learning. I have reached a level of expertise where I don’t fall much, but when I do……it is a yard sale. But I pick myself up and learn from the experience. We are going to fail at things. But staying in the same familiar rut, doesn’t help anything. I struggle with this, but I know I have to expand the comfort zone. Where will I live someday? What does retirement look like? Keep moving forward, Pat. Here is to the unfamiliar!! Ride it for all it is worth. Thanks for reading.