Change

So my wife and I were hiking the other day up in the Laurel Highlands and she said to me,” It took 32 years ,but I finally am hiking with you up in the mountains in the woods.” We both chuckled as I recounted all the times I told her how peaceful hiking is and how beautiful it is especially at this time of the year. The colors are vibrant as the changing of the leaves ushers in the fall season here in Western Pa. As empty nesters now, we are taking advantage of a lot of opportunities even in this restricted time.

As a byline, she also told me not to take her to any trails that might have rattlesnakes and I agreed seeing that I know ground zero up there for those sightings. But we did see bear scat and she was amazingly calm when we discussed black bear in the area. All in all, Janet is becoming an avid day hiker and when I approached the subject of possibly camping out and sleeping under the stars, she was not ready for that………..yet. But day hiking is relaxing and in this day of rapid fire change, it is nice to see a calm, peaceful changing of the leaves with a relaxing activity like hiking.

Interestingly, the outdoors has become a refuge for a lot of people in this Covid age. Many of my friends across the country are also making use of the time hiking, camping, and enjoying their native surroundings near their homes. From camping near the coastal mountains in California, to camping and riding mountain bikes up in the Bend, Oregon area, to hiking the Green Mountains of Vermont, my friends for the most part are staying close to home and enjoying nature at its finest. Recreation is becoming regional until things become a little more certain.

No matter where you live, there are opportunities to get outside and enjoy the change of seasons right in your own backyard. The fall is one of my favorite seasons and as I think about what has happened to all of us over the last several months, it is encouraging for me to see that active people are out and about. Even a lot of people who were not necessarily outdoors people, have taken the opportunity to buy a bike, a kayak, hiking boots, camping gear if they can get it. It’s nice to be in a remote place without a mask, right?

With change comes the knowledge that the winter season is approaching and people like me are looking forward to that change as well. Not sure exactly how the ski season will be in 2020-2021, but we are prepared with ski passes, trips planned, and a general positive feeling that being outdoors in the winter will be good for all of us. Keeping positive and hoping for the best. But at the very least, there are outdoor activities that can make winter fun and a lot of people might be trying snowshoeing, winter hiking and camping, and cross country skiing for the first time. We can all encourage them and join them to get through all of this together.

In this changing world, we have to stay positive and know that the only thing that is constant these days is change. When we see the colors fade and the leaves falling from the trees, we know that soon enough they will be green again and another season will be upon us. But in the meantime, enjoy each season near to your home and take advantage of spending time with friends and family in the outdoors. It does wonders for your physical and mental health. Thanks for reading.

” To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven”

– Ecclesiastes 3

A Walk in the Woods

I have to say that this time of year is my favorite among the seasons. The temps are changing and the leaves are turning colors- somewhat blazing this year. I love to hike at this time and my interest in that pursuit all started when I was a kid. I loved being in the woods. The first five human beings I knew outside my parents, were my five backyard neighbors- Richard, John, Ron, Glen and Cliffy. We lived in the woods – playing Army, catching crawfish and salamanders, and basically being there until my dad rang the dinner bell from our back patio. My parents didn’t worry about us much in those days. We were gone all day and would come running in for lunch, dinner and stay out as long as possible. We even drank from garden hoses and nothing ever happened to us. Imagine that? Slept out under the stars. We loved the woods and I still do today. This is a picture of Richard, John and me at Arapahoe Basin a couple of years ago. They both live in Colorado now. Even with the fact that we had not seen each other in a while, it seemed as if we left off right where we were the last time we were together. Isn’t that the way it usually is with good friends?

Fast forward from childhood, I hiked and back packed a lot in the fall right after college. The woods in the mountains seemed like a good place to reflect and try to figure out what the heck I was going to do with my life at the time.

I would either set up my tent or make arrangements to sleep in a ” lean to” shelter provided by the state. I would look up at the stars in the middle of the night while stoking the fire and try to figure out a path forward – like many of us at the time. Hiking was a relaxing way to reflect, take in the change of seasons, and breathe in fresh air. A walk in the woods was always therapeutic and still is today.

Moving on, to today’s world, hiking is a great activity for my wife and me to enjoy. As empty nesters, we love to get our gear together, strap on our boots and packs, and take that proverbial walk in the woods.
We either go to the Laurel Mountains east of here, or locally to one of our favorite routes in Sewickley. We often remark in our local hike that we could easily be anywhere with the scenic forest and well built trails .

It looks a lot like Vermont or New Hampshire with the rocky trails and hardwood forest, but it is only a 15 minute drive from our house. We don’t have the dramatic backdrops of the Green Mountains or the Whites of New Hampshire, but for a local hike, the scenery is pretty good here in Pa. A nice way for my wife and I to connect without any pressure of keeping up with anyone or keeping some sort of time schedule. Time moves slowly when you take a walk in the woods.

My folks never understood my need to be out in the wilderness, either locally or when I traveled near and far to basically camp, hike, climb, ski, and otherwise enjoy what is out there. Their idea of camping was sleeping at a Holiday Inn with the windows open. Me? I like that tent where I can see and smell the night. The stars, the planets, and the general feeling that the woods are embracing me. I feel like I belong there. That is why it irks me to no end when I see people deface rocks and overlooks with graffiti. All of us who love the outdoors need to protect what we all enjoy. Public lands, trails, National Parks, are all part of our heritage and if we want to leave ” a walk in the woods” for our kids and grandchildren, we always must pay attention to protecting our outdoor places of recreation.

A final suggestion, if you are looking for an activity this fall, maybe try hiking? There are so many places to go and aside from a rucksack filled with water and snacks, and some good sturdy hiking shoes or boots, the investment is minimal and the rewards are great. My love for the woods and the outdoors stems all the way back 55 years with my old buddies playing Army in the woods behind the Zankey’s house. For all we knew, we were in the Rocky Mountains or as far as our imagination led us at the time. Take that walk in the woods. It will restore you and give you needed perspective in our world today. Thanks for reading.

The Operative Word is “Yes”

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

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

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

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

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Covid Fitness

Gasping for breath up a steep climb recently on the mountain bike with my riding friends, I thought to myself, ” Where is the race?” ” Nobody is going to the Olympics – why are we racing on this ride?” Then it occurred to me that my group and a lot of other groups of cyclists, runners, and other fitness enthusiasts are in really great shape. People are not traveling for work, or pleasure just yet and a lot of folks have a lot of free time to get their work done at home and then go ride, run, walk, hike or do some other form of exercise. I am calling it Covid Fitness and it is a national phenomena.

I recently went into my local bike shop, Dirty Harry’s, in Verona,Pa and their business is booming. Barry Jeffries, the owner, told me that they have 350 bikes on back order and their repair business is off the charts. Barry, Scott, Brocc and the boys will have a record year in sales and service because a lot of people are turning back to cycling as a recreational activity during this pandemic. The health clubs are not fully operational yet and people need to get out. What better way to do it than on a bicycle? As the bikes roll in the door from the manufacturers, the boys at Dirty Harry’s build them up as fast as possible and out the door they go. Sold!!! All kinds of bikes. High end mountain and road bikes, E-Bikes, kids bikes, commuter bikes, you name it. They are selling like a fish sandwich in Lent. The Peleton home cycling equipment is back ordered by at least 6 months and that is the case with a lot of sports equipment providers. Most outdoor equipment manufacturers have had a strain on supply because of the surge in purchases due to the Covid 19 crisis. Even spare parts are being used to make new equipment because supply of parts is also in great demand. A good news bad news scenario for the sporting equipment industry in that record sales are being offset in a way by a strain in supply. They have the customers, many new to the sport, but are having a hard time keeping up with demand.

So back to my group. We have guys and gals who travel for work, guys and gals who are retired, and many working from home. These folks have always been active but recently, they probably have ridden mountain bikes and road bikes more than they ever have in recent years because the distractions have been put aside due to this pandemic. I have complimented a lot of cycling friends on their fitness and their response has been, ” Hey Pat- I don’t have much more to do.” ” We have not been able to go to work at the office, or sit and socialize in a restaurant, or go to a movie or concert, so really – outside of exercise, what do we have to do besides work at home and read a book?”

The end result is that a lot of us are in the best shape we have been in for many a year and my group keeps pushing, pushing, pushing every week on scheduled rides in various venues around our area of the country. The CDC says nothing better to combat this virus than boosting the immune system with sunshine and outdoor exercise. The texts and emails buzz every week with the proposed riding schedules and the good thing is that at least we are not sitting around with nothing to do. My wife Janet is in on the act too with an increase on her walking with her friends, cycling with me on the rails to trails on Sundays or hiking locally or in the mountains. We are making the use of time seeing that for the first time in many years, we are ” empty nesters” and can take advantage of time together.

So, again, the pandemic has caused a lot of disruption to our lives as well as to lives all around the world. It has caused a lot of us to reflect on what is really important in life and how we have taken things for granted. This too shall pass and the world will learn to live with these kinds of viruses and change our daily habits on how to deal with them. But in the meantime, there have been some good things that have come out of this time and the great outdoors has been calling to a lot of us. Enjoy the sunshine and these active summer days and evenings. Thanks for reading.

One Day At A Time

Does it seem, in a lot of ways, that life has slowed wayyyyyyyy down recently? I mean, there is work to do for sure in my home office, and things never change in that regard. Happy to be still employed. But there are no real plans being made, no restaurant visits, no vacations or trips planned for the immediate future, no real plans to get together with friends socially? No group rides for the moment. The social interaction between co-workers is limited to Microsoft Teams,Zoom, and Emails. The interaction with friends, at least for me, is limited to socially distanced mountain bike rides with a few friends, and interacting with some lone trail lovers removing trees from the recent storms.  Or, riding a lot by myself on some remote trails nearby. I think often of the group rides we all enjoyed. I even daydreamed back to the days at this time of year when I would be sitting in a pack of road cyclists, 6 inches from each others wheel and roaring down the local and country roads here in Western Pa. The only scenery I saw was the back of some guys shorts but we all enjoyed the rides, races, and activity afterwards. We always said the social element was as good as the rides. But for the moment, that is suspended and we move about in this current world of the unknown.

I have always been a planner. Where are we riding? Where are we meeting afterwards? Where is the next trip planned? Who is going? We better make plane and general reservations. Time to get the car ready for a road trip. Are we going to the party? That has come to a screeching halt and most of my interaction any more is with my wife and my mother in law who lives with us. But………I am learning something through all of this. I am learning to appreciate my family. Learning to slow down. Learning to enjoy and appreciate each day. One day at a time. Instead of running at 100MPH looking for my next adventure or gathering, I am enjoying the day at a slower pace and taking in some things that I never did before. Take daffodils for instance. I never really paid much attention to them other than when my dad, the consummate gardener, asked me to pinch off the dead flowers so that they would grow fully again next spring. I was in such a hurry that I got the weed whacker and just whacked all of them off the stalks, much to my dads chagrin. I never really paid much attention to the blossoms and new flower growth over my past years. I was usually running out of the house, or riding by all of that in a frenzy. Now with some socially distanced time out of the house, I have slowed down and notice things like …….daffodils. Also, forsythia. I think of my mom now when I see the blooming forsythia. She used to bring some sprigs in at the end of winter to force them to bloom in a vase in our house. She wanted spring to come so badly that she did whatever she could to bring spring into the house. I now see the beautiful blossoms on the trees and when I ride or take a hike, I can see and smell them and really enjoy them.

Talking to my friend Pete the other day on a socially distanced mountain bike ride, we both remarked how fortunate we are to at least get out on these days and get some exercise. And we do it, one day at a time. That is all we really can do. Enjoy each day and appreciate friends and family. And appreciate all the beauty that is around us because we have the time and inclination to do that now.

Which brings me to my final point this week. We are all starting to realize that we really are not in control of things. In my opinion, I believe that God has a plan in all of this. I just think we have to trust that He is the one in control. And He gives us what we need – day by day. We just have to focus on each day as it comes. There will be brighter days ahead. Thanks for reading.

Moses said to them,” It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat. This is what the Lord has commanded:” Each one is to gather as much as he needs….No one is to keep any of it until morning” Exodus 16:15-16,19

The Global Warming/Climate Change Disappointment.

So far this winter season, I have had to chase the snow. From skiing and hiking in the rain, to heading west earlier this month, and later next month, to actually ski in some honest to goodness snow. But like I always say, I can’t be out west all of the time so I need to maximize my winters right here at home. Recent meteorological history suggests that climate change is a reality around these parts. Here in Southwest Pa, we are right on the borderline of the snow/rain events. So you really need to head north of Interstate 80 to get to snow country that so far has eluded the climate change issue. At least for now. We had that opportunity this past weekend when Janet and I ventured north to Bradford, Pa. The Icebox of Pennsylvania. I love winter and have posted about that love many times. But when you are standing on a pair of snowshoes and stopping to view and hear the gurgling of a winter mountain stream, it takes your breath away. There is complete silence in the wilds of Pennsylvania save the running water under the ice laden streams. One of the cool things about snowshoeing is that you can easily manage the trails by staying on top of the snow instead of post holing with your hiking boots. We use ski poles as well to aid in our balance and the movement among the snow covered pines and over the bridges of the streams. And if you want to go off trail and bushwhack to get to another stream or point of interest, the drifts are no match for snowshoes. I love bounding over drifts and off trail to enjoy all that the woods have to offer this time of year.

I always struggle to get the most ski days, schlepp equipment to the airport and to the ski areas, get some snowshoe days, look for snow, and in general get what I once had as a regular thing. I never had to search for winter. I grew up with it. Sled riding in the neighborhood with snow all winter. My dad built a skating rink for us in the backyard. We never had issues with weather. Winter was winter. Now we fight the weather, the rain, the sleet, and try to make the most of it outdoors. Sometimes we just have to go on the search for winter because this issue of climate change is affecting our weather down here in the banana belt and it is frankly discouraging to a winter guy like me. At the end of the season, I almost breathe a sigh of relief that the tension I put on myself is over for another year. I get mad at the forecasts, I constantly look at ski reports, I DVR ski races to ease my pain. I can vicariously root for Mikaela Shiffrin or Tommy Ford on the TV after a rain soaked ski day here in the changing weather scene. I will do whatever to enjoy the winter and that includes making things as easy as possible for my wife whose passion for the winter is not as keen as mine. Please note that my wife calls me the Sherpa. Ang McCloskey Sherpa. Two pair of skis, two pair of boots in the pack, two helmets and goggles. She handles the poles. Full disclosure, not that she won’t carry her own stuff, she is perfectly willing. I just do it to make life easy for her and encourage her to chase the snow like me.

So bottom line, I am discouraged at the local winters anymore and kind of bummed at climate change and global warming. I do what I can to help the environment in my own small way. I am a contributing member of POW ( Protect our Winters), the Jeremy Jones endeavor to lobby Washington to heed the call on climate change. I know that weather and climate have cycles over the centuries but there is something to be said about what we do to our atmosphere by way of CO2 emissions . I get it. Other countries better get it too!! Otherwise, our winter scenes, mountain streams, ski slopes, and snow clad peaks will be a distant memory for many folks. Support POW. http://www.protectourwinters.org Thanks for reading folks.

Out of Disaster Comes New Life

I finished a book recently which told the story of the Big Burn forest fire that occurred in 1910. Three million acres were burned in Northern Idaho, W. Montana, Eastern Washington, and parts of Southeast British Columbia. Aside from the devastation to forest land, Timothy Egan tells the story of the origins of the US Forest Service. I am always interested in seeing the backstory on things and this book tells it.   The interesting tale related was how much the sitting President, Teddy Roosevelt, had valued conservation along with his associate Gifford Pinchot. Mr. Pinchot spent his whole life dedicated to the establishment and preservation of the National Parks and National Forests under the Roosevelt and Taft administrations. Timothy Egan spins an interesting side tale on the personality of Pinchot that is  worth reading.

Egan goes on to point out that the large forest fire and the resulting inquiries into the efforts of the rangers under the US Forest Service, were combative. Similar to today’s politics, there was national interest in conservation and the support of the USFS. The  opposition saw the USFS as a waste of time and government money.  In the opposition camp, were congressmen and senators who supported large scale logging and pillaging of the American West. Roosevelt fought hard against these lobbies and along with Pinchot, who later became Governor of Pennsylvania, kept the fight for conservation alive. In the end, the Forest Service was funded handsomely by congress and the lumber lobby eventually gave its support if only to keep the potential harvest in tact.

The compelling result of the fire, establishment of the US Forest Service and final support, let to the continued development of the National Parks Service and the continued development  of the National Forests and Monuments. The difference between a National Forest and a National Park is that the National Forests encourage use by the public to include skiing, mountain biking, fishing, and other outdoor pursuits. The National Parks are somewhat limited to public use other than observation with strict regulation of activities within the Parks. A little more stringent but a different ethos in preserving the pristine environment. However, with the foresight of people like Teddy Roosevelt, and Gifford Pinchot, we have these national treasures which are available to all of us.

I have had the good fortune of visiting Yosemite National Park with my wife and son a number of years ago and along with yearly trips to Mammoth Mountain Ski Area within the Inyo National Forest and visits to the Tahoe ski areas within the Tahoe National Forest,I am always impressed with the beauty and immense wilderness that is preserved. Janet and I also make use of the Allegheny National Forest near our home here in Pennsylvania along with use of many State parks along the way.

Recently I had the great experience of riding mountain bikes in the Deschutes National Forest in Bend, Oregon and was amazed at the quality of the trails and the maintenance of miles and miles of trail systems through this national forest. A lot of this maintenance in the national forests could not happen without the efforts of volunteers who preserve and develop trail systems for multi- use.

It all came together for me when I read this book ” The Big Burn” and realized that there was a lot of time, effort and anguish, in the establishment of national land and the need for preservation and conservation facilitated by the USFS. Not every available piece of land should be deemed for development. There has to be recreational opportunities for our children and grandchildren and I am grateful that men like Pinchot and Roosevelt, back at the turn of the century, had that same vision. If you get the chance to ever visit a State Park, a National Park, or National Forest, do it. You will see how a disastrous fire back in 1910 led to the conservation efforts which have served all Americans for well over a century. Hooray for Teddy Roosevelt- Bully!!!!!

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Nothing Wrong with New Kicks.

So, I know that I have posted several times about my 46 year old Vasque Hiker IIs shown here on the right. These hiking boots are absolutely bomb proof and have their original laces and Vibram soles. Amazing! They have been everywhere and could really write a blog or a book themselves. But recently my toes have been hurting when I have been hiking and I realized that as I have aged, my feet have actually grown. I believe it is because the arch collapses and your foot gets longer. Oh well. But it has been causing an issue with my feet in my favorite boots. I would have used these until I died because there is absolutely nothing wrong with them and I even reported that to Vasque. They gave me a very nice response.

Fast forward- my lovely wife purchased a new pair of Vasque hiking boots for me for my birthday( shown on the left) which are great. In fact yesterday during our regular Sunday afternoon hike, I remarked how much I liked them and how comfortable they are. Janet and I like hiking and we have a lot of local options. But Janet’s response was not what I expected. In her quiet, unassuming way, she said that retiring the old boots and putting on the new ones is very much like what happens in life. Sometimes you need new things……like relationships, hobbies, food choices, even some friends. I was taken back on the friends and relationship part but she went on to explain. She quoted Dr. Henry Cloud when he said that some relationships are “unsafe.” Dr. Cloud says that sometimes relationships or friendships become strained and they can become toxic or “unsafe” and we need to be willing to acknowledge that and make a change and perhaps retire those people who are causing us pain and making us uncomfortable. Like an old pair of boots that now don’t fit too well. Sometimes you need to be willing to make a change for the better.

Relationships and friendships are not the only ones that need scrutiny. Perhaps when we are doing some self examining and want to make some lifestyle changes, we need to look at the balance sheet of those things and determine if making a change will help us grow and move forward. Maybe it is time to start eating more healthy? Maybe we need to change our lifestyle and incorporate another kind of outside activity or any kind of activity that may change an unhealthy existence.

Recently I made such a decision and decided after riding a road bike for 40 years, I was going to sell my current ride and stick to mountain bike riding. That was a drastic change for me because I liked riding the road. But lately, my old routes through apple orchards and farms have now been transformed into routes through newly constructed subdivisions. Traffic is worse and people are texting, not paying attention, talking on the cell phone, changing channels on the XM Radio and all in all becoming a hazard to those riding a road bike. There have been several fatalities around here and I did not want to take the chance on trusting someone coming up behind me and not paying attention. Like putting the old hiking boots aside, I committed to my other ride( the mountain bike) and hiking with my wife. A lifestyle change for sure seeing that I have ridden/raced my road bike for years in many places. It was time for a change. Lots of good memories on the road bike but like the old boots, time to go.

The new boots are comfortable ( I am also an easy fit) and like any new experience, if you make the commitment and take a chance to improve your situation( relationships, friendships, lifestyle changes) the results can become surprisingly pleasant. To hike now without pain is a real pleasure. Off with the old and in with the new is a good plan for someone like me who wants to keep active and lead a healthy existence for the rest of my life. So as we get older, maybe we take a look at what has become routine and maybe be willing to reexamine what is really important,or what is hurting us, and make the necessary changes. Nothing like a new pair of kicks. Thanks for reading.

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