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.

A Natural Cause

A number of years ago, my wife Janet and I were strolling through Sausalito, California when we came upon a gallery featuring the artwork of Grace Slick. Now, I was a huge fan of the Jefferson Airplane when I was younger and Grace fronted the band with her sultry yet powerful voice. I was pleasantly surprised to see that she was also a very talented painter held in great esteem in the Bay Area. People surprise you. Not that you think they are not capable, but it is a pleasant surprise to see folks from one genre of accomplishment, move into another with relative ease. Case in point- my friend Angelo Ross.

I first met Angelo while we both were ski instructors and he was making his way up the PSIA ladder to his current position as a Development Team member of the Educational Staff. Angelo always took ski instruction seriously along with his main line of work as an Environmental Science teacher at Greensburg Salem High School here in Western Pa. I also ride mountain bikes with Angelo and on a recent trip to West Virginia, he told me about yet another passion that has turned into a very interesting business.

You see, Angelo is a talented artist whose work has developed over the years and now is featured on athletic and casual wear.

The story goes that Angelo became acquainted with the equally talented folks at Commonwealth Press in Pittsburgh who saw the value of his work and mentioned to him that they should begin the process of marketing Angelo’s art work on casual and athletic wear. Thus was the birth of http://www.naturalcause.org One of the interesting things about this is that Angelo is marketing his art work through the medium of clothing, but he has another cause in mind besides pure mercantilism. You see, he lives Environmental Science – his passion, and therefore is dedicated to furthering the goals of local environmental causes like the Youghiogheny Defense Fund. This is part of the Mountain Watershed Project http://www.mtwatershed.com which preserves the environmental integrity of the Youghiogheny River among other waterways in our region. Whitewater rafting and fishing are prominent in these waterways and Angelo is dedicated to preserving these for generations to come. A portion of all proceeds that he generates through Natural Cause goes to organizations like these. Another cause for his generosity and passion is the Mt. Davis Challenge bicycle race, run in conjunction with the Confluence Tourism Association which promotes recreational activity in the Laurel Highlands. Jim Sota runs the event and it has been a successful race for many years. Angelo supports the cause. The man walks the walk and does not just talk the talk.

I am continually amazed by people. You know them through one area of your life and then you realize that there is much more to this person than you thought. People have abilities that cross over in their lives and it is refreshing to see that a young guy who you know from skiing and mountain biking has such a passion and such a talent and that he is creative enough to market it and donate to causes that reflect his passion.

I love hearing the stories like Natural Cause. I like to hear how they were created and how the business is doing. There is a lot of negativity swirling around these days and I make it my business to always be positive and encouraging. It is great when I see positive attitude and generosity come from others like Angelo. Natural Cause is a breath of fresh air to our local environmental causes and I hope that you all will go to his website http://www.naturalcause.org, view Angelo’s art work, and order some product. You can wear it with pride knowing that your money has been well spent and that the beneficiary of your generosity are the watersheds, trails, and events that make our region so special. Well done Angelo Ross!!! Thanks for reading.

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.

Not a Pine Knot!

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This winter is a weird one for sure here in the East. Some weeks are cold and snowy and others are really warm. We had the great opportunity to enjoy The Lodge At Glendorn this past weekend and got some good skiing in at Holimont and some nice snowshoeing before it all started to melt.fullsizerender The last day we started a new sport- mudshoeing because of the deteriorating conditions of the trails. However, any time spent at the Lodge at Glendorn is a good one and the weather was generally cooperative for a winter stay. http://www.glendorn.com dining-6more-gd-pics-039

One of the other activities that Mike Smith and I take part in when we are at Glendorn is learning a little bit about skeet and trap shooting. The Glendorn facility is second to none and the instructors are well versed along with the equipment that is available. The collection of shotguns is impressive and some of those pieces of equipment are over $12,000.00 each. It is harder than it looks folks, and I am here to tell you that as much as I enjoy it, I can’t hit the broad side of a barn with a bag of rice. Enter George.

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We were first introduced to George as we walked into the facility for our 3:00 appointment at the range. George is a retiree working at the resort with 43 years in at Kendall Refining behind him. A nice older gentleman who asked us what we knew about skeet shooting. When we feigned mostly ignorance, he thought we were sandbagging him, but I told him he will surely see we were rookies when we first hold the shotgun. We all laughed and George explained the finer points of skeet and trap before we stepped foot on the range. George is a good instructor. He is patient and kind and understanding. He said that he gets as much of a kick out of us breaking a clay pigeon as he would himself. I didn’t want him to be disappointed in my lack of skill but he guided us all the way through. The poignant conversation began when George stopped and said, ” You know fellas, you might think I am an old pine knot up here taking up space in the woods, but I was a 5 time Pa. State Champion at Skeet.” I was not surprised at all because of his knowledge and the way he handled the shot gun. But I was more taken by the fact that he was a little insecure because of his age and perhaps what we thought of him. Nothing could be further from our minds as we respected his knowledge and skill. It struck me that older gentlemen sometimes feel like they have outlived their usefulness and that life has somehow passed them by. It became my mission to make sure George felt comfortable even though I was the one intimidated by trying to perform in front of a 5 time State Champion.

I like older guys. I would bet that in fact, George was not all that much older than me, but all in all, probably had a few years on me. You could see the 43 years of hard work in his hands, the slight fatigue of an older gentleman, but the twinkle in his eyes still showed me a passion for his sport and the thrill of passing on his knowledge to others like Dr. Mike Smith and me. I do notice young people today sometimes do not respect the older generation. They sometimes dismiss them as old men who don’t know anything. I always have taught my son Jack to respect the older guys as he learned a lot over the years from his grandfather- another George, George Bope. These guys have seen a lot and in my zeal to make George feel comfortable, I truly wanted to show him that in my eyes, he was not a pine knot at all but someone who was truly interesting to me. I asked him about his years at Kendall Oil and he obliged me with stories from the refining days and his experiences in the back woods of Pennsylvania. His slight intimidation disappeared as we continued to shoot and BS, and he realized that Mike and I truly appreciated our time with him. I told him, ” George- it may be nothing to you, but just having the experience of handling a shot gun and knowing how to load and shoot it was a good experience for me.” Even though I kept shooting behind the target, I was hitting the mark with experience and a good time in the wilds of Pa. with my friend Mike and our new buddy George.

Returning to the cabin to meet our wives, we discussed our meager results. img_1391 But more importantly, we discussed how much we were impressed with George. I am looking forward to seeing him again when we return to Glendorn. He may think he is an old pine knot, but to me, he is wealth of experience. Respect the older guys, you will learn something. Thanks for reading.

Keepin’ it Relevant

So, a couple of months ago, I had lunch with my buddy Bill Day and as we munched away on our burritos, he asked me,” Pat- how long do you think you are going to work?” It kind of took me back a bit and as I struggled for a response, Bill told me that he intends to keep working as long as he can. He may slow down a little bit when his boys enter the business in a few years, but for the moment, he likes his business and the challenge it offers. Bill is one of those guys who wears a t-shirt, running shoes and shorts, no matter what the temperature is and looks like the picture of health for a guy in his 60s. I thought about his question and remarked that I had to think about my son in school, health care, etc. but as long as I was contributing, I have no problem working. We are in similar circumstances but I work for a large company and Bill has his own very successful small business. We both agreed that we need to be relevant and making a contribution in order to continue. fullsizerender-51

So what does it mean to be relevant? In my mind, it is raising your hand and volunteering for new projects at work. It is providing guidance to younger employees. It is problem solving using experience gained over many years of employment. It is continuing to provide value even though you are not one of the younger ones anymore, in fact, in my circumstances, I am one of the older ones in our company. But “relevant” is a mindset and both Bill and I agreed. If you can stay healthy, provide value, and want to continue, age really has nothing to do with it. It also has to do with challenging yourself. There is a great blog out there called   jen-agan.squarespace.com  where it is said that,” truth of character and purpose comes to light when we find ourselves soaring outside our comfort zone.” Sometimes, when we think about the road ahead, we must continually challenge ourselves in order to provide value and be……relevant. I have a lot of friends who have retired. They travel, they volunteer, they provide value in their own right but they also enjoy life. I want to do the same thing, but for the time being, it is associated with my work environment.

Aside from the challenges in the work place, what can help you with providing value? I have always been a proponent of strong body assists strong minds. Exercise and activities support good mental health as well as physical well being. I have a group of contemporaries that enjoy skiing and mountain biking. We all challenge each other and love the sport, atmosphere, and history of these pursuits. We look forward to getting together each week and on vacations enjoying the slopes and the trails. We hold each other accountable and the activities support our work ethic because we have the energy to continue to provide value to each other via our activities, but also provide value in the workplace. img_0723img_0203

One of the byproducts of being “relevant” is that you have the chance to test that with younger employees and also younger folks who ski and ride. I ride mountain bikes with a group on Thursday nights during the year who are in good shape and are considerably younger than me. Oftentimes, I am the oldest one by 30 years unless some of my contemporaries show up. But the interesting thing is that I learn from this group. I hear what they like in music, entertainment, politics, and listen to their workplace challenges and when they seek counsel or opinion from the old guy, I feel relevant in that I can respond to them without sounding like a parent or a boss. I am their friend and confidant even though our demographics are somewhat far apart. I can have a beer with them after the ride and we all enjoy the stories of the trail that night. At the same time, I know my place, and would not enter their world on a weekend or week vacation with their peers. I am not one of them. But in the environment of the ride, I am, and we enjoy each other’s company. fullsizerender

So, I guess the bottom line here is age should not dictate whether one is relevant or not but rather mindset and enthusiasm. I like my job and I like my hobbies. I would like to continue to pursue them and stray outside the comfort zone from time to time to test myself. We live in a rapid paced world with social media, continual advertising assaults, main stream media, challenges in the workplace, health and financial challenges, and the list goes on. But with the right attitude and the ability to learn from the younger set, baby boomers like Bill and me can still provide value, learn, and be……for lack of a better word……….relevant. Be kind in 2017 and thanks for reading.

We were Outlaws

Lets have a little fun this week? How many old mountain bikers does it take to screw in a light bulb? Four!!! One to screw it in and 3 to remember how great the old bulb was. That is about right when we remember the days when we were outlaws on the trails. Billy Kirk and I were talking at our post riding place, the OTB Cafe when he said,” Hey Pat- how about a post on the old days?” So here we are Billy. Back in the late 80’s when a lot of my crowd started riding, we had equipment that was relatively simple.img_1097 Shocks had not been invented yet so we were all riding chromoly hard tails,cantilever brakes, with 3 ” knobby tires and no suspension. I had a Scott with a “U” brake that kept collecting leaves, mud,cigarette packages, and other various and sundry items because this bike was really meant for fire roads out west instead of nasty, rooty trails of the east. But we all managed. Trouble is- our local trails were really hiking and horse trails and the police didn’t appreciate our new activity on these established trails especially at night. night-ride-october-2-of-1
But we continued to ride and when the police yelled at us through their bull horns to get off the trails, we simply shut off our lights and waited them out. They got smart and started to park at our lot to wait for us as we came back with our lights. But we waited them out until they left, scrambled to our cars and trucks and left in a hurry, spewing invectives about donuts. Other trail users didn’t like us back in the day and we had to somehow carve out a place for our activity on our local and statewide trails. img_1098

Fast forward- mountain biking was becoming real popular in 1989 and the first local race series started with Gary Bywaters forming the Month of Mud. Back in the day, most of us were road riders and mountain biking was new to us as we struggled with the new equipment in a race setting. img_1095 Not to mention the fact that By had us racing in late October and November. Snow began to fall at the Brady’s Run course one year, and at the end of the race, there was 6 inches of fresh powder on the trails. Needless to say, guys like me ended up over the bars multiple times. The Cranberry Course was often flooded and By used to place pink flamingos on the course to lighten the atmosphere. We even had a course at Traxx Farms where we raced through a pumpkin patch. All of this effort for fabulous prizes such as a rock, a pear or an apple. The season ending trophies were By’s old race walking trophies with the name plates removed and typed result labels scotch taped to the trophies. A lot of these stories rest in the lore of the Month of Mud and I love to tell the fast guys today about the “good old days.” Some of them can relate but most of them were toddlers when we raced the original Month of Mud races. Hell, I have socks older than most of those guys. But they are fast!!!

It is fun to talk about the old days of mountain bike riding in Western Pa and West Virginia.The characters and the personalities are many. But life moves on and like the old bulb, it really has to go. The Month of Mud today is big time with sponsors, 100+ riders and multiple classes. A much different event than the exploratory atmosphere of the old days. Also, we have as a community, carved out a place on the trails with the good work being done by Trail Pittsburgh, LHORBA( Laurel Highlands Off Road Bicycle Association) and PORC( Pittsburgh Off Road Cyclists). A lot of sweat equity being done to validate our place on the trails. We don’t have to hide from the police anymore, they ride with us. Times change, equipment has surely changed and a lot of us old veterans are keeping current by continuing to ride and investing in the new products. Despite knee replacements, hip replacements, family obligations, time constraints with work, and other distractions, the old guard still rides and passes on the traditions to the new guys and gals. We learn a lot from each other. That is the thing about activities like mountain biking. The participation level spans all age groups. A lot of time has passed for many of us, but the thrill of the trail captivates us on many levels. So Billy, I will continue to tell the stories and when it becomes too repetitive, just put me in the corner and tell me to go to sleep. Thanks for reading.

Photos of  Jeff ” Bionic Knees” Wuerthele,  Karl “the legend” Rosengarth, and yours truly, courtesy of Dirt Rag Magazine.