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.

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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.

The Gardener

Every time I see a flower, I think of my dad.Whether it is at the shore with the landscaping that captures my eye, or Phipps Conservatory, or the mountain laurel I see on my mountain bike rides in the Laurel Highlands, I think of my dad. For as long as I can remember, my dad had a passion for growing flowers. In our basement on Siebert Road, he would have racks set up in our basement with trays of seedlings growing under artificial light. I can remember him patiently planting his Burpee seeds into the little pots filled with potting soil and vermiculite and watering carefully with MiracleGro until it was time to take the trays outside in the spring and plant his flower beds. Never did he plant anything before Memorial Day because of potential frost, but the basement was overcrowded with trays and trays of flowers grown all winter from seed.

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Being an engineer, he designed an interesting tool that consisted of a simple electric drill, a special drill bit, and a long auger. When it came time to plant, it was always a weekend affair where I would be on my hands and knees filling the drilled holes in the flower beds with a specifically instructed lineup of flora. Allyssum was the delicate front row of the beds followed by yellow and orange miniature marigolds, backed up by geraniums, and finished with petunias and giant marigolds. This was the annual lineup of planting and as the years went on, the volume of flowers increased. His hanging baskets would burst with color and the weight of the growth would strain the very chain on which they were hung. The same meticulous lineup appeared in the hanging baskets and half barrels supported by large clay pots. Marigolds, geraniums, allyssum, and petunias always made up the pots and baskets with vining lantana that eventually cascaded out of the baskets and pots onto the ground. Watering with MiracleGro was the secret to healthy flowers and my dad used boxes and boxes of this plant food all summer long. IMG_0932

I was always the cheap labor- again, strong back weak mind that assisted with the planting weekend as well as taking care of the watering duties when my folks were away. When we moved to Wexford, my dad built a Lord and Burnham greenhouse where he really stepped it up. My duties as the watering guy were carefully explained to me with different nozzles for different trays of flowers but this is where I was different from my dad. My dad had patience where I was always anxious to get to some event and was always in a hurry. I would run into the greenhouse when the folks were away and hose the hell out of that greenhouse with the first spray nozzle I could find. I was careful not to break any seedlings for fear of ruining all of my dad’s meticulous and careful planting, but I did not take the time that he did switching nozzles to match the delicateness of the plants in his care. It was amazing to me to see his patience in the winter down in that greenhouse. The snow gently falling on the roof with my dad inside carefully watering each plant, in each little pot, in rows and rows of trays with suspended artificial lighting. IMG_0124

There were setbacks along the way and things were not always….”rosy”. Like the time that my dad planted tulips that bloomed like a Dutch garden in the spring. For one day, all the tulips radiated gorgeous color in the sunshine and the next morning they blooms were all gone due to the feasting of the local deer population. I rarely saw my dad angry but that morning, he was ready to strangle the deer bare handed. Another time, he was away and asked if I would carefully pinch off the dead blooms from the daffodils that he planted and I had the brilliant idea to attack the job with a weed wacker. The result was not pretty and my dad was none too happy. You see, patience in not one of my strong suits when it comes to gardening. Perhaps that is why I leave that to my wife and I simply admire the result. IMG_0134

I observed a lot of things about my dad over the years. His patience amazed me with his true passionate hobby of growing flowers. He was a big guy and to see him carefully planting tiny seeds for hours on winter nights, was insightful to his personality. Most people who have hobbies are people who are patient and gain great joy from the effort it takes to build a model airplane, create a candlestick on a lathe, or some other pursuit that takes time and effort along with a lot of patience and love. The result of the effort brings satisfaction to those who create, and appreciation from someone like me who loves to look at flowers due to the example of the efforts of my father. IMG_0930

I will never have his patience for a hobby. Most of my passions lie in outdoor activities. I always say that I am too nervous and jerky for a hobby. But I certainly admire those who pursue those passions and encourage anyone who takes the time and effort to create. Take the time to stop and smell the roses………I do. Thanks for reading.

The Tribe

I am reading an interesting book by Dr. David J. Rothman called,” Living the Life- Tales from America’s Mountains and Ski Towns”. I thought it was going to be some fun stories about the ski life but it has turned out to be so much more in the description of the lifestyle of the sports that we are all passionate about. Dr. Rothman suggests that there was a certain “cause and effect” that took place when we realize that something that we were attracted to as an outdoor activity became a passion. The resulting experiences and stories are shared by a group of people that are communities in effect and we understand the stories that we tell about ourselves.

I remember coming back from Tuckerman Ravine2013-02-05-the-bowl one year and telling my folks about the steepness of the skiing and the ice block avalanches and the weather and the total experience of being in the mountains in it’s most raw state, and my mother’s response was, ” That’s nice dear- would you like some more potatoes.” Not my mom’s fault but she just didn’t get it or appreciate it. But the Tribe does. That is what Dr. Rothman so eloquently describes in his book and what I am about to describe here to you.

There are groups of people who I call fans. They are football fans, baseball fans and many of them have played the sport but most of them are fans of a sport in which others perform. In sports like skiing,mountain biking and snowboarding, there are groups that are formed and friendships made that last a lifetime. IMG_0803 These groups also merge into what I call ” The Tribe” which is a gathering of many groups celebrating the passions of these activities. The gathering of the Tribe can take place at a mountain bike festival, a race, or at the bottom of the slopes in the springtime for instance at a ski area where folks are celebrating the weather, the friendships, and the stories around a beer and a burger on a sun splashed deck.

If you are not involved in a group or a Tribe of people, chances are you will be lost in the conversations of the Tribe. ” Hey- did you see that endo that Joe did over the bars into the creek with all that splooge on his face?” ” Hey- did you see Mike ski down that couloir with rocks on every side?” ” I looked down that couloir and had to really think about that first turn.” ” How about that climb out of the canyon?” ” How about that rock strewn singletrack with the slimy root section- hairy wasn’t it?” These are the types of conversations that infuse the gathering of the Tribe at a festival, race, or ski area. IMG_0723

The disappointing thing about being with the Tribe of your peers, is that when you come back to work, or home and try to recreate the vibe of that weekend or time spent with the Tribe, you cannot adequately describe it. But the cause and effect and the passion that resulted in the decision to join a group and the several times a year gathering of the Tribe, is necessary because these are the people who are ” your people.” Nothing against your co-workers, family, friends who may not participate but there is nothing like the feeling of when the Tribe gathers and the stories begin at the end of the day around a campfire or an outdoor deck. IMG_0811

Recently the local mountain bike tribe gathered in the Laurel Highlands for a celebratory ride for a birthday of a friend. A whole cadre of folks came out representing many groups of riders all there to celebrate the big day of one of our own. Elaine Tierney, of Mountain Bike Hall of Fame and Dirt Rag Magazine notoriety, said it best when she was amazed at the gathering of different age groups represented. Elaine remarked,” We have people riding here in their 20s, 30s, 40s 50s and 60s. All age groups riding together and enjoying all that the mountains and the friendships have to offer. Age means nothing when you are passionately involved in a sport like mountain biking, skiing, or snowboarding. So, I always encourage older folks not to shy away from an activity because they think they are too old. There is a group for you and also a Tribe who will welcome you with a smile, a beer, and conversation that you can understand once you are a member. Thanks for reading. Be a follower of the blog