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.

The Bike and the Box Turtle

So, I am pounding up the Bathtub Trail, kind of clearing my head on a solo mountain bike ride this week and I come upon a box turtle right in the middle of the trail. I did something unusual- I stopped. I checked him out and marveled at the way the color of his shell blended in with the rapidly changing leaves all around me. I looked at the texture of his shell and thought to myself, what a wonderful Creator who weaved this beautiful ecosystem we have to enjoy right in my own county park. As I made my way up the trail, I noticed the diversity of the leaves that were beginning to cover the ground. Flaming red maple leaves, brilliant yellow oak leaves, multicolored ash, chestnut, and other species of deciduous trees that spread their foliage like a patchwork blanket before me. Fall has arrived and I am contentedly happy.

Usually I try to ride for a good workout and push myself, even on solo rides. But this day was reserved for more pleasant riding, kind of like mobilized hiking enjoying the natural world all around me. At this time of year, the trails are usually dry and you can pretty much ride as fast as you can and feel “in the zone” as you rail the corners and pound up the hills. This is the time when most of us are in peak shape and the euphoria that you feel after a fast paced ride is intoxicating. But, there are days in the fall when I like to just ride the bike for relaxed transportation in a world that is peaceful, welcoming, and shelters you from the pressures of the real world. The changing leaves are all around and along with the shorter evenings, the cooler temperatures, and the smell of the tannin in the leaves displays something that Western Pa. has in it’s bag of tricks to entice travelers and natives alike. If you are out in it, close your eyes and take a deep breath of that musty, woodsy, cool air into your lungs. Only at this time of year does it smell like that. Summer fragrances, winter blasts of cold air,spring evening smells, are all good eye closing intakes, but the fall air is the best.

The mountain trails in our Laurel Highlands are coming alive with color, and arm warmers, vests, tights, are all practical wear as the cooler temperatures welcome in the coming winter season.

But back to the box turtle. Instead of using him as a speed bump, I took the time to examine him and notice how he fits in. The diversity of the changing flora seem to welcome him as part of their patchwork of color. The buck are starting to surface and as they stare at you with their fully grown racks, they are part of this diversified animal kingdom that makes up the forest in the mountains and parks of Western Pa. Turkey, grouse, groundhogs, raccoons, birds of all species, including the majestic osprey and red tail hawk, are busy preparing for the long winter ahead. Bald eagles are visible in the mountains and their wingspans continually amaze me as I stop to take in their flight pattern in the ridges to the east. I see open chestnut pods releasing their treasure to the scurrying squirrels and chipmunks. Acorns,and seeds of all kinds are being scooped up by very busy little rodents who take great chances using the trails full of hikers and mountain bikers. The come perilously close to losing their life as they dodge the knobby tires of the many bikes on the trails.

But as my mind wandered, I thought about how all of this fits together. The trees, the leaves, the animals, all form the ecosystem that we call the forest. As I ride along, not in anaerobic debt, I take in the smells, the sounds, and the sights of a changing natural world. Yet it is one entity created out of a patchwork of diversity. Kind of makes you think doesn’t it? Enjoy the fall. Thanks for reading.

Duke

I first met Duke Bope when I was 15 years old. We played junior golf together. He was a long ball, really good player and I felt like I was handling a telephone pole when I grabbed a golf club. No real feel for the game but my dad encouraged me to play, so I did. Duke and I ended up in inter-club matches together and in some instances when they tried to stack the deck, he was stuck with me for a high school golf partner. It was there that I first saw…….”the look”. A guy from St Elizabeth accidentally stepped on Duke’s brand new driver and he looked at the guy with a look that could melt stone. The guy turned 50 shades of white and I intervened and said, ” Ah Duke, we can get that fixed – no problem.” And we moved on. I thought we were going to have a homicide on our hands that day.

He loved to drive my ’64 Buick convertible even though he did not have a license and I always let him have the helm after school with our group of nitwits holding court with the top down. Not real bright on my part but how do you refuse a “Big 33” football player?

Moving forward, I went to see Duke at Boston University and we had some fun times hitting the music scene in bars in the Cambridge area. I specifically remember one night when we went to this joint and saw a flaming red head wailing on her guitar and singing the blues as well as anyone we had ever seen. Bonnie Raitt went on to international fame but we saw her in her Boston club days and still talked about it years later. Duke was a music guy and we always talked about the latest albums and concerts. For an ex B.U. football player, he had an artistic side which helped him in later life working with his dad and brother in the tile business in Pittsburgh.

As we both entered the working world, football was always entertaining to Duke and he always thought that if you didn’t wear a helmet and pads, it was not a sport. He never understood my love for cycling and remarked, ” I thought you quit riding bikes when you are 14?” I took him to the Thrift Drug Classic to see the international class cyclists ride up Sycamore Street in Pittsburgh and he was amazed. I said, ” Duke- these guys are in amazing shape” and he agreed but never really understood until I nurtured his understanding over the years. My son Jack taught him a lot about basketball and he became a big fan of Lebron James.

He and I were pals and as different as we were, we learned a lot from each other. Duke was a strong Christian and his love for the Lord was evident in his daily life. He always quoted scripture and had a serious demeanor to him. Over the years, I saw…….” the look” but I always liked to make him laugh and often at our dinner table with Janet, Jack and his mom, I would catch him off guard and make him belly laugh. He and I were so different yet we learned so much from each other.

I remember when I first dated his sister who eventually and fortunately became my wife, I made the trek to Bellevue where they both lived in the apartment building that their dad owned. As I pulled up to the curb, I saw Duke in the yard. His remark was, ” What brings you to Bellevue, Pat.” And “the look” came out again. I stuttered and stammered a response about a date at Hartwood Acres. He chuckled and went inside. I learned later that he remarked to Janet,” He is a nice kid.” Janet said, ” Kid? He is older than you.”

As the years went on, Janet and Duke spent time at the beach with their aunt and uncle and became very close as brother and sister, caring for their mom after their dad died.

Duke maintained his love for golf all of his life and as a single digit handicapper at Sewickley Heights Golf Club, he was well known for his ability and had a lot of friends there. He lost in a playoff this summer for the Senior Club Championship and his competitive nature came out when he talked to me about the match. He had the guy on the ropes and let him off the hook and it made him angry. The fiery competitor was not amused and no matter how I tried to say that it was amazing to make the finals, he wanted to win. He was a winner. Second place was never good enough.

We eventually moved into the same neighborhood with Duke so that his mom, Jack, Janet and I could live close by and we spent a lot of time together grilling, sharing time on each other’s patios and spending holidays and fun times together. When you talk to Duke’s friends, the common denominator besides being a strong Christian is that he was extremely generous. Case in point, when we moved in, the next day, a beautiful Weber grill was on my patio, courtesy of Duke. He would entertain his mother’s friends and buy them gifts along with taking them out to eat. He would have parties at his house and always had beautiful gifts for the ladies. He couldn’t do enough for you. His mother tells the tales that Duke would not of his anonymous generosity with people who were in need at CMA Church on the Northside. Picking up peoples tabs at McDonald’s where it was obvious that needy people were scrambling to put together enough money for a meal. He never wanted it known that he was the gracious host.

We lost Duke this week at 61 year old. A tragic and sudden illness took him away and we all feel the void in our house, the neighborhood, his workplace and among his customers and friends. A big strong human being was taken at short notice,and we are stunned. The only consolation for us is that we know he is with the Lord who he loved with all of his heart. If there is a golf course in heaven, I know that his dad was waiting on the first tee with a smile on his face. ” You’re on the tee, Duke.” I am sure he approached the ball, gave it ” the look” and creased it right down the middle as strongly as ever. Life is fragile folks. Love your spouse, your family, your friends, and take the time for all of them. Duke surely did. Thanks for reading.

“That’s what friends are for”

 

I have been thinking a lot about friendship lately and what really matters and what is just plain BS. These two characters, John and Richard Nicolette are my oldest friends. We all met in the neighborhood as kids and are still pals today. We got together last winter at A-Basin in Colorado and even though I have not seen them for a while, it is always like we just left each other. That’s what good friendship is all about.IMG_1412

I have good friends with whom I mountain bike. We have a lot of fun and get together weekly. Fun times, good riding in great places, and lots of laughter and beers and soccer chairs in the parking lots.

My wife and I have our mutual friends with whom we ski, and vacation. The Smiths are always there for fun times -winter and summer. We get together frequently even though they live in Yardley, Pa. Their daughter Shayna is getting married this weekend and we will be there to celebrate the nuptials.

Hang in there- I have a point or two to make. I have my ski crowd both local and out of town. Again lots of fun. Great times skiing. How could it not be with good snow and apres on the deck afterwards wherever we may be. My pal Eric Durfee, who lives in Incline Village, Nevada,is a great host and we have done a lifetime of adventures together. His daughter Kress is getting married in September in Squaw Valley and Janet and I will be there celebrating those nuptials too. We celebrated his son Nathan’s wedding this spring in Charleston, S.C.

So what is the point of all of this? Thinking about friendship, it is all about cultivation. I have had a lot of friends for a long time. I try to keep in touch, get together, make an effort. Like my mom said, ” To have a friend is to be a friend.” It is easy on vacations, ski trips, mountain bike trips, etc. But where does the rubber meet the road? When the times are not so good. When you need to be there as a friend in hard times. If a friend is ill, has marital problems, financial problems, depression, issues with kids, you need to be there as a friend to listen. You need to be there at all hours whenever the need arises. That is being a good friend. I forget things so I have to write them down and my yellow tablet at work is filled with names of friends who are hurting and I remind myself if nothing else, to give them a call and listen to their problems. If I can help, I get together with them. That’s what being a friend is all about and that weeds out the BS of shallow relationships. Some friends have come and gone in my life. It happens for one reason or another. But the good friends over the years have been there for me in thick and thin, and I like to think I have done the same for them.

I remember being at a party with some new “acquaintances” back in the day. This crowd was rather highbrow for me and all they were concerned about was where I lived, where I went to school, what did I do? They wanted to see if I fit in. I told them I counted bananas on Smallman Street and that spread like wildfire through this particular party in the East End of town. I am not pretentious in the least and this crowd was not my crowd and quickly faded out of my line of sight. I have highly successful friends, and friends who are on their last legs. The common denominator is that we care for each other and our friendship is real. I can wear a tux with the best of them, and also do hard manual labor for a friend in need, covered in mud with a smile on my face. They would do it for me. That’s what friends are for.

So, think about it. Think about who your real friends are and who are acquaintances. You can put yourself out for a lot of people and that kind of attitude is needed these days. You can make new friends. Friends are important. I am burying one this week who was 93 years old and a great friend to a lot of people. Call a friend who you have not talked to in a while. Time is getting shorter friends, we need each other. Be there for your spouse- your best friend. Thanks for reading.

“To have a friend is to be a friend”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Ozanam

I first met Darelle Porter when he and Maurice Montgomery coached my son’s AAU basketball team in high school. I was introduced to basketball when Jack was in grade school, and then on to high school and culminating in a wonderful experience with the DeJuan Blair All Stars- the AAU team. Looking at the picture above, you can see Darelle dunking on Alonzo Mourning back in the late 80s when he was a Division 1 star player at Pitt. I am an outdoors guy and basketball was foreign to me as I had never spent much time in a gym, much less know anything about basketball. I stuck out like a sore thumb in my flannel shirts and Bean boots. But I learned a lot from Darelle and Alvis Rodgers during our time up at the Ammon Rec Center in Pittsburgh’s Hill District and at the various tournaments that the DeJuan Blair and the Metro team played regionally and nationally. To have a Division 1 star coach the team and give the outdoors guy instruction was special, but that is not the story I want to tell here. Darelle’s passion is kids. More than any records at Pitt, more than any times as a Division 1 coach, Darelle’s heart is with the Ozanam Program whose mission statement is ” We are committed to making a difference in the lives of the youth we serve.”

I first learned about Ozanam when I saw the after school basketball program up at Ammon. As executive director of Ozanam, Darelle has a lot to do coordinating after school basketball, after school homework tutoring for high school kids, dinner programs at the Rec center, and a general care for the welfare of kids entering a critical time in their lives. There are many ” make it or break it” moments in the inner city and kids can easily be steered in the wrong direction. The Ozanam After School Program makes it possible for kids to learn in a friendly environment, enjoy a nutritious hot meal, and get expert instruction on homework or applying for college scholarships and admissions.

The impressive thing about Darelle is that as busy as he is, he personally handles all the training on the court with all the kids in the program. His passion is kids and basketball and he is there every day, after school, and in the summer promoting skill development and team work along with Alvis Rodgers and Karen Hall who was a former U.N.L.V. star and NCAA Div 1 coach.

The grade school programs are generally centered around the Rec center and as the kids move on to high school, Darelle makes a point to take groups to college campuses and cultural events throughout the east. He is one busy person but the smile on his face leads one to believe that he really enjoys his work and has a passion for the physical and educational welfare of the children and young adults that he serves.

On a personal note, I got Darelle and Maurice involved volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House in Pittsburgh and both the AAU Team and the Ozanam After School Program became involved serving meals to the families of the children who were getting critical care at Children’s Hospital. Darelle and the Ozanam ASP still are involved and enjoying Darelle’s Italian Ice which he brings to every event. He has a side business selling Italian Ice all through the city at different venues and his stands are manned by kids in the Ozanam Program. The energy that he brings is amazing and the value of a job for the kids is not lost on the community.

As I learned from our involvement in basketball, there is a lot more to it than just the game. Coaches like Darelle, Maurice, Alvis Rodgers-another Div 1 standout at Wake Forest, and Karen are inspirational. It is not just about winning and losing. It is all about team work, personal development, family gatherings and discussions at the tournaments, and binding people together. In this day and age, programs like AAU and the Ozanam Center bring unity and not division. People like Darelle make a difference and devote their lives to a higher cause.

Ozanam needs your help. To continue to make a difference in the lives of the youth they serve, financial help is needed. If you would like to participate, you can log on to http://www.ozanaminc.org and make a donation. Programs like this are extremely valuable and need to be supported by the community. People like Darelle need to keep up the good work that they do. Ozanam makes a difference. You can too. 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.