Don’t Circle the Drain

Janet and I went out to dinner the other night with some neighbors who are a little older than we are. They were laughing and joking about some friends of theirs when asked how they were doing? The friends remarked that they were just circling the drain. We all laughed about that visual but in the middle of the night, I took it a little more seriously and thought that I hoped I would never make that statement of being sucked into the vortex of oblivion. I want to be like the spider clawing furiously away from that drain and out of the tub. I try not to think about age but when I do, I make sure I am always taking every opportunity to be active and healthy, and not throwing in the towel. Lots of fun, active times ahead. My friends who are contemporaries feel the same. Take Helen and Eric above. They live in Tahoe and enjoy life in the Sierras. The photo above is from their month long trek in the Himalayas. They ski, hike, trek, and do not circle any drain.

This picture above is Nancy and Mark Hutchinson from Randolph Center, Vermont. They hiked the Long Trail this summer which is from the Massachusetts border all the way to the Canadian border. There are no drains in the Hutchinson household. They take their vacations and are active.

Now you have Bob Bannon. The Lord of Lumens. Bob schedules all the local mountain bike rides and is the guru of lighting systems for night mountain bike riding. Always has spare lights and batteries and is so enthusiastic about riding even with a full schedule of silk screening clothing for a living and being a referee in high school and college volleyball. He is not circling any drain any time soon.

Here is a guy recovering from a close personal tragedy. Mike Rich always has a smile on his face and spends his free time hunting and enjoying the outdoors even with a heavy heart. It would be easy for Mike to feel sorry for himself, but he gives unselfishly to others especially young guys who are at risk for lifestyle choices. No drains out there in Burgettstown.

How about my buddy Art Bonavoglia? He is in his 6th season teaching skiing in the Vail Ski School. When the graphic arts business went in the tank due to on-line publishing and the like, Art went down another path. They love him in Vail. They call him the singing ski instructor. He regales his students with Tony Bennett songs on the chairlift. Art is not going down any vortex.

My main man Mike Smith. Owns a marina on Lake George, flies his own plane, skis, hikes, and sky dives. An amazing ball of energy for a guy in his late sixties. He will work, ski, skydive, most people into the ground. The water is full to the top at Lake George. No swirling drains up in the Adirondacks.

Lastly- a great inspiration to me on enjoying life into his 90s was my grandfather John Reynolds. As an avid fisherman, we went everywhere to fish and he and his buddies would rise with the birds to get that first bite either in the Everglades, or on the lakes in Canada. I had the honor of being their first mate and seeing up close and personal guys in their 80s and 90s enjoying the wilds of nature. No sitting around for these guys.

I guess the point here is that sometimes we let people influence us with statements like, ” when are you going to slow down?” Or “aren’t you a little old for that?” Or maybe “wouldn’t you rather be sitting by the fire under an afghan?” Yes I would – after a great ski day or a great mountain bike ride. I don’t roll over under the comforter if it is cold outside. I like to get out there no matter what. So do these friends of mine mentioned above. They do not go gently into that good night. They are kicking and clawing to stay out of the vortex. Most of them don’t even get close to that swirl just yet. With a new year dawning, if you are thinking that somehow you are getting slowly sucked into that circling drain swirl, maybe it is time to reverse the process. Get active in 2018. You are never too old for anything. Thanks for reading.

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.

Adventure Fest 2017

The outdoor camping weekend was touted as ” the greatest salty meat, campfire cooking, big fartin, Jesus praising weekend ever.” I accepted the invitation of my good friend Mark ” the Shark” Sauers to attend this event and Greg Nass, the organizer, is an old friend from my mountain biking days with the Dirt Rag Magazine crew.

Now I have been to a lot of church outings in my life but this one was intriguing because of the camping aspect( I love sleeping under the stars in my dome tent), and also the chance to ride mountain bikes at the nationally famous Allegrippis Trails at Raystown Lake, Pa. But little did I know the impact of this weekend on me courtesy of a bunch of axe throwing, Harley riding, arrow shooting, hiking, biking, sinners from all over the tri-state area. Pulling in Friday night, the Shark and I set up our campsite on a wooded part of the 350 acre Agape Farm and Retreat Center. Once I had my Jet Boil fired up and cooking some freeze dried cuisine courtesy of the REI camping department on the South Side of Pittsburgh, we made our way down to perhaps the largest bonfire that I had ever seen in my life. Testosterone was high as the men sat in their camp chairs taking in the fire and listening to the opening remarks from Greg Nass.

After the intros were given, we were asked to welcome the first speaker of the weekend, Pastor Jerry Conley, who came roaring into the site in his Harley, floppy hat, goggles, and pipes blazing. His group the Midnight Riders accompanied him and as he began to tell his story, the group was gripped with his testimony relating to his life before he came to be a believer in the redemptive story of Jesus. One of the misconceptions of Christians these days is that they are condescending and look down on people thinking they are better than the next guy, preachy, pointing fingers. But nothing could be further from the truth with these guys who all recognize their faults and the need to have a Savior in their lives. The Christian message is really a wonderfully freeing message and this seemed to be the theme of the weekend. Pastor Tom Rees spoke on relationships and also gave a great visual of sharing the Gospel in the proper manner. I asked the Shark how he spreads the good news of the Gospel without offending anyone. He said he treats it like he is sharing the good news of a good restaurant in a town where a friend will be visiting. They don’t have to eat there and he doesn’t brow beat them into eating there. He just shares with them the message because he cares for them. He said, “Paddy- don’t I care for you? Wouldn’t I want to share news of a great pair of skis with you?” I sat in amazement at the commitment and the caring spirit of the Shark which only got better as we made our way to Raystown Lake the next morning to ride the trails of Allegrippis.

We ended up riding with a good rider from West Virginia named Roger, and a pastor from Leechburg, Todd, and his friend Bill. Turns out Todd roasts his own coffee and is a good road and mountain bike rider and his friend Bill had a lot of experience riding as well. We were treated to dry, flowy trails with lots of interesting transitions and scenic views of Raystown Lake. Halfway through the ride, The Shark pulls over and shares his testimony of his mission trip in the Amazon jungle. Todd, Bill, Roger and I sat in silence as we listened to the stories of anacondas, aggressive native tribes and the danger of sharing the Gospel. Looking to each side of us I noticed a guy that had stopped with his four kids and two other random guys listening to Shark’s story. We all remarked that those kids were wide eyed and you never know unless you put it out there, what impact you might have by sharing the message of Christian salvation. Believe in what He did for you. John 3:16. Again, I sat in silence and watched the Shark in action. An amazing person not afraid or embarrassed in the least. Good News shared. We treated ourselves to a great lunch at Smitty’s Eats and Treats. Perhaps the best pork bar-b-que sandwich I had ever eaten made with fresh pork from a local farm. The young lady working the counter was delightful and if you ride Raystown, stop in and see Smitty. Good guy with great food.

Saturday night, there was a midnight hike to a large wooden cross at the top of the mountain. As the inner city guys from Front Street Community Church and the Philadelphia Bible Fellowship hiked up that trail, lots of them had joyous hearts knowing that they had been saved from the brink of disaster. I realized that I lead a sheltered life when I heard the stories of drugs, violence, guns, and alcoholism. I saw tough looking inner city guys kneeling at that cross crying out of thankfulness and when the Pastor conducting the service asked all of us to pound a nail into that cross symbolizing that we are leaving all of our guilt and shame up on that cross on that mountain, the vision of those city tough guys was nothing short of amazing. Tattoos and tears!!!

Wrapping up Sunday with a great message by Pastor Robert Bennett of Jakes Run Assembly of God in West Virginia, I learned something that I had not known. When Joshua defeated the enemy at the Walls of Jericho, he screamed at the end of the battle……Tetelestai!!!!- it is finished. The same words uttered by Christ when He finished his mission on the cross. Tetelestai!!!!! It is Finished. You don’t do anything……He did it. All you do is believe.  Again- I sat in silence contemplating what I had seen that weekend.

I would recommend Adventure Fest to anyone who wants to hear the Good News in an incredibly beautiful setting. For more information, check out http://www.adventuremen.org These mountain biking, air gun shooting, Harley riding, RV driving, archery and camping guys are sure fun to hang with. Thanks for reading and thanks to the Shark for many things.

Familiarity breeds……………comfort.

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

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

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

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

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

Q.D.L. ( Quality Days Left)

My friend Jeff Chetlin( pictured here front and center in the orange shorts) said to me the other day on a MTB ride,” Paddy- I want you to get in your Jeep and think about what I am saying. I want you to think about quality days left.” He said, ” Today is a quality day. Sunshine, a long ride with friends, beers and lunch in the parking lot sitting around on soccer chairs, enjoying each other’s company after a great ride ” That is a quality day.” ” How many of these days do we have left?”
I thought about that on the way home and as Jeff also said, we really don’t know how many of these quality days we do have left. He is ten years younger than me but still, we don’t know. I asked the same question basically to my ski crowd a few weeks ago. ” How much longer do you think we will be able to ski the chutes, rip GS turns, and ski at a high level comparatively speaking?” The general consensus was if we kept ourselves in shape, didn’t get injured( longer recovery at an older age), and nothing catastrophic happened, we should be able to ski like this into our 70s. We saw a guy at Snowbasin one year making beautiful GS turns on the groomers at high speed…..at 75 years young. So back to Chetlin. He has ideas on how he wants to utilize his QDL.

Jeff seems to think that he needs to someday soon move to Bend, Oregon to pursue his dream of maximizing QDL. In many ways, his environment dictates and contributes to his QDL. He is questioning whether he wants to spend the rest of his active years in Pennsylvania or make the move to his favorite place out west. We all currently travel to ski trips and mountain bike trips but aside from those great days, our QDL are currently here in the Keystone State. But in my mind- that is ok. All of our friends are here with the exception of a few, and life is what you make of it, right? So I thought more about it and asked myself in my Jeep, what do I think is a quality day? Well, I have this positive way of viewing things and really, every day is a gift. When we wake up and are blessed with another healthy day, it is a quality day to me. I know that the epic mountain bike rides with friends and epic ski days with friends are quality days, but I think about every day being a quality day. No matter the weather, no matter what the circumstances, if you are blessed with friends, a good work environment, and a wonderful spouse, you have quality days. A great quality day is spent with my wife Janet. We need to value each and every day because we have each other currently in good health.
We will always value each other no matter what, but we need to maximize that time together. I am sure that Jeff feels that way about his wife Julie who is his partner in everything that he does.
So, I can dream about quality days left out west in some great location. But currently I live in Pittsburgh and must make the QDL alive and well right here. Again, the travel QDL are important and always will be memorable, but days like we had last Saturday with our MTB crew, riding in the spring sunshine, sitting around and telling stories in our soccer chairs, and sipping a cold brew, that is a quality day for sure. How many do we have left? Only the Lord knows that for sure. But my goal is to make every day a quality day, no matter what the day presents. I know what Jeff means about life in Bend. And, he may attain that goal soon. But for the time being, I am looking forward to the Coopers Gap Epic Ride in a few weeks at State College with the Chetlins and looking forward to more fun times with my Janet in whatever we do. Thanks for reading and maximize your QDL.

Security in an Unsure World.

A long time ago, I rode my road bike through the Netherlands. A wonderful trip which included a visit to the eclectic city of Amsterdam. Resplendent with its canals and cafes it had an interesting vibe and an integral part of my visit was to the Rijksmuseum and the van Gogh museum. Now the sad thing was that I knew nothing about art as I took in the Rembrandt paintings and the students of Rembrandt on display in the Rijksmuseum. Making my way to the van Gogh museum I also felt extremely inadequate when I took in the art there. Although I have heard that art appreciation is in the eye of the beholder, it would have been nice if I had some semblance of understanding of what I was viewing in two of the most famous art museums in the world. What a rube I was. I was determined from that point that I would learn more about art.

Fast forward light years, I found myself last weekend in Charleston,South Carolina in yet another famous art community for the wedding of my friend Nathan Durfee.

Now I have known Nathan most of his life and as a young guy, he always impressed me with his love for the arts. He played the guitar and the cello and was very musical at a young age. It was apparent early on that he was talented and when he matriculated at the Savannah College of Art and Design, we all knew that this could be the start of something big. Little did we know how big! Among his achievements are Best Local Visual Artist – four years in a row by Charleston City Paper, Charleston Portrait Slam winner, and The Teatrio Cultural Association book award for his children’s book entitled “Hello My Name is Bernard”. Nathan’s paintings are an expression of his personality in that his subjects are whimsical characters who are faced with tough, universal decisions, conveying a sense of security in an unsure world to the viewer. Again, I felt inadequate as I wandered the Robert Lange Studios http://www.robertlangestudios.com for Nathan’s rehearsal reception. Nathan is one of the featured artists for Robert Lange and I made it a point on the trip to investigate more about Nathan’s art.

Another interesting part of the wedding journey to Charleston for my wife and I was our stay at The Vendue http://www.thevendue.com which is touted as Charleston’s Art Hotel. Among the many galleries within the hotel, there is an artist in residence studio where you can visit and see the creation of oil paintings currently by Fred Jamar.

Now Fred was born in Belgium and had a very successful career in the financial world. He has since retired and has taken up residency in The Vendue and is a very engaging person who is more than willing to show you his works and let you view his artistic ability as he paints. Janet and I were in awe as we saw Fred touch up a beautiful Charleston scene on his easel. The colors were magnificent and along with our marvel at the art work of our pal Nathan Durfee, my education in the world of art took a more modern turn as we made our way through the art community of Charleston. We learned about collaboration where two artists share their strengths and combine their art into one painting. Typically Nathan either paints a central part of a work or finishes the work of another in these collaborations which are wildly popular and sell out even before the works are started. The more I learned, the more I realized how much I didn’t know about the art world. But it sure is interesting when you take the time to appreciate the talent of others.

Charleston is a wonderful town on the water. It’s history is well documented but little did I know what a vibrant art community it has. In my quest to be “Younger Next Year”, continuing education must be part of the plan. I have decided to know more about art. I also have decided to try to resurrect any talent I had in playing the piano. Janet had our piano tuned and I need to use my mind and start to play again. It is great to stay in shape, ski the steeps, ride the good trails, but in order to stay relevant, it is a must to continually educate ourselves. Nathan and his lovely bride Michelle have shown us a glimpse of what that entails. Thanks for welcoming us into your world.

Paintings displayed in this post are all by Nathan Durfee.  www.robertlangestudios.com/nathan-durfee/

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.