Navigating the World Cup with the Shark

Shark and Brad Copeland.- Mechanic for World Cup MTB Champ Kate Courtney

” Paddy- take a picture of the Shark with Brad here. He loves my shirt” For the uninitiated, Brad Copeland is Kate Courtney’s mechanic. Kate was our World Cup overall champion and former world champion who rides for Scott USA. Kate still competes and Brad is always by her side. But this weekend, the Shark was at their side as one of his many adventures in the expo booths at the UCI World Cup Mountain Bike Finals in Snowshoe, West Virginia. Mark Sauers, aka the Shark, is a real character and our friend who always makes life interesting when you are in his company. Shark is an enthusiastic mountain biker who is in great shape and always has us laughing as he refers to himself in the third person. ” Paddy- get the Shark’s picture” ” Paddy- don’t forget to text the Shark where you are.” ” Paddy, the Shark is ready to ride.” Hilarious, as is his shirt which he wore that attracted all kinds of attention. I wont’ bore you with why Mark is called the Shark. Suffice to say that in the 35 years I have ridden with him, he has always been…….”.the Shark.”

So after a grueling ride with John Palmieri and the HSD group on the trails of West Virginia, we came back to the condo and showered up to see the world’s best in the races in the afternoons. Part of the routine is to visit the expo booth area and see all the manufacturers booths which also serve as the headquarters for the teams racing in the event. The best of the world are there and racing men and women’s short track, downhill and cross country events. Download Red Bull TV and you will see all the events and the excitement that always attracts us to the wilds of West Virginia. The UCI World Cup loves West Virginia and now loves the Shark.

John Palmieri of HSD fame. Our ride leader for the weekend.
Our group on the tough, muddy, rooty , slimy, rocky trails of West Virginia.
The Shark with Specialized Rider Sina Frei

After Brad commented on Shark’s shirt in the Scott Booth, Shark responded in typical fashion,” The Shark will trade you the shirt for this bike right here.” Brad laughed and said, ” well maybe Shark?” And we wished Kate good luck and moved on.

Lauren Smith of Red Bull TV with the Shark

As we proceeded on our way, we saw the British commentator for Red Bull TV, Lauren Smith, who was totally blown away with the Shark’s shirt. We had a nice chat with her and commented how much we liked the UCI coverage on Red Bull TV. She loves coming to America and is particularly fond of Snowshoe, as is much of the UCI. The races will return to Snowshoe next July and Red Bull TV will be there.

American Cross Country Racer- Haley Batten

Moving along, we noticed that the women racers in the pit area were very approachable and receptive to photographs. Especially when the Shark requests it. Looking at the large gregarious guy in the shark shirt, they are intrigued and come over to us and have a great laugh with the Shark. Haley Batten, who races for Specialized and is one of the rising stars of the sport, laughed at some of the Shark’s outrageous comments in a large decibel range and had to have her picture taken. We told her that Shark is famous and she bought it hook, line, and sinker. We cheered her on later in the women’s races and her engaging and friendly personality will make her a star for sure along with her amazing athletic ability on course.

Shark was on a roll as we set up a makeshift autograph booth with Shark and local North Park mountain bike racing legend Bob Anderson. Bob finds the Shark really amusing and as they both sat down at an empty table, people came over to see what the Shark was all about. He excused himself for a moment and raced over to the Santa Cruz booth when he heard that they were giving away free tires. As he screamed, ” hey, how about some tires for the Shark?”, the Santa Cruz guys willingly complied and the Shark came away with some of his many SWAG gifts.

Bob Anderson and the Shark at their makeshift autograph booth
Shark Swag

As you now know, the Shark has an engaging personality and infectious enthusiasm. After working the crowds in the expo booths, we made our way over to the races to see the world’s best compete. Shark bulls his way to the best viewing positions and encourages me to ring my Swiss cowbell when the racers come by.

Victor Koretzky and World Champ Nino Schurter slaying all in a grueling uphill section
Big crowds at Snowshoe
Yours truly with the official Swiss Cowbell- not some Wal-Mart imitation.
The women launching it in the downhill.

In reality, John Cassucio and his son Simon, Steve Gurtner, Bob Anderson, JB Loughney, Jessie Seeger, and I were all pilot fish in the wake of the Shark’s navigation of the World Cup. We all watched him work the crowds in the expo area and out on the course. Yes, he is hilarious, but if you get to know him like I do, you will find also a kind, generous, and caring person who values friendships. He calls me regularly and screams ” Paddy!!!!!” over the phone with the following ” how are ya?” It makes my day to hear his voice and enthusiasm as he starts another day in the world. He truly would give you the Shark shirt off his back if he felt you needed a lift. A character indeed, but one well worth knowing. I hope I can have another 35 years of riding with him. Well……………. Thanks for reading.

The End of an Era

So, I was on a mountain bike ride with my pal Steve Gurtner the other day and he said, ” did you hear they tore the cabin down on County Line Road?” I said- “Dixon’s ?” He said yes. “nothing but a big old hole in the ground now” I was a little shocked and took a drive over to see for myself. Sure enough. A big old hole in the ground where once stood the Rich’s cabin or as my dad used to call it…..” The Dixon Hilton.”

The cabin had come into some neglect and disrepair in the last number of years and my childhood friend Dixon Rich said that it was time for it to come down. Dixon bought the cabin from his folks a while back and as the years went on, it didn’t get much use and was becoming a liability. So Dixon sold the property to some friends who will build a new place. As I stared at the hole in the ground, lots of memories came rushing back to me from my childhood weekends in the cabin near Seven Springs Resort where we all skied as kids

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The old ski lodge and yours truly.

I grew up with Dixon Rich and we have been friends since the minor league in baseball. His dad bought the cabin a long time ago and every weekend, Bob Rose used to take all of us kids up in the station wagon to spend the weekends at the Rich cabin. Sleeping bags all over the floors were common and the bunk beds were filled as well. Usually it was either Sally and Bob Rose, Barley and Dixon Rich Sr., or Ted and Mary Struk who had the chaperone duties and cooking detail to keep all of the neighbor kids from the Berkley Hills area fed and in line. That was the standard weekend in the winter for all of us thanks to the generosity of Dixon Rich Sr. who got the place for all of us to enjoy. I couldn’t wait for the phone to ring on a Friday afternoon when Bob Rose Sr. would call and say- ” 15 minutes- be ready and have all your gear ready.” We would ski Friday nights until 11:00, all day Saturday, Saturday night, and all day Sunday until we would pack up and head back to the burg. That is where we all really learned to ski at Seven Springs, and spending our nights at the cabin on County Line Road. For years!!!!

Dixon and I still skiing together nearly 60 years later.

As the years went on, kids became teen agers and there were all kinds of cars in the driveway. The key to the cabin was always on the top of the entry door and the only rule was before you left, you better put the key back where it belonged. If those walls could talk, you would hear some tall tales from that cabin with all of those raging hormones and visitors coming from near and far to ski weekends with the Berkeley Hills crowd. The parents would still show up from time to time but their git up and go for us had gone up and left as they aged a bit. The Dixon Hilton was party central for many of us growing up on weekends in the Laurel Highlands. Dix and I got into mountain biking around the same time and we used the cabin as a meeting place for our growing number of riding friends. It was cool to have a place to stay and hang out after a big ride from the cabin, over to Hidden Valley and back again. Dixon and I would also take mega rides to Ohiopyle and often get lost on the way back. We relied on the sunset to give us direction and if it got too late, the kindly neighbors from Indian Head would give us a ride back up the hill to the cabin where we were completely exhausted. When they had the NORBA National Mountain Bike series at Seven Springs, Dixon and I raced in our category, and then watched the national class races. The whos who of mountain bike racing came to Seven Springs in those days and somehow they all heard of the parties at the cabin on County Line Road. It was not uncommon to see luminaries of the mountain bike world show up in Dixon’s yard. Maurice and Elaine Tierney of Dirt Rag Magazine, Sue Haywood, Kurt Vooreis, and even Gary Fisher graced the grounds of the Dixon Hilton. The cabin became the meeting place for rides and the after ride festivities for years and it became our little year round resort.

Tough Trail at the NORBAS

Time flew by and our little band of neighbor kids spread out all over the country. The cabin didn’t get much use in recent years and one time Dixon was staying there and he called me on the phone. ” Hey Patrick, you wouldn’t believe it. I was sleeping and at about 3:00 AM the deck fell off.” ” I didn’t know you had to shovel snow off the deck to relieve the weight.” ” All of a sudden it was gone” We both had a good laugh about that one along with some other good memories.

I talked to Dixon the other day and he told me about the sale. I asked him if he kept some memorabilia from the cabin and he said that he had, including the valued pair of Jet Stix. We both laughed and said most people would not even know what they were. For you younger folks- google Jet Stix. Also- he said he kept the flashing yellow light that they used to alert people coming up County Line that the cabin was open and people were there.

Looking at this hole in the ground, I will miss the old days. But I will always be grateful to the Rich’s, the Roses and the Struks ,and my parents, for their investment in the kids in the neighborhood. That cabin was our home in the winter and I could not think of a better way to grow up. I am still skiing sixty years later and my enthusiasm has not waned one bit. That love of the sport was ingrained in us as kids and I will always be thankful for the cabin on County Line Road. Thanks for reading.

The “B” Team Bringing Their “A” Game

A little while back, I was on a rather spirited mountain bike ride up at Laurel Mountain with some pretty strong riders. Among them was my friend Steve Gurtner, who is a strong rider in his own right. But that day, he looked at me and said, ” Pat- we are the ” B” team bringing our “A” game. I laughed out loud and will always remember that line because it fits my persona to a “T.” In all honesty in all of my cycling over the years, I have always ridden with stronger, more talented riders and always felt like I was that “B” team constantly having to bring my “A” game in order to keep up. Take my early days in road cycling with the ACA.( Allegheny Cycling Association). I had the good fortune of riding on the road with some pretty talented guys who took the time to bring us “B” team guys into the fold. People like Mac Martin- a national class rider who took us out of our comfort zone and gave us the finer points of road racing on training rides. I can remember being in our local criteriums when they would put the “B” group in with the “A” group and we had people like Mac, and Matt Eaton, and the Chew brothers who would lap us but help us in the group with tips and suggestions not only to help us, but to improve their place in the group. Things like ” bridge that gap, Pat, so I can get up there.” I definitely had to bring my A game in those races in order not to jeopardize my participation. These guys were national champions who were kind enough to give us tips and help us in a race situation. But we had to dig deep and bring that “A” game. They would roar by us but help us along the way.

Moving ahead to mountain biking. I rode with the Greenlee’s Mountain Bike team back in the day and was coached by Chuck Greenlee, the owner of the shop, and head honcho of the group. I would go on their training rides with the expert riders who were nice enough to wait for me at the corners. But I had to step it up again in order to participate. I was no expert rider like those guys, but if I wanted to improve, I had to dig deep and remember being totally exhausted after all those rides on week nights. It all helped at race time but still, I was bringing the” A” game because I had to.

My Tuesday night rides, which were famous for bringing riders of all abilities to ride our local park, were eventually taken over by the expert riders who used my ride as a training ride. Eventually, the only way I could keep up was to take short cuts. Not quite bringing the” A” game but a tactic that I still use today. I still often ride with riders who are younger, stronger, more talented than me and I need to bring that” A” game week in and week out in order to participate. I remember riding with Scot Nicol, the founder of Ibis Bicycles, who is my age. I asked him, ” How long do you think we can ride like this Scot – at our age?” His response which I have recounted many times was,” Don’t even think about it, Pat.” ” Just keep riding.” I suppose he is right. I want to do this cycling thing as long as I can and if I have to be pushed by a talented group, so be it. I will be back out in Bend, Oregon in a few weeks visiting Jeff and Julie Chetlin, Tim and Barb Girone, and their posse of younger, talented riders. So hopefully, again, I won’t think about it and hope to hang on.

Finally- when I thought about this post, and the meaning of that great quote by Steve Gurtner, I also thought about it in general terms. Don’t we all have to bring our “A” game to the game of life? Sometimes we have to dig deep to be kind, considerate, generous, courteous, in these times of uncertainty? Don’t we have to bring that “A” game even when we are tired and don’t think we can keep up? If we do dig deep, it not only benefits us, but also those around us to whom we show mercy and kindness even in the midst of fatigue or despondency. Yes, most of us are the “B ” team, but if we can bring that “A” game as often as we can, life will improve in just a small way. We might not be national class and can’t change the world, but we can certainly “bring it” and help out one individual, one life, one neighborhood at a time. Thanks for reading.

ACA photo courtesy of Eric Durfee. Another “A” guy in many ways.

Greenlees Mountain Bikes

From the Best of http://www.chroniclesofmccloskey.com

NiteRider2photophotophotophotophoto There is a statistic floating around out there that claims that 90 percent of all mountain bikes sold are never taken off road. Consider what percentage are utilized on rocky, rooty, muddy, eastern trails coupled with doing it at night with lights and you have a small percentage of bicycles and riders. Back in the 90s, I had the good fortune of becoming associated with a group of individuals that took the sport of mountain biking very seriously and became almost legendary in their victories in local mountain bike races in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Their use of these off road machines put the manufacturers to the test every time they had a training ride and some of the best riders and racers at the time belonged to a group started by Chuck Greenlee of Prospect Pa.

Chuck had a small shop and prided himself on carrying the best equipment that could be tested on the rocks of the terminal moraine. The frame to have at the time was either a Merlin titanium or a Yeti and Chuck quickly assembled a group of individuals who supported his shop and ultimately made up his race team. Jonathan Moran, Ricky Haas, Eric Sauereisen, Bob Anderson, E.J Sigety, Steve Wahlenmeyer,Frankie Ross, and Bill Alcorn were all incredibly good riders and the balance of the group were in the older category as veterans which included Chuck, Mike Reidinger, Tim Sweeney and yours truly – truly bringing up the rear. Diane Blackburn was our lone woman rider who could ride most guys into the ground. I first got to respect Diane when she gave me a real ration of grief for getting lost on a Month of Mud course. She was in our group at the time and I ziggged instead of zagged and heard it from Diane for weeks. Jonathan and the boys rode the Pro Expert Division and their rides and routes taught me a lot about riding on the rocks. Of course, I was not able to keep up with this group but they all were kind enough to spend the time to teach me the finer points of riding in this treacherous terrain. Often there were several groups riding at Moraine State Park in those days that were associated with Chuck’s team and the fast guys were able to do their thing with the slower guys bringing up the rear and learning all along the way. I had many over the bars experiences much to the amusement of the “A” team but being part of that team of folks was not only an education, but immersing into a culture of ride or be left behind. ” What doesn’t kill you makes you strong” was certainly on display on those rides and the fruits of the work displayed itself in the podium finishes for the Expert Group. Our Vet group held our own and oftentimes won our divisions in races like the 24 Hours of Canaan( see May 15th, 2013 post). The NORBA Nationals, 24 Hour races, Hidden Valley Fat Tire Fallouts and Stampedes, Month of Mud races, WVMBA Series races, all had podium representation by the Greenlee crew in all age divisions. Even our older guys like Tim, Chuck and Mike were always competitive overall as well as winning in the Vet and Master division. Like a blind squirrel who finds an acorn once in a while, I even had some good finishes at the time that showed me that with a little hard work and keeping momentum on rocks and roots, even a schlubb like me can be successful. I was happy to be a Greenlee Mountain Bike Team member.

Besides the victories, the better part of being associated with Greenlee’s Mountain Bikes was the culture created by Chuck and also the team itself. E.J and his wife Sharon would always welcome us back to their home for cookouts after rides and races. Steve’s girlfriend Julie ( now his wife) would always get her parent’s motor home to be the base of support at the races and her immediate family was always welcoming with a great place to rest and have something to eat. The mechanics from the local shops would all set up outside the RV and if there were any issues at the races, it was a communal repair pit for anyone who needed it.

I loved traveling to the events in West Virginia with Chuck and perhaps some of the more harrowing rides in the country were with Chuck trying to catch Sam Dyke and the “Parrot Man” with his super suspended van on the back roads of the Monongahela National Forest. We made it to Davis, Slaty Fork, and other locations in record time. Chuck was always a pedal to the metal guy not only in his riding but in his driving. But the best part of hanging with Chuck was that if we needed anything by way of equipment, parts, etc, Chuck was always there at all times to provide and would work on broken bikes well into the night. When you are passionate about something, it becomes part of your life. You are not just someone who rides a bicycle, you are a mountain biker. It becomes part of your persona. It seems like a long time ago, but a lot of the skills and more importantly friendships have lasted to this day and my passion for riding a mountain bike was first fueled by a fun loving crew from the wilds of Butler County.

These days, my old Merlin hangs from a hook in my garage. If that bike could talk, it would certainly tell some great stories. There are many groups and teams like the old Greenlee’s Team and they all have several things in common- passion for a sport, camaraderie ,laughs, accountability, and great memories that last a lifetime. Unfortunately, Chuck is no longer with us.  He was taken a couple of years ago with heart failure and he is sorely missed.   Cherish your friends.  Thanks for reading.