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.

9/11 in PC

McPolin Farm – Park City, Utah
Old friends are the best!

Janet and I had the opportunity to visit Park City, Utah last week and do some hiking in the spectacular Wasatch range. We generally visit the west during the winter for skiing but decided to augment that with a trip to see Park City in the summer. The town is bustling and the weather is usually downright perfect for walking around and hiking in the neighboring ski resorts like Park City, Deer Valley, and the Canyons. We also took a trip to Sundance which is well worth the drive and the hike up to Stewart Falls was spectacular. We enjoyed that opportunity with our dear friends, the Birsics, who are Park City residents.

Sundance, Utah

Janet likes to hike and we do a lot of that at home. This was a little different in that the hikes are a little more strenuous but she was a trooper as we climbed lots of vertical feet to witness some of the most breathtaking vistas in the Wasatch. As we hiked through aspen groves and wildflower lined hiking trails, we marveled at just how beautiful the mountains are in the summer. Crossing some of the ski slopes, I reminded Janet of where we were and how she had skied them this past winter. She remarked that they looked a lot more steep in the summer. A typical comment for someone viewing ski trails in the off season. We just missed the fall season with the changing leaves but we had a hint of it here and there where a short storm blew in and the leaves began to fall in the chillier stormy wind. We could see the beginning of fall with some of the leaves already starting to turn in what is a rather short season in Utah.

Views of the Jordanelle Reservoir in Heber from Deer Valley

All week the weather was beautiful and we took advantage of great restaurants, shops, and other places of interest in Park City. On Saturday, September the 11th, we visited the McPolin Farm for a little walk on their well maintained hiking paths and our eyes became fixed on the huge American flag that hangs from the iconic white barn that is visible from the highway. People were clamoring to get a photo op in front of the flag and I wondered to myself if they just wanted the photo op or whether they had some sense of patriotism on the day commemorating the tragedy in the twin towers, the Pentagon, and Shanksville. Jan and I had our opportunity for the photo and thought about what President Bush had said that morning. In an eloquent speech from Shanksville, site of the Flight 93 crash, the former President tried to rally all of us to move on from the partisan politics and realize that we are all Americans. Whether you are conservative or liberal in political persuasions, white, black, Latino, native American, or whatever, we are all Americans and should band together to realize that we all are brothers and sisters under this banner of democracy and freedom. The former President said it so well.

As we wound down our week of being in the beautiful mountains, we kept telling ourselves how blessed we were to visit such a great town in a great part of the country. The 9/11 date gave us pause to reflect on how all of us who live in America are blessed to have great opportunities, the chance to help our fellow citizens, and the general feeling of kindness that should be the hallmark of all Americans. We live in a beautiful country and people from all over the world come to visit what we call home. As I looked at that flag one more time, I said a little prayer that all of us come together. Just like we did on that fateful day in 2001. I will never forget that day and neither will all of us who saw the details of that day unfold. We need to appreciate our country, the landscape from ” sea to shining sea”, and know that we are better than what has transpired in this last year. I look at those mountains and think what a great country we have. Happy to be able to see it and thankful for the opportunity to enjoy it. Thanks for reading.

Paturday

Wolf Rocks at Laurel Mountain with the Paturday Crew- Photo by John Cassucio

My friend Jeff Chetlin calls my rides Paturday rides. Kind of a reference to the fact that my mountain bike rides as of late are more relaxed and the theme is to enjoy the ride. I also refer to my rides as PPPP. Pat’s Pleasant Park Peddling. You see, I have chased people on road bikes and mountain bikes for 40 years. This year I decided to just bring it back a notch and ride at my own pace. When my pals come on a Paturday ride, they know they will have a good ride, good mileage, good route and a good time. We don’t have to kill each other, we just need to enjoy the ride. Ride to ride another day, don’t get hurt, and well……………have fun. Nobody is going to the Olympics.

Take this weekend for example. The Paturday ride was at my favorite place locally to ride a mountain bike- Laurel Mountain. I don’t know what it is about the Laurel HIghlands but I feel truly relaxed up there. I like the Laurel Mountains at all times of the year, and I have a couple of good mountain bike routes that challenge the best and allow for the more casual to also enjoy. Paturday means when we come to a particularly tough rocky section- I let the tough guys go and I meet them at the end of that particular section. They have had a challenge, and if I don’t feel like killing myself, I just ride an alternate trail and meet them. They are all smiles and breathing hard and getting what they need. I have a more relaxed section and that is just fine with me. The people who ride with me get their share of the rocks and roots that make a Laurel Mountain ride classic. But I/we don’t have to do all of them. The tough younger guys on the Paturday ride do them all and I admire them for sure. But I get enough skipping the real killer sections. Paturday- something for everyone.

Enjoying the ride.

One of the benefits of the PPPP pace is the ability to look around and see things that I really never saw before. I see the huge ferns that line the trails at Laurel. I take the time to go out to Wolf Rocks Overlook and see the Laurel HIghlands in all their splendor. In a couple of weeks, that overlook will yield spectacular views of the gently rolling ridges with the leaves blazing with color. I never took the time to notice that before. I was too busy chasing the guy in front of me. I also notice that when I ease into a ride instead of blasting out of the parking lot and redlining my heart rate, I do much better on the ride. It takes me a good 45 minutes to warm up. I guess that is a function of getting close to 67 years of age. I am like a diesel. I am not fast anymore, but if I can warm up, I can ride for longer periods of time. If I try to follow the tough guys and blast out of the parking lot- my ride is basically over. Ease into it, enjoy the flora, the things you can see on the trails, and the ride is much more enjoyable if you just take it down a notch.

I have been blessed with a lot of fun friends who ride. The cool thing about mountain bikers is that they are relaxed and the emphasis is fun on the trails. Sure, there are some that still race, or ride race pace, and want to use the rides for training. That is great. But even those guys like the ” chill” atmosphere of a Paturday ride and know that every ride does not have to be a training ride. Mountain bikers are fun people where the apres ride is as important as the ride itself. People bring snacks, beers, chairs and a general state of comradery exists.

So, I guess the point here is no matter what you do, run, ride, hike, or walk, – try a PPPP pace or make it a Paturday pace. I think you will enjoy yourself and see things that you never allowed yourself to see before. Thanks for reading. Fall is coming. A wonderful rime of the year here in Western Pa.

CycloXpgh ’21

The B Group on Mt. Washington

It has been a couple of years since I did the last Cyclo X Ride to and through all the city parks in Pittsburgh. This ride is the brain child of a really fit cyclist – Aaron Shaffer. An educator by trade, Aaron thought through this event several years ago and plotted a route that would take cyclists for a great tour of the city enabling people to use their mountain bikes as transportation. Aaron- seen here on the left below, always seems to draw a crowd. The “A” group, which Aaron leads, usually rides between 75-80 miles with 7,000 feet of elevation on the ride. Aaron was the lone survivor this year in the “A” group . It was hot and those guys ride fast and hard.

Aaron and the Shark- plotting the route.

There is a less formidable version of this ride which the “B” group enjoys but nonetheless, it usually is around 60 miles and roughly 3000 feet in elevation. This was the group that I rode with this year as I am the senior statesman on the whole ride. Mike Connors led this ride as he is the map guy and knows the route along with the Shark- Mark Sauers. Wondering whether I was a little ” long in the tooth” for this ride anymore and with the predicted 88 degree humid weather typical to Pittsburgh this time of year, and the projected mileage and elevation, I made my way to the Grist House Brewery for the start a little timid but ready to ride an event that I finished twice before . The cool thing about Cyclo X is that it has a lot of road riding through the city and then you pop into the city parks which are loaded with trails for mountain biking and give you a sense of being out in the wilderness even though civilization is just beyond the trees.

Phipps Conservatory on a glorious day.

Riding in reverse this year, we made our way to the Point ( where the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers converge) and over to to the Southside of the city making our way through Panther Hollow and up into Oakland to ride Highland, Schenley and Frick Parks. Winding our way up and out of Panther Hollow we had a tough trail to navigate with trees down and tight rooted single track. But the reward was a nice pedal through the Carnegie Mellon campus, the Pitt campus and eventually back down to ride the railroad tracks along the river.

Carnegie Mellon campus with Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning in the background
Pounding the tracks with the B Group
The Emerald Trails in Mt. Washington.

The tough part of the ride for me comes when we ride to Mt. Washington which is a grueling climb in the heat. Most of our group went on a nasty, tight switchback, trail which leads to the top at Grandview Ave. Riding that before, I elected to take 18th street all he way up – getting baked all the way and running low on my drink bottle. I took a couple of the folks who had gravel bikes with me because they were skeptical of their ability to navigate the rooty, tight switchback trail climb, littered with broken glass and rebar. Probably a wise move and we all were led up the hill by the affable and very capable rider Samra Savioz. I tell my western friends that we don’t have the sustained long climbs like they do but ours are really steep and tight.

The lunch stop is usually Red Beards Tavern on Mt. Washington. Great food and a friendly outdoor tavern atmosphere. We take the joint over and it is usually where we regroup with the ” A” Group. Loading up on liquids, we kept the waitstaff running with pitchers of water. But they were so friendly that they didn’t mind and seemed to enjoy the rowdy group of riders who frequent their establishment once a year at Cyclo X.

The Red Beard Lunch Stop

Coach Lou with an interesting coiffure in the heat at lunch

Chief Guyasuta and George Washington conferring on Mt. Washington as to what this vehicle is with the fat tires?

Making our way through more Emerald Park trails on the Mount, the group made our way down McArdle Roadway into Station Square and over the Fort Pitt Bridge back to the Northside by Heinz Field where people were starting to revel already for the upcoming evening Steeler game. The party people tailgating on their boats paid us no mind as we made our way to the old Western Penitentiary for the climb to the final park- Riverview. It was at this point where I made the prudent decision as the old guy to head right and take the North Shore trail back to the origin of the ride – The Gristhouse Brewery in Millvale. There I changed clothes and enjoyed one of their delicious, fruity, hazy IPAs and relaxed under an umbrella and a picnic table with those of us who also chose to take the ride back. Samra, Everyday Dave, Shark, Laurie, Fred, Ron, and Coach Lou and some others, decided to tough it out and make the final climb to Riverview and Fineview and then down to Millvale. Lots of mileage either way and lots of vertical feet on the 2021 reversed version of Cyclo X.

8:00 AM at the Grist House -ready to ride.

I tell people all the time that this is really a mountain bike ride in the city. Although there is a lot of road, there is a good amount of trails in the parks and the fat tires rule . It is a bit sketchy for gravel bikes but for those with experience and skill like our fearless leader, Aaron, gravel bikes can be used with caution and dexterity.

So, Cyclo X PGH ’21 is in the books and kudos to those who finished the whole ride. The ” A” group are pretty amazing and our ” B ” group was pretty amazing as well. Good riders who made the commitment to spend the day in one of the most beautiful cities in the world on a truly gorgeous day. Thanks Aaron and thanks for reading.

These excellent photos courtesy of Ron Chamberlain and Samra Savioz. Great riders and pretty good photographers too.

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.

Driven

I love the Olympics. Have always been fascinated with them since I was a kid. Love to watch the summer and the winter games and try to see as much of it as I can. I even spent a week at the winter games in Lake Placid in 1980. Long time ago. There has been a lot of controversy around the Olympics especially in these times. Costs, political issues, Covid concerns, but the Olympic spirit in my mind, always remains no matter what. Even though the games have been compromised by outside issues, the fact of the matter is that they are still the visible pinnacle of sport to many around the world and also seem somehow to unite all of us under one athletic banner.

I was talking to a friend this weekend about a book that I am reading about Everest and what drives people to climb such a peak. The drive is the same there as it is in the Olympics or sports in general at a world class level. I am always amazed at the personal interest stories about how athletes make it to the Olympics under great personal hardships and sacrifice. If you ask any world class athlete, they will all have similar stories of practice, missing life events, growing up too fast, spending time in foreign countries in difficult conditions. Love to see the stories of the parents and their sacrifices too. But what does it take to make it to the top? Luck, passion, skill, drive, or a combination of all of these?

Nino Schurter- Defending gold medalist in mountain biking

Simone Biles- the GOAT.

I have always been a competitive person. I dabbled in a lot of sports regionally but as I age, my get up and go for a lot of that has gone up and left. But I have always been a fan and when the Olympic theme comes on the TV, the hair stands up on my arms a bit because of my respect for the games and the athletes who have sacrificed so much to get there. I like watching a lot of events that I would not ordinarily have an interest in and the athletes all have one thing in common- drive. Listen to the interviews. You can see the passion and the one sided focus and the stories of personal sacrifice that make up the athletes persona. You can see the tears on their parent’s and coach’s faces as they compete to win the gold medal.

Lots of folks are negative on the Olympics these days because it has been so politicized but I always look at it from the athlete’s perspective. No matter what extraneous issues are presenting themselves, theirs is the story. Not the politics, not the pandemic, not the costs, – for me, just the stories of the athletes and their passion to win with humility and lose with grace. Some of the stories are humorous at the world class level. Take Missy Giove here. She was not happy a few years ago at the NORBA Nationals Mountain Bike Championships when she was beaten in her semi final heat for dual slalom. Missy was always a character on the mountain bike circuit and I loved to hear her interviews and see her compete at the national level. She was tough as nails but when she lost, her humor took over and she gave the crowd a show they will never forget.

For me, again, it is always the stories. The GOATS. Katie Ledecky, Simone Biles, Allison Schmitt, Michael Grady ,Nino Schurter, and a host of other incredible athletes that make up the Olympic games. Weekend warriors like me will never truly understand the competitive drive and the level at which these athletes perform. But in my own way, I can remember what it feels like to have butterflies at the start of an event. The thrill of winning something and more often of losing something. But at the world class level, it is incomprehensible to the mere mortal. But the scenes presented at the Olympic Games are priceless in my book and I am always happy every four years when they come around for our enjoyment. Don’t get caught up in the politics. Just enjoy the games. Can’t wait until February for the winter games either. Ba da bup ba badda, budda bup baddup bup bup badda! Love that theme. It gets me excited. Thanks for reading.

Listening to an Icon

Dave Gorsuch

I read in Ski Racing Magazine this week where Dave Gorsuch passed away in his home in Vail, Colorado at age 82. Many of you may recognize the name if you ski Vail, as the proprietor of the uber- successful ski shop in Vail -Gorsuch LTD. The brand has expanded to several other large ski areas and always specialized in high end ski clothing and ski equipment. Dave’s history was in ski racing where he was a junior national champion, an NCAA downhill champion, and competed at the 1960 Olympics in Squaw Valley before he took his energy and passion into the ski business. Along with his best friend Max Marolt, who also competed in the Squaw Valley Olympics and was a member of the US Ski Team, Dave and Max were icons of the sport for many years.

Gorsuch LTD in the Vail Clocktower Building

I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Dave and Max on a heli skiing trip years ago at the Bobbie Burns location for Canadian Mountain Holidays. There were three groups that week in house. Our group from Pittsburgh, a group from New York City and Dave’s group from Colorado. The Bobbie Burns was a new location for CMH and thus there was a dining area, a small lodging area and a log sauna. That was it for 500 square miles and we were all brought into that location by helicopter. The protocol was for the helicopter to fly all day and pick up each group, transport them to a ski location with a guide, and then fly on to the next group. We didn’t get a chance to ski with any other group but our own, but in the evenings, there was lots of time to have a beer, eat together, and have robust conversations with each group because really there was nothing else to do.

I didn’t really know of the pedigree of the Vail group as well as I should have, but in the conversations that ensued during the week, I knew I was in the presence of greatness. I loved listening to the stories of ski racing past, people in the industry who Dave and Max knew well, and in general- I took in some really good history of the sport of skiing through these two guys. For some reason, they took a liking to me and to my friend Rolf Sigmund who was an Austrian transplant here in the US and migrated to Pittsburgh. Rolf was rather humorous and the Vail group got a kick out of his antics. But the main thing that I took with me as a result of their kind friendship that week was to ………listen. That is hard for me. I like to talk. But knowing that these guys were the real deal kept me quiet and I learned a lot that week just from having beers and eating with the two world class skiers and entrepreneurs.

Juxtaposed to my keen interest in what these guys had to say was the demeanor of the group from NYC who had no idea who these guys were and could care less. All they wanted to do that week was to impress the Vail group with their prowess at Hunter Mountain and Killington. To Dave and Max’s credit, they politely listened to these guys and were polite and courteous in their responses. I admired them all the more- Dave and Max- not the NYC group. Too bad really because it was an opportunity to really learn about skiing and the history of skiing if they would only listen and not talk so much. I am really happy to have had that opportunity and although it was not planned, that week with Dave Gorsuch and Max Marolt was a week I will never forget. Oh yes- the skiing was good too.

I like to listen to stories about skiing because I have such a keen interest in the sport. Take my two friends who I ski with every spring. One guy lives in Tahoe and the other in Vermont – they both grew up together and ski raced as kids. Hutch was a race coach at Stowe and Eric raced for Cornell University back in the day. Both of them have great stories about New England ski racing and the history of skiing in New England. Again, I force myself to keep quiet and listen to their stories. None of the ” first liar doesn’t have a chance” one upsmanship conversations, because I really can’t compete with their knowledge and ski racing pedigree. So again, it is great to just listen and take in some fun tales about the sport that I love. And yes, the skiing with these guys is always good – no matter what the conditions are.

Eric and Hutch

So I guess the takeaway from all of this rambling is that it is really important to recognize where you can learn some things from people who are the real deal. Recognize their talent and ability and most of all, listen. I need to focus on that a little bit, but the times that I have forced myself to do it, I learn a lot and am grateful for the opportunity to spend time with some quality people. Dave and Max are both gone now but I will always remember the week in the Canadian Rockies where I had the opportunity to be with them. RIP Dave and Max. Skiing together in Paradise. Thanks for reading.

Well, It Is Their Turf

We are the interlopers.

Several years ago, I traveled to the west coast a lot for work. I always took my skis or mountain bike with me and enjoyed some of the beautiful outdoor recreation places that the west has to offer. Some of this wilderness has been compromised by building and commercial developments. It is progress, I know, but it often encroaches on land that has been the home to wildlife for centuries. Take this scenario in Laguna Beach, California where I did a lot of mountain bike riding back in the day. Beautiful trails in the Laguna Wilderness Park with majestic vistas of the Pacific Ocean around every corner. I was surprised when I saw this sign at the trailhead but it made sense. With all the beautiful homes popping up in and around Laguna with incredible views, it made sense that the development had squeezed some privacy away from the natives- that being mountain lions. A rare sight to be sure but nonetheless something that you had to watch for and if possible ride on trails with other riders and hikers.

Laguna Wilderness Trails

The American Black Bear

On another cycling trip to the Skyline Drive in Virginia, my friend Frank Habay and I rounded a corner on our road bikes and came to a screeching halt when we saw two black bears in the middle of the road. I looked at Frank, he looked at me, and the bears looked at us. I knew we would not out run or out ride them, but they rambled up over a wall and into the woods. After breathing a sigh of relief, we continued and the conversation between Frank and me was that they don’t bother humans anyhow. Easy to say after they left but at the moment, it was a little un-nerving.

My wife and my son were visiting friends in Tahoe and during one of our hikes out there with our friends, my wife became concerned about seeing a bear. They are in the neighborhoods and if you have birdseed in your backyard, they are coming for a visit. Our friends had many experiences with the visitors when their bird feeders were out. We did not see any on the hike and when we were safely in our car, Janet lamented that we had not even seen a bear. I told her and Jack not to speak too soon because there, right in front of us crossing Rt 50, was a big black bear heading to a residential neighborhood looking for his next meal. I commented to my son Jack that it looked like he just came out of Starbucks. Probably had a latte this morning on his way to the neighborhood. We laughed but the reality of the fact is that bears are becoming more used to people as a result of development. As Joni Mitchell used to say……….” they paved Paradise and put up a parking lot.” There are consequences.

I see a lot of wildlife in my local park and also in the mountains near us. My one friend likes to look for rattlesnakes in the mountains. I tend to look from a distance but the more people develop property and move towards the wilderness, the more they will see wildlife that has been displaced and looking for new homes.

Beautiful creatures just wanting to be left alone.
Hi there!

I guess the point of all of this is that you can’t stop progress but it is nice to see that there are still places in the world where life goes noninterrupted in the wilderness. Locally, it is nice to see entities like the Allegheny Land Trust and the Hollow Oak Land Trust reserving land space for us to enjoy as well as provide a habitat for animals who are looking to thrive in a natural space. Sean Brady, Executive Director for Hollow Oak, told us on a recent hike that the stream that runs through the property has 23 species of fish that were endangered by development. Recently, a country club closed it’s doors locally and the thought was that it would turn into another housing development. Kudos to the residents of the area and their local municipality to turn the space into a park with trails and a natural setting for the neighbors to enjoy. It also provides a home to animals who would have been displaced again in favor of development. Again, I get progress, but there has to be some consideration for the generations to come.

So, the next time you are out and about in the mountains, on the trails or waterways, value any time that you can see wildlife in their own habitat. Nothing to be feared but instead, look at the sight with wonder. Take the time to get to natural places and take in the silence, the fresh air, and the beauty of our natural world. I am happy when they don’t pave Paradise and put up a parking lot. Thanks for reading.

The Axe Man Cometh

Scott and his Weapon

Scott Ross is a big dude. Aside from being a tech service engineer for Xylem, traveling the world on water treatment projects, he has a passion for trails. Oftentimes, returning from a trip to some exotic country for work, Scott can be seen out in the woods with his huge axe removing deadfall so that the trails are passable for hikers, and mountain bikers. Scott is a mountain biker himself but his passion is making sure that storms don’t keep trails closed due to trees falling and blocking our way.

You can always tell where Scott has been.

Scott’s sphere of influence is usually in our local park system but he has been known to clear trails as far away as Canada. You can always tell where Scott has been by the remnants of his work……wood chips. These chips are collected by many people for use in their fireplaces, grills, etc. But whenever I see these chips, I know that some serious work has been done to clear a big tree that has blocked the trail in some form or fashion.

The Man at work.

As you can see, Scott is a big guy and has all the tools to take some massive deadfall from the trails, all by himself. The county does not allow power tools for removal other than for the county workers who clear the trails for a living. But the county appreciates volunteer work and Scott is probably the most tireless volunteer out there now. Sure, he does it for exercise, but he also has a passion for trail systems and the people who use them. My crowd usually buys Scott a beer whenever we see him because we appreciate the work it takes to clear some pretty large trees that fall during storms. Scott loves riding his mountain bike, loves the trails, and makes sure that they are clear for all of us. But oftentimes, when I come up on a section of trail that Scott has cleared, thoughts come into my head.

I think to myself, what kind of dedication does it take to do this on a regular basis after traveling and working around the world? You would think that Scott would be exhausted from such a work schedule. But like most volunteers, he has a passion for the cause to which he is so dedicated. I think about the past year and how so many of us have been isolated or forced to keep our volunteer activities in check because of the Pandemic. But, things are opening up now and people and causes need some serious help. We may not be able to take down large heavy trees to benefit the hiking and mountain bike community, but we certainly can help and be there for individuals or organizations that are trying to get back on their feet. People are hurting, restaurants are hurting, volunteer organizations are now opening up opportunities to engage once again. I heard it said once that you don’t have to go to a foreign land to volunteer. You have people right in your back yard who need a friend, comfort, food, and shelter, that we can provide- one life at a time. Scott’s volunteering is very graphic and public. People know what he does and appreciate his hard work. But there is also a need for many things these days that are not so public. Behind the scenes volunteering is so vital- especially in these days of recovery.

So when you see a nice clean trail- think of Scott. And when you see an opportunity to help someone, or a cause, think about chopping the barriers with your own axe and clearing a path for others. You will feel good like Scott does and the beneficiaries of your kindness and dedicated volunteer work, will appreciate it – like we do when we ride a trail in Scott’s wake. Thanks Scott and thanks for reading.

The Magic of Cairns

The marker on the trail.

Recently on some mountain bike rides I have come across cairns marking the trails. These piles of rocks, sometimes artistically created, serve as a marker as to where the trail goes and how a hiker or mountain biker should proceed. There has been a lot of controversy about these piles in a lot of publications because the critics have said that the purpose of cairns has been distorted. The dialog has been around people using cairns to show where they have been like some kind of geological social media instead of using the cairns as the markers they are intended to be. I would see them all the time on the trails in and around Mt. Washington in New Hampshire and was happy they were there to mark my path in some pretty unpleasant weather. The fog and limited visibility sometimes made navigation impossible were it not for the strategically placed cairns marking the trail.

I witness daily the controversy on my local trail where a little cairn marking a left turn on the trail is built and torn down repeatedly apparently by people with different views on the purpose of cairns. Personally I like them and although I understand the view of not putting one up with no meaning, I do know that someone, somewhere marked the trail for a purpose. In a way, those people were saying ” look where I have been and mark your way on this trail.” So the controversy is a bit complicated because although cairns do mark the trails, someone had to build them as a guide for all of us who come upon a fork in the trail.

When I came upon my local controversial cairn the other day, the metaphorical meaning of cairns creeped into my mind as I bounced along the trail. I thought about people in our lives who serve as a kind of marker for us. Blazing the trail ahead and guiding us perhaps to places and events that we would not ordinarily see. Those people pile up the rocks of experience for us and guide us to a greater understanding of the world around us. People like Jeff Chetlin seen here in the middle leading a ride out of Yellow Creek here in Pa.

Jeff is our mountain bike, hiking, back country skiing, motorcycling, snowmobile riding, metaphorical cairn that inspires all of us. We are inspired by his infectious enthusiasm for the world around us. Recently, he and his wife Julie invited all of us to their home in Bend, Oregon where we were all treated to days of great riding. Jeff values his friends and as he says, ” there are only so many QDLs in life.” Quality Days Left. Jeff is a proponent of making the most out of all of them.

The Chetlin Tribe

Recently, Jeff had a bit of a setback. After a surgical repair to some congenital issues with his heart, he had some complications that have him currently rehabbing. This has been a tough time for Jeff whose ” gas pedal to the floor” personality have him impatiently working through all of this. It has been tough on Julie and the boys and although all of us are praying for a speedy recovery, this has not been easy and Jeff is seeing some of his priorities shift a bit. But we all know he will make a big time comeback and will soon be leading us around again. I can hear him saying to me on a particular tough section of trail, ” Pat- is there a stoplight up there?”

It’s funny how I have recently been thinking of these little piles of rocks and then this metaphorical understanding of cairns in our lives. No one said it better though than Steve Gurtner who recently texted the following picture and verbiage:

The Gurtner Cairn

” Like all of you, I have been thinking about Jeff and Julie. You’ve all seen these piles of stones, cairns, when we are out riding. When I came across one out there, I knew that Jeff probably blazed this trail, that I was on the right track, and I was encouraged to keep pedaling. So Jeff, here is a cairn at our house, so I can let you know you are on the right track and I hope to encourage you on your ride. Maggie and I love you both.”

Think about the people in your life that inspire you. Cherish them and make sure you get QDLs with them. Pray for Jeff and Julie and the boys for a speedy recovery. Thanks for reading and thanks Steve for the inspirational message.