Alone on the Wall

Just picked up an interesting book called “Alone on the Wall” by Alex Honnold and David Roberts. Now, I am not a rock climber but I have been interested in seeing what makes Alex Honnold tick. For those of you who are not familiar, Alex is what the climbing world calls a free solo climber. That being he climbs without the use of harnesses or ropes. He basically climbs rock walls with a chalk bag for his hands and his climbing shoes. That is it. Three weeks ago, he free soloed El Capitan in Yosemite which is one of his many “firsts”. That is 3,000 vertical feet of granite folks. If you have been to Yosemite, and look up the wall of El Cap, you can appreciate what a daunting task it would be to climb that let alone with no protection. You slip, you die.

Now I know that Alex has been interviewed many times and has achieved notoriety at 32 years of age. I have also seen interviews of his friends who say he has he ability to shut off fear. He studies the rock problems meticulously before he attempts to do anything and is fully aware of the risks versus the consequences of a fall. But one still has to wonder, why? Anything can happen and no matter how skilled you are, a slight slip of a hand hold can mean certain death.

Any of us who are involved in riskier sports can appreciate the risk versus consequence discussion. I don’t participate in anything close to what Alex does, but even in my skiing and mountain biking endeavors, these factors continually weigh into my decisions. As I get older, the consequences become more visible in that recovery is harder when you have an injury. I ride a mountain bike for exercise and not to prove anything. I am very conservative and although I am more confident because of experience, I don’t take any extra chances that would allow me to spend time in the hospital. I always say I ride to ride another day. Funny story is my doctor, Sy Hyder, is one of my mountain bike cronies. I asked him the other day why he didn’t adjust my coumadin dosage when my INR was a little low. He said,” Paddy- I knew we were riding Frick Park and I didn’t want you to bleed much.” Great when your PC has that kind of insight into his patients. He claims I am his only patient on coumadin who skis and mountain bikes. But he knows how I do it. No blunt force trauma hopefully.

The same mindset has become reality for me in skiing. Although I have much more experience in skiing than I have in mountain biking, I still have seen a more conservative approach as I age. Yes, I still try to ski the steeps and probably ski faster than I should, but as I age, sometimes I look a little longer down that chute to see where my first turn will be or if I want to do it at all. Rock walls are unforgiving and anything can happen on a pair of skis, even when you are in the zone and making great turns. Bravado can lead to consequences if you are not careful. But I only take chances if I know I can probably pull off the end result.

As I have posted before,I don’t like heights. Kind of strange for a skier but that is just the way it is. Reading “Alone on the Wall” and looking at Alex above in Yosemite gives me sweaty palms as I type. My fingers are sticking to the keys just thinking about what this guy does. They say youth is wasted on the young and maybe Alex can summon up courage and shut the fear factor off better than most his age or younger. But to me, he takes amazing risks even though he is well prepared in his mind.

I read fast so this should be a quick book to finish. But be assured that he makes me think. I admire his feats on the walls of the world but wonder if he can quit before it is too late? Maybe age and responsibility will bring him back to using harnesses and ropes? Even the great climbers of the world agree – begrudgingly. They love the thrill. But the consequences are real. 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.

Whether to weather the weather?

I have always been fascinated with weather. I can remember times watching a lightning storm dance over the ocean, or ripple a cornfield with fingers of electricity that lit up the darkened sky against a mountainous backdrop. Nature’s fury can be dangerous with tornadoes, and hurricanes. In our neck of the woods, there is a tornado alley this time of year just north of where I live and I have seen the destruction that occurs when a tornado or a micro-burst ravages trees and buildings. My wife and I are glued to the TV when a hurricane story begins on the Weather Channel.

Speaking of the Weather Channel, I always envied Jim Cantore’s job.

Jim Cantore

I always wanted to be the reporter hanging on for dear life in my Weather Channel Gore Tex outfit. I saw myself clinging to a light pole in a hurricane, 100+ MPH winds, garbage cans flying by my head, debris everywhere bringing the storm into the comfortable living rooms all across America. Pat McCloskey reporting live from Tampa, Florida, Niles, Ohio, or Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. It’s crazy but I would love that job. Always wanted to be a storm chaser too. Looking for the tornado waiting to be born.

In addition to being fascinated by weather events, I love to be out in it. I have my Gore Tex outfits and am completely waterproof when I ski in torrential rainfall. The snow is soft and great even though the water is cascading down my goggles like a Yosemite waterfall. This spring has been particularly wet here in the east and if you don’t get out to enjoy your outdoor activities because of weather, you don’t get out much. I have ridden my mountain bike more days this spring in foul weather than I can remember, but as my friend Mark ” the Shark” Sauers says,” There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing choices.”

The funny thing about being out in the foul weather is that once you make the effort, you are glad you did even though most people would think you have lost your mind. I can remember having my best results back in my weekend warrior days when the skies would open up on an mountain bike race course or during a road race. Most people either quit or didn’t bother to start. The ones who persevered sometimes didn’t have the attitude to continue like the guy changing his shirt here at the NORBAs at Seven Springs. He had enough when the skies opened up for a third time – concurrent with each lap. Mac Martin, a legend in cycling, taught me to persevere in bad conditions. He always said that if you think you are suffering, the other guy is suffering worse. Just continue on. I can remember going over the handle bars in Month of Mud races where it snowed 6 inches during the race. But grinding it out despite the crashes, paid off in the end. A little suffering for the weekend warrior taught me lessons in competition. You have to outlast the bastards.

Those days are gone now but I still make it a point to get out no matter what the weather is doing. I have skied in raging snowstorms and seen some amazing snow events. I have ridden on the road and trails in torrential rain and snow and coming back half frozen or soaked to the bone, I still have a smile on my face. Sure the sunshine is great, but look what you miss if you let weather ruin your fun. If you have the mindset that you go out no matter what, you will be happy you did instead of sitting on the couch. Get the gear- it is worth it no matter what you pay. If you suit up correctly, you can enjoy nature at it’s grumpiest. Experience the muffled silence of a snowstorm in the woods. Enjoy the smells of the green forests during a rain storm. The fragrance of the blossoms blooming in the humid air of the woods is better than any department store perfume counter. The soft tapping of rain on the leaves of the canopy is relaxing and even though things can get a bit sloppy, the experience of that soft rain is rewarding. Be like the Shark, no matter what, get out. No such thing as bad weather. Thanks for reading.

Virtual Reality. Really?

One of the more enjoyable evenings that I ever had was when I was in Yosemite a few years back and went to the evening star gazing event. As I reclined on the huge tarp that was laid on the ground, I looked up and saw the most amazing celestial show that I had ever witnessed. It was so dark, which allowed the visual of millions of stars and planets accompanied by shooting stars that rocketed across the sky every couple of seconds. The ooohs and the ahhhs eclipsed the park ranger narrative. But he was used to it as he remarked that the spectacular night sky was way more interesting than him.

Along with a suggestion by my star gazing friend, Viola Christy, I purchased an entry level telescope and began searching the heavens back home for planets and stars. I can remember texting my son to come and look because I had Saturn in the the view finder as well as a full moon another night, and his response was,” Dad- I can see it 50 times better on the Internet.” But I replied, ” Yes Jack- but this is real. It is small and barely detectable, but it is the real thing and not a picture.” It was kind of lost on him.

I must say that with the younger generation, there is an attraction to virtual reality and many millenials today would rather play a video game like Madden, than actually participate in the  sport itself. My son calls it “E-Sports” and no doubt it is gaining huge notoriety and millions and millions of dollars as a business. But is it really a sport? We have this debate all the time and my point is that it is important to get out and do something physical rather than spending all your spare time in a virtual physical activity world. At the risk of sounding like the old guy in his bathrobe yelling at kids to get off his lawn, ( as my friend Jeff Mihalsky laughingly says), it is a generational thing I guess. But at least my son plays sports and is active, even though the virtual world is still in his wheelhouse in his college years.

Personally, I think that there is a time and place for everything and relaxing with a video game is ok as long as it does not take over your life. I think it is really important for parents to expose their kids to all kinds of activities, whether they be hobbies, or individual or team sports. The outdoors are a wonderful education. Whether it is hiking, riding a bike, skiing, skating, the fresh air is great and the outdoor vision of the change of the seasons and activities has always attracted me. I never played Pac Man – I just did things outdoors. But that is me. But I do regret hearing that local grade schools sometimes cannot field a football team because no one tried out. Maybe the concussion concern is more apparent today, but more likely it is that the kids would rather play a video game than practice and play ball. Just a different attraction, I suppose.

For me, there is nothing like that night in Yosemite. I also like the occasional camping trip where I can smell the night air from my dome tent. Deep powder skiing days with brilliant sunshine. Mountain vistas. Riding an epic trail with friends. The camaraderie is real and you can actually enjoy it with others who value the outdoors like you do.

It is interesting to hear that video gaming is social. People actually make friends on X-Box Live even though they have never physically met them. But for me, the value of friends is to interact with them and see their emotions, their joy, their disappointments, their efforts in climbing a hill, making a three point shot, hitting a great fairway wood, skiing a great line and witnessing the event live.

Nothing wrong with gaming mind you, but for me, virtual reality is not really…..real. The real thing is that moon in the view finder, that wicked crash that I had last night on the mountain bike, the executed carved ski turn,that beautiful model airplane and how it flies, the chess match, breathing the salt air at the beach. Life is to be lived. Not virtually lived. Just my two cents. Thanks for reading.

Road Trip!!!!!

You know the familiar call to battle? ROAD TRIP!!!!! I always love to take road trips because of the excitement that is causes. The planning is almost as much fun as the trip. ” What are you bringing?” “When do we meet?” “Where are we staying?” “Who all is coming?” The emails and phone calls start flying and the excitement crescendos when the vehicles are all lined up and rolling. Sometimes you join in the caravan of fun from another location – bike racks loaded, your favorite music blaring. Road Trip!!!!!
I like road trips also because I can spread out my gear. I don’t have to have it all consolidated on a plane and can take my time enjoying the ride with my top popped, sun glasses on, and my favorite music making me tap my toes and bang on the steering wheel. This past weekend was no exception as my mountain bike group converged on State College, Pa. to take on the heralded Coopers Gap and Tussey Mountain Trails in the rocky mountains of Central Pennsylvania.

23 really good riders began the weekend rolling out of Pittsburgh at the direction of Jeff Chetlin and Josh Royston, our spirited and heckling leaders. As people came screaming into the parking lot at Tussey Mountain Ski Area, the conversation became lively and the comical sidebars of discussion ensued. Chetlin needled everyone and as the merry band of riders assembled, and rode up the first climb, the cameras came out. My friend Mike Smith, from Philly, was amazed at the quality of riders in this eclectic group including some fast couples- Jeff and Julie, Darren and MJ Allworth, Tim and Barb Girone, Dan and Mary Moore, and Dave Gault with his new gal Stephanie McCague Hughes who was our MVP. She was riding a demo bike and is a new rider. The rocks on the trails punished her but her determination to ride as much as she could impressed the veteran group.
I told the guys who I was riding with that these women ate nails for breakfast. Their skill and speed over the heinous rocky sections of the trails was a sight to behold.  

 

We had two docs on the trip who can really ride the rocks with speed. Mike Smith and Syed Hyder. Along with the Chetlins and Steve Guertner who are fast riding dentists, we were set with any medical issues or if someone smashed their choppers on the boulders. The balance of the group was made up of highly skilled veteran riders- Denny Lovell, Mike Connors, JB Loughery( who gave me great visuals on how to get over some really rocky sections), John Casuccio, Matt Graver, Craig Matthews, our local guide and trailmaster from State College, and the Pittsburgh Ride Kings themselves- Bob Bannon and Garage Door Bob Kowalski.

The rocks and roots really punish you but this group handled them with style.

Jeff Chetlin seen here on his new IBIS dual suspension carbon rig,along with his wife Julie, seemed to relish the punishment. As with most road trips, the evenings are spent with some beers and good food and a raucous recounting of the day on the trail. ” Did you see that endo?” ” I thought I was going to barf on that rooty, steep climb.” ” How about Mary riding that section?” Riding bikes through the lobby of the hotel had the guests and the employees all laughing at our crazy band of mountain bikers. Popping out of the elevators on bikes surprised some but made all laugh. One thing about mountain bikers is that they all like to have fun. No egos, no unfriendly passing on the trails, just smiles and laughs all the way.

Brice Minnigh from Bike Magazine has an interesting article in this month’s issue where he states that his riding group are the “trees that make up my forest.” A little corny but when you stop and think about the camaraderie of the people who make up a road trip, they are indeed a close clan that share a common goal. They are your forest of close friends. We are once again planning a fall trip to Rothrock State Forest and Cooper’s Gap when the leaves are ablaze and the weather cools to a comfortable temperature. I can hear the call to arms now in my mind. Road Trip!!! Take a look at the following video to see the difficulty of the trails but the skill level of this very talented band of riders. I was honored to be able to ride with them. Thanks for reading.

 

Videos by Jeff Chetlin.  Photos by Tim Girone and Jeff Chetlin.

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.