Taking a Flyer at Snowshoe

The Finish Line- Snowshoe, WVA World Cup Mountain Bike Race

” So Pete, what made us think we would escape the rain, roots and mud of riding in West Virginia?” I said this as my friend Pete Hilton and I made our way through the Backcountry Trails at Silver Creek right outside of Snowshoe Mountain Resort in West Virginia. We decided to take a flyer and go see the World Cup Cross Country Races and get a ride in too. We have a lot of experience over 30 years of riding mountain bikes in West Virginia for different events and unfortunately it rains most of the time. But somehow, that adds to the allure of the place and we kind of expect it. When we went to the Word Cup finals last year, it was a hot, sunny weekend. But that was a first. At the Wild 100s, the 24 Hour Races, the NORBA Nationals, the Fat Tire Festivals over the years- it always rained………….and that’s ok believe it or not.

Before the muddy mess.

So Pete picks me up at 4:00 AM and we take the drive to Snowshoe from Pittsburgh. About a 4 hour jaunt and when we get there, we get our tickets for the races and then head to Silver Creek. The long and the short of that is we got lost because I started out on the wrong trail. We had a long, rocky, climb and eventually ended up in the woods on a trail system that we had ridden before. Rooty, muddy , slimy and all around West Virginia treacherous snot fest. But we survived as usual and got back to the van and changed clothes and headed to the races. We met up with our Pittsburgh contingent and took in the expo area and saw a lot of the new bikes and equipment and also saw some of the racers who were warming up for the respective women’s and men’s cross country events.

U.S. Rider Kate Courtney warming up for the Scott Team

As we made our way to the start line and then to the course, it began to sprinkle and then about halfway through the women’s race, the skies opened up in true West Virginia fashion. We were positioned at this amazingly muddy and steep downhill and witnessed some of the most skillful bike handling you will ever see. Take the time to watch the races on Red Bull TV and you will see how difficult the course became and how well the women rode. My MVP for the day was Jolanda Neff of Switzerland who bombed down the muddy, slimy, rock infested descent and bridged to the lead group to finish on the podium. An amazing feat of fitness and skill was on display for all of us to see in a truly biblical, torrential downpour.

The first lap for the men .

The men were next and it seemed to be raining even harder as Hank, Samra, Pete and I hung out in the North Face Store just to stay a little dry although we were totally soaked. We welcomed people into the North Face Store jokingly hoping not to get thrown out. But eventually we made our way to the wicked fast start and eventually back to that treacherous downhill to see how the men handled it. Well, not only are the speeds higher than the women, but the fearless attacks in the torrent both on the climbs and on the descents were impressive.

Thomas Frischknecht- Former Olympic medalist and World Champion- manager of the Scott Team and a nicer guy you will not meet.

Although the weather was really foul, the amazing thing about the whole event is the people. First off, the fans are truly enthusiastic and no matter how badly they were soaked, their cheerful attitude and encouraging voices and cowbell rings, buoyed the riders on. The Red Bull TV people all comment on the enthusiastic fans at Snowshoe and it was on display even in the raging rainstorm.

The athletes, managers, and employees of the manufacturers at the booths are amazingly approachable and always happy to oblige with a picture or a discussion. There is something in the air at Snowshoe that makes it a great venue for mountain biking and mountain bike racing. People are friendly, and the visiting athletes from all over the world are always glad to come here. Even though it is quite remote, it is like a gem in the wilderness of West Virginia and the people of mountain biking make the venue even more special.

Don’ miss this bar b que – bottom of the mountain on the way out.

The Pittsburgh Contingent.

On our way out, Pete and I stopped at the Almost Heaven Smoke House at the bottom of the mountain on the way out to RT219. Great bar b que if you visit and the owners are hard working and friendly – typical of the locals of West Virginia who embrace the World Cup every year. I am hoping that the UCI always hosts the World Cup at Snowshoe and we can continue to see world class athletes show us all how it is done. Nothing like the races and nothing like the people of the mountain bike community.

We headed home after the men’s races were over and the four hour drive back seemed to fly by with our enthusiastic recounting of the events of the day. A long day for a couple of guys in their 60s but what the hell- go for it. Spending the weekend is the way to go, but Pete and I had other things that precluded that. But we made the effort, got a ride in, and saw some great racing in the wilds of West Virginia. It truly is ” Almost Heaven” even when it rains. Thanks for reading.

Final Images courtesy of Red Bull TV

The Greatest Summer Job

Golfer and Caddie contemplating a putt.

Watching Tiger ,Rory McIlroy, and my favorite, John Daly, last week at the British Open on TV reminded me of all the fun times I had as a caddie at Shannopin Country Club here in Pittsburgh back in my youth. I was never much of a golfer because I was too nervous and jerky to have the patience to be a good golfer. But I enjoyed playing with my dad. But as a caddie, I learned the nuances of the game and carrying doubles twice a day during the summer when I could was a great experience and some good money as a young guy.

You learn a lot about people when you caddie. I had the good fortune of being friends with our caddie master and his assistant so when my friend and I would get to the parking lot on men’s day and on the weekend days at 3:00 AM and take a snooze until the sign up list was out, we would be the first out and have the opportunity to carry two rounds with two bags each. Eddie Weil and Joe Stavish would make sure we got some good guys. Right up the middle guys with low handicaps. Those guys were not only good golfers but real characters on the course. Between belches and farts, they loved telling us stories and when they hit the turn at 9 holes, they would go in for the obligatory shot and a beer and press their bets on the back nine. That is when the pressure mounted and being a caddie, and a good one at that, paid off for these guys. I always made sure I put the bag down so that they could select their club and not have to pick it out of their bag on my back. I was careful to not walk in anyone’s line on the green and would always wash their ball whenever I could and return it to them on the next tee. Little things like that made you a good caddie besides course knowledge to a visitor.

Shannopin Country Club 9th hole

My claim to fame was being a caddie for Ben Crenshaw when he was a student at the University of Texas. He came to Shannopin to qualify for the U.S. Open and Ed Weil gave me his bag for the event.

Ben Crenshaw at the 84 Masters

Ben was two years older than me. He was a sophomore at Texas and I was a senior in high school. He was very quiet and used those extra long tees when he hit his driver. I was amazed at how long the guy hit his tee shots for someone of his stature. He is not a big guy but his timing was impeccable and he would launch these tee shots into the stratosphere. He didn’t have much to say other than ask me the occasional question about a particular hole- where to hit the tee shot, how long to the back of a particular hole, questions like that where a good caddie has the answers.

I had the good fortune of being a caddie for other good guys at Open qualifiers and West Penn and State championships as well. Mo Barr- the star basketball player at Duquesne back in the day, was an excellent golfer and I had his bag at a qualifier. He was a strong guy and leveraged his height to really hit the ball out of sight off the tee. Rick Hrip was a really good regional golfer and I had his bag at the State Open one year and when we came to the 17th hole at Shannopin, he hit his shot up to the left of the green on the hillside. He asked me if he could play a pitch and run down to the green and I told him no. If he did that, the ball would run off the green and over the hillside. I knew that from experience. I told him to cut a sand wedge up high and land it square in the middle of the green. He did that, saved his par, and went on to win the State Open. He gave me credit when he was talking to reporters at the end and I was very happy to have helped him. Nice tip too.

The good thing about being a caddie as a young guy is not only is it a good job outside, but you meet people who teach you a thing or two about class, sportsmanship, and life in general. I loved being a caddie for Knox Young who competed many times in the U.S Amateur and was a West Penn and State Amateur title holder. He was a kind, gentle guy who talked to me on the golf course about things in life and had a real interest in where I was going to school.. I met many captains of industry on the golf course who had a lot to say about business and how to approach a career as a young guy. I would also see the guys who would play golf and then stay all night playing cards in the locker room to avoid going home . Those lessons on how to treat or not treat your family were not lost on me.

I worked a lot in those teenage years at Shannopin as a caddie, a car parker and the occasional stint in the kitchen when Rico, the manager, was shorthanded. The lessons you learn at a country club as a young guy are priceless and I will never forget my times there. I knew every member and caddied for a lot of them. Recently, I saw a young guy while riding my mountain bike on a trail that is adjacent to the practice tee at Allegheny Country Club here in the burg. He was a caddie and was talking to another caddie and I pulled up and said to them, “guys- you will always remember this job. To be a caddie is the greatest summer job there is.” I meant it, but they looked at me like I had two heads. Youth is wasted on the young. Thanks for reading.

PPP( Pat’s Pleasant Peddling)

With Hank and Samra- Wolf Rocks Overlook- Laurel Mountain, Pa.

So, when we pulled into the parking lot at Laurel Mountain, the snake hunters were getting ready with their long tongs, long pants and boots. We all chatted briefly and the conclusion was that there probably would not be much to look at because of the cool temperatures and cloudy conditions. This suited Samra just fine as she commented, ” I thought this was going to be a pleasant ride?” “If I see a rattlesnake, it is not going to be pleasant.” Hank and I chuckled as we explained that rattlesnakes are fairly docile. If you don’t mess with them, they won’t mess with you. Yes they are in the Laurels as well as black bear, but again- just leave them alone. We all were up for a pleasant ride and although Samra and Hank are in great shape, they were content to ride at my pleasant pace. I find that the older I get, the more I like ” pleasant rides.”

My mantra-LOL!!!!
Blooming Mountain Laurel

I am not in the “blast out of the parking lot at full speed” crowd anymore. I need to warm up. Probably a good half hour or more. I had my stint in bicycle racing for 25 years and although it was a lot of fun with it’s share of suffering, I am happy in these last several years to back off a little bit and enjoy the rides. See things like blooming mountain laurel instead of focusing on the guy or group ahead of me. Samra and Hank don’t like big groups and were perfectly happy to have me show them my favorite place to ride at a reasonable pace.

If you live in Western Pennsylvania or are thinking of visiting, the Laurel Mountains have some great options for hiking and mountain bike riding. The trails are well marked and can be found on Trailforks and MTB Project. Maps are also available at the DCNR office in Laughlintown at the bottom of the mountain on Rt. 30. I usually ride the trails up near Laurel Mountain State Park Ski Area. Even at a pleasant pace, there are challenging sections like Wolf Rocks and Spruce Run Trail into the Summit Trail. I still like the challenge of riding the rocks but they can be done at a pleasant pace and not necessarily race pace. They will work you and your suspension but definitely worth the effort. The view from the Wolf Rocks overlook is not to be missed as well. But be aware of the rocky overlook where above said rattlesnakes tend to sun themselves if not too many people are around. But if there are riders and hikers present, no worries at all.

I still have friends who are very skilled riders and like to push the pace. I admire them for their fitness and when I ride with them, I tend to go at my own pace and sometimes take short cuts in order to make the ride pleasant. They will push me oftentimes and I have to get out of my comfort zone, but more and more as they age, they appreciate the opportunity to sometimes ride the PPP pace. I think we still get a good workout and as I always say, ” nobody is going to the Olympics.”

The fall is coming.

Another good thing about the PPP pace is that it is good for some of my friends who have had some recent health setbacks. They are trying to work their way back and you don’t have to hammer all the time to get the benefits. In fact, it is amazing to me and to some of my pals, that if you back it off just a little bit, you don’t kill yourself and you have a lot of energy left to enjoy more of the ride. This weekend with Hank and Samra, we worked the rock sections but rode at the PPP and completed the whole enchilada of my Laurel Mountain ride and I did not collapse in the parking lot. I could have ridden more. My fitness at this time of year is best, but I think the pace of the PPP helps me and can help others too. I like to think of it as an aging guy’s program. Ride to ride another day.

So if you see me out there on the trails, or you want to ride with me, you will know that I will ride at a pace where I can talk to you. I am learning to listen more and I would like to hear more about you, than telling you about me and my worn out stories. The PPP is a fun mountain bike ride. You will always smile. Thanks for reading.

Send It

UCI World Cup Snowshoe- home of the “Senders”

So I go into Trail Flo Bikes the other day to pick up my mountain bike after a minor repair and after I say “thank you” for the quick service the owner, Tom Florcik, says to me- “send it.” I kind of chuckled because I always liked this expression of devil may care bravado. He basically was saying – ” take your bike Pat and go throw caution to the wind.” “Send it”.

Women’s UCI Downhill- Snowshoe, WVA

Now when you go to a World Cup mountain bike event, and watch the downhill, you see some real senders. They absolutely have no fear and go as fast as they possibly can to win. They stand in the starting gate and you hear their coaches and team mates say “send it” right before they launch into the course. If you have any thoughts of slowing down at any point, you are out of the top ten. Similarly, if you watch any of the Red Bull Rampage out in Utah- you see some amazing scenes of guys and gals riding impossibly steep descents complete with back flips off jumps. They send it for sure, again with no fear. Well, maybe a little bit in the starting gate, but for the most part, they are amped to compete.

Corbett’s Couloir- Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

I can remember standing on the edge of Corbett’s Couloir in Jackson Hole, back in the day, and thinking of where I was going to slide in and make my first turn. Something in me said, ” send it” and I went for it in my own way. Today’s kids start roughly 100 yards above the couloir and do a back flip into the abyss in the Kings and Queens of Corbett’s much to my amazement. Their meaning of “send it” is much different than mine. Today- at my age, I like to ride to ride another day and also stay on the ground. Mountain biking is exercise for me and not hucking off some cliff or big rock outcrop. Skiing is making nice turns and staying on the ground as well. “Send it” is a relative term these days.

Looking down from the summit of Mammoth Mountain, California.

I like to think that occasionally I can rise to the occasion and be like Toby Keith when he says, ” I ain’t as good as I once was, but I am as good once as I ever was.” Nice thought but for the most part only dreaming. ” Send it” today has a much different meaning to me than what it means to today’s generation.

Attitude plays a big part too in “sending it.” Take Missy Giove here back in the day after her loss in the dual slalom at the NORBA Nationals in Snowshoe. I rode up the chairlift with her and she was quite engaging and talkative, but you could tell she was pissed that she lost. She then got off the chair and launched herself back down the course with the attitude of ” send it” in a much different meaning. Kind of funny – the crowd thought so too.

Missy the Missile

When I think of the term, ” send it”, it conjures up nerves. I think about getting out of your comfort zone and with a little bit of reckless abandon, you do something you might not ordinarily do . You have to get the negative ” what if” out of your head and think positive. That can have consequences or if you pull it off, it will have you ” smiling like a butcher’s dog.” Even though I am fairly conservative these days, there are the occasions when I will try something relatively imposing, but that is the rare occasion. Getting hurt takes a little more healing time and you have to face the reality that you are not 25 years old anymore. ” Send it” might be something relatively docile compared to the old days.

I do think there are ways though these days where you can ” send it” under different circumstances. For instance, my friends who live in Florida volunteer for Samaritan’s Purse. They live a comfortable life in Florida but when SP calls, they are deployed to some really needy places in the world. They probably think, ” ahh, do we really want to go?” But then they “send it” and off they go to places and people who really need their help. We can ” send it” the same way when we have a friend in need, a sick neighbor, someone who needs some comfort or friendship, maybe some help with something with which you really are not familiar but you are willing to go out on the limb to help. You think, ” ahh, not now. I really don’t feel like doing that.” But as you stare into the possibilities that it might not work out, or you will be ridiculed, or you maybe can’t quite pull off the task, you ” send it” and hopefully come out smiling like that butcher’s dog.

Another sender.

My mother always said that ” Happiness is like a perfume. You can’t sprinkle it on others without getting a little on yourself” You feel good when you are able to help someone. Maybe you don’t feel like doing it or getting involved? But you pick yourself up and go for it. It is usually worth the effort.

Most of us will never be like the Red Bull athlete, or the World Cup MTB downhiller, but in our own way we can ” send it”. Look for the opportunities, think about standing in that start line of life, not sure of what will come by throwing caution to the wind, and …………………………..” send it!” Thanks for reading.

Snowshoe title picture courtesy of Steve Gurtner

My Neighbor the Southpaw

PITTSBURGH – 1987: Pitcher John Smiley #57 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches during a Major League Baseball game at Three Rivers Stadium in 1987 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

A couple of years ago- I saw this guy across the street struggling with the heavy snow in his driveway. I was using my snow blower at the time and went over to help him. He appreciated it and we got to talking. He looked kind of familiar and he introduced himself as John. Turns out he is John Smiley, formerly a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates. I remember him pitching and remember his great career of 12 years with the Bucs, the Minnesota Twins, the Cincinnati Reds and the Cleveland Indians. With an ERA of 3.80 and a 126-103 win loss record, John has a lot to be proud of in his former career.

PITTSBURGH – 1989: Pitcher John Smiley of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches during a Major League Baseball game at Three Rivers Stadium in 1989 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

Fast forward and I see him a lot recently hitting whiffle golf balls in his yard as he has taken up the game of golf again after his arm is finally healed after all these years of curve ball abuse. Of course I engage him about baseball. I was always a fan of baseball as my dad used to take me to Forbes Field as a kid and I saw all the greats from the 1960s play. Sometimes professional athletes or former athletes hesitate to engage in conversation about their sport but John is an extremely knowledgeable and engaging guy who loves to talk baseball. Right up my alley. We got to talking about his fun times in the Fantasy Camps in Florida in which he participates. For those of you who do not know, fantasy camps are for old guys trying to relive their youth on the baseball diamond with their old heroes. They pay a lot of money to play and the former professional players like John love to participate and tell all the old war stories in the evenings around the dinner table. John loves to tell me how funny former pitcher Steve Blass is and also about Bill Mazeroski’s amazing stories about the 1960 World Champion Bucs. I was amazed that Maz still participates at his age but these guys love baseball.

The University Club Father Son Baseball back in the day with my dad.

John likes to tell me stories about the nuances of the game like when he was pitching and the opposing team would pick up on his cadence and signal to the batter what pitch was coming. They stole the signals. One game in Montreal, John and his catcher at the time decided not to use any signals to throw the opposition off. They won easily and it was a moral victory for John and his catcher. I asked him what he thinks of the new electronic strike zone and John enthusiastically applauds it saying that any technological advance in the game that takes bad calls and chance away is a good thing. I was always a fan of baseball and loved my time playing in minor league, little league and pony league as a fat little catcher before moving on to other sports. But always liked baseball and to have a neighbor who loves to talk baseball and knows what he is talking about is a plus.

John also talks about how his father worked with him and got him to be dedicated to the game at an early age. Like a lot of kids who grow up to be professional athletes, there was not much time for fun outside of baseball. You had to train, play and practice at a very high level to make it. He said that he missed a lot of things as a kid growing up but would have never made the major leagues if it had not been for his dad and the coaches he had. He said that making it involved a lot of playing in the south in the heat. That separated the men from the boys, in John’s opinion, and in order to make it in the majors, you had to be dedicated and able to perform in all weather especially the heat.

A lot of professional athletes, again, don’t like to engage in conversation with fans. But John is quite the opposite. He sees that I am enthusiastic and interested in what he has to say about the game of baseball. I love his stories. Jan thinks I may be bothering him but I always insert myself in conversation with John while he is practicing with the whiffle balls. He is always quite energetic and never minds my endless questions. But that is who he is. A successful retired professional who loves the game and now has a nosy neighbor with whom to trade stories. As you would suspect from maybe knowing me, I tell him stories too. But nothing can compare to a career on the mound for a professional baseball team.

I am a talker. I struggle with listening sometimes but I always make a point of listening to John. I force myself to shut up and listen. A skill which needs constant work. But my talkative nature has led to some great conversations and ultimate friendships with some really interesting people. If I hadn’t initiated conversations with John, I would never know the great stories he has in his head. You have to listen, but you also need to initiate conversations sometimes. You never know how you will be rewarded. Thanks for reading.

Anyone Can Be a Father. It takes Dedication to be a Dad.

Curt Wooten on left. AKA “Pittsburgh Dad.”

Curt Wooten is a funny guy. As “Pittsburgh Dad”, he has created a comedy routine that is really popular here in Pittsburgh. But for those of you out of town, you will still appreciate his antics on his weekly You Tube videos. Remembering this photo from a few years back and also the poignant statement above about being a dad, many memories are filling my head on Father’s Day.

I will never forget the day we brought our son Jack home from the hospital. I said to my wife Janet, that life will never be the same. As a rookie dad, I was always trying to do the best for Jack and it all began with me trying to get him to do the things that I like to do. Skiing, riding a bike, hiking, all the outdoors stuff.

Mt. Rose, Nevada
Skiing with the boys.

I even made an effort to teach him all about American history with trips to Ft. Ligonier( of French and Indian War Fame), Fort Pitt, Williamsburg, VA and our famous trip to Gettysburg on the way to the shore. We looked like the Clampetts with fishing gear on the roof, bikes on the racks and tons of luggage I hired a guy to guide us and he drove our vehicle around the famous Gettysburg Civil War sites and after about three hours, he lost Janet and Jack – but I was enthralled. Again- it was all about me and what I liked and what I thought was important.

Jack at Williamsburg

After many days of hikes, bike rides in the woods with Jack on the “tag a long” and skiing, he came to me in the 6th grade and said he wanted to play basketball. I said” Basketball?” We are outdoors people! Janet looked at me and said,” it’s not all about you big guy.” So we began the basketball wars and I became fully engaged in Eden Christian Academy basketball, North Allegheny Basketball, and AAU Basketball

AAU Nationals in Florida with the DeJuan Blair All Stars.

Jack and I would attend Pete Strobl’s Scoring Factory at the Pittsburgh Athletic Association and I was fully on board with his training with Pete. http://www.thescoringfactory.com Pete- who currently coaches a Pro team in Europe, taught Jack a lot about basketball but more importantly he taught him about commitment, hard work and effort that pays off in life.

The most fun times were with Darelle Porter ( former All American from Pitt) who coached Jack when he played for the Dejuan Blair All Stars in AAU Basketball. Darelle and the other coaches would ask me if I played and if I coached Jack. I politely responded that I was an outdoors guy, never visited gyms, and couldn’t even dribble. They took me under their wing and thus the fun times with DB.

Time moved on and Jack lost interest in basketball and became a gamer. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around video games which are extremely popular but conflicted with my image of Jack as an outdoors guy or a seasoned hoopster. College came on the horizon and Jack finished up with an accounting degree and magna cum laude from La Roche University. He now lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan and works with a company that does audits of credit unions. I can’t even balance my checkbook.

Marisa and Jack

The interesting thing now is that Jack’s girlfriend is getting him to do all the things that I liked to do outdoors. Hiking, walks along Lake Michigan, kayaking, and he is even playing hoops again at his local health club. He still has a deadly three point shot and has always been a fan of the NBA.

These days, as empty nesters, Janet and I look back and think about all the good times we had raising Jack here in Pittsburgh. We miss having him here but realize that he has his own life now and he is different in many ways than we are. As a type “A” guy, I always wanted to direct Jack’s life but realized that Janet’s adage that ” its not all about you big guy” is a real fact of life. I think often of how I tried so hard to be a good dad and not just a father like the saying above says. We all have the calling as dads to teach our children principles, raise them in the faith, and in general get them started on a good path in life. But the lesson for me is that now Jack has his own life and I must let him live it. In many ways, Jack teaches me now. But I am still old school in a lot of areas. Still write checks, put stamps on envelopes, mail things at the post office, and I think things like Venmo are cartoon characters. Jack just shakes his head as he tries to get me into the 21st century.

We don’t see Jack as often as we would like. He makes his excursions to Pittsburgh and we have a whirlwind time catching up with him and just letting him tell us how life is for him without offering much advice( or at least we try). We make the treks to Grand Rapids to spend time with Jack and Marisa and go to the lake and to other mid west attractions like the Tulip Festival in Holland on a recent trip.

But for the most part, on Father’s Day, I think about the privilege that I have being a dad. The opportunities that we gave Jack pale in comparison to the blessing that we have had with Jack as our son. Father’s Day is about being a dad. And for the record, I did ask Jack, now that he is again doing some outdoor ventures, if he would like to ski again? He was a decent skier. But he said, ” Truthfully dad- I never liked the cold.” Go figure- Grand Rapids, Michigan. Thanks for reading and happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there.

The Tour de Death

Make Chetlin Great Again- seen here on the right.

So in the continuing effort to MCGA( Make Chetlin Great Again) a couple of us got together the other evening and took Jeff for another mountain bike ride. He is making amazing progress after a stroke a year ago and soon will be back to full strength. So, after a rain storm, it was decided that the trails in Frick would be a little sloppy. So Jesse Seager, the restauranteur extraordinaire( go to Point Brugge in Pittsburgh to find out), Darryl Huber( uber athlete in from Colorado for a visit) and yours truly took to the roads of ………..a cemetery. We laughed and called it the Tour de Death but Jesse told us when the trails in Frick Park get too sloppy in the winter, he can get a good ten miles in on the mountain bike all along the roads that go through the cemetery.

The Benedum Crypt

The amazing thing is all of the famous people interred in this famous cemetery. Business leaders like Michael Benedum, Henry Clay Frick, Henry J Heinz, Senator John Heinz, Henry Hillman and Willard Rockwell. Entertainers like Erroll Garner and Walt Harper are also interred here along with Jock Sutherland – former Pitt football coach and Pie Traynor- hall of famer for the Pittsburgh Pirates. But the truly neat thing about cycling through the cemetery is the beauty of the place and the incredible mausoleums and crypts of some very famous families in the Pittsburgh area. It occurred to me that people really went into a thought process about their memorial places and what they wanted to leave behind as a memory and tribute to their lives here in the ‘burg. Jesse and Jeff, as locals, gave us a great tour and it was in no time at all that Jeff probably had the most mileage and time on the bike to date. Every ride gets better and better for this guy. It won’t be long until he is 100 percent full strength. Who ever thought that part of his rehabilitation would be laps through a famous cemetery?

No complaints from the customers here.
People are dying to get in.
Military Sections Too

As we peddled along, Jeff commented that among all the groups he is involved with- skiers, moto- cross riders, and snowmobilers, he seems to think that the mountain bike community is the best. More laughs, more genuine people, and one of the reasons he won’t move permanently to his other home in Bend, Oregon. He likes the mountain bike community in Pittsburgh, even if we do ride through cemeteries from time to time.

The cemetery makes you think a little as you go along as to what is really important in life. Jeff commented that as we get older, it is not about how fast we go on the trails, how many miles we did, or even where we rode. It is more about getting together and enjoying the great outdoors. It’s being with friends, talking and laughing, reminiscing, and in general enjoying each others company. It rained on us a little bit but as mountain bikers, we really don’t care. We enjoyed the ride, the company and the views.

So the next time you think that it is too muddy to ride, maybe think about your local boneyard. It is quiet, peaceful, and offers some dry riding in the worst of weather conditions – and no cars which is a bonus. Take a tip from Jesse and Jeff, go hit it and when the trails dry, you can tell some stories out there about how you saw Pie Traynor’s final resting place. Thanks for reading.

The Rails to Trails Diversion

A sunny start

So it’s Memorial Day weekend and Jan says to me, ” I would like to ride my bike.” A little unusual because she does not ride that much but enjoys it when in the mood. I suggested a rails to trails ride and since we were making the effort, why not drive a little bit to maybe one of the more scenic Rails to Trails in our area – the Butler-Freeport Trail. For those of you who are visiting Western Pa. and want a diversion from the really impressive mountain biking in these parts, the Butler Freeport Trail is a relaxing option. As you meander through quiet farmland and along gurgling streams that seem to sparkle in the sunlight, you are amazed at how relaxed it makes you feel. Rails to Trails are basically flat as they follow old railroad lines that have been converted to bike trails.

Unloading the rack.
So many farms along the way
Jan says I look like a police officer. LOL!!

The Butler Freeport Trail is not unlike the many rails to trails that are in our region. Very well maintained and really not that crowded even on a holiday weekend. Runners, walkers and hikers enjoy the trails but for the most part, most of the users are cyclists. Mountain bikes are a good choice but you see all kinds of clunkers out there as well as the increasingly popular E-Bikes. Unlike mountain biking in the woods, the rails to trails allow one to look around to take in the scenery. You can cruise at your own pace and not have to worry about trees, logs, rocks, stumps, etc. that make you focus on a typical mountain bike ride. Personally I like riding with my wife, but I also like riding at the relaxed scenic pace on rails to trails. It is a great diversion from my usual mountain bike rides on the rocky, rooty, hilly, trails of Western Pa.

The nice thing about making the effort to ride Butler-Freeport Trail is that when you are finished, there are many optional side things to do in Butler County. We always gravitate towards Freedom Farms who have a nice market, donut shop, and outdoor dining venue in an open barn. Freedom Farms specializes in fresh produce, and their own hormone free, grass fed beef, pork and chicken. If you grab their brochure, there are many events that take place on the farm all through the year. From farm to table dinners on specific Sundays during the year that are paired with beer tasting and wine tasting, to fall and Christmas activities that showcase the work of the farm in all seasons. The King Family owns 200 acres of farmland right near the Butler Freeport Trail that make up the Freedom Farms. They are a friendly, hard working family who take the time to stop and answer questions and show you around.

A stop at Freedom Farms is a must.

After picking up some produce and nice hanging baskets, we made our way to my standard stop at Hammer’s Frozen Custard. Now for those of you who have not sampled frozen custard like Janet, you are in for a real treat as no ice cream anywhere can beat frozen custard. So much so that we got a cone and then brought a quart home.

Bounty from Freedom Farms
So good!!!!!

I guess the point of all of this is advice to make a day of it. Take a nice relaxing ride in the country on a rails to trails, see the local spots and have a nice time of it with your significant other. I have vowed to take Jan to several more rails to trails systems and see the associated fun places to eat and shop along the way. For me, it is a nice diversion from the usual ride in the woods where at the end of the day you are exhausted and perspiring like you just jumped out of the shower. There are rails to trails systems everywhere, all over the country. Take the time to visit them, ride them, enjoy them and instead of always trying to beat your pal up a hill or beat your Strava time, relax and enjoy the ride. Thanks for reading.

Photos by Janet McCloskey.

The Trails Are For All of Us

Laguna Beach, Ca
State College, Pa.

So I was rocking down the trail the other day with a bunch of my pals in a tight line on our mountain bikes. As we rounded a corner, I was the last guy and I heard behind me,” You’re Welcome!!” Feeling like we had committed a transgression, I stopped, turned around and saw a woman hiker who obviously was not happy. I knew the guys would wait for me up ahead so I turned back to address the lady and say that we were sorry for not thanking her for moving off the trail to let us by. I explained that I did not see her as surely I would have thanked her per my custom with hikers and runners on the trail. I also told her I have a bell where if I see someone hiking or running or riding for that matter, I use it to give them a courteous notice that I was coming. This conversation with the disgruntled hiker was not cutting it as she said, ” Why do I have to always move for you guys?” I replied once again that I was sorry and apologized for the rest of our group. But it got me thinking. The trails are for all of us and we need to be courteous to all who use the trails, no matter what. Sure we were flying and everyone in our MTB group was working hard to keep the pace of the line. But, obviously this was not received well.

Fast forward, the other day, I was riding by myself in our local North Park trails, and came upon a woman and her family and three dogs. Two nicely behaved golden retrievers and a smaller dog who was quite young. I rang my bell, was courteous and thanked her for moving the dogs as I sped by but I could tell she was uncomfortable moving the dogs and trying to keep them off the trail to let me by.

Hiking in North Park- Pittsburgh , Pa

I did one more lap around and came upon them again and this time, I got off my bike, moved off the trail and said to them, ” Now it is your turn to pass” with a big smile on my face. She appreciated that and it kind of broke the ice a little bit and she explained that she had some difficulty with a mountain biker the other day. Seems like a guy came roaring by them and startled their little dog, who I found out was a rescue dog. The rider never said sorry or thank you for moving, just roared past her. The lady explained that after that event, the little dog was terrified of mountain bikes and asked if she could walk her past my bike to show her that all mountain bikers are not scary and rude. We exchanged further pleasantries and I went on my way feeling that perhaps I had diffused some hard feelings and maybe I helped show the lady and her family that all MTB riders are not the same. I told her in passing that we try to educate newer riders on the courtesies of the trail, but some people- just like on the the trails of life , are only thinking of themselves. More education is needed.

My family likes to hike too.

My wife and I are avid hikers too and I can certainly see the conflicts that take place from a hiker/runner perspective on the trails. I notice when riding sometimes that trail runners and hikers sometime take a more aggressive attitude when we are passing them on mountain bikes. But I get it. They probably have had similar experiences as my friend with the dogs. I see the disgruntled looks on their faces and my immediate reaction is ” Hey- I pay my taxes too!!!” But then I think, be courteous, ring your bell. Smile and thank them for moving. I always think that the best way to improve perception is to be polite, courteous, and respect others on the trails.

The other users that need a lot of respect are the horses and their riders. Our group makes a habit of getting off our bikes, standing well to the side of the trail, and greeting them in a friendly manner. Most of the equestrian types are nice and very thankful that we move. Horses are easily spooked and I am sure they have had their moments of nervousness with a group of mountain bike riders.

The last thing I am going to comment about here is trail work. If you are going to claim certain rights on trails and use them frequently, it might not be a bad idea to give a little sweat equity to http://www.trailpittsburgh.org if you live in the local area. There are opportunities for cyclists, runners, hikers, and equestrians to work together on trail projects. Not only does that improve our trail systems but it gives all of us users a chance to work together and talk about some things that maybe need resolved. If you are open enough to listen to concerns with other user groups, you will be more educated as to their issues and work to resolve them – one trail day session at a time.

Our group of courteous riders visiting Wild Wonderful West Virginia

These trail improvement organizations are everywhere and no matter where you live, you can get involved and maybe learn a little bit about other user groups. In my mind, trail use is a little bit of a microcosm of life in general. Interaction with people where courtesy wins the day. Shouldn’t that be the way we all behave as we move through life ? We all use the trails to get away from the stresses of daily life and to get some exercise in a great environment. The trails are for all of us. Thanks for reading.

The Final Ride

After a wonderful memorial service for our dear friend Brian Lunt, our group of riders were asked by Brian’s wife Rose to take Brian’s ashes for a final ride in the park- on his beloved trails. We all wondered how this would go and the task of filming the event fell on Dave Ashi with his brand new Go Pro and also Nancy Furbee who was backup with her I Phone. Nancy was quite creative with her Facebook video and Dave and Tim Traynor did a great job with the Go Pro video so that Rose and her family would have the event forever memorialized.

Spreading one’s ashes seems to be more popular these days as folks have favorite places where they would like to be laid to rest – rather than a cemetery plot. There are stories of people’s ashes being spread at sea, on ski slopes and trails, and in this case- on mountain bike trails. This is nothing new but it seems to be gaining in popularity and our group was happy to be compliant with Rose’s request.

Discussing our protocol

As we began the procession, the weather seemed to hold off and we were blessed with a good start – attributed to Brian looking over the proceedings from above. I had the urn in my riding pack and was dubbed ” the Hearse” by the group with a few chuckles along the way. But as we proceeded along the familiar trails of our local park, I thought about my own mortality and how a 61 year old guy like Brian is now gone. Someone who we have ridden with, laughed with, and with whom we have had many conversations on the trails and ski slopes, is now not going to be physically part of our group anymore. It makes you think. It also makes you think where and how you would like to be memorialized when the time comes. We definitely wanted to make sure that Brian was properly remembered and aside from the physical spreading on the trails, Mark “the Shark” Sauers made sure of it with his wonderful words of encouragement to all of us including fond memories of our pal Brian.

Mark set a spiritual tone when we stopped to distribute the ashes in the first location. When you see the remains and think of things like” remember man that you are dust and unto dust you shall return” you need the encouraging words that Mark shared with all of us. This is not the end. Death is a transition for believers and we all came away with the thought that we will all see Brian again. I thought of Revelation 21-4 which says that in the end, ” He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain. For the old order of things has passed away.” You can’t help to think of all of this when you are involved in something like we did that day. But Brian would not like us to all be somber either. There were many laughs along the way as we proceeded to the next stop. Our pal Bill Belch kept dropping his bike while we were standing and I joked with him to ” get it together Bill- this is a funeral you know.” We all laughed at that one, including Bill, and it kind of broke the more serious tone at the moment.

The final stop was at a scenic overlook in the park and as it started to rain, no doubt due to Brian saying” Get on with it people”. I warned the group about the wind. It was rather humorous to see us releasing Brian to the wind only to have him come back in our face. I am sure he was laughing at that one and we all joked about Brian making it difficult now with the rain and the wind. As we all put our feet in a circle of solidarity at the end of the day, we all had positive thoughts about something that we were not sure of. How was this going to go? How do we carry the urn around? Will this be somber or will we have some fun doing it, in compliance with Brian’s wonderful sense of humor? In the end, we all said that this is how we all wanted people to remember us. Take us all to a place that we love and be among friends – even though it may only be in spirit at the time. It was a positive experience and it also was an event that solidified our friendship even more. We all loved riding with Brian and Rose was right- this was the right thing to do. Thanks for reading. Photos courtesy of Nancy Furbee