Overload

Have to tell you folks that no one loves the anticipation of ski season more than me. When that first frost comes or the leaves start to change and I smell the fires burning, I start to think about when the first turns will be made. Buy typically, I show some restraint. When the Ski Magazine comes to the mailbox in August, I set it aside because I don’t want to start reading that until maybe October especially if I am in no need of equipment for the upcoming season. Which is where I am right now. I have all my skis tuned, Janet’s tuned, and am in no need for further ski apparel. So in those years, October is fine for opening up the mag and seeing what is new and perhaps read a review or two. I start to look on the Outside channel and Netflix and Amazon for some ski flicks but only start those in maybe November. But have you noticed how we have been bombarded with social media all summer long and the hype for the 2019-2020 ski season began almost as soon as the old season ended. In many cases this past season, the end was much later than usual with the Beast and western areas like Mammoth closing well after Memorial Day and into the Fourth of July.

Now again, don’t get me wrong. I love skiing and talk about it all year, but this year, the media hype began in July and didn’t stop all summer. While I was into the mountain biking season and enduring the early season rain followed by oppressive heat and finally some nice September weather, the videos, clips, emails,and more videos all came rushing in on Facebook and Instagram and kind of confused me a bit. Is this summer or is it just an extension of a year long ski season defying the global warming discussion? I mean come on? What was once a great flick about guys sending it in far away places in steep terrain and endless powder, became commonplace. I was not impressed because of the overload of visual eye candy almost to the point of me thinking I could do all of what Mark Abma does or Sage does, and not even blink an eye. I can ski like that, right? It is not sensational anymore because there is just so much of it. We are desensitized and duped into thinking that we are those heroes and we can do all of that and better sign up for it for 2019-2020. Which is what I did. I fell for it hook, line and sinker and bought Ikon, Epic and the local Highlands Pass all before the last turns were made on Superstar at Killington in May. I didn’t want to miss out, made the ski plans with my friends, and signed up per all the savings and media hype.

I even bought my wife some new boards at the end of the season sale at Peak Ski and Board here at home and put them on the shelf freshly tuned and waxed for the upcoming season. If they did a survey on the typical skier who buys into the media frenzy, my face would appear front and center and as much as I complain about seeing ski flicks and clips all summer, it got to me. I needed to be ahead of the game and I was the perfect victim of advertising and promotion by the equipment manufacturers, the resorts and their passes, and even the FIS who enticed me with stories of the superstars on the World Cup of whom I am a big fan. I am complaining but yet I am the poster child for the ski consumer that they all want.

Last night I dreamed I was having a conversation with shop guys about ski equipment. The strange thing is that it was old equipment. I suppose in my subconscious, my fear was I was not up with the latest technology and was far behind for the coming year. I dreamed I saw perfect conditions but for one reason or another, I was not able to get to the hill and make the first turns. I woke up in a cold sweat thinking I was going to miss it and be out of the loop or out of touch. The promoters have even invaded my sub-conscious. What is a guy supposed to do? I will tell you what………relax!!!. It will come soon enough and there is a lot of fall weather to enjoy still on the bike and some hiking with my wife in the meantime too. The chairs are not spinning yet so relax. Enjoy what is now and not what is coming soon enough.

Did you get sucked in too? Tell me about it. We all need to take a deep breath. LOL!! Thanks for reading.

If you like these musings, enter your email on the left or below on your smart phone and be a follower and I will try to entertain you. Thanks again for reading.

” You see that trail? Don’t take it”

Please observe this picture of so called ” experts” trying to all repair a chain at a recent MTB event in West Virginia. Take a moment to take it in. Then PLEASE,PLEASE, take a moment to review this link. https://youtu.be/L6YrqZ7HZ-0 This is the opening scene from my favorite movie ” The Quiet Man” with John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Ward Bond, Barry Fitzgerald and the affable Victor McLaglan. Stop, take a moment and watch this hilarious scene where everybody’s an expert as in typical Irish fashion. Finished? Ok? Don’t skip it. You won’t get the rest of this drivel.

Now, fast forward from this iconic film from 1952 to the present day characters hovering over the good doctor’s chain down in West Virginia. Everybody involved is an expert. Initially, the issue is the Doc. His bike is used and abused as he makes a practice of riding over every log and rock pile he can and trashing his bike in the effort. He abuses himself too. How many guys fall and break their nose on the rocks only to put it back in place and keep riding? Dirty Harry’s Bike Shop always tells us that they could fix the Doc if only he would leave his bike long enough for them to do a thorough and well needed repair. Nonetheless, issues ensue and the repair is like a magnet to the confident crew of “experts”. First comes the ” Shark” who muscles his way in and takes hold of the chain and mumbles what is needed by way of a quick link which ultimately is the wrong one. Minutes, which seem like hours, roll by with the crew getting impatient to ride only to be stalled by the first attempt to quickly repair the chain.

The others, like the author here, making a funny face at the behest of our rider/photographer who laughs at the scene and makes detrimental and funny remarks about the Doc and his assistant trying to muscle the repair. The photographer’s wife here is disinterested as she longs to begin the ride so as not to put the afternoon’s activities any further behind. We are there to see the Mountain Bike World Cup Finals and the quick link issue is anything but quick.

Finally John, similar to the Barry Fitzgerald character who comes in to rescue John Wayne from the pile of Irish “experts”, brings the right link to the repair and silently and swiftly repairs the chain and the Doc is saved from further ridicule. Then the real fun begins. What trail to take? ” You see that trail over there? Don’t take it, it will do you no good.” In typical Irish fashion, the crew discusses where to go and the maps come out, the memories of the trails, and the GPS indicators which do absolutely no good in remote West Virginia. Finally the quick witted photographer and unofficial leader of the pack takes over and takes us on a repetitive route of rocks, roots, steep climbs and missed opportunities. Once again the maps come out and everybody’s an expert on where to go, and if we can ride to a place where we can take a chairlift out. The Doc takes the main group on a detour as he says he knows that the fractal group has gone ahead there. He turns left with no idea about where the “left” will take them.

Mountain bikers are funny people. Passionate in their pursuit of fitness, fun, great gear, and finally knowing how to survive and where to go on the wilderness trails which we all love. But everybody is an expert. We all think we know all the trails and don’t need maps or GPS. When we get lost, it is someone else’s fault and the resultant conversation of what trail we should have taken, fruitlessly leads us to conclusions of no consequence. The beers come out afterwards and the abuse continues with laughs, recommendations on what are better trails, and what we all will do the next time we ride together.

Newcomers are always pleasantly surprised at the variety of personalities and abilities on the rides and if nothing else, they will know that if they take the trail that they think is right, it will do them no good at all. Thanks for reading.

More Cowbell

Well folks, back in the saddle again and commenting on a unifying item called the cowbell. In World Cup ski races, you can hear the cowbells clanging and ringing on he sides of the race trail as the racers scream by at top speeds. The Swiss have a habit of bringing monster cowbells that sound more like a clanging gong than a ring of a standard bell found on the necks of the bovine community in Switzerland.

I came prepared this past weekend with my official Swiss cowbell that I bought on my honeymoon some 31 years ago in Zermatt. This tradition of cheering on the competitors is also used in World Cup Mountain Bike racing and last weekend the alpine sound greeted the downhill competitors as well as the cross country competitors as they made their way down rock strewn and root infested Snowshoe, West Virginia. I rang my bell for reigning World Champion Nino Schurter as he climbed the summit of a grinder right before a treacherous rock garden. I rang for the rest of the field and was joined in a chorus of bells of all shapes and sizes. I rang for all American competitors as I hoped that the home squad would make a good showing on American soil. This is the World Cup Finals after all in Wild, Wonderful, West Virginia. How much more American can you get than that? Kate Courtney- our former World Champion for Cross Country, dug deep and finished 5th in the XC race which guaranteed her a victory in the overall season title. ” USA, USA, USA,” went the massive crowd chant along with an assembled thousands of ringing cowbells.

As I thought about the event on the way home which included some great riding at places like Tea Creek and Silver Creek Backcountry trails nearby with my band of traveling mountain bikers, I thought of what the cowbell meant in the melee of the excited fanfare. I thought about how I had not been to a World Class event in some time but looking at the athletes, soigneurs, photographers, team mechanics, nothing much had changed. The gathering of the mountain bike tribe was still pretty much in tact even though some of us had aged and many new youthful faces had emerged. The vibe that Snowshoe created was energetic and supportive of cross country races and downhill alike. But the thing that really struck me was the unity of the crowd, cheering on their favorites and taking in the brilliant sunshine ringing their cowbells enthusiastically regardless of age, faith, race, creed, color, Democrat, Republican, whatever. We are all mountain bikers and we love our heroes as well as the tribe we ride with. All joined together as one unified throng of thousands, ringing our cowbells and smiling. Everybody should take a lesson from the mountain bike tribe. We have a lot more in common that we think. Thanks for reading.  Click on the follow button and join in the fun as I continue to muse about things in later life.  Thanks.

A Refreshing Break

My friend JR gave me a Yeti cooler like the one you see here and I loved it. It was subsequently ripped off much to my chagrin. So I got another one and decorated it and it is one of my prize possessions. I fill it with ice every day and drink a lot of cold, refreshing water for many reasons. My original blood clot in my calf was the result of a crash on my road bike in Ireland and a long plane ride home. Dehydration also played a part and I have been dealing with the results of a DVT and a Pulmonary Embolism ever since. Don’t get me wrong, I am fine. I can ski, run,ride a bike, etc. But I wear a compression sock when I am at my desk or on a plane because my calf swells and I take Coumadin with no effects other than keep my INR in check. But no residual effects of the embolism these 30 years later. Had I taken the time to drink more water, I may have never had any of these things happen to me.

You may never think of it, but in the winter, you need as much water as you do in the summer. At the ski areas out west, there are water coolers everywhere and I always take advantage drinking lots of water at altitude. The first day, I tend to get a headache due to the altitude adjustment but drinking lots of water takes that away and all is well. It tends to be dry out west and in the summer and winter, it is important to hydrate.

Not to dwell on TMI here but I have also had the unfortunate experience of having a kidney stone. Another result of not drinking enough and salts and calcium build up in the kidneys. Maybe one of the most painful experiences of my life and another reason I live with the Yeti cooler at all times.

Nothing is more refreshing after a mountain bike ride than to sit down in my soccer chair and bring out the cooler of ice cold water. I sit there,re-hydrate, and take a breather. Which brings me to the real subject of this post. After 274 posts, 4 years after my wife suggested to me that I write a blog to get all of my stories in my head published,( I also have 2 volumes that I had made into coffee table books), I am going to take a break. I am again out of gas and need to put the Chronicles on hold for a while.

It has been a lot of fun but it is time. I may pick it up again sometime, as it is only a hobby. I have appreciated all the nice comments and not so nice comments. It is nice to see that people have followed the blog and have enjoyed it. My only vision beyond chronicling my adventures and thoughts for my son Jack to read with grandchildren some day down the road, is to encourage people to do things that they might not ordinarily do. As you age, it is important to stay active. Never let people tell you that you are too old to do anything. Try new things. Engage with new friends. Be positive and enjoy what life has to offer. Some people my age come home from work and get a hot bath and watch Fox News all night. What kind of a life is that? It is great to be with people of all ages and I find it especially rewarding to be in the company of younger people while skiing, or riding and hearing what they have to say about the world from a younger perspective. Like drinking water from that Yeti, their ideas are refreshing. So in the mean time, try new things, be kind, be positive, and take that pause that refreshes after a wonderful day in the world. Thanks so much for reading.

Inept

Self deprecation has always been one of my strong suits. An Irish trait really. I have attempted some new ventures with humorous results and like Dirty Harry Callaghan says,” A man has to know his limitations”. Now I am pretty comfortable on a pair of skis and can ride a mountain bike fairly efficiently, but have not had success in some other ventures over the years….. like golf. A golf club in my hand never had a natural feel-kind of like a telephone pole, and when I would manage to par 3 or 4 holes and then launch a tee shot into an adjacent house near the golf course, I knew that my feel for the game was lacking. I was a good caddie back in the day. I understood the game and even caddied for Ben Crenshaw at the Open Qualifier at Shannopin Country Club in Pittsburgh when he was a student at the University of Texas. But when it came time for me to actually play the game, I really had no feel and was too nervous and jerky for golf. Fast forward and I found myself in recent years playing in scrambles tournaments to benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities. Scrambles were fun in that you could just bang one off the tee and if it was not good, all you had to do was put your ball where the best tee shot was in your foursome and go from there. No pressure at all. But when I had to play my own ball at a place like Laurel Valley in Ligonier, I was exhausted and shattered after 15 holes due to many swings, lost balls, and generally a course that was way above my ability level. I have since given up the game and politely refused any further invitations. I always felt intimidated by that little ball staring at me on the tee and the possible errant trajectories that it could take after one of my swings. I am fairly athletic- but golf? No feel at all.

Then there was the time that I thought it would be cool to try kayaking. I took an adult continuing education class at the University of Pittsburgh with a lot of instruction rolling the kayak in a swimming pool. Another example of not having a feel for the sport. I always felt like I was going to roll the thing over anyway and was never seated comfortably in a kayak. Then came our final exam up at the Youghiogheny River. I had a rain suit on which was useless seeing how many times I tipped the kayak and to add insult to injury it was snow showering during the event. I eventually dragged my sogging body down river and unloaded the kayak never to attempt the sport again. I missed being a river rat at Ohiopyle because I thought I would have a home there with all the other pine cone eaters but it was not to be. I did take my wife and the in-laws white water rafting one time at Ohiopyle, but the result was basically the same with me flipping out of the raft at Dimple Rock and laying on my back in the Swimmers Rapids and floating behind much to the consternation of my wife and mother in law. They did’t realize I was out of the rear steering position until I passed them floating on my back. See you in a mile dear!!!

I was a “B” tennis player in my day with a self taught ” whirly bird” service motion that people found quite humorous. In one tournament, the opponent started laughing because he thought I was kidding. I said, ” No man, that is my real serve.” He laughed again and killed me in the tournament. I eventually gave up tennis for running and did that for quite a few years until I took up cycling which I still do today.

So, after several failed attempts at other things for variety, skiing and cycling have been my mainstay activities for years and at this point, I am not interested in trying anything else. I am often asked if I ever tried snowboarding or telemark skiing. I really have no interest seeing that I really like to alpine ski. Been doing it for 57 years so why deviate? Also, mountain biking has basically taken over my cycling world because I am a bit concerned about violent drivers and drivers who do not pay attention while texting. Road cycling is starting to get a bit sketchy for me. Riding in the woods is pleasant and no irate drivers throwing chipped ham sandwiches at me and yelling at me to get off the road. True story. Had mayonnaise on it too.

One last activity that has come and gone for me is fishing. I used to go with my grandfather a lot and had some outings with my family where we caught a fair amount of baby sharks. But for the most part, I am unlucky in the angling department and it came to a head years ago with unsuccessful attempts landing a fish at the ocean, I took to desperate measures. I went to Piggly Wiggly and bought a whole Red Snapper and put it on a hook and threw it into the ocean trying to please my son when he came down to the beach to see if I finally caught something. When I hauled it in, it was full of seaweed and my son said,” Dad- it looks dead.” I looked at my friend who came down too and I whispered,” Piggly Wiggly” He fell down laughing and that basically ended my fishing career.

So I figure- just stick with what you know and at this point I am satisfied with my activities that will take me into old age. Ski to live and ride to ride another day. Thanks for reading.

LOST!

Now I know in this day and age with GPS and technology that allows one to navigate from the seat of a mountain bike on any trail in the world, a map might seem archaic at best. Not for me. Being a little bit of a curmudgeon, I still depend on maps in my pack to get a good read on where to ride. Case in point are the Purple Lizard Maps which are available at http://www.purplelizard.com These maps are water proof, tear proof, peanut butter proof, beer proof, and generally a good way to get around. I just ordered my current version after using one for the last 20 years up in Rothrock State Forest near State College, Pa. These maps are great …….if you know how to use them. Like, read the trails and fire roads correctly instead of taking the wrong one and ending up 25 miles from my starting point at Tussey Mountain.

I got hopelessly lost after mis reading the map. It was getting dark, I was already an hour late to meet my wife and her room mate from college. I was out of water, my cell phone did not work, and my Cliff Bar situation was getting bleak with a fuzzball caked piece left. I pretty much figured I might be spending the night because I didn’t have a light either. There is a sign on the chairlift stanchions at Whiteface, New York, and Killington, Vermont that says,” Don’t ski alone. These mountains are as desolate and remote as they were 200 years ago.” So is the backside of Tussey and I thought of those signs as I was starting to get concerned about my lack of navigational skills. Fortunately, I met up with a couple camping near Greenwood Furnace who offered to take me and my bike back in their pickup truck to Tussey. They were the only people I had seen for hours. Had they not been there, I would definitely have spent the night up against some tree. Not that I could not do that, but my wife would have been out of her mind with concern. As it turned out, by the time I came back to the Ritchey house where my wife and her room mate Kathy were waiting, I heard an ear full and knew that I needed to study the maps a little more closely. After all these years riding there, I am pretty familiar with the area now and the map is more of an insurance policy than anything. But I am glad I got the current version to use on my upcoming trip there to do the Coopers Gap Epic with a bunch of great mountain biking friends.

I will tell you that I do a lot of adventurous things, but getting lost is a bit unnerving especially when you are running out of food, water, and light. Take the time I was mountain biking up in Ellicottville, New York riding away from the Race Loop Trail at Holiday Valley and into the Allegheny National Forest. I had a map of the area, although a bit outdated again, and I zigged when I should have zagged and voila, I ended up lost again- no water, sparse energy bar supply, and no lights. However I had cell service and called my friends at Mud, Sweat and Gears Bike and Ski Shop, who asked me about my location. I described the clearing with a potential of 3 different trail options that were not real clear on the outdated map. They knew and directed me to the right trail and as I made my way to town for something to eat, I bought a new map from the shop right before they closed for the night. They laughed at my old map and said, no wonder I was lost. Most of the trails are not featured on the old map.

My wife does not like me to ride by myself but if I am careful and have the right amount of food,water and the current version of the trail maps, I am pretty self sufficient these days. Most of the areas I ride are popular and you see a lot of people. But some are more remote like the Laguna Wilderness Trail System that I rode a lot back in the day. I had a good map for those rides but the signs warning about mountain lions was a bit concerning. Never saw one. Only the big blue Pacific Ocean. But without the map, you can get DFL on those trails very easily. And they get fairly remote quickly with the threat of the big cats and rattlesnakes.

Bottom line, good idea to always ride with a partner or on trails that are familiar and have bail out points. Secondly, a good map or better yet, a GPS that you can count on. I have to get one and get into the 21st century. But in the mean time, my maps are up to date and hopefully I will read them correctly and not cause my wife heartburn. Ride safely my friends and thanks for reading.

Full Circle

So all of us were back from our western ski adventures, and once again at our home resort for what was probably the last weekend of the season. The sun was out and the snow was soft and the crowds were gone. Most people at this time of year around here are itching to get out on the golf course or ride their bikes, and skiing takes a back seat for the spring. But some of the nicest snow conditions are in the spring and if you don’t want to hit golf balls and have them plug on every shot or ride mountain bikes in amazingly wet and muddy conditions, you can enjoy the last turns of the season. I did and with this group of dedicated skiers, we bid farewell to the 2017-2018 season. I already purchased my Highlands Pass for local skiing next year and also my Epic Pass renewal for the trips westward. You see, I get a little depressed with the last turns of the season because it will be another 8 months until I am on snow again and I am not getting any younger. Although, I am inspired by Stan Friedberg’s Guiness Book of World Records achievement as the oldest heli-skier in the world. At 91, Stan can still turn em and it is an inspiration to all of us. Gives me a lot of hope for many more seasons.

Every year takes some effort to get the ski days in. We all start off with the first reports of the opening at Seven Springs, our local mainstay area, and we all clamor to make turns early on one slope and a couple of trails as snow making and cold weather allows. Then we look northward to the Lake Erie storms and make our way to Western New York to take in some of that early season fluff. Then for Janet and me, we made our way to Utah to ski with Mike and Judy Smith and their daughter Shayna and husband Nick for a couples trip that included a harrowing “thin cover” run that rattled Janet. She composed herself and skied well for the rest of the trip but was a little unhappy with me for taking her to “no man’s land” with thin cover in Utah.
Funny thing about skiing is that until you get to the mountain, it is a royal pain hauling all the gear like a sherpa, getting to and from the airport, and fighting the crowds on holiday weeks. Then you have weather. Like when I made my way to the Adirondacks to ski with my pal Mike Smith- the other Mike Smith. . Along with meeting my friend from Vermont, Mark Hutchinson, I braved probably two of the worst snowstorms I have ever driven in on the New York State Thruway. But the turns and days with those guys at Whiteface and Gore were worth every minute of white knuckled panic. I also ran a traffic light in Amsterdam, NY which got me pulled over by a State Police officer. However, after a nice chat between two guys alone in a snowstorm and my contrite explanation of why I ran the red light, he cut me a break and told me to get back on the Thruway and don’t try to take the short cut.

Moving forward, got up early most Saturday mornings to meet at Laurel Mountain with my group there and had some fantastic days until the 78 degree thaw and biblical rains forced an early shut down of Laurel.

Perseverance was the call after slicing my tendon in my knuckle and making my way to the annual guys trip – this time in Colorado. Dr. J and the physical therapy team were cautious about my trip so early after the injury but after returning with 320,000 vertical under our belts, he was relieved that I came back with no injury to the healing tendon. Got to ski with my buddy the singing ski instructor from Vail- Art Bonavoglia listening to his tunes on the chairlift. Always a pleasure to ski with my old pal Art who is really skiing well. Also, got pulled over again in Idaho Springs, Colorado by the local police officer who said I was speeding in the 25 MPH zone. Most people think this is hilarious because I am the most cautious driver they know. A speeding ticket? McCloskey? But again, the police officer was from Pennsylvania and we had a nice chat about the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles. He asked me if I was a Steeler fan and I said, ” What is the right answer?” He said he was from Harrisburg and I congratulated him on the Eagle victory. He let me go like the officer in New York. 2/2 in potential citation stops. Someone is looking over me.

Finally full circle back at the Springs with the group that you see above. It takes some dedication to ski locally and to make the time and effort for ski ventures out of state but this group does it and looks forward to every season. So, as I made my last turns for the 2017-2018 circle of ski life, I was a bit forlorn. But looking back, it was a good season and now I switch gears to spring and summer activities, patiently waiting for the cool weather of the fall, the turning leaves, and the first flakes of 2018-2019. Thanks for reading.