Out of Disaster Comes New Life

I finished a book recently which told the story of the Big Burn forest fire that occurred in 1910. Three million acres were burned in Northern Idaho, W. Montana, Eastern Washington, and parts of Southeast British Columbia. Aside from the devastation to forest land, Timothy Egan tells the story of the origins of the US Forest Service. I am always interested in seeing the backstory on things and this book tells it.   The interesting tale related was how much the sitting President, Teddy Roosevelt, had valued conservation along with his associate Gifford Pinchot. Mr. Pinchot spent his whole life dedicated to the establishment and preservation of the National Parks and National Forests under the Roosevelt and Taft administrations. Timothy Egan spins an interesting side tale on the personality of Pinchot that is  worth reading.

Egan goes on to point out that the large forest fire and the resulting inquiries into the efforts of the rangers under the US Forest Service, were combative. Similar to today’s politics, there was national interest in conservation and the support of the USFS. The  opposition saw the USFS as a waste of time and government money.  In the opposition camp, were congressmen and senators who supported large scale logging and pillaging of the American West. Roosevelt fought hard against these lobbies and along with Pinchot, who later became Governor of Pennsylvania, kept the fight for conservation alive. In the end, the Forest Service was funded handsomely by congress and the lumber lobby eventually gave its support if only to keep the potential harvest in tact.

The compelling result of the fire, establishment of the US Forest Service and final support, let to the continued development of the National Parks Service and the continued development  of the National Forests and Monuments. The difference between a National Forest and a National Park is that the National Forests encourage use by the public to include skiing, mountain biking, fishing, and other outdoor pursuits. The National Parks are somewhat limited to public use other than observation with strict regulation of activities within the Parks. A little more stringent but a different ethos in preserving the pristine environment. However, with the foresight of people like Teddy Roosevelt, and Gifford Pinchot, we have these national treasures which are available to all of us.

I have had the good fortune of visiting Yosemite National Park with my wife and son a number of years ago and along with yearly trips to Mammoth Mountain Ski Area within the Inyo National Forest and visits to the Tahoe ski areas within the Tahoe National Forest,I am always impressed with the beauty and immense wilderness that is preserved. Janet and I also make use of the Allegheny National Forest near our home here in Pennsylvania along with use of many State parks along the way.

Recently I had the great experience of riding mountain bikes in the Deschutes National Forest in Bend, Oregon and was amazed at the quality of the trails and the maintenance of miles and miles of trail systems through this national forest. A lot of this maintenance in the national forests could not happen without the efforts of volunteers who preserve and develop trail systems for multi- use.

It all came together for me when I read this book ” The Big Burn” and realized that there was a lot of time, effort and anguish, in the establishment of national land and the need for preservation and conservation facilitated by the USFS. Not every available piece of land should be deemed for development. There has to be recreational opportunities for our children and grandchildren and I am grateful that men like Pinchot and Roosevelt, back at the turn of the century, had that same vision. If you get the chance to ever visit a State Park, a National Park, or National Forest, do it. You will see how a disastrous fire back in 1910 led to the conservation efforts which have served all Americans for well over a century. Hooray for Teddy Roosevelt- Bully!!!!!

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Head to Head, Flat Out Racing

As I licked my wounds from skiing another day in the rain locally, and longing for my upcoming western ski trips, I settled into the Olympic Channel DVR and watched the World Cup Women’s Dual GS Races from Sestriere, Italy. It has been so much fun to watch and is a real spectator friendly format that is re-igniting interest especially the night events in recent seasons on the World Cup. The World Pro Skiing Tour has also had a resurgence with a nation wide televised schedule. Ted Ligety, our Olympic giant slalom gold medalist and World Cup GS champion,  even competed recently in Eldora, Colorado during a brief respite from his World Cup schedule. Head to head is exciting and today I want to go back a few years when I had some brief experience with this format.

A number of years ago, my mother’s cousin, Bill Carroll, was working for one of the beverage companies at the time. They were sponsoring the Peugeot Pro Skiing Tour stop at Camelback over in the Pocono Mountains of Eastern Pa. Bill told me that he wanted my sister and I to attend and enter the Pro-Am event. We were of course thrilled and were treated to all the amenities of the event with Bill holding court along with his sons, Jack, Patrick, and Jimmy. All characters from Philly who made us laugh the whole weekend. Fast forward to the event day, we saw the course and it’s two massive jumps. The amateurs who were entered into the event were told by the Peugeot Tour representatives that they did not have to ski the jumps, just go to the side where alternate gates were set up. For the event,my sister and I were paired with Kurt and Kent Belden, two pros who hailed from Pico, Vermont and were regular winners and competitors on the Tour. After being introduced before the event, the Beldens asked Molly and I to ski with them and they told me on the chair lift that they wanted me to ski the jumps. I was of course hesitant but they assured me that they would train me and give me the nuances of trying to negotiate the jumps and make the next gate without crashing and burning. My sister, who is an excellent skier, bowed out and decided not to do the jumps. However, I was shamed into taking them on and off I went with the Beldens for my training.

Slovakia’s Petra Vhlova (L) clears the gate on her way to win, during the final against Sweden’s Anna Swen-Larsson in the Women’s parallel slalom race at the FIS Alpine ski World Cup in St. Moritz, on December 15, 2019. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP) (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)

Believe me when I tell you, running the course with the first jump looming, was quite intimidating but Kurt, who was my partner for the event, just said to suck up the jump in a low position with my knees bent,hands forward, and then rise slightly and hold the position after memorizing where the next gate was on the course. I took it easy for a couple of runs until I got the hang of it and barely escaped full carnage until I sort of figured it out. The training was eventually over and now it was put up or shut up time for Paddy as I launched myself out of the starting gate. Coming up to the first jump, I did what Kurt said and successfully negotiated the next gate. Feeling good about myself, I thought ” one more jump.” It came swiftly and suddenly seeing that Camelback does not have the vertical of the New England areas where the Tour was contested regularly. As I approached the lip of the pro jump, I got into a low position and sat back slightly which was a mistake because I landed off balance and barely made the next gate. However, luck prevailed and somehow I managed to finish with Kurt in the finish line cheering me on and giving me a smile and a thumbs up. He was beside me on the other course and was finished well before me. Amazing how that guy could accelerate in the flats. My sister completed the course as well with Kent beside her and because there was not much competition, we ended up as the winners. The Belden brothers got a nice additional paycheck and my sister and I got a rather large, obnoxious  trophy which sat as a hat holder in my house for years. Fun times for sure and I learned something that day. However, the main lesson for me was not the jumps and completing the course with Belden approval, it was seeing the pros and how they handled the course.  They go flat out and the jumps are not even a consideration.  Amazing skills well beyond my comprehension. I will never forget that weekend, especially the heart shaped tubs in the rooms in the Honeymoon capital of the east – the Poconos. The Carrolls and I all laughed about the tubs and the pink shag carpets.  Yikes!  Long time ago and in a galaxy far far away.

I am happy to see the dual format and the excitement that it creates at the World Cup events as well as the World Pro Skiing Tour. Fun to watch and helps to get through all the rainy, sleeting, slushy days on the hill so far this season. Can’t get out west soon enough. Thanks for reading.

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Nothing Wrong with New Kicks.

So, I know that I have posted several times about my 46 year old Vasque Hiker IIs shown here on the right. These hiking boots are absolutely bomb proof and have their original laces and Vibram soles. Amazing! They have been everywhere and could really write a blog or a book themselves. But recently my toes have been hurting when I have been hiking and I realized that as I have aged, my feet have actually grown. I believe it is because the arch collapses and your foot gets longer. Oh well. But it has been causing an issue with my feet in my favorite boots. I would have used these until I died because there is absolutely nothing wrong with them and I even reported that to Vasque. They gave me a very nice response.

Fast forward- my lovely wife purchased a new pair of Vasque hiking boots for me for my birthday( shown on the left) which are great. In fact yesterday during our regular Sunday afternoon hike, I remarked how much I liked them and how comfortable they are. Janet and I like hiking and we have a lot of local options. But Janet’s response was not what I expected. In her quiet, unassuming way, she said that retiring the old boots and putting on the new ones is very much like what happens in life. Sometimes you need new things……like relationships, hobbies, food choices, even some friends. I was taken back on the friends and relationship part but she went on to explain. She quoted Dr. Henry Cloud when he said that some relationships are “unsafe.” Dr. Cloud says that sometimes relationships or friendships become strained and they can become toxic or “unsafe” and we need to be willing to acknowledge that and make a change and perhaps retire those people who are causing us pain and making us uncomfortable. Like an old pair of boots that now don’t fit too well. Sometimes you need to be willing to make a change for the better.

Relationships and friendships are not the only ones that need scrutiny. Perhaps when we are doing some self examining and want to make some lifestyle changes, we need to look at the balance sheet of those things and determine if making a change will help us grow and move forward. Maybe it is time to start eating more healthy? Maybe we need to change our lifestyle and incorporate another kind of outside activity or any kind of activity that may change an unhealthy existence.

Recently I made such a decision and decided after riding a road bike for 40 years, I was going to sell my current ride and stick to mountain bike riding. That was a drastic change for me because I liked riding the road. But lately, my old routes through apple orchards and farms have now been transformed into routes through newly constructed subdivisions. Traffic is worse and people are texting, not paying attention, talking on the cell phone, changing channels on the XM Radio and all in all becoming a hazard to those riding a road bike. There have been several fatalities around here and I did not want to take the chance on trusting someone coming up behind me and not paying attention. Like putting the old hiking boots aside, I committed to my other ride( the mountain bike) and hiking with my wife. A lifestyle change for sure seeing that I have ridden/raced my road bike for years in many places. It was time for a change. Lots of good memories on the road bike but like the old boots, time to go.

The new boots are comfortable ( I am also an easy fit) and like any new experience, if you make the commitment and take a chance to improve your situation( relationships, friendships, lifestyle changes) the results can become surprisingly pleasant. To hike now without pain is a real pleasure. Off with the old and in with the new is a good plan for someone like me who wants to keep active and lead a healthy existence for the rest of my life. So as we get older, maybe we take a look at what has become routine and maybe be willing to reexamine what is really important,or what is hurting us, and make the necessary changes. Nothing like a new pair of kicks. Thanks for reading.

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Resolutions- 2020

So I was thinking the other day as we turned the corner on the new decade. How easy it will be to type 2020. Or write 2020. Tap tap. Click click. It was a kind of foreshadowing of how good I am hoping the New Year and the new decade will be. Lots of good things happening and surprises for sure for all of us. I was in our local park the other day on January 1 and chuckled a bit at all the Resolutioners that were out and about. You know, the ” this year I am going to get in shape, eat healthier and feel better about myself” crowd. They were out in droves walking and running around the lake and I even saw a guy in a canoe with full winter garb paddling furiously. Now don’t get me wrong, I always admire anyone who makes a change in their life as it is not only good for them but very admirable to see the commitment. The parking lots were full and the enthusiasm and some times expressions of pain, were abundant in the faces of those folks who were undertaking the process of getting in shape for the New Year. My advice to anyone who wants to start an exercise program is to start slowly. Ease into it so that you won’t get burned out and sore. Every day is an improvement and if you stick with it, good things happen with your health and mental state of affairs.

No matter what you do, cycling, walking, running,skiing,hiking, or any kind of activity that gets you outside is great. Take my old neighbor here. He got into running and now he is hooked, entering races, and leading a healthy lifestyle all because of a New Year’s resolution. I have made a couple of resolutions in my day as well. I started to write this blog a number of years ago upon the suggestion of my wife. I also made the choice to eat more healthy and try to reduce some cholesterol issues by quitting sweets,unhealthy snacks, and sticking basically to chicken, fish, fruit and vegetables. As a result, I lost 12 pounds and had one of the best riding years I have had in 2019.

But really, what does it take to make a resolution? What do you want to change? How do you want to change? These are questions that pop up in your head anytime you want to do something different in your life. I speak of all the Resolutioners pounding around the lake on January 1 making the commitment to improve their health in 2020. But are there other things that we all should do to make a change? Personally I hope so. I would like to see people try to be more kind. Social media these days is dripping with sarcasm and vitriol for anyone who differs in opinion. It is easy to sit behind a keyboard and type some God awful things these days. It is sad. We are all Americans and this country was founded on discourse and discussion. Just because someone’s opinion is different than yours does not make them a bad person. I hope we can make an attempt to be more forgiving and kind especially in the election cycle ahead. I hate to say this but there is really nothing we can do about the political climate aside from casting a vote if we are honest with ourselves. Any change is really made at a grass roots level with all of us being more tolerant, kind and concerned for each other as Americans and as friends. I am hoping a lot of people in this country make that change. I am going to try to do the same in my own little way. We come into situations in our lives every day where we can help people if we look for that opportunity. John Guest, the famous evangelist, once said that ” you don’t have to go to a foreign country to evangelize or be helpful. You can serve people right in your own neighborhood. Your mission does not have to be in a foreign country.” I agree with him. If you make yourself available to people, you can be kind and helpful. What you say or do may move mountains for that person and you might not even realize it. People like to have kindness afforded to them. If we do it a little bit, we all can make a difference one person, one household, one neighborhood at a time.

So as 2020 (tap tap) evolves, maybe we all extend some grace as we have been extended grace. Look out for your family, friends and neighbors. After all, what is really more important than that? Thanks for reading.

” Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others as faithful stewards of God’s grace.”
– 1 Peter 4:10

Creative Genius

You don’t have to be a Picasso, or Brahms or Mozart, or even Martin Scorsese to be a creative genius in my book. Lots of my friends are really creative and can look at an opportunity, or a problem, or a riddle and figure out how to best create a solution. Perhaps the best creative genius that I knew, who was able to solve most problems and riddles, was my father. A Carnegie Tech mechanical engineering graduate, Dick McCloskey saw most things as a fun challenge. His engineering mind was always at work and he relished the opportunities to create solutions that would last. He could plumb, do electrical work, solder, and artistically create things like the treasure chest that he made me as a kid. I still have it some 55 years later and store my mountain bike maps there. My dad made us an ice skating rink in the backyard by using 2X4s as rink perimeters and a large roll of Visqueen plastic as the liner to the rink. He would fill it with water every winter and we were not allowed on it until it was completely frozen for fear the skates would cut the plastic. Many nights were spent on that rink on the back patio and it was the centerpiece for the neighborhood kids for winter entertainment.

When I first started to go to Tuckerman Ravine in the spring for the ritual of spring skiing, I needed a way to lash my skis to the external pack that I owned. My dad rigged up some aluminum tubing with some hasps and wing nuts and presto, I had a frame that allowed me to attach my skis with the boots in the bindings to the outside of the pack. Skis pointed to the sky on either side of the pack.

Interestingly, my friend Eric who lived in Vermont at the time, was faced with the same challenge and he made his supports from wood. We have laughed about that in later years as the boy from Steeltown had metal supports and the boy from Vermont had supports made exactly the same from wood. Creative genius from two different perspectives.

But the masterpiece which was created around the same time by my dad, was the ski bench that he made me and I still use some 42 years later and is featured in my blog photo here. I remember going to my dad and saying to him that I needed to have a bench now that I knew how to tune my own skis. Thanks again to my creative genius friend Eric Durfee ,who taught me everything I needed to know about tuning skis. He was also perhaps the best ski instructor I ever had but that is another story. I told my dad that I needed to have a bench using the vices that Eric had given to me and he looked those over with great thought. What popped up in his creative mind was something I would never have imagined. A door from the hardware store complete with hinges. He knew that I needed to have a place for my bindings to fit and he cut the door to the specifications of my skis allowing the bindings to rest in a cut out hole in the door between the two vice pieces. He then mounted the door on the wall of my townhouse in the garage with supports underneath either side of the horizontal door. When I was finished tuning my skis. I flipped the door up to be secured by a hasp on the wall and pushed the supports up against the wall and the whole bench was out of the way until the next time I needed to use it.

The interesting thing is I still use the bench today and as an aside, it also serves as a refrigerator in our garage for items that my wife wants to keep cold. My dad never saw that coming, but the creative genius of my wife allowed her to think about a place to keep things cold in the winter and as long as I did not get metal filings or wax in the food, she was open to storing things on my ski bench when it was not in use for it’s original intent.

I could go on and on about my dad’s creative genius. There were so many things that he made for me that we enjoyed together when I was a kid. Today people just buy things. My dad made them, and his love for creating solutions is something I will never forget. Perhaps the biggest benefit about my dad’s creativity was the chance for me to spend time with him. I cherished those moments and I think about him every time I open up that bench, heat up the iron to wax the boards, and get the file ready for the side edge tunes. My dad never skied, but he and my mother made sure my sister and I did and I am in their debt so many years later. Creative genius is more than just the solution. It is the catalyst to education and a chance for guys like me to appreciate and look back so many years later with thankfulness and love for my dad and mom. Although my creativity is on the other side of the brain, I still look back with respect and love for those who educated me with their ability to see the solution. Thanks for reading.

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Make The Best of It

This time of year in Western Pennsylvania, people tend to get down because of the weather. We are right on the borderline of snow/rain/sleet/freezing rain/and with the time change, the attitudes of some folks tend to get a bit blue. It is also accentuated when the Steelers are not quite up to par and risk not making the playoffs. The major reason I write this blog is to encourage folks to get outdoors and make the best of it. With the weather pattern changing and the storms blowing off the Great Lakes, we tend to be like the Pacific Northwest and precipitation and cold weather go hand in hand.

For those of us who actually do make the best of it down here in the Banana Belt, the lights come out for mountain bike rides as we suffer through cold, wet and slimy conditions, at night, in the dark, illuminated by an array of really high quality lighting systems.


One of the things that makes it manageable is clothing. Rain pants and wicking underlayers are key. I happened upon an amazing full rain suit made by Frogg Toggs which I picked up in the hunting department of Dick’s Sporting Goods. Inexpensive, but it definitely blocks the wind and keeps you warm. And for 38 bucks, when it finally wears out, you can easily replace it. We even hang it in the car wash to hose off along with our bikes with a light spray.

Full disclosure here, we do use a light spray and not the high pressure spray which blows the grease out of all the bearings. We don’t want to incur the wrath of the Dirty Harry’s Bike Shop crew so we tend to be very conservative in the clean up phase after rides. When the splooge factor is high, we must visit the car wash. Splooge being the nasty, muddy, slop that coats your bike during wet winter rides. But it is all remedied at the car wash. And, you can hose off the suit too. And when I am lazy, I just hose off the suit while wearing it.  Just like a shower with the car wash wand.  Lots of fun rides in the winter if you have the drive to continue to ride year round.

A lot of us are skiers and snowboarders too, and we plan our western trips for the season. But living here in Western Pa, you can’t be out west all the time so you make the best of local conditions and just get out. No matter what the weather throws at us.

For these activities, clothing is just as important as seen here with my Patagonia Pro Gore Tex suit that keeps me bone dry along with my snow making gloves from CHS Snowmakers. http://www.chssnowmakers.com

If you can stay dry, skiing in rain is really good because of the soft snow and no lift lines. One of the best days I ever had skiing, was at Whiteface up in the Adirondacks in a torrential rain storm. The rain was cascading off my helmet and goggles as I rode the Summit Chair, but the snow was so soft and easy to ski. I hated to quit at the end of the day because the skiing was so good. Again, you have to be willing to get out this time of year. The cold weather will come soon enough and January and February and especially March, which tends to be more winter like. But in late November and early December, you take what you can get. Just get out and do it and you will feel so much better when you do.  I sound like Warren Miller?   

There are lots of activities in which you can participate during the “off season”. When the snow piles up, the snowshoes come out for my wife and me, and with a headlamp, you can snowshoe at night as well as during the day. Hiking is another fun activity for couples. As with skiing and snowboarding, the apres’ activity is also a fun reward. Nothing like a hot drink sitting next to a roaring fire. The IPAs in the parking lot after rides are pretty tasty too.

So, no deep message here this week folks,( not that I ever give a deep message), just some encouraging suggestions that will make you think about making the best out of rotten weather. Like my friend the Shark always says,” No such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices.” Thanks for reading.

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Breaking the Seal

So finally after waiting 8 months to ski again,( mild depression sets in on the last day of skiing no matter how much I like mountain biking), we rode up the chairlift and effectively broke the seal on the new 2019-2020 ski season. I said to the group it is like breaking a seal on a bottle of Gatorade. You take that first thirst quenching taste and then replace the cap. You feel so much better and you have done what needed to be done and experienced opening day even though the terrain was limited. Seven Springs Mountain Resort( our home area here in Western Pa) did a great job of snow making and grooming to open some nice skiing for the crowd that had been waiting patiently amid all the postings from the Ski the East group on Facebook. We were finally in the mix and proudly posted that the Springs was open for business and all is well.

Now you might ask, ” Why go up for one slope and two trails?” But my avid skiing friends all remarked in unison, ” Why not?” After a nice breakfast hosted by Seven Springs for all the season pass holders, ( which was excellent by the way), the enthusiastic crowd converged on the two chair lifts and the lines were long. But the best part was that nobody seemed to care and everyone figured that they would eventually get on the chair to take their first run of the season. Waiting in line was fine with all the “hellos” and ” how was your summer” conversations and not one person had a frown on their face or a negative word to say. We are all skiers and we are breaking the seal on the new season.

 

My friends Jaime and Melissa Thompson had been texting and giving me email updates all week on the gigantic snow whales that were forming because of the round the clock snow making . Armed with an arsenal of new HKD snow making nozzles and towers and a new 20″ main water line, Seven Springs was locked and loaded. The groomers eventually flattened the whales and the smooth groomed surface was ready for the taking. For the uninitiated, whales are huge snow piles that form in strategic areas from extended snow making. The water drains through the pile and when it is “seasoned” the pile become rubble for the groomers who smooth it over a larger area.

No matter what, your first run of the season is always exciting. From day one for me, back in 1961,  to the present day, I always cherish that first chair lift ride and that first turn down the mountain. I will always remember those first of the season outings with Bob Rose picking us up in the station wagon for the weekends in the mountains. I couldn’t wait for the phone call. My mom had dinner waiting for me when I got that call to be ready in a half hour on a Friday night. What a great way to grow up as a kid.  That excitement still is with me all these 58 years later. And although that first turn is always a little ragged. I thought to myself, “is the tuning ok or is something amiss?” But then I realize that I am in the back seat and need to get forward. Once that comfort sets in, the turns became more smooth and I realize that once again, ” I have this” and a new season begins.

Bill Boucher said it best when he stated in the lift line that it is hard to explain this enthusiasm to most people especially folks who don’t ski. But he went on to say that,” Pat, this has been such a huge part of our life and it still is.” Skiing is a lifestyle. We are not people who ski once in a while, we are skiers! It defines us, as Bill so eloquently explained. I agreed wholeheartedly as we lapped runs on the famous Wagner Bowl and Cortina Trail. Obviously we are anxious for more and as we eagerly watch the Weather Channel for upcoming favorable temperatures and snowfall, we know that to ski in Western Pa, on November the 23rd before Thanksgiving is indeed a true bonus. Yes, Utah, Tahoe and Mammoth await me and I am anxious as anyone to get this party started.

But like I always say with my pals Jaime and Melissa, ” you can’t be out west every weekend so why not enjoy what we have locally at Seven Springs and soon Laurel Mountain.

Our Laurel Highlands are most enjoyable and no matter what, as everyone said this weekend,” Why not!!” Thanks for reading.

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