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 Theory of Self Selection

Stein’s Way- named after the famous Stein Eriksen.
The Barrister and his pal Jamie.

So, I was out in Deer Valley, Utah last week and while riding the chairlift with my friend Tom Birsic, who is a resident of Park City, I remarked that the Wasatch chairlift and the Sultan chairlift were not crowded. They both service some black diamond slopes including the famous Stein’s Way. Tom remarked with his wry sense of humor that Stein’s Way self selects it’s skiers and that is why the chairlifts were not crowded. I kind of laughed at that and asked about his statement of self selection. He then went on to explain, that with the limited snowfall that Deer Valley had experienced in the last couple of weeks, the terrain over on that side of the mountain tended to get scraped and icy as we had found out. People tended to try Stein’s and then quickly found out that the icy, narrow entrance had probably weeded out return runs. Tom remarked that he had even seen a guy crawling back up the trail looking for an easier way down. Steins’ had self selected there and that guy probably would not be coming back. We were still skiing over there but that is just us.

Sometimes slopes like Stein’s can self select just from reputation. There are those who hear of the icy conditions and decide not to ski it. Take my wife for instance. Janet is a good skier but didn’t have to have the icy, narrow entrance and opted not to ski over on that side of the mountain. Sometimes maturity and consideration win out over ego and the right decision is made long before one enters the danger zone of a slope on which they maybe don’t belong. I am convinced Janet could ski Stein’s because she has good technique. She finishes her turns well but just didn’t have to have the stress to navigate the narrow entrance with the icy conditions. So, Stein’s self selected her without even seeing her skis. LOL!!

There are many other slopes and trails that self select as well. Take our local Laurel Mountain with it’s famous Wildcat. It is the steepest slope in these parts and often I remark to my friend Jaime that the crowd seems to be getting sparse on Lower Wildcat. Jaime laughs and says- ” Pat- have you noticed how it is getting scraped and icy?” Not many people want to ski that and opt out for the rest of the day. The slope becomes empty and only the diehards tend to continue to battle the ice with no one else in sight. Some even do it in the rain – like yours truly. But that is another story.

Tom and I continued to discuss self selection on the chairlifts as the day went on and what I got out of his humorous discussion was that discretion is often the better part of valor. Even his friend Jamie who was visiting from DC, and was a good skier, remarked that he had slowed down a little as he has aged and decided that it was not worth it to ski too fast or go to slopes that would test his skill beyond which he felt comfortable. One can have a great time without being self selected from a place of no return.

The Daly Chutes

I like to ski the Daly Chutes at Deer Valley. But they even self selected me this year because of the thin condition of the snow pack there. Riding the chair, I noticed that no one was skiing over there and with the thin conditions, the rocks and stumps were showing through along with the fact that it seemed rock hard. As much as I like to ski there I opted out or perhaps in Tom’s theory- the Daly Chutes had self selected me out this year.

So Tom, the barrister, had a valid theory and although certain slopes and trails in his words can self select, we all know that we should really analyze where we want to ski and leave the bravado for another day or another slope or trail if necessary. Enjoy the skiing, and ski to ski another day. Thanks Tom. Thanks for reading.

Go Nordic!

Olympic Gold Medalist Jessie Diggins,

Years ago, I met a young lady who was a member of the Middlebury College Nordic Ski Team. She was recounting her workout routine while quickly demolishing a half gallon of ice cream right before my eyes. She had to pay close attention to her diet and make sure that she was eating enough calories to fuel her practices and meets. In many cases, they just can’t eat enough. You see, cross country ski racers are a rare breed. Among endurance athletes, they have the most impressive VO2 data and their engines are unmatched in the endurance sports world. We have a real superstar right here in the U.S with Jessie Diggins who is a member of our U.S Nordic Ski Team and a gold medalist from the most recent Olympic games in Korea. She has had tremendous success on the World Cup and is a favorite for gold in the upcoming Olympics in China. These athletes are amazing and their skill and endurance is worth watching on the upcoming coverage of the Olympics in February. Check them out.

More gold in China?

If you take it down several notches, there are opportunities out there for the mortal man to participate in this winter sport. I am an alpine skier and rarely get to go cross country skiing any more but I have always had respect for people who make use of Nordic ski centers like the one we have at Laurel Mountain right here in Pa.

Laurel Mountain Nordic Ski Center

The cool thing about cross country skiing is that you can enjoy it casually like a nice tour through the woods or you can make it a real workout. Traditional skis can be used in the machine made tracks and the feeling of gliding along with your skis floating though the tracked trail is spectacular. Shorter skating skis are also available and you can skate your way along groomed trails which is another great workout. Finally, there are wider touring skis that have metal edges which allow you to break trail on a freshly fallen snow landscape like a golf course. Many ski touring centers offer rentals and if not, most outfitters like L.L. Bean. Public Lands, and REI have equipment for sale or rent. With the recent big snow in the East, I see many people out on the golf courses and on the groomed trails these days trying to make the most of the winter weather.

Tracked Trails.

Years ago, I had touring skis and would ski at night on the golf course near my home with a light on my head. A fun workout on clear, cold nights. Oftentimes in those days, I would also visit my friend Eric in Vermont and as a diversion from alpine skiing at Killington, we would take cross country equipment out of his garage and head to the quarry near his home in Bethel, Vermont. It was there that we skied up and down gravel and sand piles showing off and usually crashing and burning many times until we either had destroyed his equipment or were so stiff and sore and snow covered that we left and headed home for a cold beer. Fun times in those days in Bethel.

I often joke with my friends who cross country ski. I call them communist skiers. They laugh because they know that I associate cross country ski racers with the Eastern Bloc. Most of the success in recent years has been with skiers from the Baltic countries or Russia as well as the usual suspects from the Scandinavian countries. But look out for the Americans. We are coming on strong and the term communist skier jokingly will be a term of the past for me.

As much as I like alpine skiing, I do miss the days when I used to cross country ski. I may take it up again although Janet and I like to snowshoe when we are not skiing. We take advantage of the snow when it comes. If you are looking for a good day in the woods, there is nothing like a sunny winter day with cross country equipment in hand. Try it and perhaps look up your local Nordic ski center or consult with L.L.Bean, Public Lands, or REI and enjoy the winter. Thanks for reading, watch the upcoming Olympics on NBC and Peacock, and think snow.

You Can Teach An Old Dog New Tricks

Kathy Brennan- Eastern Division CEO of PSIA

At the invitation of my friend Angelo Ross who is on the Alpine Education Committee for PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America), I had the opportunity to recently ski with Kathy Brennan who is the new CEO of PSIA Eastern Division. Kathy is an accomplished skier and on the staff at Waterville Valley, New Hampshire. She is traveling the east from Maine to North Carolina listening to ski area management, snow sport school personnel, ski patrol, and industry suppliers all on the subject of how to make the organization better. Kathy is dedicated to promoting PSIA as an education platform and to be a true partner to all of the entities within the ski industry in the East.

Angelo Ross

Along with being an Examiner for PSIA and staff member of Waterville Valley, Kathy has been named as the new CEO and will have a full plate of responsibility. Hearing her vision for the organization and her mission to improve the relationship between PSIA and ski area management and to make them aware of the educational opportunities for those who teach their guests, was quite impressive. I asked her what her response was to the comments that ski lessons are extremely expensive and that the quality of the instruction does not often meet the financial layout by the guest of the area. Kathy said that her mission is to make ski area management aware that if they support the education of their instructors, they will get a better product to their customers.

Personally, I am a lifetime member of the organization seeing that I have passed my 40 year mark as a fully certified Level III instructor. Although I do not teach anymore, I still like to see what is happening in ski instruction and Angelo’s invitation was a welcome chance for me to sit in on a clinic that Kathy organized. You can instantly tell how competent a skier is by the shape of their turns, their balance and edging skills. As I followed Kathy during the clinic, I was impressed at how comfortable she was on skis in any conditions and how I could learn something from her. We had numerous discussions on the chairlift and when we had a chance to follow each other, she had some pertinent commentary on my skiing which I will work on this season. I told her I have been watching the World Cup and was anxious to activate my inside knee more during the execution of a ski turn. Gold Medalist Debbie Armstrong refers to it as “driving the inside knee” but my friend Mark Hutchinson, former race coach at Stowe, says differently. He says at our age we aren’t driving anything. We are putting our body position and our knee position in place to succeed. Our ski race knee driving days are over. LOL!!! Kathy understood and helped me understand that as a taller skier, it was important to create those edge angles. She showed us some drills where we could instantly see that if our upper and lower body were not truly separated( a flaw to many taller skiers), we would compromise our turns for success. I learn something new every year and breaking some age old habits is tough. But after 60 years of sliding on snow, there are still things to learn and I am not too far gone to try to keep up with the modern technique.

Our invited group of alpine skiers, telemark skiers, and snowboarders,

It was also interesting to see how pressure control, edging, and rotary movement are common to all three disciplines of snow sports. Our group had telemark skiers, alpine skiers and snowboarders. All in all a great day on snow with the new CEO and my friend Angelo Ross. It was great to ski with him as well. An accomplished skier and PSIA luminary in his own right. Follow his podcast- Chaos and Company on You Tube. No matter what you do, there is always something to learn each year. Take the time to research the latest equipment and technique. You are never too old to learn. Thanks for reading and think snow.

HSD- High Speed Dirt

John Palmieri – the man behind HSD.

You know, it takes a special kind of giving person to organize anything these days. People are so busy that they hardly have time for anything and to organize a weekly mountain bike ride schedule is almost unthinkable. Enter John Palmieri. The man behind what is probably the most organized mountain bike group in Western Pa, West Virginia and Eastern Ohio. High Speed Dirt or HSDMTB as it is known on Facebook, is an amazing juggernaut of cycling activity. With at least 4 organized rides per week advertised on FB, John has assembled an amazing group of kids, parents, women, and generally a diverse group of riders all displaying his reasons- to get people together by riding mountain bikes. It is not so much the organizing of rides that fuels John’s passions, but the mantra of seeing to it that people meet people and make friends for life.

Rides with 50 or more people are not uncommon for HSD.

By profession, John is a 33 year employee of Allegheny Technologies Incorporated serving as their Senior Director of Ethics and Compliance. He and his wife Dana, who shares his passion for people, are busy people. What started out as an email group of 20 people who wanted to get together to ride, HSD has grown to a Facebook Group of 3000 riders in the tri-state area. John is amazed at the growth and interest and it is all because of his infectious enthusiasm for people…….via mountain biking. He laughingly calls himself the ” deputy weather man” because he is always checking the weather before posting a ride which he usually always attends. That is commitment. From family rides, to women’s only rides, to beginner rides, the schedule usually allows for at least 3 groups to form based on ability and speed.

The next generation of riders.
The Women’s Ride

John claims that he is most proud of the women’s rides because the turnout has been great with at least 12-15 scheduled rides so far this year, all led by women of all abilities. Mountain biking tends to be more male involved and it is encouraging to see the participation of the ladies on the HSD schedule. The other popular rides are the family rides where parents bring their kids to enjoy the trails introducing the next generation of riders to the great sport of mountain biking.

John not only organizes rides but also the popular apre’ ride which includes the grill, beverages and the ever popular “Send It Sausage” an adaptation of the popular hot sausage sandwich which always brings out the crowds when advertised.

Send It Sausage
The ladies sending it in North Carolina

John says the ever popular Chili Ride is coming up soon with the coveted Chili Trophy presented to the winning entree. HSD now has apparel including jersies, socks, and now fleece hats for apre’ ride merriment. This guy thinks of everything. I wish I had half his energy!!

Riding recently with John down in West Virginia where we attended the UCI World Cup Final at Snowshoe, I found a very engaging and friendly captain of the HSD squad. John always says he likes to ride with the new people so that they feel welcome and not intimidated on any rides. He loves the family rides and has said that people have come up to him and stated that the ” the impact on their lives has been very personal.” This fuels John in his mission to get people to meet people as first and foremost. As he expands his “mission” he is now including some “road trips” to places like Sedona, Asheville, Jake’s Rocks and Raystown and coming up next spring or summer, he will include Bentonville, Arkansas to the mix. John says these trips are basically his vacation which he and Dana enjoy together. Not many people would dedicate their vacation to see that people meet people- John and Dana do. That is what I find most endearing about these two as they ride through life on their knobby tires. Through HSD and it’s now 3000 strong membership, the rides are scheduled all year to include the popular snow rides. HSD has fun all year long and it is all due to an enthusiastic normal guy and his wife who put others first instead of their own wants and needs. Isn’t that what we need today more than anything? Someone who is willing to give up their time so that other people can come together? Not many people like John Palmieri. HSD is a fortunate organization and growing. Go to Facebook Groups and look up HSDMTB and join up if you are interested. John is the moderator who approves applications and he will do it with a smile as he sees another person joining up to ride and eat some Send it Sausage and enjoy a post ride beer. . Thanks for reading.

Bring on the Fall

Fall Decor

I love the fall. So happy that the steamy, hot, humid weather has ended and the days are sunny, the nights cooler and the leaves are starting to change. Janet does a great job celebrating the season with decorating the house and we both feel the change coming. Love it. Hauling out the fleece, watching college football games, going to the farm markets teeming with pumpkins, cider, apples and people who are celebrating like we are. Did I say I love the fall?

As I age, I also celebrate little things that I may not have paid much attention to in a younger day. Just appreciating what is around us. Little things like a cold beer after a mountain bike ride with my friends. The other night,( in a place which I dare not mention because the local residents would string me up if I gave away information on their beloved trail system,) we all sat around after the ride with our fleece, our camp chairs and various beverages relaxing in the cool temperatures. My friend Sandy McKee told us his daughter lives in Vermont and usually brings a couple of cases of Heady Topper beer from the Alchemist Brewery when she visits mom and dad. Sandy hauled a couple of these out at the ride, and I have to tell you, I was excited. It is not too often we get to sample Heady Topper here in Pa. A very popular beer in New England which almost never makes it out of there because of its popularity. To have a couple of cases make their way here is a real treat and Sandy just made the cool, evening post ride amazing! It’s hard to put into words the feeling you get when you drink in that first sip of a great beer after a ride. But sitting down in your camp chair, drinking in that first sip, looking at the changing leaves and talking about the ride with friends is really special. The post ride is almost as good as the ride itself.

A real treat – Heady Topper
Sandy McKee in the foreground. Made our evening ride more special.

I know I talk a lot about mountain biking in this blog but really, it is a great way to exercise and a wonderful way to take in the trails and scenery in wooded settings all around the country. This time of year in Pennsylvania, the weather is pretty cool and dry, and is actually our best weather in these parts. In my opinion, nothing better than taking it in on the seat of a bike. What makes it even more special is that I got a new bike recently which is light, fast, and enjoyable to ride. I have been riding a monster truck recently (a 29er plus) and although it is great on really rough terrain like we have in the mountains around here and in West Virginia, it is tough to haul that weight around as I grow older. The new light steed brings me back a little. A real gift as I start the fall riding season.

The Transition Spur

So taking that second sip of the Heady Topper, I looked around at my group and was thankful that I had good friends to share the experience of riding and reveling in the post ride. Bob K always brings snacks, and as we all sit around munching and sipping away, time stops for a moment or two if I allow myself to take it all in. I think sometimes that the fall also ushers in the final quarter of a year and as another one slips by, I think how important it is to grab every moment to enjoy what life has to offer. Simple things like trails, leaves, apple cider, and being with friends who value the same things. And of course – Heady Topper. Thanks Sandy. Thanks for reading.

Fall in the Laurels.

Paturday

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

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

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

Enjoying the ride.

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

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

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

The Fresh New Season

Floral greetings on the hiking trails.

I am not sure whether I am just taking the time to notice or whether this spring has been more spectacular than most . The blossoms and growth in the woods and along the trails are really exploding and I have been thinking to myself as I hike and ride the mountain bike this year, what a blessing this has been. To have sunny days and vibrant colors emerging from the cold winter is really amazing especially around Western Pa where I live. It is usually rainy and wet in the spring and we all jokingly call it mud season. But, so far so good.

The Happy Hiker

I crowbarred my wife Janet out of the house this weekend and she is always glad that I prod her to get outside and enjoy the fresh air. We have a lot of good hiking right near our house and when you look around, you really could be anywhere as you make your way down the paths and trails sighting new plant growth and the usual visuals of the pine forests near our home. The thing I always have to remember is that we have a lot to appreciate right in our own backyard.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love hiking and riding in other parts of the country. There are so many places that have their own special atmosphere and vistas. Everyone who lives in those parts, are really proud of their landscape and their trails that they love to show us.

Western Vistas

There are really great places out there to hike and ride and the mountain views are really spectacular. But really, everyone in all parts of this country have good views and great trails if you are willing to take the time to spend especially in your own back yard. Copper Harbor, Michigan, Mohican State Forest in Ohio, The Moon Rocks in Davis, West Virginia. I love to visit other places and so do my friends, but there is a reason people live where they live. Family, friends, jobs, familiarity, and other factors generally dictate where people are located. Oftentimes I think to myself that I would love to live in the west. But I would never look down on my local outdoors opportunities and think that there is something better. I try to enjoy my local mountains and parks and be happy that I have the health and ability to do so.

The Moon Rocks- Davis, West Virginia.

I watch a lot of You Tube videos of people riding MTB in different parts of the country. And really they have a lot to offer. The thing that is most noticeable is the pride of the locals when they show a newcomer their local treasure of trails. They have an enthusiasm in their voice and a smile on their face that says- ” hey man, this place is the bomb.” And it often is and people are happy to hike or ride there. But is it the ” bomb?” Maybe the ” bomb” is your local scene with your friends in your local mountains or trails. Wherever you live?

Local Laurel Highlands lushness

I always chuckle at the conversations that lead to ” one -upsmanship” You know- like you telling someone from another place what a great time you had on your local trails and they tell you ” Oh man- that is nothing. You should have seen it out here this weekend.” I am sure that it was nice, but there are great hikes and rides everywhere. My dad had a funny saying that said, ” First liar never has a chance.” That is the classic response to ” one- upsmanship.” ” You think that was good? Well, you should see mine” In reality, my friends in Oregon love their trails. My friends in Colorado and California love their trails. My friends in Vermont love the Green Mountains. And I don’t blame them a bit. But I never have that longing to always be there instead of where I am. Love to visit and travel. But I always am thankful for the local scenery and the ability to enjoy it. I never demean the local scene. And there is something to be said for sharing it with my wife and my friends.

Bend, Oregon
Laguna Beach, California

But this coming weekend, I have a friend visiting from Philly and he loves to ride. I will be proud to show him around and let him see the fresh new season we have around here with all the blossoms, flora and everything that is spring on the local trails. I am sure that I will tell him that this is the BEST around here. LOL!! Enjoy what you have- wherever. Thanks for reading.

Laurel Mountain goodness

The Soul of Soles

“Pat- listen to this.” Gretl Dupre said to me as we walked into the kitchen of Camp Soles in Rockwood, Pa. It was the screen door slamming behind us. She said” isn’t that cool? Isn’t that just the sound of summer?” I thought about that and agreed that slamming screen doors reminded me of a time which was long ago in my life. I remember hearing that all the time in my kitchen at home on my way into and out of the house. It was like the sound of entry into the great outdoors of my neighborhood and at Camp Soles- it was the sound of kids heading out to play on the 263 acre facility which includes the beautiful Lake Triss.

Lake Triss

Camp Soles has been a mainstay of the Western Pa community since 1957 and traditionally run by the YMCA. This season it was supposed to close but at the 11th hour, Gretl Dupre came to the rescue and bought the facility. She had skin in the game. She and her 8 sisters had been campers there when they were young girls and there was no way Gretl was going to let the facility sink into oblivion. Gretl is a ” go getter” and even though she now lives in Seattle, she felt an attachment to the place and will make every effort to revive the spirit of summer camp in Western Pennsylvania. She intends to spend more time here and is on the path to revitalizing not only the facilities but revitalizing the spirit of the camp. She is literally the ” soul of Soles.”

The ever energetic Gretl Dupre.

Gretl and I are old friends as her family were the original owners of Seven Springs Mountain Resort where I spent a lot of time as a kid. As we walked the grounds, Gretl explained her reasons for investing and also her vision for the place. As she first showed me the kitchen which she is refurbishing to meet all the CDC Guidelines for the pandemic, she pointed out the speaker system where she says she will make announcements and raise and lower the flag each day. Traditional camp things but she has so much more planned. She will have campfires and roasted marshmallows and all the fun things that a summer camp will have, but she is more about teaching the kids responsibility with work around the camp which will teach them valuable lessons going forward. Things like sustainability – recycling, planting your own garden and growing your own food. Gretl has a vision of more than “kumbaya” around the campfire. She wants to make leaders of the kids and teach them valuable skills and responsibility that they can use for the rest of their lives. She wants them to have an understanding of the importance of the great outdoors and to respect the environment. In this age of entitlement, it is a noble task to which she is fully committed.

The Camp Motto

We walked around the lake and saw the kayaks and SUP equipment being readied for the season. She showed me the ” ski lodge” and a small hill facing the spacious windows and remarked that she ultimately wants to make Camp Soles a year round facility for families as well as kids. Downhill skiing and cross country skiing with plenty of snowmaking capacity is on the docket. The dormitory lodges which will house the campers are being refurbished and there are many of them around the perimeter of the lake and nestled in the wooded areas around the camp. There is lots of work to be one but the employees of the camp are as committed as Gretl and they all have a ” can do” attitude with their daily chores to get the place up and running for the summer camping season.

Lots of people my age have great memories of spending a week or weeks at summer camp. Those days of hiking, fishing, wearing headbands and beaded bracelets which were made at camp, all are fond images in the minds of a lot of parents today who may wish to rekindle those memories in the lives of their kids. Fresh air and activities outdoors instead of days in the basement playing video games. You can learn so much as a kid when you spend time working and playing in the great outdoors and no place is better than summer camp.

Camp Soles is currently a beehive of activity with planting gardens, refurbishing facilities, upgrading equipment, and a general positive buzzing vibe to the place. It seemed to me that the spirit of anticipation was all around with the ” angel investor” Gretl at the helm. I was totally impressed with what has been done so far to resurrect a beautiful facility that was on the brink of extinction.

As I closed my time with Gretl at Camp Soles I couldn’t help to think how proud her father Herman would have been of her. I am sure he is smiling down on her activities and is somehow prodding her to make things at Camp Soles bigger and better with a new mission.

Old Pals.

There are opportunities to sponsor a camper at Camp Soles this summer. Perhaps your own or maybe a camper who would not have the financial means or the immediate opportunity to partake in this fabulous experience. You can visit http://www.CampSoles.com or go to Friends of Camp Soles a non-profit entity EIN# 85-3514602 to donate or sign up. The address for donation or sign up is 1009 Tall Trees Drive Pittsburgh, Pa. 15241. The phone number for further information is 412-213-5321. The anticipated cost for a week camping is $520.00. Gretl anticipates that there will be a lot of ” heads in beds” up there this summer so don’t hesitate if you want to sponsor a child or get your own child or grandchild involved. Lots to do, lots to learn in the wonderful world of Camp Soles in the Laurel Highlands of Pa. Thanks for reading and thanks to Gretl for making it happen.