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 Wrap Up

Enforcement

The one thing I will say this year about the ski season was ………that I was glad that we HAD a ski season. From changing my boots in the lot at Laurel Mountain to the Covid 19 security seen above at June Mountain, Ca. the theme was always the same. Please comply with the mask and social distance rules so that we can stay open. Admittedly there is a lot of controversy about masks but it is a small price to pay for the knowledge that the areas were doing the best that they can to stay open during the pandemic. The gentleman above said to me that he appreciates all the public was doing this season to help them stay open. He was concerned not only about the skiing, but for the welfare of the many employees that operate a ski area. Their livelihoods depended on compliance from the public.

No matter where I went this year, the theme was the same. Please comply for us to stay open. It was interesting to see how things transpired as the season went on. The mask laws were always enforced everywhere. When Jan and I went to Deer Valley, Utah in February, they had staff monitoring the lift lines to make sure that people had their masks on and up and over the nose. Signs were everywhere in ski areas this year instructing people to social distance in the lift lines and everywhere on the premises.

The only thing that was hard to monitor for the lift line staff was riding the chair lift. In the beginning of the season, there seemed to be more of a concern for only riding two people per chair- whether it was a triple or a 6 pack. That seemed to expand the lines significantly. Then there was the polite request from the lift line monitors for people to ride together if comfortable. More and more people rode together which reduced the lines but face masks were still enforced no matter how many people loaded the lifts together. Everyone had the option to ride alone. We were at Mt. Rose in Tahoe last Monday and a guy beside me requested to ride alone. I told him I completely understood and he was very gracious. I also told him that we were all fully vaccinated and he said he was too but didn’t trust anybody. He was nice about it but stood firm that he wanted to ride alone and that was fine with us. Generally the line monitors everywhere gave people a chance to ride as they felt comfortable.

All in all, I had the opportunity to get a good read on how the ski areas were doing with initially skiing in the East and then two western ski trips to see how it was being handled in Utah, California and Nevada. One of the other comments from the ski area personnel was that they knew they were being monitored by the state. And their fear was that if the state saw non-compliance or lack of enforcement on the part of the ski areas, they would shut them down. This was the fear from last summer when there was a lot of speculation about whether the ski areas would open for 2020-2021 and if they would stay open. So far so good. My intel from friends in Colorado and Vermont also confirmed that initially there were issues with chair lift lines but as the season progressed, that seemed to wane a bit. The larger areas had lift line issues but the smaller areas or more remote areas had no issues at all.

June Mountain , Ca. views never disappoint.

So as we wrap up another ski season as the areas slowly start to close, I am again grateful that we had a season in these very trying times. It will be interesting to see how the areas did financially seeing that there was a different scene this year. No big apres ski scenes, restaurants at 50% capacity at best with the “Grab and Go” food options being the norm. Most areas got their money up front with the sale of IKON and Epic Passes which is the only way to go considering the price of daily lift tickets. But the food and beverage sales had to take a hit. Again- it will be interesting to see what they report as far as revenue and what lies ahead for the 2021-2022 ski season. I always get a little melancholy with the knowledge that I won’t be on the slopes for another 8 months. I thought about that when I was making some nice giant arcs on some great groomers at the end of the day at Mt. Rose. I thought to myself” Pat- this is what you need to think about this summer when you are getting that ski itch.” I love the feeling of making the skis carve on some great groomers. It brings a smile to your face for sure. Even though the western snow pack was down 50% this year, and the really cool stuff was not accessible, it was still fun to rip the groomers and that feeling of making a nice rounded arc turn never gets old. So bring on the spring and summer. They are fun seasons too, but I will be looking forward to another ski season as the leaves start to turn in the fall. Thanks for reading .

A White Christmas

Even if you are not a winter lover or a snow lover, you have to admit, you like a white Christmas? Most of us who are winter people love the snow and when this last blast came through, blanketing our local parks and mountains with the white stuff, there was a feeling of happiness and contentment in the air. We saw a lady on the trail with a big smile. She looked at us and said….” We needed this!” The long range forecast was cold indicating that the recent storm with re-enforcing 1-2 inches daily would guarantee that we would see a white Christmas. We have not seen one in quite some time. The fact of the matter is that with all we have gone through in 2020, the storm and subsequent weather has been a psychological lift to all of us. If we take the time to take it in and enjoy it.

Personally, there is nothing better than strapping on the old snow shoes and heading out on the trails of our local park in Sewickley, Pa. The muffled sounds and the silence that accompanies a large snowfall, really helps you to put your mind in a place where you can relax, enjoy nature, and think about what is important as we close out a very tempestuous year.

One of the other gifts that we received with this storm was a visit from our friends from Philly who were here visiting their new grandson. Mike and Judy Smith are very active people and jumped at the chance to join Janet and me on the trails of Sewickley. We met up and strapped on the snowshoes and reveled in all that is winter around our local park.

The Flying Smittys
PSU buddies forever.

People in Sewickley also get creative and a surprise at the end of the trail was a most welcome photo- op.

The Outdoor Christmas Tree

Following the “all smiles” snowshoe outing, I got some sandwiches, cheese, fruit, drinks and goodies and proceeded to set up an outdoor picnic- Euro- style! Jaime and Melissa would be proud. It was a welcome surprise to our friends and also my wife who complimented me on the good idea. Although it was a bit chilly, we bundled up, sat in the camp chairs and enjoyed the end of a pretty good day- celebrating the surprise that winter gave to us this past week. Again- a mental break from all that has happened and is currently happening with all the unknowns about the Pandemic.

Winter Picnic in the Park.

I believe you have to take advantage of anything that a season presents to you. Snowshoeing is not only good physical exercise, but a great way to get deep in the woods and think about what is important in life. When all is quiet and all is calm, you can really appreciate the Christmas season. And to have the blessing of a snowfall, the frosted pine trees and the hushed sounds of wildlife moving in the forest, your mind slows and all the problems, schedules, and issues, seem to disappear at least for the moment. It was a real treat to see the Smiths. We have not seen that many people during this time and to see their smiles was truly a lift for the day. I even liked their grand doggie who came on the outing with us. And we were outside which made us feel more safe in these times.

I love Christmas and the gift of a lasting snowfall just accentuates my love for the season. When I snowshoe by myself, it also gives me a chance to think about the real meaning of Christmas. As my earbuds rang out the Messiah choruses, I loved listening to verses like the following:

” Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His name- Emmanuel- God with us”

Isaiah 7-14.

I even start singing which is pretty hilarious to people looking at me on the golf course the other day. ” Hallelujah, hallelujah, halleluuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuujah.” 🙂 There is something special about choral music ringing in your ears around Christmas. It really gets you in the mood.

I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas. Take the time to enjoy the snow, the beautiful scenery, your family, and the real meaning of Christmas. Emmmanuel! God with us. We need Him. Thanks for reading.

The Car Wash Kings

Pete hosing off.

So this is the time of year for lights, night riding and inclement weather for mountain biking. Now before everyone at the shops gets their pants in a wad, we only hose off like this at the car wash with a LIGHT spray. Just to knock off the splooge. We don’t use the high pressure spray and blow all the grease out of the bearings. This is part of the routine for night riding locally in Western Pa. Also- as an additional disclaimer, we don’t ride trails that are muddy or where we can cause damage. We only have our selected routes that are rocky and drain well in the rain, sleet, snowy and melting conditions that we have here in Western Pa. Pete and I joke that we should have a season pass to our local car wash. We also have additional duties with our splooge suits.

Doing our laundry at the car wash.

People laugh when we tell them we do our laundry at the car wash, but it is a necessary function seeing that our wives would kill us if we brought home a mud encrusted splooge suit and just threw it in the washing machine. We have to prepare and pre- wash these beauties at the car wash.

Riding in the winter takes a special amount of fortitude. I always say that this time of the year is not the time to race, ride fast, or try to get into shape. This is the time of the year just to get out, peddle a little bit and get some exercise. Good lights are key and our Lord of Lumens – Bob Bannon keeps us all well lit.

The Lord of Lumens

The other night we had our first significant snowfall ( 6 inches) which is not an issue for fat bikes. Pete and I have 29er plus bikes with 3″ and 2.8″ tires which are a little more challenging in the snow but doable. Our pal Garage Door Bob and the Lord of Lumens run studs in their fat bike tires but we are not that dedicated. But maybe we should be when we slide out on the black ice that forms on the trails in the freeze thaw conditions we have around here. I take it easy because I don’t want to get hurt during ski season. But nonetheless, a visit to the car wash to knock off the snow and ice is mandatory. It feels so good when you return to your house with a clean bike( LIGHTLY SPRAYED ) and relatively clean clothes. I always say winter night riding is like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer. It feels so good when you stop. But we all do it and to have the bragging rights to say that we rode all winter, is pretty special.

Garage Door Bob
Our Doc Syed- keeping us all in one piece on rides.
The Shark- ” No such thing as bad weather- just bad clothing choices”
Yours Truly

So- if you think that riding is over with the time change, you might want to consider the alternative. Riding all year. One thing is that you are outside and that kind of exercise is recommended in these Covid times. For me, skiing and riding the MTB keep me outside and socially distanced. Just make sure you do your laundry at the car wash. By the way, my suit is available at Dick’s Sporting Goods or on line at Amazon. The jacket and pants are made by Frogg Toggs. They are in the hunting department at Dicks for around 38 bucks total. When the pants wear out, I just throw them away and get a replacement for around 15 bucks. Thanks for reading

That Great Smell

The Mountain TV

You know, my mother started me on my love for fires. We had a huge fireplace in our house growing up and at the first sign of cold weather, my mom would ask my dad to build a fire as she decorated the house for fall. My mom was the ultimate entertainer and to her, the house was a stage. My dad used to get firewood cut to 36″ to match the large fireplace and grate. He had some real blazes in that house.

Going forward, I had that appreciation for fires as I made my way through ski lodges, and anytime I had a moment to stand by a fire, I would do it, and take in the warmth and the great smell of wood smoke. In Colonial Williamsburg, one of my favorite destinations, they build fires on the street corners in the winter and the period actors discuss the merits of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness warming themselves in front of those ” army stacked” blazes.

I took matters into my own hands when we built our last house and had Teddy Hall come down from the mountains and build a 30’retainer wall, fireplace and bench all out of stone from the mountains. I learned what a shiner was. It is the flat facing stone that is strategically placed amid the dry stack of the stones that give some texture to the stacked stone. Teddy deposited 18 ton of stone in our yard and began his magic culminating in what I always thought was a spectacular fireplace.

My son Jack and I would scour for deadfall with my chainsaw and load up my Jeep with free firewood. He was a bit concerned as a young kid about my sources but I explained that we were doing a favor to the environment. At least that is what I told him. LOL!! Anytime I saw wood that was available, I grabbed it and did whatever I needed to do to get it cut and split. All part of the process of building a great fire in a great fireplace. We had fires all year long as it is a great bug zapper in the summer and a warm place in the winter. Many nights I spent in front of that fireplace contemplating what was next in our lives. When my folks passed, I used to sit out back and look up at the stars wondering where exactly they had gone. I saw heaven in those stars and planets and thought about what my folks saw now? Did they see me looking for them? I drifted off to sleep many nights in front of that fireplace. My brother in law, Duke, called it the Mountain TV as it provided entertainment for many guests to our house for many years.

The suspect Christmas wreath.

Duke would build fires so large in our fireplace that he would catch the Christmas wreath on fire many a night. The remnants of that wreath were a reminder of Christmas and a tradition that lasted many years. If the wreath didn’t catch fire, Duke didn’t build it big enough and Christmas was not complete. We had some other funny times in front of that fireplace. Like when my friend Dean melted the soles of his shoes onto the hearth. I peeled them off the next day and mailed them back to him. I have seen some other amazing things at other fireplaces. Like ski boot shells melting or gloves smoking as they hung to dry with the owners frantically trying to salvage the boots and gloves. People don’t realize how hot a fireplace can get.

The other day, I was riding my mountain bike and I smelled wood smoke coming from the house in the valley below. I can pick up that smell from far away and it always brings a smile to my face and a reminder that my favorite time of the year approaches- the fall, Thanksgiving, Christmas and winter. Probably one of the things I miss the most in moving from my former house to our current one is the fact that I had to leave my fireplace. No more wood smoke, no more sitting out back, but my neighbor Tim has a nice fireplace and when I smell the wood smoke drifting my way, I am thankful that he invites us to come up and enjoy. Don’t get me wrong, I like where we live but it was tough to leave the Teddy Hall masterpiece.

Laurel Mountain Outdoor Fireplace

If you have a nice fireplace- use it. And if you visit ski areas, lodges, or other places where fireplaces are lit during the season, take the time to sit and take in the smell, the warmth, and the quiet time reflecting in front of a roaring fire. Thanks for reading and RIP Teddy Hall. You made our life rich indeed. Thanks for reading.

Change

So my wife and I were hiking the other day up in the Laurel Highlands and she said to me,” It took 32 years ,but I finally am hiking with you up in the mountains in the woods.” We both chuckled as I recounted all the times I told her how peaceful hiking is and how beautiful it is especially at this time of the year. The colors are vibrant as the changing of the leaves ushers in the fall season here in Western Pa. As empty nesters now, we are taking advantage of a lot of opportunities even in this restricted time.

As a byline, she also told me not to take her to any trails that might have rattlesnakes and I agreed seeing that I know ground zero up there for those sightings. But we did see bear scat and she was amazingly calm when we discussed black bear in the area. All in all, Janet is becoming an avid day hiker and when I approached the subject of possibly camping out and sleeping under the stars, she was not ready for that………..yet. But day hiking is relaxing and in this day of rapid fire change, it is nice to see a calm, peaceful changing of the leaves with a relaxing activity like hiking.

Interestingly, the outdoors has become a refuge for a lot of people in this Covid age. Many of my friends across the country are also making use of the time hiking, camping, and enjoying their native surroundings near their homes. From camping near the coastal mountains in California, to camping and riding mountain bikes up in the Bend, Oregon area, to hiking the Green Mountains of Vermont, my friends for the most part are staying close to home and enjoying nature at its finest. Recreation is becoming regional until things become a little more certain.

No matter where you live, there are opportunities to get outside and enjoy the change of seasons right in your own backyard. The fall is one of my favorite seasons and as I think about what has happened to all of us over the last several months, it is encouraging for me to see that active people are out and about. Even a lot of people who were not necessarily outdoors people, have taken the opportunity to buy a bike, a kayak, hiking boots, camping gear if they can get it. It’s nice to be in a remote place without a mask, right?

With change comes the knowledge that the winter season is approaching and people like me are looking forward to that change as well. Not sure exactly how the ski season will be in 2020-2021, but we are prepared with ski passes, trips planned, and a general positive feeling that being outdoors in the winter will be good for all of us. Keeping positive and hoping for the best. But at the very least, there are outdoor activities that can make winter fun and a lot of people might be trying snowshoeing, winter hiking and camping, and cross country skiing for the first time. We can all encourage them and join them to get through all of this together.

In this changing world, we have to stay positive and know that the only thing that is constant these days is change. When we see the colors fade and the leaves falling from the trees, we know that soon enough they will be green again and another season will be upon us. But in the meantime, enjoy each season near to your home and take advantage of spending time with friends and family in the outdoors. It does wonders for your physical and mental health. Thanks for reading.

” To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven”

– Ecclesiastes 3

A Walk in the Woods

I have to say that this time of year is my favorite among the seasons. The temps are changing and the leaves are turning colors- somewhat blazing this year. I love to hike at this time and my interest in that pursuit all started when I was a kid. I loved being in the woods. The first five human beings I knew outside my parents, were my five backyard neighbors- Richard, John, Ron, Glen and Cliffy. We lived in the woods – playing Army, catching crawfish and salamanders, and basically being there until my dad rang the dinner bell from our back patio. My parents didn’t worry about us much in those days. We were gone all day and would come running in for lunch, dinner and stay out as long as possible. We even drank from garden hoses and nothing ever happened to us. Imagine that? Slept out under the stars. We loved the woods and I still do today. This is a picture of Richard, John and me at Arapahoe Basin a couple of years ago. They both live in Colorado now. Even with the fact that we had not seen each other in a while, it seemed as if we left off right where we were the last time we were together. Isn’t that the way it usually is with good friends?

Fast forward from childhood, I hiked and back packed a lot in the fall right after college. The woods in the mountains seemed like a good place to reflect and try to figure out what the heck I was going to do with my life at the time.

I would either set up my tent or make arrangements to sleep in a ” lean to” shelter provided by the state. I would look up at the stars in the middle of the night while stoking the fire and try to figure out a path forward – like many of us at the time. Hiking was a relaxing way to reflect, take in the change of seasons, and breathe in fresh air. A walk in the woods was always therapeutic and still is today.

Moving on, to today’s world, hiking is a great activity for my wife and me to enjoy. As empty nesters, we love to get our gear together, strap on our boots and packs, and take that proverbial walk in the woods.
We either go to the Laurel Mountains east of here, or locally to one of our favorite routes in Sewickley. We often remark in our local hike that we could easily be anywhere with the scenic forest and well built trails .

It looks a lot like Vermont or New Hampshire with the rocky trails and hardwood forest, but it is only a 15 minute drive from our house. We don’t have the dramatic backdrops of the Green Mountains or the Whites of New Hampshire, but for a local hike, the scenery is pretty good here in Pa. A nice way for my wife and I to connect without any pressure of keeping up with anyone or keeping some sort of time schedule. Time moves slowly when you take a walk in the woods.

My folks never understood my need to be out in the wilderness, either locally or when I traveled near and far to basically camp, hike, climb, ski, and otherwise enjoy what is out there. Their idea of camping was sleeping at a Holiday Inn with the windows open. Me? I like that tent where I can see and smell the night. The stars, the planets, and the general feeling that the woods are embracing me. I feel like I belong there. That is why it irks me to no end when I see people deface rocks and overlooks with graffiti. All of us who love the outdoors need to protect what we all enjoy. Public lands, trails, National Parks, are all part of our heritage and if we want to leave ” a walk in the woods” for our kids and grandchildren, we always must pay attention to protecting our outdoor places of recreation.

A final suggestion, if you are looking for an activity this fall, maybe try hiking? There are so many places to go and aside from a rucksack filled with water and snacks, and some good sturdy hiking shoes or boots, the investment is minimal and the rewards are great. My love for the woods and the outdoors stems all the way back 55 years with my old buddies playing Army in the woods behind the Zankey’s house. For all we knew, we were in the Rocky Mountains or as far as our imagination led us at the time. Take that walk in the woods. It will restore you and give you needed perspective in our world today. Thanks for reading.

Transition- Ready to Ride?

 

So the ski season is kind of winding down. Skied a lot in the rain,and was out west for some real snow. Dropped a couple of chutes. Came back to some decent local conditions and one more trip to go with the guys who hold me accountable. Things kind of rattle around your head when you reach 65 like- can I still do it? So far so good. Feel good. Don’t feel much different. Made some good turns. Looking forward to ending the season with these guys. But now the thoughts are starting to rattle and I am thinking – ” Did all the winter riding pay off?” Pete and Bob K,Syed until he blew up, and the Shark held me accountable during the winter as we rode our mountain bikes at night in some pretty horrendous weather.IMG_1014 The Frogg Toggs suit served me well by keeping off all of the muddy splooge as we showered the bikes and ourselves off in the car wash, but you think to yourself, ” Can I still ride like last year?” ” What will I feel like riding this season?” Scot Nichol always says, ” Don’t even think about it- just keep riding” Which is sage advice that I always subscribe to, but you can’t help those thoughts rattling around your head questioning your conditioning comparatively speaking. I am generally the oldest rider in my main MTB group and I try not to think about that and just ride but …….. </

And I am not ready for an e-bike yet!

So really- what does the upcoming season look like? The spring is always tough because all the conditioning you developed by the fall is usually compromised with the onset of winter. Sure you can go to the Y if the weather is too heinous, but there is nothing like actually riding outside versus a spin bike. Generally I believe that you just have to start out slowly and build up your stamina and strength again and not be in any great hurry to blast out of the parking lot trying to chase people. I have turned into a diesel engine, not fast but slow and steady after a good warm up. My disclaimer here is that I am not going to relay any great scientific points of wisdom. You can read about that anywhere. My main point is what works for me and maybe for you? Start out slow. I love the saying,” Start slow and taper off”. Jokingly initiated by our pal John Hinderliter but a lot of truth to the saying. IMG_1201

Which brings me to my next point which is if you are trying to get in shape, turning over a new fitness leaf, making a comeback after injury, or trying to ward off the ravages of time,you really need to start slowly in the spring. Ease into it. Don’t be a world beater early or you will surely burn out. The more you ride or run, or whatever, at a moderate pace, the more you will be likely to continue and each workout session you will get more fit. What is painful in the spring, is usually nothing come June or July. Just believe it and start slowly.

Another recommendation would be to believe what Chris Crowley says in his book ” Younger Next Year.” Chris makes many points in his famous book which I have given to lots of people. But one of the things that does stick out is if you are a senior or anyone for that matter, get the best equipment. Give yourself the absolute best chance at succeeding. I have always subscribed to that notion. I remember getting the first over sized tennis racket from Prince. I put the first retrofitted shock from Rock Shox on my mountain bike back in the day. I believed in the shaped ski and still try to get what I consider to be state of the art ski equipment. Lastly, I have been riding a 29er plus bike with 3″ plus tires to give me the best chance of success in the rocks and roots around the trails in our tri-state area. The carbon frame and wheels are a help with weight but it is more important to me to stay upright than it is to have a featherweight bike. Most likely the thought process of aging. Ride to ride another day I always say.

Lastly, as I gauge how the winter fitness program worked out for me, I also think it is important to think about what we put in our body. Again, lots of writing out there that refers to proper diet but my main tenants are cut out all the crap and sugar, eat healthy, salads, fruit and vegetables, lean meats when you have to, and generally, give yourself a fighting chance to succeed with your diet. My friend John Cassucio turned me on to Hammer Nutrition products. http://www.hammernutrition.com I use their gels and also a product called FIZZ which you can add to your water bottle or hydration pack to replace electrolytes lost in exercise. I feel better when I use them and it helps as I try to keep the younger guys in sight.  I also use Tru- Niagen, GNC Fish Oil Pills, and MCT oil in my coffee in the morning.  I posted about all of that earlier this winter.

So, yea, I think about things, but in general, once I embark on the activity, I don’t give it much thought. I can still do it for the most part and I don’t feel much different as I have aged. You should not either and instead of some people we know who have one foot in the grave and one on a banana peel, we can get excited and look forward to another season of fun and good health. Thanks for reading and start slow and taper off. LOL!!!

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Evensong.

At this time of the year, I have always enjoyed choral music. I guess my appreciation went back to my college days when I would end the semester at Allegheny College with the annual pre-Christmas holiday concert in the chapel on campus. There is something special about choir music that sets the mood for Christmas and when I headed back to the dorm, my head was right for the celebration of the birth of Christ. There was something comforting in that music and it always took the burrs off finals and cramming to make decent grades. I felt like all was right with the world as I relaxed and headed home for Christmas vacation.

Fast forward and I found myself cycling in England a number of years ago. At the end of every ride, I would head back to the B&B,shower, and then hustle over to the famous cathedrals nearby and listen to the 4:00 PM presentation of Evensong. This has always been a tradition in the Anglican Church where the choir sings in the late afternoon or evening and the public is welcome. So much so, that in Salisbury Cathedral, Winchester Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, I was invited to come up and sit right in the middle of the choir on either side of the main aisle. What an experience listening to the beautiful harmony on all sides. It was quite moving and I remember it vividly to this day. Some days I was running late and went straight to the cathedral in my cycling togs. I was hoping I was not too disgusting for the sharply dressed, starched, choir in their vestments, as I sheepishly sat in with them and profusely apologized between songs, as I perspired all over the stone floor. They nodded politely and continued on with the presentation.

Nowadays, I rarely have a chance to listen in person, but I do tend to take in choir music on my Pandora Channel with some renditions by Libera, and even more secular music by Lorenna McKennett or Enya that gives you the same relaxed feeling as you drive. Their Celtic music with that haunting melody, can be equally relaxing. Sometimes, this kind of music can actually alter your mood and relieve stress if you do like I do, and drive the back way to and from work without fighting the masses on the freeways. I would rather go a little out of my way, enjoy the scenery, and take in the changing leaves or the gently falling snow which decorates the pines in the hollows of my commute. Those of you who know me might be wondering if I somehow have a loose screw. But I am here to tell you that as much as I like rock and R&B, I can equally be entertained and relaxed on the Spa Channel or choral music on my drives to work.

This time of year, I also have the opportunity to drive to the mountains on Saturday mornings for some local skiing in our Laurel Highlands. Being the Type “A” person that I am, the day begins well before sunrise and I am on the road in the dark. That quiet time in the car is a wonderful time for me as I anticipate a great day of skiing with my friends and have the opportunity to sip some coffee and listen to some relaxing music on the Libera station on Pandora. Sometimes I will listen to Gregorian Chant by the Benedictine Monks on the album “Chant”. The byproduct of this mood altering music is the fact that I am totally relaxed as I enter the parking lot, go to the lodge, and begin the process of booting up. Once I am on the slopes, I can still hear the chorale music in my mind which helps me make relaxing turns on the hill as juxtaposed to the headphone wearing death metal music that the crazies are listening to buzzing all around me. My elbows are out! Efficient skiing and boarding is smooth. Relaxing music creates smooth turns. Flex the ankles and finish the turns. Kyrie Eleison.

So what’s the point Pat? Well- simply put, give choral music, Gregorian Chant, and Celtic music a chance. This time of year it always gets you in the mood and is a nice alternative from Santa Claus is Coming to Town. And, if you are headed to the mountains for skiing, or a ride, or anywhere else where a car ride is involved, make the most of it and unload the stress from the week. Also, this type of music can make you think about the reason for the season. The words bring you to the real meaning of Christmas and release you from all the stress inducing secular time crunches for a consumer oriented holiday. I think of Evensong and am glad that I had that experience to make me appreciate the season. Thanks for reading and enjoy your Christmas or Hanukkah, and quiet times in the car.

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The Quintessential Pennsylvania Hunting Camp

If you are familiar with Pennsylvania, my home state, you will know that hunting is BIG around here. Especially this time of year. There are lots of white tail deer in our state and I mean lots, and this time of the season they are running! A tradition that has been passed on by hunters here in the Keystone State is the maintenance and upkeep of the classic hunting camp. So many stories about guys ” going up to camp” for the hunting season. Plenty of food, booze, and camaraderie to spread around for days. The camps are typically built from salvage material and over the years they are improved and additions made by family and friends. Marienville, Kane( the icebox of Pennsylvania), Bradford, and other central Pa. haunts have been the home of hunting camps for generations.

So it was a nice surprise when I was invited to come to camp with my friends Bob and Julie, and as I made my way on a cold Saturday morning with snow on the ground, I turned off I-80 and made my way eventually to the  double track that led to …..” the camp.” As soon as I saw Bob cutting wood for the wood stove, and smelled the smoke in the cold air, I was reminded of how much I like fires and fireplaces and wood stoves. I exclaimed to Bob, as I came into the camp, that this place was the classic Pa. hunting camp to which he had a big smile on his face and agreed with a wheelbarrow full of wood and told me to get to work. It was cold last Saturday and the main source of heat for the house was the wood stove. But as the other folks entered the camp, food and sleeping bags began arriving and placed in the kitchen and the living area near the wood stove. No matter what ever happens, a mattress and a sleeping bag is all you need at a camp for pure comfort at night. The heat of the stove is mesmerizing and you know that no matter how bitter the weather is, there will be warmth, wood, and plenty of craft beers and food to feed the guests for the weekend.

As Julie rolled out the breakfast sandwiches and Charlotte tended to her large pot of chili, I got ready to roll for a day of outdoor adventure in the Pennsylvania wilds. You see, I love cold weather, fires, snow and the smell of wood smoke. Did I mention I like fires? LOL!!

Hunting camps have been passed on for generations and the traditions of a day in the woods followed by a hot meal and some beers and discussions of the one that got away have been the stuff of legend for Pennsylvania hunters. Yes there is hunting in the surrounding states but when you talk deer hunting, and camps, you are most likely going to reference central Pennsylvania. Really no argument there because we do have the largest deer population and also a very large black bear population. The group had been down in the woods before I got there and were still marveling at the sighting of two large bald eagles by the lake. Dr. Jack came rolling in and the group was complete. As we made our way to S.B Elliott State Park and through Parker Dam State Park, we were treated to a scenic drive right into the parking lot. As we forded some rather deep stream crossings we came upon our friend John who mystically appeared out of nowhere and when I asked how on earth he ever found us, Bob responded that they all had ridden motorcycles up there for years and knew all the terrain quite well. You see, we were there for a mountain bike weekend and not a shot was fired. No ammo, rifles, or any mention of the buck that got away. But rather the buck that we saw while riding some of the more scenic trails this state has to offer. Most of us had orange or yellow clothing to distinguish ourselves from the running herd, but yours truly had on a black rain suit which I quipped, ” I will be mistaken for a bear which should be ok seeing that it is not bear season yet.” In any event, at the end of the ride, the merry band of riders settled in again by the wood stove and the beers started cracking. As the chili made its rounds and the rest of the nuts, chips and snacks were enjoyed, our pal Tom probably summed it up best when he said, ” You know, the best part of the ride is sitting around afterward, enjoying a cold beer, some good food and stories shared by friends in the woods. Yes, I was invited to a hunting camp. But the aura of the camp was just as good for riders as it is for hunters because it is all about the people.

Good friends getting together to ride mountain bikes, but so much more than the ride. The company is great, in a classic setting.  And the older we get, the more we appreciate it. Turning 65 this week was a revelation and it made me take stock in life and remember that there are people who care about you and like to be with you ……….up at camp. Thanks for reading and remember to follow the blog by entering your email address to the left of the page or scroll down to the bottom on your smart phone.